A humanities professor gave a 16-year-old girl four consecutive “zero” grades on assignments at Polk State College in Lakeland, Florida, for refusing to conform to his anti-Christian worldview.
Grace is enrolled full-time in a virtual school she attends from home. Her mother, Kristin Lewis, tells Breitbart News that assignments given by Professor Lance “L.J.” Russum required students to respond to various questions, the premises of which reflected a strong anti-Christian bias and demanded responses that confirmed his anti-Christian perspective.
Lewis said her daughter is an accelerated student with a 3.9 grade-point average who began taking college courses last fall. Her parents decided Grace would take a humanities course since they knew the credits would transfer to any college she ultimately attended. Lewis said Grace was placed in Russum’s class as a virtual student.
Below are some aspects of the assignment, reproduced as the professor gave them:
Russum’s course objectives state:
You are under no obligation to agree with classmates, authors, or the instructor, in fact, the instructor will often occupy the space of “Devil’s Advocate” for the purpose of lively discussion. Questions: I ask three kinds of questions: reading, interpretive and critical. Reading questions ask about feeling, subject, content, plot, the literal story-line. Interpretive questions ask about thinking, theme, figurative language, symbolism, and form. Critical questions ask about evaluating, judging, taste, period, history, politics, and ethics. Interpretive and critical questions usually contain phrases like “do you think” or “why do you suppose.”
Instructions for one assignment Grace received asked her to read several articles and answer the following questions:
1) What is something Lady Julian is saying/doing that women should not be saying/doing at that time under the Christian mythos?
2) From the article on the Nuns what makes their defiance of male dominance so important?
3) Why did Christianity, and its male gods, want to silence these women?
NOTE: For the reading on the Nuns there are questions on the last page DO NOT ANSWER them, they are just part of the original article. You are to only answer the above three questions. SECOND, and this is VERY important, I DO NOT want you to write about how wonderful you think Christianity is now because women can do A, B, or C. History is history and facts are facts and your opinion on if it is better now or not is irrelevant for this discussion. This is a HISTORICAL discussion about the middle ages. If you really feel the need to express your opinion on how you think Christianity is now for women you may email me, you may call my office or I would love for you to stop by for a nice cup of hot tea where we can talk about it but it does not belong in this assignment. The pieces your are reading a from some of the greatest expressions of mythology by women ever, the question is to honor that voice in that moment of history.
Grace provided a lengthy, documented response and added:
In conclusion, the questions assigned are not open-minded questions. They instead are designed to lead course participants decisively to accept that Christianity is false and oppressive of women. Furthermore, these questions are objectively unanswerable, specifically when compared alongside the questions that we were instructed to neglect.
Students were asked in one assignment whether a character was transgendered and, in another, “How does the Renaissance allow for humanism to become the new ‘faith’ of the day?”
In an assignment about Martin Luther and the reformation, instructions from Russum were as follows:
WHAT you MUST write about:
1. Luther as a humanist
2. Luther’s reformation as political.
3. How Luther embraces the peasants and then abandons them when it gets to difficult for him.
WHAT YOU MUST NOT WRITE ABOUT:
- This is NOT about Luther’s theology
- Any quotes from his sermons or writings MUST be about humanism and how the reformation is in the right place and right time in history NOT some divine providence of the gods
- You must stay focused on the history of the humanism of Luther and his reformation
IF You turn this into a theological debate or divine providence I will NOT read it and you will be given a zero.
In yet another assignment, Russum refers to “Hercules, Apollo and Jesus” on equal footing as “myths.”
Lewis said her daughter disagreed with the premise of the questions Russum asked in his assignments.
“He provided a scholarly source – someone who supported his theory, but there was no option for disagreeing, he would just ask, ‘Why can’t you answer the questions?’” she said.
When Grace attempted to speak on the phone with Russum, her mother said he kept her on the phone for three hours trying to refute her beliefs.
“She said, ‘I don’t agree’ with your opinion, but he responded, ‘We’re not writing about faith, but facts,’” Lewis recounted.
Grace’s mother said her daughter spent hours on the assignments, and Russum called her “angry because he took his personal time away from his family to speak with her, only to be disrespected by her disagreement with him.”
Lewis said at one point Russum threatened to call the dean of the college, Donald Painter, and have Grace dropped from the class. Grace, however, said she did not wish to drop the class and lose the credit.
According to her mother, Grace experienced several instances in which her grades were changed by Russum on assignments he gave to her. Then, when she received four consecutive zeros, the parents called the dean, hoping for assistance.
Painter, Lewis said, called them back after reviewing the course curriculum and told them Grace should not have any further problems.
“The dean also said the professor was within his rights of academic freedom to teach the class the way he wanted to,” she added. “He suggested we wait for the end of the course, when we could begin a grade appeal process for her final grade.”
When Grace continued to experience difficulties with Russum, the parents decided to write to Painter instead, who responded to them in a letter:
I have reviewed the materials in Professor Russum’s HUM 2020 – 57094 course and believe them to be appropriate based on the course description and learning outcomes. Further, I found nothing derogatory or defamatory toward any group of people.
Professor Russum has provided feedback to Grace regarding her grades. His feedback pointed out numerous academic issues with her submissions. As I have stated previously, our procedures provide no formal appeal mechanism for grades on individual assignments. All students may appeal final course grades that they believe to be unfair and inconsistent with course and/or College policies. Should Grace receive a final grade in the course that she believes meets these conditions, I am happy to assist with the formal appeal process.
Painter also suggested in his letter that they were warned the course material might be too mature for Grace. He wrote:
[T]he High School Approval Form for Dual Enrollment and Early Admission Students that Grace and you signed on 10/31/14 contains the following acknowledgement: “I understand that Polk State College courses, textbooks, materials, and lectures are developed for the adult student, age 18 or older, and will not be modified or changed to accommodate younger students.”
“We didn’t ask him to review the curriculum,” Lewis said. “The problem was that the teacher wasn’t teaching the textbook or the curriculum. It was his own bias he was teaching.”
Lewis said when Painter suggested the parents could reach out to the college’s Equity and Diversity Office, they decided to contact Liberty Counsel, an international nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family.
Grace’s mother said that since the parents spoke to Painter and Liberty Counsel intervened in the situation, Grace received 80 percent on one paper and 100 percent on her final project.
Screenshots of Russum’s Facebook account, which he has now deleted, were captured by Liberty Counsel. One contains a photo of Jesus with his middle finger raised in an obscene gesture, to which Russum remarks, “I finally have the answer to WWJD.”
Another screen shot of Russum’s deleted Facebook account provides his definition of “anti-theism”:
The issue then is not god but how the myth becomes institutionalized and by extension often historically oppressive. Religion and not god becomes the focus. Ant-theist are often accused of reducing faith to a psychosis or neurosis because the view faith/belief as a construct of the human brain. Ant-theist are not going to argue with a theist about creation of the earth or where humans come from, an anti-theist will ask a theist what happened to you that makes you so dependent on mythology that you use it to escape reality.
Matthew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told Breitbart News that Russum’s behavior amounts to “abuse of students.”
“This has nothing to do with teaching,” he said. “The professor is using his position of superiority to abuse students and this has no place in a college.”
Staver said Grace was punished because she refused to conform to Russum’s personal worldview of Marxism, atheism, feminism and homosexuality.
Liberty Counsel’s press release regarding the case states:
The website “Rate my Professor” shows that G.L. is not the first student to be subjected to the professor’s viewpoint discrimination. His college email signature line includes a quote from a Marxist who praises Lenin, Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, and Adolf Hitler. These, along with the inappropriate course content, show that Professor Russum is seeking to impose his own values on students, in violation of the Constitution.
Liberty Counsel is demanding an independent review of Russum’s behavior and course content, a review of Grace’s papers by another professor, a written apology to Grace, and assurance Russum’s future courses will be “free from such unlawful discrimination.”
Breitbart News reached out for comment to Painter and Polk State College and received the following response from Rachel Pleasant, director of communications at the college: “At this time, our legal counsel is still reviewing the situation. As soon as we have the official response from our attorneys, I will be sure to forward it to you.”