Title IX is Now Being Used to Purge a Prof Who Championed the Natural Family
Bisexual professor Robert Oscar Lopez may lose his job for failing to bow to sexual orthodoxy.
A small story with big consequences for academic freedom is in danger of being lost in the noise of campus protests for safe spaces and faculty quotas.
Robert Oscar Lopez is a tenured humanities professor at California State University, Northridge. He specializes in American literature, loves Michel Foucault, identifies as bisexual and is married with two children. In August 2012, he published “Growing Up with Two Moms” in Public Discourse, which described his life growing up with a lesbian mother and her partner. Because he argued that, in his experience, being raised by two lesbian was a poor substitute for having a mother and father, he was labeled a homophobe and became the target of a silencing campaign that worked to keep him off the air and off college campuses.
So far that campaign has failed, but because of a new provost at his university and a student who has filed a Title IX discrimination charge, Lopez may lose his job.
Title IX is a federal antidiscrimination law that was designed to protect college students from sexual assault and discrimination, but the Obama administration’s interpretation has turned it into a way to prosecute nonconformist professors for “creating hostile environments” by holding views their students disagree with.
The investigation of Lopez began last year, when he organized an off-campus conference on children’s rights and invited students in his classes to attend and present research for class credit. (He offered an alternative assignment to those who wished not to attend the conference.) Exposure to different ideas in an academic setting – what could go wrong?
One of the students who attended the conference lodged a complaint in September 2014. From that point on, offices at Lopez’s university collected information and statements from students. He was under investigation for about 380 days, but Professor Lopez wasn’t made aware of the complaint until June 4, 2015, nine months after it was lodged.
The Title IX Coordinator had been collecting information on Lopez for the better part of a year before Lopez was made aware of the investigation. Lopez was brought in for an interview/interrogation on June 10. It was the first time he was given the specific allegations.
He was given seven days to produce all documents in his defense, but he wasn’t told what the allegations against him were. He was not given a copy of a complaint.
The student who filed the complaint against Professor Lopez also had told him that he was one of her favorite teachers. “She presented herself as a pleasant student,” he says.
But she stood out at the conference for asking obnoxious and irrelevant questions of Alana Newman, one of the speakers. The student asked Newman whether she thought that gay men should be forced to have sex with women. “She persisted with that for about five minutes,” Lopez explained. “I would characterize the way she was doing it as obnoxious. She was very pushy, and nobody stopped her from posing that question.”
Jennifer Roback Morse, another conference speaker, corroborated Lopez’s account in an article at The National Catholic Register.
The next Monday in class, the same day that Lopez’s wife went into labor, this student went on a rant. Lopez says that “she took the entire class to accuse me of a number of things. She said a lot of accusatory comments: she said that I was disgusting, that I was naïve, that I was incompetent at my job, that I was deceitful, that I had deceived her, that she felt trapped, that she felt tricked and coerced.”
“She made a very derogatory remark about my bisexual orientation, and she specifically said that Alana Newman and I were disgusting because of the way we felt about being raised without fathers in our lives.”
CSUN’s faculty guide states that, “as a general rule, students should first attempt to resolve their concern with the appropriate faculty member” before filing a formal complaint. Because this student was upset, Lopez reached out to her via email and offered to exempt her from attendance and have her finish the course online, if that would be easier.
Rather than taking Lopez up on his offer, this student replied that she’d rather stay, telling him, “I never want to bring this topic up again.”
But instead of never bringing it up, this student waited more than 100 days past the deadline for filing a complaint and filed a complaint three days before she graduated. She was gone before Lopez could enforce the student code of conduct on her.
Lopez then found out that this straight student made a complaint against him based on sexual orientation discrimination. The university’s investigator told Lopez it was discrimination for him to mention the fact of his sexual orientation and his marriage to a woman, and the fact that his mother was a lesbian, in relation to a discussion on children’s rights.
When a bisexual professor is told by the state that it is discrimination to tell students the truth about his orientation, it’s hard to see it as a win for freedom or social justice. Lopez isn’t guilty of any sort of discrimination against his students, but of exposing them to a different view on sexuality, a crime against sexual orthodoxy.
Lopez sought to defend himself by submitting video of the conference in question, which shows that the conference was not homophobic, anti-gay or anti-woman. The Title IX coordinator threw out the video. Lopez suspects this is because what has been deemed relevant is not the evidence, but rather what happened in the student’s mind.
During this investigation CSUN got a new provost, Dr. Yi Li, who began in July. Li made it clear that he doesn’t care about academic freedom, refusing to meet with Lopez to discuss his concerns while taking the accusations made against him at face value.
After years of being a target and believing that his tenure kept him safe, Lopez says he now realizes that his attackers are “able to use Title IX leeway to purge the university of people they don’t agree with.”
“This is a huge problem with Title IX, because what they have done is, the Office of Civil Rights under President Obama issued guidance to Title IX coordinators at all these different campuses, and essentially created a whole other shadow court system that doesn’t have to obey any of the typical rules,” Lopez added. “They’re going to get themselves into enormous legal trouble just because of the number of people who are under these broad investigations, who don’t know what the charges are.”
CSUN eventually found that the discrimination charges against Lopez were unwarranted, but the provost wrote in a disposition that Lopez would be charged with retaliation against the student who accused him.
Lopez followed CSUN’s student policies, trying to resolve the issue with students directly rather than escalating the situation. Those very actions are what CSUN is now using to accuse him of retaliation and intimidation.
Charles LiMandri, president and chief counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, wrote to CSUN that “this investigation is purely a political and ideological attack on Dr. Lopez for holding — and exposing his students to — ideas about children’s rights in the context of family and reproduction which are apparently unpopular at CSUN.”
The Stream interviewed Dr. Lopez earlier this year and talked briefly about the gay lobby’s previous attacks on him. His words then seem prescient now:
What’s scary is that the power and respect shown to the gay movement has all been used at the expense of serious self-examination or critiques. Being pro-gay has meant silence — silence about what the risks and costs of this kind of baby-making business are. And that terrifies me. Back in the early 1990s, the slogan was “Silence = death.” Now it is “Silence = what we want.”
Silencing Professor Lopez appears to be exactly what the gay lobby wants. And Title IX might be the way they do it.