Funny story: Conservative prof fired for telling joke

by Julia Dent - Meredith College on January 18, 2012

When Robert Klein Engler–a conservative professor at Roosevelt University–was fired from his position, he was upset. He was frustrated. And he was completely in the dark.

University officials refused to specify exactly why he had been let go, and did not divulge the details until two months after the firing, in August of 2010. The reason? He told a politically incorrect joke. Now Engler is suing the university and its union for failing to protect his academic freedom.

Initially, the university’s official word on the firing was that Engler did not cooperate with its investigation of him. But according to Engler, there was no investigation, and the university never informed him of what they were investigating.

“After many written requests to know the charges against me so I could prepare an adequate defense, they refused to cooperate,” Engler said. “If the RU administration had just told me and the union what the false and baseless charges were, then this whole matter would have evaporated like dew on the grass when sunlight warms the morning.”

He is now suing both Roosevelt University and the Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization, the union that he claims failed to protect his interests.

Engler had taught at Roosevelt University since 1999. In May 2010, he was told to attend a meeting to discuss a harassment complaint from “one or more students,” but the university would not tell him the nature of the complaint. Engler was fired in August of 2010 on the grounds that he would not participate in the investigation of the student’s complaint.

“The administration claims I did not cooperate with their investigation,” he said. “Any reasonable person knows with this charge university administrators have turned things upside down. Add to that, if you can fire someone by e-mail, certainly, you can cooperate with an investigation by e-mail.”

It took months for the university to explain the nature of the harassment charge, and it involved only one student, who had complained about a joke Engler made in his City and Citizenship course. The joke was told during a discussion of Arizona’s immigration law. In jest, Engler said, “A group of sociologists did a poll in Arizona regarding the state’s new immigration law. Sixty percent said they were in favor, and 40 percent said, ‘No hablo Ingles.’”

A single student was sufficiently offended to complain to the department head. At that point, the complaint became a harassment charge—a point Engler refuses to concede.

“No reasonable person believes reporting a joke in class is harassment,” he said.

Upon hearing the reason for the harassment charge, Engler appealed to the Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization. The union promised to help him, and said that refusal to cooperate with a university investigation was not sufficient grounds for termination. But RAFO gradually ceased communicating with Engler and “at some point dropped any adversarial pretense and simply colluded with Roosevelt,” according to the lawsuit.

RAFO denied these charges.

“Despite the union’s efforts to urge Mr. Engler to attend the meeting and receive union representation, Mr. Engler refused to attend and was eventually terminated for failing to cooperate with a university investigation,” said a union spokesperson. RAFO is “confident that Mr. Engler’s latest claim will also be dismissed.”

Roosevelt University declined to comment on the situation.

According to the website for Engler’s defense fund, the lawsuit is about “standing up and seeking fair treatment against two powerful forces: politically correct academia, and an arrogant union establishment that long ago lost sight of its proper mission.”

Fix Contributor Julia Dent is a freshman at Meredith College.

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  • http://www.tempeteaparty.org Lee Reynolds

    What valid purpose do colleges and universities serve in society if this is what goes on in them?

    I ask this as someone who works for a major university and has seen insanity of this sort first-hand.

    There is no place in a free society for pockets of tyranny where the expression of ideas deemed “inappropriate” are grounds for punishment or dismissal. This is especially true in an academic setting where the interaction of opposing and competing ideas is the basis for the pursuit of truth.

    What is especially galling is that this same professor, had he made a joke about conservatives or libertarians, calling us “teabaggers” for instance, would never have been punished in any way. Any student who dared complain about him would themselves be targeted. There is no standard when there is a double standard. When those in disfavor with the prevailing political culture are not afforded the same rights and protections as those who are in its favor, then no one can be said to have these rights and protections.

    A free society is one in which it is safe to be unpopular. The world of academia is not free.

  • Pingback: Professor fired for telling “offensive” joke | Tempe Tea Party

  • Robert Klein Engler
  • Randy of Boston

    One wonders about the larger cultural context around this incident. It’s obvious that his “union” had little desire safeguard his professional interests and his civil liberties. The Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization probably looks after matters like workload, compensation, and job security; but, as I presume it is infested with left-of-center advocates, his “racist” remark nullifies that.

    This also broadcasts the more insidious message that if you’re not conforming to the prevailing ethos, you’re dead meat. You will not have an official advocate: you’re on your own. To appropriate a favorite leftist buzzword, this event will surely have a “chilling effect” on open Conservative discourse.

  • richb

    What do you expect from an university named for the wrong Roosevelt?

    Seriously, they will be paying out a large sum of money to end this stupidity, but they earned it. All too typical modern US university reaction to nothing.

    Alright, I guess I am glad its named for FDR rather then TR. TR would be horrified by a “school” like Roosevelt U. But these schools will find themselves less relevant to anybody as time goes on.