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Saturday, December 09, 2023

Cancellation of two UF race and policing courses sparks outrage

Law class canceled

After a summer of protests against systemic racism and police brutality, two UF law courses centered on race were pulled from the course catalog.

Michelle Jacobs, a UF law professor since 1993, filled out an application to conduct her classes online in Fall, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a 66-year-old Black woman recovering from abdominal surgery who has a damaged right lung, Jacobs has a high-risk of having severe illness if she gets COVID-19.

Her request was ignored, she said. Instead, administration canceled her only two Fall courses: Critical Race Theory and Police Procedures. Administration told her she could come back to teach in Spring and they will create more sections to make up for the cancelation, she said.

In an email sent to her students, Jacobs wrote that her request to teach her Critical Race Theory seminar and Police Practices course was denied. The seminar is canceled for the semester.

UF spokesperson Steve Orlando wrote in an email to The Alligator that the law school was unable to comment on “any specific course offering or instructional decision.”

Jordan Grana, a 27-year-old UF law student, gathered with about 50 students, alumni and community members Thursday in the courtyard at the UF Levin College of Law to protest the university’s decision to cancel the courses and to ask for them to be moved online.

Grana, who was signed up for Police Practices in Fall, said he spent more than $100 on the course textbook and is planning to hang onto it. He’s hoping the university will reverse its decision and reinstate an online version of the course.

“There is no reason why they should not do everything in their power to teach the courses that equip their students to dismantle that racism,” he said.

Peter Chan, a 22-year-old UF law student, was also removed from the Police Practices seminar. He, too, wants it to be moved online.

Chan said learning from Jacobs is a valuable experience because she is committed to racial justice and making the world a better place. He doesn’t want to miss this opportunity.

Jacobs said she only requested the seminars be moved online and never intended for them to be canceled. She has taught online for more than 10 years, including her Criminal Law in the Virtual Context course, which has occasionally been held on an online virtual world called Second Life, she said.

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More than 150 current and past UF law students signed a document asking the law school to let Jacobs teach her classes online. They planned to deliver it to the dean Thursday after the event, said co-author of the letter and 24-year-old UF law student Ebony Love, but the dean’s door was locked.

An employee from the dean’s office accepted the letter, but gave no further information to the group, she said.

Love took Jacobs’ Critical Race Theory seminar in Fall 2019. She said the class showed Love how race affects areas like poverty, sports and the educational system, not just criminal justice. In the letter, she and Curran Butcher, a 26-year-old third-year UF law student, ask UF Levin College of Law Dean Laura Rosenbury to allow the class to be taught online because it supports educating future lawyers on racism and police procedures, she said.

Love said that Jacobs should not have to choose between educating students and risking her life. If Levin College of Law wants to fight racial injustice, she said, it should allow Jacobs to teach.

“What you are saying is that one of the most susceptible persons to getting COVID-19 and potentially dying has to go through these hoops just to keep her livelihood,” she said. “So if you really want to say Black lives matter, then you would allow her to teach.”

She said canceling the classes so close to the start of the semester makes her feel like administration is ignoring the impact last-minute schedule changes can have on students, such as finding a course that fits their schedule and obtaining course materials in time for the start of classes, especially because of shipping delays caused by COVID-19.

“It is not only a spit in the face to us, but it really makes us question why we came to the University of Florida in the first place,” she said.

Students at the event said they also want Levin College of Law to explain why they canceled the classes at the last minute, apologize to the students affected by the cancellation and allow all previously enrolled students to regain their spot in online versions of the courses.

Butcher said he looked forward to taking the Critical Race Theory seminar for more than a year. He said the law school is not transparent and he wants administration to include students and faculty in decisions that directly affect classes, such as their decision to cancel Jacobs’ courses.

Commissioner Reina Saco held a sign reading, “Black Profs Matter,” at the event before she hurried off to a meeting. She took a criminal law class with Jacobs her first year as a student, and felt it was necessary to come support the professor who encouraged her to run for local office, she said.

Rosenbury released a plan June 17 outlining how the UF Levin College of Law will address racial justice, which included changing the required curriculum and supporting the Virgil D. Hawkins Civil Clinic, as well as celebrating Black alumni, implementing anti-racism and bias training for faculty, diversifying the Student Body and hiring more Black faculty.

The plan, called a “Roadmap for Racial Justice,” is a sketch to show what the school is currently working on and will have other actions added on as decisions are made within the university, the dean said. Administration will continuously review the campus community and racial climate over time to evaluate where it can improve, Rosenbury said in a previous interview with The Alligator.

The UF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, a union for the higher education faculty of Florida, sent a letter to Rosenbury stating that the two seminars should be available to be taught remotely in the Fall.

Additionally, a letter was submitted Thursday morning by law school students to UF President Kent Fuchs asking for the courses to be taught online as well. As of the protest on Thursday afternoon, they had not received a response.

In an email sent to all law students Tuesday, Levin College of Law Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs Jason Nance wrote that the college plans to offer more courses in Spring studying themes about race and race relations. Additionally, it intends to add a new seminar to the Fall schedule called “Organizational Theory and the Law,” he wrote.

The pledge to take action for racial justice coupled with the cancellation of classes dealing with pertinent racial issues taught by one of the only six tenured Black professors at the college felt wrong to Butcher, he said.

“At the end of the day, you have to judge the organization by its actions not by its press releases,” he said.

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