California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. (Photo courtesy of California Community Colleges)

Some California community college leaders who made public statements last week critical of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead have received aggressive emails criticizing those positions, including at least one from a retired faculty member, officials said.

One of the reactions included a racial attack on a San Diego college district chancellor.

The criticism reached a point where state Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley sent a supportive email Sunday night to campus leaders urging them to not back down.

“Please know that your voice is critically important at this moment in history, and I will do everything that I can to support you,” Oakley wrote. He closed with a call to action asking for officials to contact him or the colleges’ attorney “if you become aware that anyone on your staff or members of your leadership or trustees were actively involved in the unlawful break in of the Capitol.”

Last week, the chancellor of the San Diego Community College District posted a message on the district’s website condemning the violence and urging vigilance “to insist upon collegiality, civility, and decency in our processes and interactions; and to protect our precious privileges as citizens of this great nation.”

Racist email sent to San Diego chancellor 

The chancellor, Constance Carroll, who is Black, told EdSource on Wednesday that an email was sent to the district board in response to her statement saying “Your Black b—– chancellor needs to be fired.”

“There were about 10 others along those lines,” said Carroll, who is retiring in July after 16 years as chancellor. “Smearing and criticizing me do not deter me in my efforts to do what is right.”

Oakley was highly critical of the letter about Carroll in a statement his office issued Wednesday to the leaders of the 116 community colleges and 73 districts serving more than 2 million students, the largest system in the country.

“No one at a community college, whether a student, an employee or a district chancellor, should be subjected to such hate speech and racism. We all stand with Chancellor Carroll and others who speak out forcefully against white supremacists and attempts to derail our democracy,” Oakley said in the statement.

The statements condemning Capitol violence were posted on college and district websites and emailed to students, faculty and staff.  Some of the messages were anonymous. Officials declined to identify the accounts from which the emails were sent or whether the writers were part of their campus communities. One was described as a former faculty member.

More threatening messages

Other college leaders in San Diego County also received criticism for speaking out about the insurrection.

At the MiraCosta Community College District, President Sunita Cooke said in an email that a “horrible letter” was received in response to a statement she posted on the colleges website on Jan. 7.

“It was very troubling, disrespectful and threatening,” Cooke said. She declined to elaborate or share the letter’s content, but called it “a symptom of the deep division and incivility” in the nation.

Julliana Barnes, president of Cuyamaca College in the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District said that several responses she called “nastygrams” were received in response to a joint statement put out by her, another college president and the district chancellor about the insurrection. One was from a retired faculty member, she said. She declined to elaborate on them.

Oakley said he wrote the Sunday night email to encourage campus leaders to continue to speak out about the insurrection and its aftermath, which he called “attacks on the constitutional process.”

He said the statements were not political, but factual, pointing out the unprecedented nature of the assault on the nation’s Capitol. Oakley, a U.S. Army veteran, issued his own statement on the insurrection last week, writing, “The actions of violent rioters who have trampled our nation’s Capitol and our sacred democratic process must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

The political vitriol that has dominated the country during the Trump years has also recently come up on community college trustee boards across the state.

A trustee at the San Luis Obispo Community College District was censored in November after it was found he reposted racial and offensive photos in his personal Facebook feed, including a doctored photo of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in Nazi Brownshirts.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Oakley told EdSource that he has not received any reports of California community college employees taking part in the insurrection.

“We just want to be able to answer questions if they come up” he said of asking for names.

CSU and UC

Elsewhere in the state, a spokesman for the California State University system said he was not aware of any employees participating in anything related to the attack on the Capitol. University of California system officials did not respond to requests regarding employees at the insurrection or their potential involvement.

A number of UC and CSU leaders condemned the attack on the Capitol, including UC President Michael Drake, who said last week, “The shocking display of lawless violence on January 6 was a horrific, and ultimately tragic, affront to our national dignity. We must stand together — regardless of political party or point of view — to uphold, protect and defend our bedrock values.”

A private college in California is struggling with what to do with John Eastman, a professor who spoke alongside President Donald Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani at the Jan. 6 Capitol rally before the attack on the Capitol. Eastman pushes the baseless claims that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. At the same rally, Trump urged the mob to challenge the ongoing work of Congress to accept the electoral college presidential election results.

Chapman University professor resigns amid scandal

Chapman University in Orange County faced calls from faculty to fire Eastman, an endowed professor and constitutional law scholar, at the university’s Fowler School of Law. After days of controversy,  Chapman President Daniele Struppa on Wednesday issued a statement that Eastman had resigned. “Dr. Eastman’s departure closes this challenging chapter for Chapman and provides the most immediate and certain path forward for both the Chapman community and Dr. Eastman.”

Struppa earlier had said Eastman did play a role in the tragic events in Washington, D.C., that jeopardized our democracy but he would not take action. He said the university would follow faculty manual guidelines that allow professors to face termination if they are found guilty of a felony or disbarred.

Eastman issued a statement saying he had “mixed feeling” about retiring and defended his positions opposing the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. His move came amid reports that he may be joining the Trump legal team.

Inciting a mob or a riot is a crime, but the standard to meet incitement in a legal context is very high and some of our greatest legal scholars are debating whether Giuliani or Trump even reached that standard, said Michelle Deutchman, executive director of the University of California’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement.

But firing a professor isn’t the only way universities can respond to these incidents, she said. Even if they won’t penalize staff or employees directly, they can have open discussions on campus or build programs to counter the statements, beliefs and actions of these people.

Nationally, other universities have removed employees or faculty who participated in the Capitol insurrection.

Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania severed ties with Rick Saccone, an adjunct professor and former state representative, who wrote on social media that he was at the storming of the Capitol.

Also, Harvard University removed Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, from its Harvard Institute of Politics advisory committee because she was among the Republicans who voted against certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win.

Story originally published by EdSource.