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Los Angeles Times, 10 June 1994
Swat Leads to Discrimination Complaint Against Professor
Black student says he felt humiliated. Instructor downplays what he calls a test of wills over a failing grade.
By Rene Lynch
SANTA ANA -- An African American Cal State Fullerton student said Thursday that he is filing a discrimination claim against a political science professor who struck him on his bare behind with a ruler as punishment for dropping a class.
Keary Johns, 23, said he was desperate to keep a failing grade off his record so he could graduate this month when he agreed to drop his sweat pants before Prof. Emeritus Julian Foster.
Johns said that he broke away in tears after the first blow, and said the professor later tried to downplay the incident by remarking that black fraternity members go through much worse -- even branding each other -- during hazing.
"There's no way he would have done that to a white student," Johns said. "When he hit me, he stripped me of my manhood. It hurt."
Foster said Thursday that he "lightly swatted" Johns once with a ruler on April 27, but Foster said the incident started out as a joke and has since been blown out of proportion. Foster, who is white, insists that race played no role.
"I wish to God I had never done it," Foster said, "His being black had nothing to do with it."
Foster, who had been on the school's faculty since 1963, also said he made the comment about black fraternity members, but insisted that it is being taken out of context.
The professor recently offered through his attorney to apologize and pay Johns $500 if the student dropped his complaints. The offer was refused.
Johns and Santa Ana civil rights attorney Ron Talmo said they will file a claim today against the professor and the university, alleging discrimination and assault and battery, and seeking $1 million in damages. The claim is a precursor to a lawsuit, and is the first step in legal action against the school.
An attorney for the university could not be reached for comment Thursday. Sandra Sutphen, chairwoman of the political science and criminal justice division at Cal State Fullerton, said she could not discuss the student's allegations because she was unaware of the complaint.
The incident took place just as the nation's attention was turned to Singapore, where an American teen-ager was awaiting a lashing with a rattan cane for a vandalizing spree.
Talmo and Johns are also involved in other legal action against the university. The lawyer is representing Johns and other students in a lawsuit alleging the university unfairly stripped him and other football players of financial aid they were entitled to after the school dropped its football program at the end of the 1992 season.
Both sides said the dispute between Johns and his professor began in early April, when Johns went to see Foster about dropping a political science class. Johns said when he returned two weeks later, Foster told him he must be punished for his actions and offered two choices: Six whacks with a long ruler or a class failure.
The student said Foster ordered him to pull down his sweat pants and brace himself over a chair.
"I still couldn't believe he was going to go through with it, but then he smacked me, hard," Johns said. "But I couldn't take it. I felt so humiliated. I stood up and said 'Go ahead, fail me.' I started to cry and he sat me down, trying to calm me down. And then I left."
Johns said he had submitted to the punishment because his grade-point average was already hovering near failure, and an incomplete grade in Foster's class would jeopardize his chances to graduate on time. Foster ultimately allowed Johns to drop the class without being penalized.
"I was in a bind. I needed to graduate," said Johns, who said he fled the room after the first blow because the humiliation of bending over a chair, with his bottom exposed to the professor, became too much.
Foster, however, said Johns first asked him for a grade of D, even though Johns never attended class.
Foster, 67, said he planned to allow Johns to drop the class, but first lectured the student that he needed to "begin behaving like a responsible adult, instead of some child who needed a swatting when he broke the rules."
The student then began laughing and said he would take a whacking if it meant he could drop the class without consequence, Foster said. The two then began trying to "outbluff" each other, he said.
"I said it at first to get through to him, to let him know he was acting childishly," Foster said. "I wanted him to say "I'm sorry" and apologize for his behavior."
Instead, Foster said, Johns astonished him by partially pulling down his sweat pants.
"When I flicked him with the ruler, I was kind of saying, "Get out of here, you won," Foster said, adding that the blow was very light.
"But his demeanor changed immediately. He began saying 'You hurt my pride.' And I told him I never intended to do that."
Johns left and talked to his African American studies professor and later returned to confront Foster.
"That's when he tried to laugh it off," Johns said.
"He said 'You know, It's my understanding that black fraternity members do much worse to each other, they even brand each other, I hear,' " said Johns, who does not belong to a fraternity. "Then he said, 'I'm sorry you couldn't handle it.' "
Both say that Foster then signed the documentation Johns needed to drop the class.
Johns participated in graduation ceremonies last week, but still must take a math class this summer to complete his undergraduate studies.
Attorney Frederick T. Mason, who represents Foster, said his client did a "foolish" thing but never intended to harm or insult the young man.
"Dr. Foster made a mistake, but it's being blown out of proportion," Mason said. "The young man consented. It was not racially motivated."
He said that his client had agreed to pay Johns $500 to make the complaint "go away," not because it had merit.
The student's father, Walter Johns, said Thursday he was shocked to learn his son was struck by a professor.
"This was an abuse of power," said Walter Johns, who lives in Lancaster. "If I had another son, I wouldn't want to send him there. To do that to a grown man is just degrading."
Los Angeles Times, 11 June 1994
CSUF Bars Paddling Professor From Classes
Education: Black student seeks $1 million in bias claim. School officials says 'appropriate action' has been taken against the instructor.
By Rene Lynch
FULLERTON -- A professor emeritus who said he swatted an African American student on the bare behind with a ruler will not be teaching at Cal State Fullerton anytime soon, according to a university official who said Friday that "appropriate action" has been taken in the case.
Professor Emeritus Julian Foster said he swatted the student during discussions over whether the student would be allowed to drop his political science class, but the professor said his actions were part of a joke that has since been taken out of context.
The student, Keary Jones, 23, of Fullerton, filed a discrimination claim Friday against the professor and the university seeking $1 million in damages. Jones said the teacher's actions were degrading, but that he initially agreed to be paddled because he was desperate to keep a failing grade off this record so he could graduate this month.
Jerry Keating, spokesman for the university, said school officials looked into the incident earlier in the week and have since taken "appropriate action."
Keating declined to elaborate, but said that Foster, 67, will not be teaching classes during the upcoming summer, fall or spring 1995 sessions.
Keating said he is not aware of any school policy regarding such physical contact between a professor and student.
"Frankly, I'm not aware of any specific language regarding spanking, because that's not the kind of thing you expect here," he said.
The incident occurred April 27 when Johns had asked to drop Foster's class. Johns said the professor offered him two choices: six whacks with a ruler or a failing grade. The student said agreed to drop his sweat pants because he was desperate to graduate.
Johns said he backed away and began crying after Foster hit him once. He said Foster later told him that he had heard black fraternity members go through much worse during hazing and even brand each other.
Foster ultimately allowed the student to drop the class without being penalized. He participated in graduation ceremonies last week, but still must take a math class this summer to complete his undergraduate studies.
Many in the university community said Friday they were surprised by the peculiar incident, because Foster, who is white, is a well-regarded campus figure who has taught at the school since 1963. Leaders in the Orange County African American community said they are looking at the incident, but took care not to immediately categorize it as a racist incident.
In an interview Thursday, Foster told The Times he regretted striking Johns. He said the incident took place after the professor and student each tried to outbluff each other during a dispute over whether Johns should be allowed to drop the class to escape a failing grade.
The complaint filed by Johns alleges racial discrimination and assault and battery. Foster has denied that race played any role in the incident.
But Johns said he was particularly offended by the comment Foster made regarding black fraternity members.
"I don't honestly think he would have done this to a white kid," said Johns, who does not belong to a fraternity.
Johns had needed Foster's permission to drop the class, because an incomplete grade would result in a failure and could keep Johns from graduating.
Foster said in a statement Friday that Johns originally asked the professor to give him a D grade, even though Johns never attended any classes. Foster said he was lecturing the student on whether he wanted to be treated like a responsible adult or a "dumb kid who gets his bottom swatted when he breaks the rules?"
Foster said he was joking, but Johns wanted to take him up on the offer. Trying to call the student's bluff, the professor said in his statement, Foster told Johns the penalty would be six lashes, the same amount of strikes that an American teen faced in Singapore for a vandalizing spree.
Foster said Johns surprised him by dropping his sweat pants.
"I flicked him with the ruler and was about to admit that he had won the bluffing contest," when Johns' demeanor changed and he became upset, Foster said.
"I think this was all a big misunderstanding," said Chris Lowe, student body president at the university. "It's very unfortunate. I know the professor and he is real personable, and I know he would never set out to hurt any student, physically or mentally."
Jim Tippins, vice president of the local branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization will look into the incident, but did not want to make any assumptions in advance.
"We're concerned, and we will look into it and take any steps if necessary," he said.
Copyright (c) 1994 Times Mirror Company
The Houston Chronicle, Texas, 12 June 1994
Black Student Sues White Prof He Says Spanked Him
By Anne C. Mulkern
SANTA ANA, Calif. - - A university student filed a claim Friday seeking $1 million in damages from a professor who spanked him on his bare behind with a ruler as an option to a failing grade.
Keary Johns, 23, said Professor Emeritus Julian Foster of California State University, Fullerton, humiliated him when he struck him once last in April. He also charged that the professor's actions were racially motivated. Johns is black, Foster is white.
When Johns, a former football player, began crying after the swat, he said Foster commented that "black fraternity members do much worse to each other," even branding each other during hazing.
"I honestly don't think he would have done this to a white kid if he would have come in there," Johns said Friday at a Santa Ana press conference. "I think he thought I was just another dumb athlete who wouldn't say anything."
Foster, 67, said he realized the spanking was a mistake, but that he only swatted Johns lightly. He called the racism allegations "rubbish." "If anything happens to a black person, their attorneys say it's because it's racial," Foster said. "It's absolutely untrue." Johns' claim, filed with the state Board of Control claims division, seeks damages from Foster, the state and the university system's board of trustees. If the state rejects the claim for damages, Johns can sue.
The university has investigated Johns' allegation and took "appropriate action" last week, spokesman Jerry Keating said.
Foster will not be teaching at Cal State Fullerton in the fall or next spring, he said. He was scheduled to teach before the spanking incident.
The political science professor joined the university in 1963 and has been teaching part time since he retired in 1989, Keating said.
The spanking occurred April 27 in Foster's office when Johns sought approval to drop a class Foster was teaching. Johns had not attended all semester and would have received an F.
A failing grade would have pulled Johns' grade point average below 2.0, making him ineligible for graduation this month, said his attorney, Ronald Talmo.
Johns said he discussed dropping the class with Foster several times before the swat. He said he once saw the professor in the hallway at the beginning of the semester and told him he needed to be dropped from the class.
He thought the professor had dropped him but found out in April that he was still enrolled, he said.
The student met again with Foster in mid-April, telling the professor he needed to get out of the class. But Foster said Johns was ambiguous about dropping the class because he was receiving financial aid and needed the units to remain a full-time student.
"I told him he better work out what he wanted to do and that April 29 was the absolute deadline," Foster said.
But when Johns met with Foster again two days before the deadline, the student said, Foster would not consent to the drop.
He began asking, "What can we do about this?" Johns said.
The professor finally offered an alternative: six swats with a ruler, the student said.
Desperate to graduate, Johns said, he agreed to the spanking 'and pulled down his sweat pants. But he was considering backing out, he said, when Foster "hit me quick. He hit me hard."
Foster, however, told a different story.
He said he was angry that Johns waited until the deadline to drop the class. Foster said Johns was flippant.
"I said, 'Do you want to be treated like an adult or like a child who gets his bottom swatted when he's naughty?'" Foster said. "It was a rhetorical question. I never dreamed he'd take me up on it."
Foster said he gave Johns "a little flick" and was 'surprised when the student became upset.
"I said to him, 'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that,'" Foster said. "He really seemed terribly humiliated."
Foster's attorney, Frederick T. Mason, said the incident has been blown out of proportion. "It's a foolish mistake to have made," he said. "But I don't consider it a racial hoo-ha."
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