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English professor in Florida says university terminated his contract after a complaint over his racial justice unit

Former Palm Beach Atlantic University English Professor Samuel Joeckel stands in front of the Palm Beach Court House in Florida on February 20. (Photo: Damon Higgins/Palm Beach Post/USA Today Network)

(CNN) — A former English professor at Florida’s Palm Beach Atlantic University says the school terminated his contract early after a complaint that he was “indoctrinating” students by teaching about racial justice.

Sam Joeckel told CNN in a Wednesday statement he felt the university ended his contract early “for a clear reason: my decision to teach and speak about racial justice.”

Officials at the private Christian university informed Joeckel last month his contract renewal was placed on hold while they investigated the materials he used in the racial justice unit, telling him a decision would be made by March 15, CNN previously reported. The former professor told CNN at the time February’s conversation with his employers indicated the investigation was prompted by a complaint from a parent.

“I believe this goes against the Christian beliefs that I hold closely, and that PBA claims to hold closely,” Joeckel said in his statement this week. “PBA has chosen to reject the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, [racial] injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.'”

In a statement in response to CNN’s inquiry, Palm Beach Atlantic University spokesperson Jason Masterson said: “On the advice of legal counsel, the university has no comment.”

The university’s employee handbook says, “Discontinuance of employment may occur at any time, without cause, at the discretion of PBA.” The institution does not offer tenure, the review process for employment decisions regarding senior faculty that is meant to safeguard academic freedom.

Joeckel said he believed “the timing of this is not a coincidence,” and pointed to rhetoric from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other “far-right politicians and activists” around subjects including race.

DeSantis, a Republican, has said he intends to defund all diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges and universities in Florida. These policies and programs are created to promote representation for people who have historically faced discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, disability, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

Joeckel said he plans to pursue legal options to “fight back and show PBA, and other institutions, that they cannot get away with this.”

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