By Erik White,
I am writing today to tell you of a great miscarriage of justice, in our public education system. The greatest teacher I have ever known, John Milton, has been fired from De Anza Community College, for an obscene gesture or phrase. Whether or not John is guilty of the obscenity, the way the administration handled the incident was dangerous for all teachers. The administration refuses to justify its actions, or even give a reason for the firing. Their handling of the matter has been draconian, and sets a president of fear that looms over all the teachers still teaching in the Community College system.
The administrations handling of the situation was most appalling, and I believe violated john’s human rights, and the U.S. Constitution. John’s “hearing” was more like an inquisition, done in secret behind closed doors. The administration did no fact-finding. There was no oversight, after the complaint was made. No one from the administration went to observe John’s class. All but one of John’s students walked out on a Tuesday, the students returned as if nothing had happened on Wednesday and John taught class as normal. On Thursday the administrators showed up to John’s class and removed him with security guards at the door. John was not allowed to face his accusers. He was not allowed to produce any evidence to refute the allegations. The student, who did not participate in the ousting, was not allowed to speak in John’s defense, or testify to validity of the allegations made against John.
Whether or not the administration was justified in firing John is not the issue. The way the matter was handled is dangerous for all teachers. All quarter long John had been telling me how many of his students had no interest in learning. Showing up late and unprepared to a required class, they did not do the work John asked, nor would they engage in the class discussions he facilitated. All of the students who walked out on John were failing his class. They said they were unaware of their assignments, but there is at least one other student who did know the assignments, had turned most of them in, and was getting a B in the class. So it is fair to say that John’s assignments were clear, but the majority of the students just didn’t want to do the work. So instead of receive F’s for the work they hadn’t done, this group of students reported John to the dean, so they could wipe the slate clean and start over with a new teacher.
Neither the students, nor the administration, had any regard for the 50-year reputation of Mr. Milton, or the thousands of letters he has received saying that he is the greatest teacher so many people have ever had. The students were empowered by the administration to make anonymous accusations, without having to answer for the consequences of their actions. This means that any group of students who don’t like a teacher can report them to the dean, make allegations, and the administration has the ability to fire any teacher without fact finding, observation, or the teachers right to defend themselves. This creates a precedent of ignorance, where students can destroy the career of any teacher they don’t like, simply by making allegations against him or her. The students, by remaining anonymous, do not have to answer for their actions. They bare no burden of proof. There are no negative consequences for their actions if the allegations are found to be false. In fact their allegations are taken as truth, because no investigation was ever done.
If a teacher does something offensive enough to be fired for, it should be made public record, and the students who make the allegations should have to support their claims in person. The Constitution guarantees that the accused shall be allowed to face his accusers, produce evidence, and call witnesses. De Anza College is a public institution. If it is not bound by the Constitution and its protections, then who is? The administration’s secrecy, and abject failure to direct an investigation with due process, creates a dangerous and fearful environment for all teachers. They presume to have the right to fire anyone they don’t like, and they don’t have to justify their actions to the community who pays their salaries. This is bad for students as well. It promotes an atmosphere where students expect to get good grades without doing much work. If they don’t like their teacher, they can simply remove him or her, by reporting the teacher to the dean.
John deserves justice. If he is guilty of something, then let us all know why he has been fired. Firing the greatest teacher so many people have ever had, behind closed doors, in secret, with no disclosure to the public, is a miscarriage of justice, and does a great disservice to us all. No teacher should have to teach to please their students, or fear losing their job. The greatest teachers I ever had were always hard, and pushed their students to grow and expand their minds. Students that don’t want to work hard should not get good grades. It is bad for us all. Justice demands that John’s case is made public, and the administrators and students responsible for his removal are made to answer for their accusations, and their actions, in public, on the record. Secret tribunals have no place in public education, or in the United States of America. If you find this injustice as dangerous as I do, please write a letter voicing your concerns to Brian Murphy, the college president, and Christina G. Espinosa-Pieb, the vice president of instruction, at De Anza College, 21250 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Cupertino, CA 95014. Please, help us stand for justice. If you would like to learn more, or find out how you can help, please contact either John Milton (408) 455-4532, or myself Erik White (650) 200-9076.
Erik White, Artist/ Owner Gravitational Art