A Cal State Fullerton part-time anthropology lecturer, who was suspended for two months following a conflict with a President Donald Trump supporter on campus, appeared before the California State University Board of Trustees Tuesday to warn about the dangers of snap judgments resulting from political disputes.
Eric Canin said he was wrongly accused of attacking a student on campus and then was faced with being fired. An arbitrator, however, overturned the firing on July 10 and recommended a two-month suspension instead.
Canin said he looks forward to getting back to teaching this fall.
“I feel grateful that I’m going back because that’s what I do. I’m a teacher. I love teaching, I love my students,” Canin told City News Service. “I’m really happy to be back teaching again.”
Canin’s troubles began in February when he confronted a group of students who were counter-protesting another group of students. The Cal State Fullerton Republican organization accused Canin of slapping a student across the face.
The demonstration started with CSUF Students for Justice in Palestine, according to Capt. Scot Wiley of the campus police department. The counter-protesters from the college Republicans club thought it was an “anti-Trump protest.”
According to Wiley, the lecturer confronted the students and then tripped over a bike rack, causing him to stumble. When the students laughed at him, he “lunged” in anger toward three CSUF Republican students, Wiley said.
Canin offered his own account.
“When I arrived, I thought these counter-protesters were outside agitators,” Canin said. “They had some racist meme signs up and so forth. I didn’t even realize they were a campus group.”
Canin said he asked them “what they were about,” and then tripped over a bike rack.
“They started to make fun of me,” he said. “I lost my balance and I kind of stumbled. One of them grabbed me — the president of the college Republicans — and accused me of hitting someone, which absolutely did not happen. At most, I glanced against one of their signs.”
Canin said he was initially in “shock,” and then “soon the news went out to rightwing news organizations like Breitbart with an allegation I hit someone. There was no evidence. No video, no photograph, because it didn’t happen. There were cameras everywhere that day, but nothing has surfaced to this day.”
Then hate mail started filling up his inbox, he said.
“Some threatened my life,” he said. “I was terrified for a long time.”
Canin’s union, the California Faculty Association, said arbitrator Jan Stiglitz said in her ruling that Canin “did not engage in anything resembling a fight and did not have any conscious intent to cause any harm to the students in question.”
University officials released a statement that said: “We note that the arbitrator concurred with the university’s investigation in finding that Dr. Canin acted improperly.”
The arbitrator’s ruling is binding.
“The university will continue to vigorously support the free and open exchange of ideas on our campus,” the university said in the statement. “It is unacceptable to respond with violence to speech with which we disagree.”
Canin said he was a victim of a “rush to judgment” by university officials, but declined to speculate why.
“I told the (CSU) board that free speech and academic freedom are important issues and the university needs to take steps to safeguard that for faculty and students,” he said.
Canin said it was a “one-off thing” to confront the students.
“I have been to numerous rallies, but I’ve not been the one who confronted counter-demonstrators, nor do I recommend it,” Canin said.
He argued that he was the victim of a political movement to smear him.
“Hopefully what has come out of this is to expose this movement that is under the cover of free speech of a legitimate political party that is trying to advocate for an extremist agenda,” Canin said.
He said false allegations are “squelching the rights of freedom of expression” and said he will remain active politically.
— City News Service