Florida professor says his contract was terminated for teaching racial justice
Sam Jokel, a longtime professor of English at Palm Beach Atlantic University, says his contract was terminated early after accusations that his racial justice lessons were “suggestion” to students.
For many years, Jokel’s class included a section on the experience of blacks in the United States, where he touched on the writings of historical figures such as W. E. B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, as well as long-standing racial differences in mass incarceration and educational attainment. , as previously reported by WLRN.
But recently, administrators took issue with Jokel’s curriculum, saying they received a complaint from a student’s parents about his race-related classes, the professor said. Jokel’s contract was subsequently renegotiated last month. A few days ago, the instructor learned that his contract would be terminated early.
“They did it for a clear reason: my decision to teach and speak about racial justice,” he wrote in an Instagram statement on Thursday.
Palm Beach Atlantic University is a Christian college in West Palm Beach, Florida. As of 2021, approximately 3,700 students attended the school, either in person or online. White students make up slightly more than half of the student population, with 10% identifying as Black and 17% identifying as Hispanic.
The fallout at the university came during Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign against what he calls “awakened indoctrination” in education.
During his tenure, DeSantis worked to place limits on the discussion of race and gender in K-12 education, and to ban programs that promote diversity, equality, and inclusion in public colleges. Although Palm Beach Atlantic University is a private institution, Jokel believes the school has been influenced by the state’s political climate.
“The timing of this is no coincidence as we are dealing with a crusade by Governor DeSantis and other far-right politicians and activists against the Awakened Ones,” he wrote on social media. “I believe this goes against the Christian beliefs that I hold and that the PBA affirms.”
“I most definitely think what’s going on here is an ‘anti-revivalist ideology’ that is now infiltrating even a Christian university like Palm Beach Atlantic University,” he told WLRN earlier this month.
The school did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment on Jokel’s contract. But in an internal memo written last month and received Palm Beach PostProvost Chelly Templeton said the school is looking into Jokel’s curriculum to “better understand the pedagogical rationale for including these extensive lectures in the Composition II class.”
She added, “It is important that the goals of Composition II remain the focus of the course.”
Students and alumni have condemned the disciplinary measure, arguing that the school goes against its own values of unity and academic freedom. A petition demanding a contract extension for Jokel has garnered more than 2,000 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.
In an accompanying open letter to university president Debra Schwinn, supporters wrote, “Limiting much-needed talk about race is essentially racism and discrimination per se.”
Jokel said racial justice was part of his course for 12 years, calling it “the perfect topic” to teach in a Christian school.
“The pursuit of racial justice goes hand in hand with the overarching message of the gospel,” he told WLRN earlier this month.
Jokel, who has been teaching at the school for over 20 years, said he plans to sue the school.
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