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PBAU professor is being investigated for teaching racial justice in class. Here’s what university says.

NewsPBAU professor is being investigated for teaching racial justice in class. Here's what university says.

WEST PALM BEACH – Samuel Joeckel has taught the same writing composition class at Pspanlm Bespanch Atlspanntic University for more than a decade. And while he says the course has not changed much in years, the world he teaches in has.

The veteran English professor says he learned just how much last week when he received a visit after class from a dean and the school’s provost.

The somber-faced administrators told him Wednesday that his annual contract renewal, usually a formality, was being postponed while they investigated a claim he was “indoctrinating” students with discussions about racial justice, he recalled.

A parent, it seemed, had called to complain.

Palm Beach Atlantic University English Professor Samuel Joeckel has been placed under review, accused of "indoctrinating" students by teaching about racial justice in his writing and composition class.

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Joeckel for years has included teachings about racial justice in the class. Students read and analyze passages about the topic, discuss them and write short essays of their own.

“I don’t make my opinion known about an issue,” he said. “I present it to them, and I let them wrestle with it on their own. That’s what the work of scholarship is all about. This is what I do for a living. We wrestle with ideas.”

It was not Joeckel’s first brush with the small Christian school’s administration lately. Last year, he said, officials put him on an “improvement plan” after accusing him of “promoting” LGBTQ issues in the classroom, a claim he denies.

That time, he said nothing publicly. But last week he decided to speak out.

He logged onto Instagram and announced what happened, punctuating his post with references to #racism and #whitenationalism. At a time when Gov. Ron DeSantis is moving to limit the teaching of critical race theory in Florida public universities, the story of a similar-sounding incident at a private university quickly took hold.

By Monday the situation had been featured by CNN, an online petition to save his job had garnered more than 800 signatures, and a group of current and former students were peppering the university president’s office with calls of support for him.

What the PBAU provost said about the investigation

A spokesperson for the 3,700-student school declined to comment. But in a private memo to the school’s deans, Provost Chelly Templeton on Monday defended her actions.

She said last week’s move against Joeckel was simply an attempt to “better understand the pedagogical rationale for including these extensive lectures in a Composition II class,” according to a copy obtained by The Palm Beach Post.

“Faculty are free to choose a theme that unifies their Composition II course,” Templeton wrote. “However, it is important that the Composition II objectives remain the focus of the course.”

Joeckel, who has taught at PBAU for two decades, says he had never received pushback before last year on the topics he teaches in his classes. And he said he found it jarring that the immediate response was to put his employment in question by delaying his contract renewal.

“PBAU administration has never voiced any concern about my racial justice unit over the last 12 years,” he said. “This was the first time. And it’s also the time when they informed me that they may not renew my contract.”

Melania Trump woman of distinction a turning point?

Some of Joeckel’s former students say the move against him coincides with what they see as a move by school leaders to identify more visibly with conservative politics and political leaders

A turning point, some said, was in 2020, when it angered some students by naming first lady Melania Trump as its annual “woman of distinction.”

“I think that was the mark of when things really started to change and the culture started to change,” said Danielle Hawk, a former student and school employee who is now among those clamoring for Joeckel to keep his job.

“The PBA that I went to was nowhere near what we’re seeing right now,” she added. “There was a different provost and a different president both when I worked there and I went to school there. As an alumna, I’ve been really disappointed seeing them lean further and further into becoming partisan.”

Madison Stoneburner, a former student of Joeckel’s who graduated in 2021, said he had a reputation for challenging his students intellectually without imposing his own  opinions. Even students who disagreed with him politically would jockey to get into his classes.

“We had students who fought to get into Dr. Joeckel’s classes,” she said. “There was always a wait list for it, even people who disagreed with him.”

Joeckel has turned over his syllabus and class materials to school administrators for review. He continues to teach his daily classes, awaiting a decision on his employment contract.

“Why didn’t this happen five or 10 years ago? I don’t know for sure,” he said. “But I believe it’s a product of our toxic political culture, and I believe that PBAU is conforming to this toxic political culture.”

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