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Fired college professor who opposed social justice initiatives speaks out: 'State-funded smear campaign'

Bakersfield College professor Matthew Garrett is fighting back after he was terminated last week, due to what he called a politically-motivated “smear campaign” against him after he questioned social justice dogma on campus.

The tenured history professor’s termination comes after years of battles with the California school’s administration over issues of free speech, censorship and college spending on political initiatives. It started in 2019 after he wrote an op-ed pushing back against the school labeling anonymous anti-Marxist stickers on campus as a “hate crime.” In response, a media website paid for by Bakersfield College grants called him an “apologist for white supremacy.”

The tension worsened this past fall after members of a free speech coalition he started were accused of racism for questioning a racial climate survey during a campus diversity meeting. Shortly afterward, Garrett received a notice of unprofessional conduct by the school claiming he had caused “real harm” to students. He was promptly removed from the diversity committee. 

Garrett said that far-left professors on campus and students whom he’d “never met” had continued to complain about the “completely fabricated” charges before the school board. A leaked transcript and audio of the October diversity meeting reportedly shows no evidence that the professor made any racist remarks. Regardless, the board of trustees followed the November notice by firing him on April 13.

photo of Bakersfield College/Matthew Garrett

Bakersfield College history professor Matthew Garrett says his job was threatened over false allegations of racism (YouTube/The Bakersfield Californian)

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The Kern Community College District told Garrett he had engaged in “immoral and unprofessional conduct,” “dishonesty” and “unsatisfactory performance” in its lengthy list of charges. Fox News Digital was given the 35-page document to review, in which the administration listed 22 examples of misconduct. Garrett argued that every single charge was blatantly false and provided available evidence to dispute many of these charges. He is appealing the decision before an administrative court.

“It’s really an attempt to pile on charges without really having any charges,” Garrett told Fox News Digital after his termination. “They just basically listed every reason for which a person can be fired.”

Although the school listed violations such as “unsatisfactory performance” and “refusal to perform regular assignments” as reasons for firing Garrett, he claimed he had always received satisfactory performance reviews and noted no examples were given to prove he had not fulfilled his job requirements.

Garrett was adamant that the charges were baseless and defended his record teaching at the school for the past 13 years. He was particularly upset about the school charging him with “immoral conduct,” which he said in education code refers to “sexual misconduct or drug use.” 

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“That is a serious allegation…I’m watching my name be destroyed in social media,” he remarked. “This is a state-funded smear campaign and a complete inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars to try to drive me from campus.”

Students protest nomination of Ben Sasse to be University of Florida president.  (Fox News/Ophelie Jacobson)

KCCD spokeswoman Norma Rojas-Mora, however, said the board “did not agree with Garrett’s characterization of the events” and his firing was “not an issue of free speech.”

“We support the rights of all members of our community to speak out on issues of concern whether on political issues or those involving the College,” the school relayed in a statement to Fox News Digital.

They argued Garrett had been “repeatedly warned” his unprofessional conduct was violating code and disrupting campus. “[W]e had no choice but to move forward with action, which has all been done in accordance with legal policies and procedures and contract rights,” the board said in part.

Garrett’s firing comes after a Board of Trustees member criticized the free speech coalition at a December board meeting. Vice president of the board John Corkins said he believed this group was an “abusive” and “disrespectful” minority and needed to be “culled” and taken “to the slaughterhouse.”

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Garrett claimed the board was fully aware the charges were false but they just “didn’t care.”

“Despite the abundance of my public comments, nobody can ever cite any quote from anything I’ve said that a reasonable listener would find offensive, nor has anyone been able to demonstrate that any comment I’ve made was untrue,” Garrett argued. “This four-year long character assassination is built on nothing more than vaporous whispers and it’s driven by one clear motivation: to destroy the most vocal critic of the social justice dogma. I am appalled and disgusted by the gross misrepresentation of my civil questioning as something ‘immoral.'”

National free speech organization FIRE accused the school board of retaliating against Garrett “under vague civility and unprofessionalism codes for simply expressing sentiments others dislike.”

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The group wrote to KCCD Board President Romeo Agbalog demanding he reverse the decision.

“Firing a professor for expressing their views is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment and a breach of the trust Americans place in public colleges. Professors’ livelihoods should not be granted or revoked based on the popularity of their viewpoints. FIRE is alarmed by the board’s actions, and we strongly urge the KCCD to reverse this unconstitutional decision and immediately reinstate Professor Garrett,” FIRE counsel Jessie Appleby said in a statement.

A petition calling on the KCCD Board of Trustees to drop the charges against Garrett and retain him as faculty has garnered over 1,300 signatures on Change.org.

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