Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Marathon Pundit exclusive: Unedited letter to the DePaulia supporting Professor Klocek

In the aftermath of the appalling DePaulia op-ed trashing suspended professor Thomas Klocek, the latest edition of the DePaul school newspaper has a published letter-to-the-editor supporting Professor Klocek's version of the events. Good news, and what's better is that this letter was written by a fellow DePaul professor.

As is common with such letters, the DePaulia edited the letter a bit. This is what the DePaulia printed.

Marathon Pundit has received the unabridged letter. Just keep scrolling down:

Dear editor

I am troubled by last weeks opinion piece "KLOCEK MUST GO, THANK YOU DPU" that once again ignores Tom Klocek’s side of the story.

I first learned of the incident in the DePaulia where it was reported that Klocek, an instructor in the School for New Learning, had been suspended after students complained about their argument with him at a student activities fair. As I read the article, I looked for the offending remarks. There were a lot of quotes indicating sharp political differences over a number of hotly disputed issues but nothing to indicate that it involved ethnic or religious prejudice.

Concerned that the school had overreacted, I got in touch with Professor Klocek to hear his side of the story and not surprisingly Tom’s version differed from the students. He said he never identified himself as a faculty member until just before leaving, denied making an obscene gesture, denied throwing leaflets at them, and most important denied insulting the students on the basis of religion or ethnicity. He did question the one sidedness of the leaflet they were handing out that claimed Israel had deliberately run over Rachel Corrie with a bulldozer, a deliberate murder rather than a tragic accident. He responded angrily to one of the student’s claim that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was like the Nazis treatment of the Jews and he got in a heated argument about comparing Israeli civilians killed by suicide bombers and Palestinian civilians killed by the Israeli army in self-defense operations..

In the course of the argument Tom quoted the director of Al Aribya TV as saying that "while not all Muslims are terrorists, it is a sad fact that almost all terrorist are Muslims". This statement and the ensuing argument appears to be the basis of the students’ claim that they were the victims of a racist incident.

The student’s complained about the incident and the administrations reaction was swift and harsh. According to the SNL dean’s letter to the DePaulia, "Our college reacted immediately by removing the instructor from the classroom. This is a part-time faculty member, whom the university contracts for individual courses. He has no further responsibilities with the university."

Her justification for such a severe action was that "No students anywhere should ever have to be concerned that they will be verbally attacked for their religious belief or ethnicity. No one should ever use the role of teacher to demean the ideas of others or insist on the absoluteness of an opinion, much less press erroneous assertions."

If you accept Tom’s versions of events, however, he couldn’t have abused his role as a teacher since he didn’t identify himself as one. Furthermore, if you look at what was actually said, Tom did not attack the student’s religion or ethnicity. And nothing he said was as offensive as equating Israelis with Nazis.

Given the differing accounts of the incident, the university should have had a process to sort out the conflicting narratives. The perceptions of both parties were clearly influenced by the emotion of the moment and neither honesty nor fairness was served by simply taking the students’ side.

The administration has claimed that as a part-time faculty member, Tom was not subject to the same protections afforded permanent faculty members by the faculty handbook. But both Faculty Council and the EVP are on record that fairness demands that adjuncts be given the same rights as regular faculty members in matters such as these.

Part-timers are a financial bonanza for the university. They receive about $3000 for a course for which students pay $2000 each. Tom Klocek worked as a part-timer at DePaul for fourteen years and was by all accounts a fine teacher with an unblemished record. When asked, he taught a night course at the Naperville campus even though it meant getting home well after midnight. He did this without complaint.

There is nothing in his background that indicates that he was a prejudiced person. In my conversations with him I never detected bias against Muslims or any other group. He had the misfortune of getting into a heated argument with a group of students passing out anti-Israel literature. For that he was removed from the classroom, deprived of his livelihood, publicly branded a racist, and a fourteen year career of service to DePaul was abruptly suspended, all without being given a reasonable opportunity to present his side of the story.

DePaul should have tried reconciliation rather than recrimination. The students are not terrorists, Tom Klocek is not a bigot and the Dean of SNL is not an ogre. But because of the way this whole mess was mishandled a lot of people will end up believing they are.


Jason said...

Hi, John,

Just wanted to let you know I've linked to this post over on Song of the Suburbs.


John Ruberry said...

Thanks, Jason!