An accounting professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management is finding himself in a controversy over what some critics claim was an “extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist response to his students’ request for empathy and compassion during a time of civil unrest.”
Gordon Klein, who has been teaching at Anderson since 1981, wrote an email that appears to mock a student requesting special accommodations over a final exam in light of the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests and riots throughout the U.S. The unnamed student asked the professor, author of a textbook on accounting and ethics, to “give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota.” A lawyer with a business degree from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Klein has also taught at UCLA’s School of Law and Loyola Law School.
More than 17,000 people have since signed a petition calling for UCLA to dismiss Klein from the school. “Given his background in ethics and liability, one would expect Professor Klein to hold himself to a higher social standing, especially given his position as a steward within higher education,” according to the petition started by UCLA student Preet Bains. “However, his response to students was inappropriate, tone-deaf, and highly insensitive.”
SCHOOL SAYS IT IS CONDUCTING AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE PROFESSOR’S BEHAVIOR
Anderson, meantime, is conducting an investigation into the professor’s email. “Respect and equality for all are core principles at UCLA Anderson,” a spokesperson for the school told Inside Higher Ed. “It is deeply disturbing to learn of this email, which we are investigating. We apologize to the student who received it and to all those who have been as upset and offended by it as we are ourselves.”
The private email conversation between the student and the professor has gone public, surfaced in several social media outlets, including Reddit, and sparked an impassioned discussion. Klein’s response has been widely interpreted as both inappropriately flippant and condescending, even invoking Martin Luther King.
“Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota,” wrote Klein. “Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only? Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? Also, do you have any idea if any students are from Minneapolis? I assume that they probably are especially devastated as well. I am thinking that a white student from there might be possibly even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they’re racist even if they are not. My TA is from Minneapolis, so if you don’t know, I can probably ask her. Can you guide me on how you think I should achieve a “no-harm” outcome since our sole course grade is from a final exam only? One last thing strikes me: Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the ‘color of their skin.’ Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition? Thanks, G. Klein”
PROF ACCUSED OF A ‘BLATANT LACK OF EMPATHY’
The petition calling for his firing, now signed by 17,803 persons, calls out Klein for what it says is his “blatant lack of empathy and unwillingness to accommodate his students during a time of protests speaks to his apathetic stance on the matter. His suggestion that a student with one black and one Asian parent should only be accommodated half as much as a black student is a preposterously racist notion.
“Furthermore, his claim that a white student from Minneapolis “might possibly be even more devastated […] because some might think that they’re racist” puts into perspective his ignorance, his bias, and his gross inability to comprehend the gravity of the systematic violence, discrimination, and fear experienced by Black people in this country.”
According to his biographical profile on Anderson’s website, Klein is “a well-known court-appointed referee, arbitrator of commercial disputes, State Bar consultant and television commentator. He has also served as an expert in numerous well-publicized cases involving Doctor Dre, Apple, the wrongful death of Michael Jackson, and renowned investor Peter Thiel.” His profile describes the professor as “a nationally recognized investment and accounting expert who has appeared on CNBC and CNN Radio. He has been featured and quoted in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Los Angeles Times, People, Bloomberg News, CNN, NPR, MTV, and ABC Nightly News. He is the author of Ethics in Accounting: A Decision-Making Approach, a widely-used textbook on accountants’ professional responsibilities.”
KLEIN ALSO ACCUSED OF SENDING AN INAPPROPRIATE EMAIL TO A FEMALE STUDENT
On Reddit, Klein is also accused of sending an inappropriate email in March to a female student requesting an adjustment to her grade. A screenshot of his email shows the professor stating that the student was his favorite and that he would love to hang with her and her group members once quarantine was over (see below).
A UCLA student, writing on Reddit, explained her view that it is not a matter of being “woke.” “It’s having clear human decency. He suggested the student was running astray from the words of MLK, who died to fight for the black community. There were many things in the email he said that were wrong, and as a black student I sure as hell would not want him as a professor. We have a right to be outraged, we go to a top public university and I’d assume our professors would be educated enough to not say racially insensitive things. As a black female student, I would not feel safe/ comfortable in a class with that man, especially with what’s come out with the email. It’s great that you don’t feel professors need to be “woke”, but you don’t speak for everyone.”
Klein did not respond to an email seeking his comment.