Six State Center Community College District professors filed suit Thursday against California Community College and State Center Community College District officials, alleging that they are being forced to teach “controversial” views about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Fresno, challenges regulations approved by the California Community College system board of governors in March to include diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility standards when evaluating and conducting tenure review of district employees.
Such is a violation of their free speech rights and are unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the lawsuit contends.
“These regulations are a totalitarian triple-whammy,” FIRE attorney Daniel Ortner said in a news release. “The government is forcing professors to teach and preach a politicized viewpoint they do not share, imposing incomprehensible guidelines, and threatening to punish professors when they cross an arbitrary, indiscernible line.”
The suit was filed on their behalf by The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, which is based in Philadelphia.
It’s the latest lawsuit by FIRE against State Center. Conservative Clovis Community College students sued college officials last year when they were prohibited from using internal bulletin boards for their organization’s flyers, which had been deemed by some college officials as offensive and prohibited under the college’s then-flyer policy.
A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in October 2022 against the college that was appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently upheld the lower court decision and ruled that the college officials had violated the students’ free-speech rights.
The six plaintiffs in the new federal lawsuit are English professor Loren Palsgaard, philosophy professor James Druley, history professor David Richardson, and chemistry professor Linda De Morales, all on the Madera Community College faculty; chemistry professor Bill Blanken of Reedley Community College; and philosophy professor Michael Stannard of Clovis Community College. All six are tenured.
The defendants are Sonya Christian, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, the State Board of Governors, State Center Chancellor Carole Goldsmith and the district’s Board of Trustees.
“I’m a professor of chemistry. How am I supposed to incorporate DEI into my classroom instruction,” Blanken said in the news release. “What’s the ‘anti-racist’ perspective on the atomic mass of boron?”
Richardson and Stannard are no strangers to what’s deemed by some to be the nation’s “culture wars.” Richardson, a self-described gay conservative, was put on administrative leave this year after handing out chocolate bars with wrappers that some considered “transphobic.”
Richardson remains on paid leave while the investigation continues, State Center spokeswoman Jill Wagner said.
And Richardson and Stannard filed suit in 2022 in Fresno County Superior Court, claiming their First Amendment rights had been violated because they were being punished for expressing views that were deemed politically incorrect.
State Center and the California Community College system did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Wagner said later Thursday that the district had not yet been served with the lawsuit and would need to review it before providing any comment.
On Friday morning, California Community College spokeswoman Melissa Villarin said the system had no comment at this time and noted that it’s being represented by the California Attorney General’s Office.
“Our response opposing the plaintiffs’ request will be in court filings expected to be filed soon,” she said.