A few bemoaned “leftist, socialist and Marxist ideologies” on college campuses, accused professors of bullying and “indoctrination, not education,” and warned that viewing events through the prism of systemic racism “demeans us all.”
But many more at the North Orange County Community College District board meeting excoriated officials for being complicit with White supremacy, showing cowardice by not quickly defending a professor targeted by death threats and instead waiting for a public relations storm to blow over. “What have you done, other than cowering?” one commenter said.
District trustees endured more than an hour of passionate criticism on Tuesday, May 11, as some 80 comments were painstakingly read into the public record during a Zoom meeting.
If they were hoping for robust discussion among trustees, they didn’t get it.
“Thank you for providing comments,” said President Barbara Dunsheath, who noted the trustees couldn’t discuss the controversy because the issue was not on the agenda. “We appreciate your energy and your passion. We’ve heard you. We’ve listened attentively. But we can’t make any further comments at this time.”
The district chancellor and the college president, however, did try to explain why they did what they did after a student created a firestorm by releasing a three-minute video from his Cypress College Communication 100C class.
In the video that quickly went viral, the student was cut off by his professor as he argued that police officers can be viewed as heroes, and the professor countered that many officers had committed atrocious crimes which have gone unpunished. Personally speaking, she told the student, she wouldn’t even call the police if her life was in peril.
The April 28 video spurred threats to the professor’s life and “an avalanche of hateful phone calls and threatening emails” to the college.
But that video showed just the tail-end of the student’s speech on “cancel culture,” after he had nearly seven uninterrupted minutes to make his case, the professor’s defenders say. The entire lesson was designed to teach students skills to hold the floor against hostile questioners — but the bulk of it was not shown and the short clip painted a distorted picture, they say.
The college counseled the professor and others to lay low as the frenzy mounted, which critics say allowed an inaccurate, one-sided view of the encounter to go viral and resulted in the threats to the professor.
At the Zoom meeting, critics repeatedly questioned why the college didn’t counter the narrative quickly and whether the student had been disciplined for sharing the class video without consent. Students demanded the college president’s resignation, and that it make a public apology to the professor, who now will not be teaching the summer course she was slated to teach.
‘A national problem’
Both the district chancellor and the college president said the issues at play here are national ones.
“As we’ve heard tonight, the events surrounding the release of the Cypress course video have caused pain, evoked strong emotions, and spurred a range of opinions,” Chancellor Cheryl Marshall said. “The issues in this instance are a microcosm of the political environment in our country today. The pain felt by many is legitimate and reflects the need for deeper and more productive discourse.
“The difficult decisions made during this time were made not based on popularity, but instead, they were rooted in a dedication to protecting the safety of everyone at Cypress College. We agree that fully understanding the implications of the video and its release to the public are critical to moving forward. To that end, an impartial review in is progress that will provide us with the information to move forward and continue the mission of the district.”
Marshall is confident that, once that review is done, it will be clear that the decisions were made for the right reasons.
Cypress College President JoAnne Schilling said many have rushed to judgment and that the incident has been “deeply traumatic” for the entire college and district.
“These decisions are rarely simple, but some are particularly difficult. And with each difficult decision over the last couple of weeks, I carefully considered, first and foremost, the safety and well-being of our campus community,” Schilling said.
“The viral video … spurred an avalanche of hateful phone calls and threatening emails that called for decisive steps to protect everyone at Cypress. It was an attack on our college. A decision needed to be made, and I made the decision to honor the instructor’s safety and that of our campus community.”
Ignoring the threats would have been irresponsible and reckless, she said. She also stressed that the instructor was not disciplined — going back into that classroom would have put her at greater risk, Schilling said.
“I grieve with you for the pain you, and we, are feeling,” Schilling said. “And I am committed to working with you on how we prevent such an attack on our freedoms in the future. This is not just a Cypress College problem, but a national problem and it grows more perilous each day. We, as educators in an institution of higher learning, must continue to help our students and one another to have these authentic discussions, especially when we disagree.”
Some professors have stopped recording classes, or making video of their lectures available for students, in the wake of the incident. That has made learning more difficult for students who can’t afford the fastest internet connections, or who have to juggle work, child care and other family issues with their education.
A similar conflict unfolded at Orange Coast College in 2016, when a student posted footage of a psychology professor calling the election of former President Donald Trump “an act of terrorism.” That student had to write an apology and was suspended from the school, but his suspension was later revoked.
No disciplinary action has been publicly announced against Braden Ellis, the student who shared the footage. He has become something of a media darling, appearing on Fox News and other shows, and was scheduled to speak at a luncheon hosted by Orange County Republican Women Federated on Saturday, May 15. Tickets are selling for $35.
A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the professor, Faryha Salim, has raised more than $7,300 to pay for legal and security costs.
Source: Orange County Register