California college trustee wants to 'cull' conservative faculty, 'take 'em to the slaughterhouse'

Lawyer for history professors, already suing Kern Community College District for First Amendment retaliation, demands apology for "at best intimidating" language against his clients by trustee.

Published: December 16, 2022 7:40pm

Updated: December 18, 2022 11:58pm

A faculty-run think tank that challenges social justice orthodoxy at a California community college is so loathed by activists on and off campus that an elected official apparently suggested treating its leaders like his doomed livestock.

John Corkins, vice president of the Kern Community College District Board of Trustees, made the agricultural quip at a Dec. 13 meeting following public comments dominated by accusations of racism and harassment by the Renegade Institute for Liberty at Bakersfield College.

"I think there's a segment" of people at BC, perhaps "5 percent that we have to continue to cull," said Corkins, who runs an eponymous agribusiness. Trustee Nan Gomez-Heitzeberg, a retired 30-year administrator at BC, nodded in agreement.

"Got 'em in my livestock operation, and that's why we put a rope on some of 'em and take 'em to the slaughterhouse," Corkins continued, prompting a guffaw from Gomez-Heitzeberg. "Just bothers me when the bad actors are paid staff and they're faculty," who are "hard to get rid of."

Tenured history professors Matthew Garrett and Erin Miller are leaders in the Renegade Institute, which has 23 listed "committed faculty." The duo have been on the chopping block for at least two years. 

KCCD general counsel Christopher Hine accused the two of making defamatory statements that a rival BC think tank cofounded by then-President Sonya Christian, the Social Justice Institute, misused grant monies. The targeted professors said they were simply criticizing its politicized spending. 

Garrett and Miller filed a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit against Hine and then-Chancellor Thomas Burke a year and half ago for creating a false basis to fire them for "unprofessional conduct."

The duo filed an amended complaint this summer swapping in Christian, the new chancellor, and Vice President Billie Jo Rice, whom Garrett previously accused of sharing confidential files with his detractors and trying to stop his promotion through a racial double standard.

The court docket shows the parties had a settlement conference Dec. 5. Conkins didn't respond to Just the News queries about whether his culling remarks referred to the possible departure of Garrett and Miller from BC through a settlement, and the propriety of comparing disrespectful employees to culled livestock.

Neither did Gomez-Heitzeberg when asked why she laughed at his culling remarks. An auto-reply from Corkins recommended bringing immediate requests to Christian, who also didn't respond.

The duo's lawyer Arthur Willner told Just the News he couldn't divulge the status of settlement talks but said his clients were "deeply concerned" about Corkins' remarks.

"This language is disgusting and unprofessional," he wrote in an email. "It was at best intimidating and at worst threatened violence against my clients and other faculty whose only 'crime' is to disagree with some of the prevailing campus political orthodoxy."

Willner said the other trustees and Christian, who was present on the dais, "shamefully remained silent" and that he heard an off-screen male voice laughing in addition to Gomez-Heitzeberg. He's already written to KCCD attorneys "demanding a formal public apology from the Board and the Chancellor to my clients for these awful statements."

A representative of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, named after the farm labor activist, opened public comment at the Dec. 13 meeting by accusing the institute of "posting hate speech, threatening groups of color and intimidating students and staff."

BC professor Paula Parks, who founded the African American club Umoja, told the board the institute was targeting her students, KGET reported. It's not free speech because "they are saying things that they know are lies, and they are trying to incite anger and create an unsafe environment," she said.

The Renegade Institute's events have long rankled progressive faculty at BC, which is designated an Hispanic Serving Institution by the Department of Education.

It screened the Dennis Prager-Adam Carolla documentary "No Safe Spaces," held panel discussions on black conservatism and campus COVID policies, and virtually hosted historian Mary Grabar, a vocal critic of the 1619 Project. 

This fall, the institute brought mathematician and "grievance studies" prankster James Lindsay to campus, an event cosponsored by the Office of Student Life.

The new antagonism started in October with proposed non-credit courses on farm labor history including a "César E. Chávez Leadership Certificate of Completion." They were designed by history professor Oliver Rosales, who previously filed internal complaints against Garrett and Miller

The Renegade Institute's Facebook posts claimed the courses boil down to "UFW [Union Farm Workers] activist training classes" and that the Chavez certificate "ran into a hiccup in committee yesterday when faculty expressed concern that the program would simply turn students to be UFW activists." That refers to the Curriculum Committee, on which Miller serves. Its Oct. 6 minutes show that Miller proposed the successful motion to table the proposed courses. 

In an Oct. 16 column in The Bakersfield Californian, local news anchor Jose Gaspar reported that this happened after "a lengthy debate about the merits and wording of the course descriptions." Miller denied to Gaspar that she wrote the "hiccup" post, saying she teaches Chavez and the UFW in her social science classes.

Addressing a larger-than-usual gathering at the next committee meeting, Miller said BC already has "37 classes that examine the contributions [of] Chávez and the UFW" and can be "audited at no charge" and that the committee "voted to modify" the Chavez course so it could be approved.

She took a veiled swipe at Rosales, saying "the lead creator" rejected the committee's recommended edits to make the course consistent with college policy, which includes a ban on "promot[ing] partisan politics" in class. 

Miller asked attendees to imagine their reaction if the courses were about "Ronald Reagan and neo-conservatives ... Trump and MAGA" or "Newt Gingrich and Contract with America."

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