An Inclusive Litany

12/14/01

On September 19, four Muslim students complained that in a lecture the previous day, Orange Coast College political science professor Ken Hearlson called them "terrorists," "Nazis," and "murderers." One claimed Hearlson pointed at him and said, "You drove two planes into the World Trade Center. You were the cause of what happened September 11." Hearlson was immediately placed on administrative leave and barred from campus, with no hearing, and the incident was widely publicized as part of a broad backlash against Muslims.

However, an investigation later revealed, based on students' tape recordings of his lecture, that Hearlson was talking about Muslim extremism in general, with no references to anybody in attendance. But while its report exonerated Hearlson, a letter was placed in his personnel file that he interpreted as a reprimand. A university press release announcing that Hearlson was returning to teaching detailed the recent charges against him and the fact that a report was filed on the incident, but did not reveal the report's conclusions. As for the students who filed the false complaints, no action is being taken against them.

Some faculty members later circulated a petition in support of the four students, placing blame on Hearlson's freewheeling, iconoclastic style of teaching for creating a "hostile environment." Hearlson's strong religious beliefs and extensive military background do not seem to have helped, either. Kevin Parker, an English professor who signed the petition, commented that "the four students who raised complaints were factually wrong in their accusations. However, they were inferentially correct."

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