TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — An English professor at a private university in Florida has come under fire from administration over teaching a racial justice unit.
Despite his more than 20 years of service to the university, and teaching the unit for more than a decade, Dr. Samuel Joeckel of West Palm Beach said he is facing losing his job due to what he calls toxic state politics.
Joeckel has taught at Palm Beach Atlantic University since 2002, according to reports by WPBF, Inside Higher Ed, and CNN. Speaking with those publications, Joeckel said he’s taught a unit at the private, Christian university for about 12 years, and until 2023, it was never a “cause for concern” to university administrators.
That changed on Feb. 15, when Joeckel said the university provost and the dean of the school of liberal arts were “waiting” for him after a class. The dean had an envelope in his hand, according to the professor, and inside was a letter saying that renewal of his employment contract was delayed while the university reviewed material used in his racial justice unit.
When he asked why there was concern, Joeckel told Inside Higher Ed that the dean told him the univeristy president had gotten “an angry phone call from a parent of a student” and that he was being accused of indoctrinating students.
In a post the professor shared on Instagram, Joeckel went further, saying that his discussion with the dean was “cut short” so the administrator could “prepare for the arrival of Ron DeSantis and his speaking engagement on campus,” that same day.
While on campus, the governor was joined by a variety of lawmakers and state officials to present a legislative plan for a “Digital Bill of Rights” for Floridians. The Digital Bill of Rights is focused on protecting Floridians from censorship online.
Speaking with CNN, Joeckel said the move by the university came without warning.
“The told me they had concerns that I was indoctrinating students. That was the exact word they used: indoctrinating,” Joeckel said. “I had no idea this was coming.”
The university will decide by March 15 to either allow Joeckel to remain teaching, or be released from the contract, according to the letter, which he shared with CNN. PBAU does not provide tenure options to faculty, according to its handbook, instead renewing contracts on a scaling amount of time from one to two to three year increments.
While the handbook reads that employment can end at any time, without cause, at the university’s discretion, Joeckel said the situation is “definitely” related to state politics.
“Of course I can’t say with certainty the connection, but things like this do not happen in a vacuum. What happened to me is definitely influenced by a toxic political culture, and it’s my opinion that the university is playing a role,” Joeckel told CNN.
Florida’s latest education laws, both focused on critical race theory bans and the proposal to further limit curriculum related to or based upon diversity, equity, and inclusion, legislatively only apply to public universities and colleges, as well as the state’s public K-12 education system.
“We do not like to talk about racism,” Joeckel told CNN. “We do not like to have uncomfortable conversations.”
PBAU being a private college, the laws do not directly affect them. However, Joeckel told CNN that the new laws and subsequent legal and political battles surrounding them are setting a tone for the state’s education, even in private institutions.
Going further, Joeckel said the claim that he’s indoctrinating students is against his entire teaching philosophy.
“Indoctrinating students goes against every educational bone in my body. You ask any student who has ever been in one of my classes for the last 20 years,” Joeckel told WPBF.
CNN, WPBF, and Inside Higher Ed all reached out to PBAU for comment and were told the university won’t discuss personnel matters.
Comments on Joeckel’s Instagram post have been full of support for the professor. Some comments said Joeckel’s classes were inclusive, showed his passion for equality, and that the racial justice unit fit the honors program’s mission of “challenging our worldview with different perspectives.”
In the meantime, a petition has started on Change.org to help Joeckel keep his job. So far it has more than 800 signatures.