Cal State Fullerton lecturer reinstated, CFA urges administration to protect academic freedom

A Cal State Fullerton lecturer will be returning to campus this fall after CFA successfully fought his termination following accusations that he had assaulted students at a counter protest.

An arbitrator issued a decision on July 10 that Dr. Eric Canin, who has taught Anthropology at Fullerton for nearly 20 years, be immediately reinstated.

In February, students affiliated with the ultra-conservative College Republican group had accused Canin of attacking them and interfering with their free speech during a counter protest in which they were carrying signs bearing hate-speech imagery.

Canin maintained he had lost his balance and inadvertently came into contact with the students and their signs during a contentious exchange. The university placed Canin on paid leave in February.

After hearing witness testimony and Canin’s account, Arbitrator Jan Stiglitz concluded that Canin may have grabbed an offending sign and could have used an open hand to push a student away in response to being pushed by someone else. “But he did not engage in anything resembling a fight and did not have any conscious intent to cause harm to the students in question,” the arbitrator wrote.

Not only did CFA help a member keep his job, but it’s important to note that CFA received a good decision in support of “just cause,” said Kathy Sheffield, CFA’s Director of Representation.

“Arbitrator Jan Stiglitz provides very useful language about the justification required when there is collective bargaining, correcting University Counsel in its mistaken notion that ‘cause’ in our CBA does not mean ‘just cause,’” Sheffield said. “In short, when faculty face discipline, the University is required, among other things, to conduct a fair investigation and mete out appropriate and proportional punishment for misconduct.”

Canin said he is looking forward to getting back to teaching, but on Tuesday at the CSU Trustees meeting, he urged Chancellor White and Trustees to do a better job protecting faculty, staff, and students.

The announcement of the reinstatement and his message to Trustees made national headlines this week. 

“My colleagues and I are trying to focus on teaching, research, and our students. Yet many of us are finding ourselves under attack and subject to hateful discourse,” Canin said.

“Now, more than ever, we are teaching in a time of fear. This must change. As leaders of our university system, you need to better protect faculty, students, and staff from attacks on academic freedom. Just as CFA defended me and will continue to protect my fellow educators, you need to protect your employees from these unfair assaults on our freedom to teach, and on our students’ right to learn.”

CFA issued a statement about Canin’s reinstatement, and also has launched a letter petition demanding that CSU Trustees, campus presidents, and university administrators nationwide do a better job protecting faculty from attacks on academic freedom.

“We live in a troubling new world where the truth is called fake, dissent is being criminalized, and the right is targeting colleges, universities, and university professors,” CFA President Jennifer Eagan told Trustees on Tuesday. “Wake up and realize that there are forces mobilizing not just against the faculty, but against truth, learning, and the university.

“Make no mistake, CFA will stridently defend our faculty who are under attack by forces who have contempt for the university and for free inquiry,” she said. “Our successful defense of Dr. Canin speaks to CFA’s commitment to protecting all members of the campus community from the new wave of attacks on academic freedom and free speech… We hope we can count on the Board to make the same commitment.”