"Shaken and Heartsick"- Another Professor at a Christian University Fired for Racial Justice Teachings
Professor Julie Moore was fired from Taylor University in what has become a pattern at far-right Christian schools.
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In 1930, a white mob perpetrated a lynching in Marion, Indiana. Two young Black men, Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, had been accused of raping a white woman and killing her boyfriend.
This lynching might have joined the other lynchings—more than 4,000 (that we know of) in the Jim Crow era—in relative anonymity. But someone roused a photographer, Lawrence Beitler, from his sleep and told to take a picture of it.
Beitler made his way to the town square where 15,000 white men, women, and youngsters milled around the brutalized bodies of Shipp and Smith as they hung by their necks from the same tree.
The single picture the disgusted Beitler took that night became one of the most gruesome and recognizable photos of the lynching era.
Today, Taylor University, a higher educational institution “firmly committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ and evangelical Christianity” stands in Upland, Indiana—just fourteen miles from the site of the lynching.
Such close proximity to a notorious lynching deserves mention at a school that purports to model a unified multicultural community in its commitment to “forgive one another, restore relationships, and make restitution (Matt. 5:23-24; 18:15-17).”
Yet when professor, Julie Moore, taught about this type of content and other race-related topics in her composition class, she not only came under scrutiny by the new administration at Taylor University, they refused to renew her contract.
Telling the Story
I never set out to write these stories of professors at Christian universities getting fired for teaching about racial justice, but they are becoming increasingly common and they are ominous harbingers of increasingly repressive cultures in Christian institutions.
Professor Moore reached out to me through a mutual friend when she observed what happened to Samuel Joeckel, another professor whose administration scrutinized his racial justice teachings and soon fired him after he went public with his situation.
It’s also becoming apparent that uniformed opinions of my work, especially The Color of Compromise, tend to figure into these firings. While I lament that Christian administrators are firing their own professors for citing my work, I stand by it and the professors do, too.
Professor Moore has decided to take a courageous stand by going public with her ordeal.
Below you will find Moore’s own retelling of events, with plenty of emails and even a recording of a meeting with her provost, to back up her story.
Significantly, Professor Julie Moore and Samuel Joeckel, who are alike in losing their jobs for teaching about racial justice, have co-authored a statement to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) of which both Taylor University and Palm Beach Atlantic University are members.
They are calling the CCCU to condemn the actions of these universities and any other member institutions that fail to honor academic freedom and target professors for teaching about race.
You can read their call to the CCCU at the end of the Professor Moore’s letter.
Unbecoming of a Christian University
In stories such as Professor Moore’s what stands out to me is the lack of professional standards and Christian integrity demonstrated by leaders of this Christian institution.
Administrators at Taylor University did not follow their own policies in reviewing Professor Moore’s class and its content. Their actions violate the basic Human Resources protocols of any business.
Moreover, their lack of clear communication and accountability fall far short of the standards that should be followed by any university that claims to be Christian.
Taylor University’s own Multicultural Philosophy Statement declares:
Through our relationships and programs, we actively strive to increase multicultural diversity in our community. We commit that Taylor University will emulate the beautiful, diverse multitude from every language, ethnicity, and nation who will gather in eternal praise to Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven (Rev. 7:9).
Given how they are treating one of their own professors for incorporating this philosophy into her class, Taylor University officials should either remove the statement or live up to it.
Read or Listen to Julie Moore’s Description of Events
Professor Julie Moore has recorded the text of her letter explaining how leaders at Taylor University targeted her for her racial justice teachings.
You can also read the letter in its entirety below.
UPDATE: Friends of Professor Julie Moore have set up a Go Fund Me to support here. You can contribute HERE.
Narrative of Prof. Julie L. Moore
January 27, 2023
Weeks before Dr. Sam Joeckel, a renowned C.S. Lewis scholar, was met by his provost outside his classroom at Palm Beach Atlantic University and required to hand over his freshman composition syllabus, I had already lost my job at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.
As I watched Joeckel’s story unfold in the press, I could not believe how similar our situations were. He’d taught a racial justice unit in his composition course for 12 years at Palm Beach Atlantic with nary a problem.
I’d been teaching my composition course using the theme of racial justice for over 30 years; I had not only been positively reviewed where I’d taught but also had been promoted twice and issued annual contracts without fail.
And most recently, at Taylor, I’d been promised that I wouldn’t have to undergo another review for several more years, as good as it gets for a non-tenured professor like me.
Yet, on January 27, 2023, that all changed.
Some Pertinent Background Information
I first taught on the college level for 10 years at Wilberforce University, our nation’s oldest, private, liberal arts HBCU. That experience changed me profoundly. I then taught for 17 years at another university, a former [Council for Christian Colleges and Universities/CCCU], but after that school passed a censorship policy and became too toxic to work at, I applied for a job at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.
Although the position was non-tenure-track, something that gave me pause, everyone I’d talked to had assured me Taylor was Jay Kessler’s school, and open, civil discourse was the norm as was academic freedom. In every interview at Taylor, I shared how my College Composition course uses the theme of racial justice to teach students how to converse and write about such a relevant issue in compassionate, respectful, logical, and Gospel-centered ways.
Taylor hired me as the new Writing Center (WC) Director and Associate Professor of English. Although 5/8 of my workload would be WC-focused, 3/8 of my load was allocated to teaching three College Composition classes per year.
Teaching Composition at Taylor
At Taylor, therefore, I continued what I’d been doing for decades in teaching my College Composition course: Using the theme of racial justice, challenging my students to read and write about texts written by multicultural authors who share their life stories and points of view. Depending on the semester, I’d assign such texts as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Frederick Douglass’s "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?", Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Letter to My Son,” Claudia Rankine’s “The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning,” and Marlena Graves’ article, “The Trayvon Martin Case: A Moment for Evangelical Reflection,” published in Christianity Today in 2012.
I’d avoid political discussions about policy debates, allowing students to choose such topics for their research papers later, if they were interested in doing so.
Furthermore, after Dr. Willie James Jennings had spoken on campus in my first year at Taylor and challenged us professors to teach our students about local history, I started teaching about the 1930 lynchings that happened in Marion, Indiana, just minutes from our campus.
After all, my own church’s mission included working for racial justice in Marion, and the Equal Justice Initiative had come to town to discuss erecting a monument for the victims, Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith. I ended up assigning Syreeta McFadden's Buzzfeed article about the victims and the lone survivor, James Cameron, as well as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” I invited local residents to come to my class to answer questions and address the Christian response to racial injustice.
Most students were engaging deeply in the materials, and students of color kept telling me, “I feel seen in your class.” Students who’d lived locally their whole lives all told me something striking, too: “No one ever told me about this. I can’t believe this happened in my backyard.”
Indeed, as James Madison’s book A Lynching in the Heartland (2003) and Timothy Egan’s astounding new book A Fever in the Heartland (2023) both show, Indiana was the headquarters for the KKK and boasted the highest membership roles in the nation in the 1920s. KKK members were elected to the governorship and state legislature; they were policemen and businessmen and educators. They were members of myriad Protestant churches. As Egan says, “[T]he Klan infested Indiana. All but two of the ninety-two counties had a chapter—the only state with such saturation. One in three native-born white males wore the sheets.”
As Egan also explains, the corrupt leader of the KKK at the time, Hoosier David C. Stephenson, said, he “did not sell the Klan in Indiana on hatreds” but rather “on Americanism.”
But none of my students knew this history. Using it as a springboard for writing assignments is an effective and relevant way for them to learn about rhetorical contexts: diverse genres for diverse purposes for diverse readers. Rhetorical context is key, after all, and that’s at the heart of any College Composition class worth its salt.
Throughout all of it, I always told my students--and even put in my syllabus--that the class was a safe and welcoming space, that they were free to express their views, and that the course’s materials were not about guilt or shame. But I did tell them that as a writing class, they needed to learn how to express their views in respectful and sensitive ways. They also had to make sure their writing was informed. In short, I asked all my students to read as listeners—to read in order to understand—then respond in writing.
Although again, most students were teachable and interacted respectfully with the materials, a couple of white students every year were dismissive of authors’ viewpoints, denigrating them as absurd or ridiculous or worst of all (in their views): liberal.
In short, their writing wasn’t in any way appropriate for the assigned rhetorical contexts on the college level; they just wanted to rant. They earned poor grades but blamed me for them, opting for the age-old blame shift: “She gave me a bad grade because I didn’t agree with her.”
I kept trying to reach such students. So I emphasized passages from the Scriptures the class was rooted in and researched universal design strategies. I also researched antiracist pedagogies and linguistic justice, too, efforts funded by Taylor's Bedi Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (BCTLE) through its summer mini-grants.
I likewise started putting Taylor’s Multicultural Philosophy statement in my syllabus. We Taylor faculty must sign in agreement with this statement as we sign our contracts every year, and it’s posted on Taylor’s website.
After George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor were murdered, and #Blacklivesmatter protests erupted during the pandemic, I then had many more students thanking me for the class, telling me no one else was explaining to them why people were protesting.
Although many of those verbal expressions of gratitude did not make it onto course evaluations at semester’s end, I did keep these students’ emails, cards, and self-reflections, which I appreciated.
Unfortunately, however, a couple of angry students’ comments did land on course evaluations, which always distressed me.
My Professional Review, Fall 2021
In accordance with the faculty handbook’s guidelines for reviewing a non-tenure-track professor, my chair, dean, and Academic Enrichment Center (AEC) director at the time drew up a review process for me, which we all agreed to abide by. The protocol stipulated that my chair and AEC director would observe me, my department would review me, and then my dean, chair, and AEC Director would interview me. Should all go well, my contract would be renewed, and I would not be required to undergo another review for 7 years.
However, when I went through my review, the protocol was not followed. By then, my first department chair had become the interim dean, the dean had become the interim provost, and I had a new, interim, department chair. For inexplicable reasons, the interim dean and interim provost excluded the AEC director from the process and never informed the interim chair about the protocol set up the previous year. Yet, the faculty handbook clearly stipulates that the dean and the Department Chair decide on whether to extend a non-tenure-track professor’s contract and does not assign the provost any role in the process.
In short, my review process violated both the faculty handbook and the established protocol for my non-tenure-track position. After all was said and done, I asked my interim chair why the protocol hadn’t been followed, and that’s how I learned he didn’t even know it existed. Yet, because I had received a unanimous vote from my department to renew my contract, complete with support letters from my interim chair, dean, and provost saying likewise, I didn’t rock the boat. My chair simply assured me the protocol would be followed to the letter in the next review—in 7 years.
New President & Provost
All of this information is important because of what then happened when Taylor appointed its new president, D. Michael Lindsay, in the spring of 2021 and new provost, Jewerl Maxwell, in the fall of 2021 (not to mention new Chief Information Officer, Chris Jones, in the spring of 2022). All came from the same place: Gordon College. On March 5, 2021, Lindsay and Gordon lost in its defense of a lawsuit filed against them by a vote of 9-0 at the Massachusetts Supreme Court. [The case was brought by a professor at Gordon College who alleged she was denied tenure because of her outspoken criticism of the school’s “policies and practices regarding LGBTQ issues.”]
On March 16, 2021 Taylor announced Lindsay’s hire as the new president.
A year later, in March of 2022, the day before faculty contracts were to go out, Maxwell summoned me to his office. When I arrived, Maxwell said he needed to “re-evaluate” my position based upon Pres. Lindsay’s new strategic plan and figure out what my Writing Center workload would constitute. He mentioned that he’d like to remove my title of “Writing Center Director” from my contract, leaving only my other title, “Associate Professor of English.” But doing so made no sense since 5/8 of my load has always been WC work. He hadn’t consulted with my chair or AEC Director either, both of whom were as confused as I was.
In the end, Maxwell left my contract alone, but the entire situation unnerved me. I felt as though that was the provost’s first shot across the bow at me, so I applied for other jobs. Since none worked out, I returned to Taylor this past fall.
January 27, 2023, Part II
When Provost Maxwell emailed me, calling me to his office on January 27, I was understandably nervous. I asked my AEC Director, whom I’d noticed was copied on the email, if he knew what was going on. He told me—quite honestly—he had no idea. Because I knew it was legal, I decided I’d record the meeting on my cell phone.
When I arrived at the meeting, both my dean and AEC Director were already there. By then I had a new chair, but she was not present. (I later learned that she wasn’t invited.) Maxwell immediately informed me that I was not getting another contract and that I’d be losing my job at Taylor.
Believe it or not, I was shocked. When I asked Maxwell why my contract was being non-renewed, he told me my course curriculum was inappropriate for a composition course, despite all the support letters to the contrary, including my department’s unanimous vote, after my review in fall 2021. He made it clear he was ending my career at Taylor precisely because I used the very pedagogy the BCTLE had funded —and mandated I use—and the very pedagogy that I believed (and still believe) promotes Taylor’s Multicultural Philosophy Statement.
In addition, the provost claimed I wasn’t teaching writing at all but instead had made the composition class into some sort of “sociology of race” class. I explained to him how inaccurate his statement was, walking him through all the writing assignments; informing him about my textbook, A Writer’s Reference by Nancy Sommers and Diana Hacker, which has been a standard text in composition courses for decades; and emphasizing how I teach MLA style and grammar. I specifically explained how students wrote literacy narratives first, then learned how to review documentary films (and had a wide variety to choose from), and then could write research papers on any controversial justice issue around the globe, including global conflicts, ethnic cleansing, sexism, ableism, ageism, etc. But to no avail.
At one point, I pressed Maxwell for specific details, asking him what materials I’d assigned that he found objectionable. He wouldn’t name any. I pressed him more. He finally blurted, “Jemar Tisby is the main focus.”
I immediately responded that I actually don't assign any of Tisby’s texts to my students. Maxwell insisted I did. He claimed he saw such assignments on Blackboard, so he didn’t believe me. I again corrected him. I told him that I had one quotation from Tisby on my syllabus and that was it. But I insisted the quotation is biblical and consistent with what Taylor purports to teach. That quotation comes from The Color of Compromise and reads as follows:
The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression. History and Scripture teach us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.
It didn’t dawn on me till later that I’d changed my Learning Management System (LMS) and wasn’t even using Blackboard anymore; I was using Macmillan’s Achieve. The only thing on Blackboard was my syllabus.
It didn’t matter, though. Nothing I said seemed to make any difference.
As the meeting continued, Maxwell also said I wasn’t getting another contract because of student complaints about my class. He said students came to his office in fall semester 2022 after being in my class for just 2 weeks to complain that they felt they weren’t learning about writing but were in a sociology class.
Two weeks into my class. Yet, both my former interim chair and present chair have told me they’ve never received any complaints from any students about my class.
I asked Maxwell why he didn't give me the professional courtesy of a phone call. If he had, I told him, I would've explained that the first two weeks in my comp class, I'm teaching close reading skills. He also would've also learned that I had radically changed the first five weeks of my class, assigning my students to write their own literacy narratives about their own experiences learning how to read or write in English.
But he never called me. The first I heard of this complaint was in this meeting.
Maxwell then kept repeating that in the interim provost’s support letter, affirming my contributions to Taylor, was a requirement that I add materials written by the Heritage Foundation to my course to “balance” it out. He claimed I didn’t do what that letter mandated and that’s why I was losing my job. However, that letter only suggested I add such materials and did not mandate it at all. In addition, I’d talked about the suggestion with my interim chair at the time, and he told me I certainly did not have to follow it.
Maxwell said he’d take into consideration everything I’d said and pray about it.
The recording shows all my useless attempts to speak truth and defend myself against Maxwell’s accusations. It also shows that Maxwell never said I had to keep confidential anything discussed in that meeting either. This becomes important as I continue the story. Furthermore, to date, the provost refuses to put in writing why my contract was non-renewed.
Strange Email on February 2
Shaken and heart-sick, afterward, I talked to my chair and AEC Director and discovered they had no idea the provost was going to non-renew my contract and were not consulted about the decision at all. I also talked to several veteran Taylor faculty to get their advice and consulted with past and present faculty council members to ask whether I had any recourse.
On February 2, Maxwell emailed me. Here’s his February 2 email:
This is a follow-up to our meeting on Friday, January 27. At the beginning of the meeting, I stated that the expectation was for the meeting to remain confidential among those in the room. I also noted this at another point in the meeting when I explained my desire to support a positive transition. I have since learned that you have shared aspects of the meeting with others on campus. This is disappointing. I did speak to two people on campus because they had heard directly from you. However, I did not discuss the content of the meeting.
Please consider this email a reiteration that the expectation is that the contents of the meeting remain confidential.
Again, the recording of the January 27 meeting clearly proves he never once instructed me to keep things confidential. In addition, his email was copied to both my dean and my AEC Director, both of whom attended the first meeting. But it was not copied to my chair, whom the provost continued to go around. Though I had the recording to reassure me anyway, my AEC Director also told me the day we both got that email that he had no memory of the provost ever mandating confidentiality. And of course, that’s because he never did.
February 7th Meeting
The following week, I received another email from Maxwell summoning me to another meeting. My AEC Director was not copied on it, nor was my chair. I immediately contacted my chair and asked her to attend the meeting with me. She agreed but recommended I tell the provost she was coming. So I did.
Although my AEC Director said he had not been invited to the meeting, just minutes after I notified the provost that I was bringing my chair with me, his secretary called my AEC Director and asked him to attend the meeting, too. We walked over to the meeting together.
After we all arrived, my chair addressed her concerns about the lack of a paper trail and told him that many College Composition classes do what my class did, and that in fact, the scholarship in our field was replete with such pedagogy and curriculum.
Maxwell just rehashed similar accusations from the previous meeting.
I was once again upset that my 2021 review, which had produced a unanimous department vote and three positive support letters, was being contradicted, even un-done, by the new provost.
In the end, the provost slid a large white envelope across the table at me and told me I should get a lawyer.
Suffice it to say that the [legal] negotiations didn’t result in a satisfactory outcome. Thus, I’ve decided to go public with my story at this time.
Assault on Academic Freedom
I’ve always opposed censorship and advocated for academic freedom. At the heart of my situation is a professor’s right to academic freedom, of course, and to have the provost follow the established protocol for faculty reviews. Yet, Maxwell went around both my chair and AEC Director and overturned the results of my review.
In addition, no provost should tell a professor what to change in her curriculum when the curriculum in no way violates but rather actually upholds and endorses the University’s mission, contract, and Multicultural Philosophy Statement.
A Charge to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to Intervene
And so Sam Joeckel and I are also asking the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to hold its member institutions like Palm Beach Atlantic University and Taylor University accountable for the injustices they are promoting.
When a member school like PBAU fires a professor at the same time it’s promoting a Republican candidate who opposes biblical convictions about racial justice, how can the CCCU merely say that it doesn’t comment on personnel decisions?
When a school like Taylor non-renews the contract of a professor for teaching truth about this country’s racist history as well as materials exhibiting beauty in writing by acclaimed authors of color, including Christian authors, how can the CCCU remain silent?
It’s time for the CCCU to declare that any institution wanting to remain in good standing in its Council must allow academic freedom and open discourse about all issues related to racial justice and in so doing, firmly resist all forms of white supremacy, no matter what “American” cloaks they appear to wear. BIPOC bodies are at stake, and if they are not safe at CCCUs, that is a travesty of the Gospel.
What do you think this trend of firing professors for teaching about racial justice indicates. Is there a larger trend at play that we need to talk about? Comment below.
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This is so disheartening. I just watched the YouTube interview that you did with her (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C-xaaFm2kk) and am blown away by the depth and breadth of her comp. class. I would have loved to have had such a rich, well-developed writing course when I was in college. What a loss to the university and what damage continues to be done in the name of Christianity.
This makes me so angry.
I too, was censored after reading some of Dr. Tisby’s work and attempting to share what we can do as the people of God to increase our awareness of racial injustice and work against injustice as we are compelled to do by the gospel.
In my case, I was on the strategic board at a large church and became too much of a political liability and would need to sign a new policy assuring that I would not say anything publicly in person or online that would “distract from the mission and vision of the church”
I ended up leaving that post because staying would have been a violation of my conscience. Subsequently, my friend and associate pastor at the church was also fired for similar reasons, although that was not the public narrative that was put forward.
I continue to be angry about all of this and every time I read the prophets, I wonder how the church has become so blind and beholden to state power and anti-gospel ideologies like white supremacy and conservative politics.