Not Caught on Camera

Cal State Fullerton faculty union says instructor was suspended for allegedly hitting a student at a pro-Trump rally -- despite a lack of evidence. Professor's allies say he was the one who was attacked.

March 3, 2017
Eric Canin, right, at a protest at Cal State Fullerton

It’s become a tactic of critics of the academic left to record professors’ politically charged comments and behaviors, then share them online as part of a public shaming campaign. Take Olga Perez Stable Cox’s now-infamous statement that Donald Trump’s election was an act of “terrorism,” recorded by one of her psychology students at Orange Coast College, for example.

So it’s somewhat curious that another Orange County professor’s alleged assault of a student during a pro-Trump rally -- this time at California State University at Fullerton -- didn’t make it onto film, while the rest of an incident did. What happened is also in dispute. Supporters of the professors say he was the one being harassed -- by protesters holding racist signs -- and that he didn't assault anyone.

The group behind the rally, Fullerton’s College Republicans, asserts that a part-time instructor of anthropology, Eric Canin, who has since been suspended, hit one of its members. And the university says an investigation yielded the same conclusion. But the professor’s faculty union says Fullerton has not shared any physical or video evidence to support the claim, and that Canin -- who denies hitting the student -- was the real "victim of aggression." Some of the pictures of the event posted to Twitter show Canin being restrained by one of his student accusers or surrounded, but not hitting anyone.

The incident happened last month, during a counterprotest by the College Republicans to an anti-Trump, “No Ban, No Wall” protest on campus. In a student video that has since been shared online, Canin can be seen walking alongside the Republicans and engaging in conversation. He calls members of the group “trolls,” and some back-and-forth about “respect” can be heard. Then the camera drops away from the scene. There’s quiet for a few moments, then the sounds of alarmed voices in the background. The video does not show Canin touching anyone.

Numerous members of the club have since shared their versions of events online, including in a post on Breitbart. “I saw a man who had told us he was a professor attacking” another student, “and immediately intervened to physically restrain him until police arrived to apprehend him,” Christopher Boyle, club president, told the site. “At the time, students identified him as anthropology professor Eric Canin. … It’s unfortunate that young Republicans and College Republicans can’t take their safety for granted on campus and get attacked for their views.”

Campus police intervened, but Canin was not arrested. The College Republicans filed a complaint, and the university investigated. Jeffrey Cook, a Fullerton spokesperson, said via email Thursday that the university completed its internal inquiry, which “substantiated the charges that a physical altercation occurred, that a campus employee struck a student and that as a consequence the speech of the student group was stopped.”

Cook called the nature of the incident “profoundly troubling,” as “a central tenet of this community is the open exchange of ideas.” Even when opposing views are objectionable, he said, “ours is a campus where we will insist that respect be afforded to the right of others to assert those views. Responding with violence to speech we disagree with cannot and will not be tolerated.”

The university is taking “appropriate action,” he said, declining to provide more detail while the case is ongoing.

Michele Barr, a lecturer in kinesiology and president of Fullerton’s chapter of the California Faculty Association, confirmed that Canin is suspended, and said the case is still under investigation. As to the evidence against him, Barr said it’s “very odd that there are no known pictures or video to support the charge,” since photos of the scene show numerous students documenting it with cell phones.

A separate statement from the union says that Canin "categorically denies having struck anybody and asserts that he has always been and always will be committed to nonviolence. Canin was, in fact, the victim of harassment by a crowd carrying signs with racist messages clearly attempting to provoke a confrontation. … [He] did not prevent anybody’s free speech, yet now by the university’s action, he is being silenced."

The union said it will continue to "aggressively support Canin and demand that the university reinstate him to his former position."

The American Association of University Professors recently released a report about targeted online harassment of professors, saying colleges and universities should prohibit surreptitious student recordings of professors in class or in private meetings. That’s because, increasingly, such tapes end up on YouTube and other sites, and often result in unwanted emails and phone calls to professors from off-campus critics. Cox, for example, said she had to leave the state due to physical threats after her comments were shared online.

In the Fullerton case, which happened outside of class, it appears that what’s missing from the video is the problem -- though other professors elsewhere have alleged recordings of their comments were edited in misleading ways. Canin did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Barr said that he “insists that any video would exonerate him of the charge.”

Reached via Twitter, Boyle, the College Republicans president, said there were "cameras going at the moment of the incident, but none happened to be pointed at the professor when he shoved the student." There were "plenty of eyewitnesses," however, he said.


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