Fresno City plans action against instructor

Fresno City College officials said they plan to take action against an instructor accused of presenting religious-based and anti-gay views as fact in a health class. But school officials declined to say what action they will take.

In a March 8 letter to three students who complained, the school said its investigation found that instructor Bradley Lopez violated district policy and engaged in conduct that could create a hostile learning environment. The students were part of a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in February.

The letter from Christopher M. Villa, Fresno City's vice president of student services, said that Lopez's conduct could have unreasonably interfered with students' learning by making insulting comments directed at homosexuals. A copy of the letter was posted on the Web site of the college's student newspaper, The Rampage.

Lopez, who didn't return telephone calls Wednesday, has vehemently denied the allegations. His attorney, Charles Magill, said Lopez has done nothing wrong: "We completely disagree with the findings."

Magill also said that Lopez, who teaches health science, has not been reprimanded or notified of any pending disciplinary action. He said Lopez continues to teach at Fresno City and is not going to change the way he teaches.

The two-page letter from Villa said Lopez described homosexuals as "suffering from a mental disorder and advising psychological counseling as a remedy." Doing so, the letter said, violated district policy prohibiting comments based on sexual orientation.

Lopez also was found to have violated district policy by teaching religious material, which is inconsistent with Fresno City as a public institution. Villa said the instructor was not required to hide his religious belief, but should not have engaged in religious indoctrination as he did by assigning readings from the Bible.

The school also concluded that Lopez's actions are not protected by academic freedom -- a principle that allows instructors to teach controversial ideas without fear of punishment. The idea of academic freedom is that healthy exchanges with students can lead to thought-provoking discussions.

The college said it would "take appropriate action to address the violations policy and regulations and prevent them from recurring in the future."

School officials aren't discussing what action might be taken, calling it a personnel matter. A written statement from Fresno City College President Cynthia Azari said the school is committed to its anti-discrimination and harassment policies. She added: "The situation is being handled appropriately."

Jacqueline Mahaffey, 24, one of the students who complained, said she felt vindicated. "It makes me feel good to know that the college is acknowledging this and they are going to do something about it," she said. However, she said she wants to make sure action is taken and that the letter "is not just a device to placate us."

Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, called the findings "a great first step" but is still waiting to see what action is taken against Lopez.

"My agenda is that the school make sure that all their health science classes are teaching medically accurate and unbiased information. It's the school's responsibility to make sure that happens," Gill said.