Former Boston University lecturer Geoffrey Carliner refuted claims he discriminated against Asian and Asian American students after an internal investigation last year led to his contract not being renewed.
The Equal Opportunity Office conducted an investigation spring 2021 into Carliner’s behavior in his Economics of Less-Developed Regions (EC 320) course after it received a student’s anonymous complaint, according to documents obtained by The Daily Free Press.
A student alleged that, on multiple occasions, Carliner “targeted Asian students making them feel uncomfortable, offended and unable to participate fully or attend class,” according to the report.
The student also claimed that Carliner assumed the nationality and origin of Asian students based on their last names and called on them in particular to answer questions and defend China’s policies.
On June 4, 2021, the report by the EOO found a “preponderance of evidence” that Carliner had discriminated against students. Carliner denies these allegations.
“I don’t think I discriminated,” Carliner said. “I, of course, did not mean to make anybody feel uncomfortable. I think it’s political correctness gone amok to fire me for what happened in my economics class last spring.”
The report also concluded Carliner violated the office’s retaliation policy — which states it is unlawful and prohibited to retaliate against individuals who bring forward or assist in a complaint.
As the investigation was ongoing, Carliner sent out an email May 6, 2021 — the same day as the course’s final exam — asking students to email the investigator assigned to the case and inform them on whether he displayed improper behavior in class or if his class stimulated useful discussions.
“If BU finds that I have acted improperly, they may decide not to renew my contract, and might even decide to fire me,” he wrote in the email. “Thank you in advance. Your emails could help me keep my job.”
Dean of Arts and Sciences Stan Sclaroff later issued a warning to Carliner in a July 15, 2021 letter.
“Further contact with students from Spring 2021 EC 320 regarding this investigation or its conclusions will be considered a violation of the Policy and will also result in the termination of your employment,” Sclaroff wrote in a letter.
On December 30, 2021, Carliner told students he intended to retire early in an email. Last Monday, Carliner sent out another email announcing that the University decided not to renew his contract past July 1, 2022, based on the investigation’s findings.
“It’s total hypocrisy on the part of the BU,” said Carliner, “ It is not retaliation. I didn’t punish any student. I didn’t do anything harmful to any student by asking them to write the email. Easy enough for them to ignore my email, most of them did.”
Out of the 64 students in the class, 26 responded to Carliner’s request and emailed the EOO. Most gave a positive impression of Carliner, but two corroborated the student’s discrimination claims, according to the report.
In one of the emails obtained by The Daily Free Press, one Asian student wrote that, in the class, they felt they were able to share views “deeply related to my race, my nationality, and myself.”
“…based upon these facts and logical factors, I can assure that Professor Carliner’s mistake is not an act of discrimination but simply a misidentification of one specific student,” the student wrote.
Bo Peng, a junior in the Questrom School of Business who took EC 320 with Carliner, said the course is structured in a way that encourages class discussions on the economies of countries such as India, China and Brazil.
Peng said he did not regard Carliner’s email as an act of retaliation, adding students should “have the right to be informed” about complaints of discrimination against their professor.
“I feel like BU didn’t give us a chance to explain very well to BU about how professor Carliner did in class,” Peng said. “BU only took one person’s opinion, which is not equal at all.”
Jennifer Wang, a junior in the College of Communication who took the course EC320 with Carliner, said she didn’t “feel anything like what was mentioned in the email.”
“I was a little bit confused when I received that email when the professor said someone reported him as discrimination,” Wang said. “ I liked the class and I think I learned a lot from it, I just didn’t feel anything about discrimination overall.”
Sclaroff declined to comment on the case, but wrote in an email that the College of Arts and Sciences is committed to maintaining an environment where “all can learn and thrive.”
BU spokesperson Colin Riley did not comment on the issue beyond reiterating that BU “strongly encourages” students to report any inappropriate conduct by a member of the faculty so the University can then investigate and determine whether it violates its policies.
The EOO also declined to provide details on the case, writing in an email it seeks to protect the integrity of the investigative process and involved parties’ privacy.
Peng said he was “very disappointed” when BU did not renew Carliner’s contract, and felt it unfair given the limited number of student complaints.
“If only one person complains, and then they made our investigation on it, and then that person’s friend also made a complaint about it. Then the professor is going to be fired, ” Peng said. “So we can do that to every professor in every class, which is a policy that’s unfair to everyone.”
City Editor Cici Yu contributed to the reporting of this article.