Col­lege pro­fes­sor who op­poses gay mar­riage in limbo

Stu­dents see chil­dren’s rights fo­rum as ‘hos­tile’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

A tenured, con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian pro­fes­sor in Cal­i­for­nia — who was raised by les­bian moth­ers but op­poses same-sex mar­riage — is wait­ing to hear what ac­tion his univer­sity em­ployer will take against him in its find­ing that he tried to “in­tim­i­date” stu­dents who sought to com­plain about his teach­ing about fam­ily mat­ters.

At is­sue is whether the pro­fes­sor, Robert Os­car Lopez, tried to re­tal­i­ate against stu­dents who ac­cused him of cre­at­ing a “hos­tile learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment” for con­duct­ing a con­fer­ence last year in which par­tic­i­pants ex­pressed op­pos­ing views about chil­dren’s rights, among other is­sues.

Mr. Lopez, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of English and clas­sics at Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, Northridge, said he did not en­gage in any ad­verse ac­tions against any stu­dents who at­tended his English and Greek and Ro­man mythol­ogy classes more than a year ago.

In­stead, the stu­dents in ques­tion re­ceived A grades in his classes — and he did noth­ing to im­pede their ac­tiv­i­ties at the univer­sity or to lodge com­plaints with its Of­fice of Eq­uity and Di­ver­sity, Charles S. LiMan­dri, pres­i­dent and chief coun­sel of the Free­dom of Con­science De­fense Fund, said in an Oct. 22 let­ter to CSU Provost Yi Li.

“Un­der th­ese cir­cum­stances, we have no choice but to con­clude that the dis­po­si­tion of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion is a purely po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal at­tack on Dr. Lopez for hold­ing — and ex­pos­ing his stu­dents to — ideas about chil­dren’s rights … which are ap­par­ently un­pop­u­lar” at the univer­sity, Mr. LiMan­dri wrote to Mr. Li, who is also vice pres­i­dent for aca­demic af­fairs at the univer­sity.

Mr. LiMan­dri fur­ther asked the univer­sity to re­con­sider its ac­tions and re­verse its find­ing of re­tal­i­a­tion against Mr. Lopez.

The mat­ter is un­der dis­cus­sion at the univer­sity.

Mr. Li re­sponded to an in­quiry from The Wash­ing­ton Times, say­ing the univer­sity “is fully com­mit­ted to up­hold­ing aca­demic free­dom and free speech, as well as the right of our stu­dents to bring forth con­cerns. Any in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sult­ing from stu­dent com­plaints fol­lows es­tab­lished CSU pro­to­col and is con­ducted on the ba­sis of de­ter­min­ing whether or not there has been a vi­o­la­tion of univer­sity pol­icy.”

“We take is­sue with the ac­cu­racy of the al­le­ga­tions cur­rently cir­cu­lat­ing re­lat­ing to this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but as this is a confidenti­al per­son­nel mat­ter that in­volves confidenti­al stu­dent in­for­ma­tion, we can­not dis­cuss or dis­close the de­tails,” Mr. Li said.

“How­ever, we can share our core prin­ci­ples. We have a long history of wel­com­ing a di­ver­sity of per­spec­tives and cham­pi­oning free thought and dis­course within our aca­demic en­vi­ron­ment, while en­sur­ing that this en­vi­ron­ment is free from dis­crim­i­na­tion, ha­rass­ment and re­tal­i­a­tion,” the provost said.

The com­plaints stem from a 2014 con­fer­ence on chil­dren’s rights that Mr. Lopez or­ga­nized at the Ron­ald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary and that he in­cluded as an op­tion in the syl­labi for his classes.

About 110 of his 160 stu­dents at­tended the “Bonds That Mat­ter” con­fer­ence and heard pre­sen­ta­tions by five women — both con­ser­va­tives and fem­i­nists — on di­vorce, adop­tion and chil­dren’s rights, in­clud­ing rights to know one’s bi­o­log­i­cal mother and fa­ther. At least one stu­dent raised the is­sue of gay par­ents with a con­fer­ence speaker dur­ing the ques­tion-and-an­swer pe­riod.

Based on that dis­cus­sion, the now-for­mer stu­dent in May (about six months af­ter the con­fer­ence) filed a for­mal com­plaint against Mr. Lopez, ac­cus­ing him of cre­at­ing a “hos­tile learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment on the ba­sis of gen­der and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion,” ac­cord­ing to an Oct. 16 no­tice pro­vided to Mr. Lopez by CSU of­fi­cials.

In its Oct. 16 no­tice, the univer­sity told Mr. Lopez that, af­ter a lengthy in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it was dis­miss­ing the com­plaint about a “hos­tile learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

But it said there was suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence that the pro­fes­sor “at­tempted to in­tim­i­date and pre­vent” cer­tain stu­dents “from ex­er­cis­ing their rights” to re­port “what they per­ceived to be a hos­tile learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment” stem­ming from the con­fer­ence and sub­se­quent class dis­cus­sions about it.

Mr. Lopez has since asked to per­son­ally present his re­but­tal to CSU of­fi­cials. Univer­sity pol­icy, for in­stance, says stu­dents should “at­tempt to re­solve their con­cern” with a fac­ulty mem­ber be­fore making a for­mal com­plaint.

Mr. Lopez “was fol­low­ing this process in this case, and is now falsely ac­cused of ‘re­tal­i­a­tion’ for do­ing so,” Mr. LiMan­dri wrote.

If the univer­sity takes dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, it could be de­mo­tion, sus­pen­sion with­out pay or dis­missal, Mr. Lopez told The Times.

Mr. Lopez, an ex­ec­u­tive board mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Rights In­sti­tute and a blog­ger at EnglishMan­, has writ­ten about chil­dren’s rights for years, partly be­cause of his ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up with his lov­ing les­bian mother and her part­ner, but apart from his bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther.

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