“Ask God what your grade is.” These six words, allegedly written by a speech professor, have sparked considerable controversy. But several media sources have misportrayed the details of Jonathan Lopez’s lawsuit against Los Angeles City College (LACC) staff.
(More details about the allegations can be found here).
Josh Keller wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education News Blog on February 13 that “In a letter to the Alliance Defense Fund written in December, the college’s dean of academic affairs called the incident ‘extremely serious’ but strongly disputed the group’s description of the episode and the college’s response to it.” He later continued,
“Ms. Jones added that Mr. Lopez’s speech had offended many other students in the class. She quoted one student who said the speech was “not of the informative style that our assignment called for, but rather a preachy, persuasive speech that was completely inappropriate and deeply offensive.’”
Keller’s account, with its vague reference to ADF’s “description of the episode” mischaracterizes Jones’ letter in that deliberately censors how Jones quote two students, not one, who described Lopez’ comments as hate speech, nor the validity that Jones applies to those statements. She wrote on December 4th that
“Contrary to Mr. Lopez’ assumptions, these classmates were deeply offended by his speech. One of the students stated that ‘His speech was not of the informative style that our assignment called for, but rather a preachy, persuasive speech that was completely inappropriate and deeply offensive. I respect his right to freedom of speech, but I also do not believe that our classroom is the proper platform for him to spout his hateful propaganda.’ The second student said ‘I don’t know what kind of actions can be taken in this situation, but I expect that this student should have to pay some price for preaching hate in the classroom.’”
ADF’s David Hacker, replying the following day, wrote (pdf) that the students’ reactions were irrelevant to his client’s free speech rights and that Jones’ “acceptance and repetition of these irrelevancies raise grave concerns about your impartiality.”
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times demoted Lopez’ written evidence to a mere assertion, writing
“Student Jonathan Lopez says his professor called him a ‘fascist bastard’ and refused to let him finish his speech…When Lopez tried to find out his mark for the speech, the professor, John Matteson, allegedly told him to ‘ask God what your grade is,’ the suit says.”
Matteson did not tell or say those words, but allegedly wrote them on an assessment form. A scanned copy of the document was submitted to the Court.
If the handwriting on the document is Matteson’s, this not only provides a higher standard of evidence for the incident, but demonstrates that Matteson was acting fully within his capacity as a publicly-paid professor—to educate students and grade papers—when he discriminated against a student for religious reasons.
New York Times writer Sewel Chan, citing evidence from the LA Times article, makes the same mistake in his February 20 blog posting. He writes,
“Mr. Lopez asserts that Professor Matteson barred him from delivering a speech against same-sex marriage and replied, ‘Ask God what your grade is,’ when Mr. Lopez asked about his grade. The student also asserted that the professor threatened to have him expelled when he complained to administrators.”
As I also outline on Accuracy in Academia’s Campus Report, the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing Lopez, submitted written evidence on the first “assertion” and verbal “assertions” for other mistreatment by Matteson—Chan, like too many others, is lumping those two measures together.
Chan also notes that since there are two Professor John Mattesons—one from the left and the other from the right coast—John T. Matteson at the City University of New York has been receiving his “doppelgänger’s” hate mail. Chan reports,
“The two professors are not related and have never met. But the New York professor has received a string of angry and even threatening e-mail messages since Sunday, when The Los Angeles Times reported on the free-speech case involving the Los Angeles professor.
‘I of course had absolutely no idea why people were calling me a hippie Marxist and a fascist bastard,’ Professor Matteson of John Jay said in a phone interview on Friday. “I voted for Nader once. That was about as radical as I get. So I did my own Google search and found my doppelgänger in L.A. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of self-defense, and dealing with e-mails, ranging from people who have offered to pray for me to people who have intimated physical violence.’”