It has been three months since the “cancel culture” faceoff at Cypress College — between the “cops-are-heroes” student and the “cops-get-away-with-crimes” professor — exploded into a national spectacle that prompted death threats for the professor and Fox News appearances for the student.
Hundreds of furious comments of protest and support have gushed in to North Orange County Community College District. Students blast officials for throwing the professor under the bus — she was placed on administrative leave for her own safety, they said — and demand the president’s resignation. Professors blast the college for failing to be “anti-racist” and demand “a strong and clear public statement in support of all faculty, and their right to a safe workspace and their ability to exercise their academic freedom.” Community groups blast the college for obfuscation and demand answers to questions asked many months ago.
College district trustees have said they appreciate the passion, hear their critics and promise a thorough investigation of the incident and how it was handled. But as the fall semester is about to begin, the district still has not completed its probe and has little to say about what it has found thus far.
District spokeswoman Kai Stearns said the investigation is slated to wrap up in late September.
To date, no lawsuits related to the incident have been filed.
But the professor did not teach the summer course she was scheduled to teach. More than $11,000 has been raised for her legal fees. And closed sessions with the district’s lawyers over anticipated litigation have been listed on meeting agendas.
It all began on April 28, when student Braden Ellis presented a speech on how “cancel culture” is tearing America apart to his Communication 100C class over Zoom.
In a now-viral, three-minute video that Ellis posted to the web — some say in violation of college policy — professor Faryha Salim interrupts Ellis as they discuss whether police are heroes and should be featured as such on children’s TV shows.
“The whole reason we have police departments in the first place … it stems from people in the South wanting to capture runaway slaves,” the professor says.
Another student says, “Maybe they shouldn’t be heroes. Maybe they don’t belong on a kids’ show.”
“So I disagree,” Ellis says. “I think cops are heroes. They have to have a difficult job — “
The professor and Ellis jockey for the floor, with Salim saying “Yet … yet …” and him saying “Wait wait wait wait wait” before Salim prevails. “A lot of police have committed atrocious crimes and have gotten away with it and have never been convicted of any of it,” the professor says.
There was more back-and-forth, and Ellis asks Salim who she would call if someone wielded a knife or a gun nearby. “I wouldn’t call the police. … I don’t trust them. My life is in more danger in their presence,” she responds. Ellis presses on that point, and soon she announces that class is over.
The video whipped up passions and made Ellis a darling of the right, appearing on Fox and as a guest speaker at Republican luncheons. Salim was branded a “police-hating, indoctrinating professor” and threats were made to her life.
A May 3 email to the college, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, warned that someone with an AR15 rifle and explosives would be visiting the campus. It was signed, “The New Klan.” Fears for safety were so acute that on-campus operations were suspended that day.
As rage mounted, college officials counseled Salim to lay low. The college issued a statement that infuriated many of her colleagues, saying that it “takes great pride in fostering a learning environment for students where ideas and opinions are exchanged as a vital piece of the educational journey” and that “any efforts to suppress free and respectful expression on our campus will not be tolerated.”
The result was that Elllis’ version of events was the only one circulated for days. Outraged colleagues eventually stepped in, posting a video of their own featuring Ellis in Trump regalia making what appears to be a White power sign. Ellis said he was goofing on Trump and called use of the picture “sad.”
The three-minute segment Ellis posted shows only the tail end of his presentation, giving a distorted picture of what really happened, Salim’s colleagues said. The entire lesson was designed to teach students skills to hold the floor against hostile questioners — but the bulk of it was missing. Ellis’ presentation actually lasted more than 11 minutes and included almost seven minutes of Ellis’ uninterrupted speech. Salim does, indeed, interrupt Ellis, but that’s par for the course in the question-and-answer session.
Cypress College has rejected public information requests for the full class video. Salim and Ellis did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Salim was slated to teach human communication again this summer, according to the course catalog. A May 13 letter from the district to Salim offered her the choice of teaching the class or not teaching it “if you do not feel safe” and receiving compensation for her financial loss.
However, it warned that returning to the classroom so soon could “expose you to further personal and professional attacks. This could include individuals enrolling in your class so as to gain access to you (via Zoom) for the purpose of attacking you directly and interfering with your class discussions and activities and shills, who may seem benign or even enthusiastic in class, but collect information with the intent of using it to discredit or attack you in some way.”
Salim turned down the summer course, said Stearns, the district spokeswoman.
In the fallout, many criticized Salim.
“Too many of America’s universities have become indoctrination farms where critical thinking and ingenuity are stifled by the intolerance of simple minded professors like these who are completely unwilling to accept anything but their own opinion as fact,” the National Fraternal Order of Police said in a tweet.
Local resident Cherol Katz said the college appears opposed to the promotion of the free exchange of ideas. Maureen Blackman called for Salim’s removal. An anonymous commenter said some teachers are bullies and that Zoom meetings are exposing them. Jeff Tucker said that being American means defending the right of someone to say the very thing you are against.
But many more rushed to her defense.
The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Cypress College to allow Salim to return to the classroom and to issue a public apology and statement of support. “Cypress College must directly and publicly address the suppression of Professor Salim’s academic freedom and the xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic hate to which Professor Salim has been subjected,” it said in a statement.
The South West Asian North African Faculty Staff Association condemned the district’s “lack of leadership in responding to false claims.”
Cypress College President JoAnne Schilling has said many have rushed to judgment and that the incident was “deeply traumatic” for the entire college and district.
Chancellor Cheryl Marshall has said the district’s difficult decisions were rooted in a dedication to protect the safety of everyone at Cypress College. She said she has confidence that the impartial review slated to be finished next month will make clear that decisions were made for the right reasons.
Source: Orange County Register