Two racial justice classes reinstated at University of Florida after students protest

The University of Florida Levin College of Law reversed its decision to cancel two racial justice classes after students protested. 

Michelle Jacobs, long-time professor at the school, had requested permission to teach two courses — Critical Race Theory and Criminal Procedure: Police and Police Practices — online, as she was unable to teach in person after undergoing surgery just days before class was schedule to begin. 

The law school initially declined her request, but allowed other professors to teach online a UF Law student said in an email. According to The Gainesville Sun, Jacobs does not live in Gainesville. Instead, the Black law professor has traveled to Gainesville weekly for years to teach her classes but was unable to do that during the pandemic and given her pulmonary issues.

About 150 students and alumni protested the decision and wrote a letter to Dean Laura Rosenbury demanding the law school rethink its decision. 

On Aug. 30, Rosenbury sent an email to students announcing that the classes had been reinstated for the fall semester and will continue as originally planned, according to The Gainesville Sun.

“In this role, Professor Jacobs will assist the College of Law’s efforts to bolster our commitment to the Black experience and racial justice,” the email states. “Her focus will take many forms, such as the enrichment of our curriculum, development of virtual symposia, and connections with community members fighting for racial justice.”

Rosenbury said the students who signed up for the classes will be automatically re-enrolled, and Jacobs will serve an added role for the academic year as a “Racial Justice Term Professor.” 

Jacobs, a criminal law expert, said the position was brought to her without any negotiation or input about the job's work responsibilities.  She added she is excited to teach her students again, and determining how she will approach her role as Racial Justice Term Professor. 

“I wanted my students to be able to learn with me, so I accepted the discretionary appointment to this post,” she said. “As soon as I rest up from these tumultuous 10 days, I’ll look at the language and let the community know how I intend to shape this.”

One of Jacobs’ students, Shydarrius Jackson, a second year law student, said he thinks the decision to allow the courses to continue online brought a sense of accomplishment about students' efforts in the past week, though he felt the process of getting there was preventable. 

“Once we got the word, it was a relief and a sense of accomplishment for everyone that was working toward trying to get her online,” he said.

In June, UF law joined 12 other law schools statewide in creating the Florida Law Schools’ Consortium for Racial Justice, where second- and third-year law students are chosen by community organizations to research, create reports and gather data to help improve state racial justice laws. 

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