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Report: Florida professor bullies student for refusing to condemn Christian faith

By Joe Newby

It almost sounds like a scene straight out of the movie “God is Not Dead.” On Tuesday, May 5, Campus Reform said that Lance “Lj” Russum, a humanities professor at Polk State College, allegedly failed a student after she refused to condemn her own Christian faith. According to Campus Reform, the 16-year-old student identified only as “G.L.,” was failed after she refused to “concede that Jesus is a ‘myth’ or that Christianity oppresses women during a series of mandatory assignments at the Florida college.”

A press release from Liberty Counsel said the student received a “zero” on four separate papers because she did not “conform to his personal worldviews of Marxism, Atheism, Feminism, and homosexuality.”

In a letter to the dean, Liberty Counsel demanded a full investigation of the teacher, including his behavior and course content.  The public-interest law firm also demanded the student’s papers be reviewed and graded by a different instructor.

In a press release issued May 4, Liberty Counsel added:

Russum’s classroom behavior is a reflection of his personal biases. Mr. Russum’s Facebook likes and profile pictures include Fidel Castro and Jesus Christ making an obscene gesture. The website “Rate my Professor” shows that G.L. is not the first student to be subjected to the professor’s viewpoint discrimination. His college email signature line includes a quote from a Marxist who praises Lenin, Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, and Adolf Hitler. These, along with the inappropriate course content, show that Professor Russum is seeking to impose his own values on students, in violation of the Constitution.

“Mr. Russum should not be permitted to use his position to punish students who do not conform to his anti-Christian views,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said. “G.L.’s parents asked Polk State College to review this matter, but it refused, so Liberty Counsel is stepping in to help. According to its website, the college’s core values are service, integrity, knowledge, diversity, and leadership. No student should be subjected to such outrageous bias and outright hostility to their values by a professor. Being a professor is not open season to belittle and punish students merely because they do not subscribe to the professor’s radical opinions.”

Ironically, Campus Reform said the course description says students “are under no obligation to agree with classmates, authors, or the instructor, in fact, the instructor will often occupy the space of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ for the purpose of lively discussion.”

“The point of this is not to ‘bash’ any religion, we should NEVER favor one over another, they all come from the same source, HUMAN IMAGINATION and [sic] they demonstrate that humanity is one,” says Russum’s course syllabus, which, Campus Reform added, is “riddled with grammatical errors.”

“We have much to thank of [sic] humans like Michelangelo who took a sacred space, a temple to god, and made it a HUMAN space, a space where humanism can meet with god and discourse,” one assignment read. “Finally humanity and the gods are on equal footing and that is what the myths of Hercules, Apollo and Jesus are all about—the divine becoming human and human being divine.”

In her essay, “G.L.” argued that “it is a logical fallacy to make the assumption that Christian humanism’s goal was to ‘blend mythologies and make man the center’ simply on account of Michelangelo’s artwork or because Renaissance artists incorporate classicism.”  She reportedly received a “zero” on that assignment.

Donald Painter, Dean of Academic Affairs, told G.L.’s parents in an email obtained by Liberty Counsel that he reviewed the materials in Russum’s course and “believe[d] them to be appropriate.”  He apologized if they found the material “distasteful” but said nothing would be changed.  Instead, he reminded the parents that as a minor participating in a dual-enrollment program, the student recognized she might be exposed to “adult” material suitable for those “age 18 or older.”

In short, he told the parents and the student to “take a hike.”

Mike Adams, a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, told Campus Reform that  a “cursory examination of this professor’s test questions leaves little doubt about what that message is. The school would be foolish to ignore reasonable requests for an independent investigation. Otherwise they may be on the receiving end of another kind of message in the form of a civil complaint.”

Richard Mast, a lawyer with the Liberty Counsel assigned to the case, said he is prepared to “take further action” if necessary.

“In terms of egregious behavior by professors, this is certainly one of those cases that will forge new ground on what not to do,” he told Campus Reform.  “This is the most wildly inappropriate behavior I’ve seen that reflects a growing hostility towards religion — Christianity in particular.”

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7 comments

  1. Jeffrey Wimmer

    Hey, professor, come bully me with your communist BS and I’ll bitch slap your ass back to grade school. You freaking communist professors using your position to bully young impressionable students is appaling and I dare you to do something like that to a peer who would most likely put you in your place.

  2. For the record, the student received an “A” in the class. If she wanted every other religion treated as “mythos” and her religion treated as “for realz”, and without any historical discussion, then she shouldn’t have been in a college class, she should have been in church.

    It’s a huge sign of privelege that when you’re treated as an equal you feel you are being persecuted.

  3. How can ANYONE in their right mind defend the Khmer Rouge?

    • His email signature contains a quote from a person who once defended Khmer Rouge. It’s a fun game of “7 degrees of separation” they are playing to try to connect the professor to Hitler.

  4. If, on the face of the above, the student did receive a failing grade, the teacher is very wrong. What was his objectives? was he challenging the mistaking of myth for history? myth is not a non-historical story, but a story made of largely imagined scenes to make a social or ethical, or religious point. It is not false, just not often historically factual. was this taught? The teacher seems to be a poor, inept, teacher, ant the student too quick to take her uneducated assumptions as wrongly challenged. Both, but especially the teacher because of his power position, need their hands slapped.
    However, I toke much more exception to the second comment. Calling names is childish and bigoted, and has no place in intelligent discussion. Jeffrey seems to have no idea of what he is talking about, except that he has the intellectual lack of integrity that allows him his macho power trips at others expense. He needs a bathroom wall on which he may scribble his thoughtless, uneducated rants. Also, college is not grade school; one must expect having to defend your statements and opinions.

  5. Affinityfoundation (Brien)

    This may be too long for some readers (1300 words) but it presents both sides of the story (not just one) This incidence should be of interest to all of us because of the far reaching implications also we need all the information to make an informed decision and opinion.

    Sources: Polk University, Liberty Counsel, Breitbart.com, Fox and Friends.

    Sometimes college and university leaders try to avoid the spotlight when a
    faculty member is under attack. Not so this week at Polk State College, which
    is standing behind a humanities professor accused of giving students
    anti-Christian assignments, even as national conservative outlets picked up the
    allegations.

    The college’s leaders say the case raises important issues for professors’
    rights in the classroom and for academic freedom. And so when Fox News and
    conservative bloggers ran critical items about the professor Thursday, the
    college reached out to tell another side of the story.

    “The overall fallacy of your position rests singly on the premise that that
    an instructor should not require a student to consider, discuss or present
    arguments that are contrary to his/her personal beliefs,” lawyers for Polk
    State wrote in their response to complaint filed by Liberty Counsel, which is
    dedicated to “restoring the culture by advancing religious freedom, the
    sanctity of human life and the family,” according to its website.

    The complaint alleges that Lance Russum, a humanities professor,
    discriminated against a 16-year-old dual enrollment student in his Introduction
    to Humanities class this semester by failing her on specific assignments based
    on her Christian beliefs and through his otherwise “pervasive, anti-Christian
    bias.” (The student received an A overall in the course. And she didn’t have
    her ideas rejected. She declined to answer the questions on the assignments in
    question.)

    Moreover, Polk State’s general counsel wrote in their response, “Your only
    substantive allegation with a connection to the college is that the professor
    allegedly discriminated against your student when he gave her zeroes on four
    essay assignments. …Your entire letter, which is based upon this hollow and
    indefensible allegation, legally fails to establish any claim against either
    the college or its employee.”

    One of the things the complaint cites is Russum’s introduction to the
    ancient epics, which highlights “elements of homoerotic/friendship, raw human
    sexuality” and “the use of sexuality and the role of women.” Liberty says that
    Russum also tried to “deconstruct the Bible by claiming that the discredited
    position that the Egyptian Book of the Dead is the source material for the
    biblical Book of Samuel,” for example, and that he discredited Christianity by
    citing the Crusades and saying that “Christianity proved itself during the
    Middle Ages to be one of the most violent forms of religion the world had ever
    seen.”

    The complaint alleges that “Russum uses Michelangelo as [a] … stand-in for
    his own beliefs about homosexuality, stating that ‘in the 16th century,
    Michelangelo is claiming that being in a same-sex relationship is not a sin and
    will not keep someone out of heaven,’” Liberty wrote. The complaint also takes
    a half page to note all of Russum’s Facebook likes, including various atheist
    and feminist groups, calling such information “compelling evidence that his
    course material and behavior are not merely ‘pedagogical.’”

    Liberty says that Russum has “forfeited his academic integrity” and should
    be fired. It demands a full and independent review of Russum’s behavior and
    course content, and that he offer Lewis an apology. It also calls for
    “appropriate grading” of Lewis’s failed assignments by a different professor
    and assurances that future courses taught by Russum will be free of “such
    unlawful discrimination.”

    The complaint offers very little information on the failed assignments, and
    the college said federal student privacy laws limits how much it can say about
    Lewis’s work. But Polk State’s legal response says that while Lewis was a
    strong student when she was on task, she failed entirely to address the
    question at hand in 4 of 15 essay assignments that together counted for 40
    percent of the class grade (a final assignment counted for 60 percent). Several
    other faculty members independently concluded the same, it says.

    Breitbart.com, which picked up the story, sympathizing with Lewis’s complaint, posting Lewis’s assignment.

    Here are Russum’s questions:

    1) What is something Lady Julian [of Norwich] is saying/doing that women
    should not be saying/doing at that time under the Christian mythos?

    2) From the article on the nuns, what makes their defiance of male dominance
    so important?

    3) Why did Christianity, and its male gods, want to silence these women?

    Russum notes: “You are to only answer the above three questions.
    SECOND, and this is VERY important, I do not want you to write about how
    wonderful you think Christianity is now because women can do A, B or C.

    History is history and facts are facts and your opinion on if it is better
    now or not is irrelevant for this discussion. This is a HISTORICAL discussion
    about the Middle Ages. If you really feel the need to express your opinion on
    how you think Christianity is now for women, you may email me, you may call my
    office or I would love for you to stop by for a nice cup of hot tea where we
    can talk about it, but it does not belong in this assignment. The pieces you
    are reading are from some of the greatest expressions of mythology by women
    ever, the question is to honor that voice in that moment of history.”

    Here’s part of Lewis’s response:

    “In conclusion, the questions assigned are not open-minded questions. They
    instead are designed to lead course participants decisively to accept that
    Christianity is false and oppressive of women. Furthermore, these questions are
    objectively unanswerable, specifically when compared alongside the questions
    that we were instructed to neglect.”

    A spokesperson for Liberty forwarded a news release responding to the
    college’s memo, which notes that it doesn’t believe Lewis would have gotten an
    A had it not intervened on her behalf. The college, meanwhile, says that the
    letter had no bearing at Lewis’s grade.

    Russum said in an interview that he has “such gratitude for the way in which
    [the college has] rallied around the idea of academic freedom. It’s just a
    testament to what Polk State stands for — diverse people with diverse beliefs
    being heard.”

    Donald Painter, dean of academic affairs, said students’ safety and comfort
    were “paramount,” but that once faculty and administrators had carefully
    determined that neither had been compromised, they turned their attention to
    preserving the integrity of the “academic process.”

    “I think we deal with controversial, sensitive and hot-button issues, and I
    fully respect that in talking about them in an academic context people may feel
    a little raw about it, and it may touch on their values — I have great respect
    for that,” Painter said. “At the same time, it’s important that we have the
    ability to freely inquire about these subjects and discuss them, as in, ‘We
    know this is the popular worldview, so let’s look at the other perspectives.’
    That’s at the core of what we do.”

    He added, “That’s what higher education is about. We can reach new
    conclusions and new knowledge as result of that.”

    Even though he’ll face no disciplinary action as a result of the complaint,
    Russum is still facing blowback from the public, since various blogs have run
    pieces about Lewis’s case, and she appeared on Fox
    and Friends on Thursday morning. The title of the segment was
    “Student: Professor Gave Me Zeros for Refusing to Condemn
    Christianity.”

    Russum said he’s received hate mail, some of it homophobic and anti-Semitic,
    and even a physical threat from those outside the college. Being judged so
    harshly and in some cases hatefully by people who don’t know him or the kind of
    teacher he is has been emotionally draining, he said.

    “I want my students to have their own thought processes challenged, not give
    up their beliefs or some of the other things that I’ve been accused of,” he
    said. Of all the names that have been tossed at him, Russum added, “the only
    one I’m going to own is feminist. I don’t identify as an atheist, but I am
    going to own that one and that’s why I do include questions about things such
    as nuns in the Middle Ages.”

    Painter said the college was managing public feedback to Russum, and that he
    encouraged all interested parties to read all they could about the case to make
    informed opinions.

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