Updated on March 16 with news that Samuel Joeckel, the English professor, had been fired.

Jeremy Young, senior manager of Free Expression and Education at PEN America, said: “The dismissal of Samuel Joeckel is as outrageous as the investigation was preposterous. It is a dark day for academic freedom when parents of adult students can cause the intimidation of a professor over a single complaint, and when a professor can be fired simply for mentioning that intimidation on social media.”

(NEW YORK) — The investigation of a Florida university professor’s teaching material is “a textbook example of how not to handle a spurious complaint,” PEN America said today, following reports that administrators were retaliating against the professor for teaching about race. 

Samuel Joeckel, an English professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University – a private Christian college in Florida – was told by his dean that the content of his Composition II course was being investigated over concerns a racial justice unit in the course was “indoctrinating students,” a charge that administrators claim was first raised by the parent of a student in his class.

Joeckel has taught the unit in his composition course for 12 years, but PBA does not offer faculty tenure, and the university has told him  the renewal of contract is on hold pending the curriculum review. The university has also claimed that the professor’s social media post about the incident violates university policy. A petition with over 1,000 signatures has been organized by students and colleagues to support Joeckel.

“No university, even a private one, should violate the tenets of academic freedom, least of all to suit a political agenda,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of Free Expression and Education at PEN America. ”But if Palm Beach Atlantic University is indeed considering not renewing a professor for the content of a course he has been teaching for 12 years, this cannot be separated from the broader political climate in Florida. The language of “indoctrination” is straight out of the playbook of legislative censorship that is being used across Florida and the country to limit what teachers can teach and what students can learn. It is particularly disheartening that the school was allegedly acting on the complaint of a parent; questions of what adult students learn should not be subject to the whims of a single parent.”

“It is also concerning that the university has allegedly threatened Joeckel because he took to social media in response to his dean’s inappropriate actions,” Young continued. “This is a clear violation of Joeckel’s academic freedom and free expression. The entire situation demonstrates the far-reaching effects of educational censorship policies like those in place in Florida, and represents a textbook example of how not to handle a spurious complaint about a faculty member’s pedagogy.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057