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Palomar Professor Alleges he was ‘Unfairly Targeted,’ ‘Rights Were Infringed Upon’ After Fired

A Palomar professor claimed he was fired for selecting controversial literature for debate.

During a Palomar College Governing Board meeting on Feb. 16, Speech Communication Professor and Speech and Debate Coach Adam Navarro came forward during public comment and made allegations against the Tenure Evaluation Committee for infringing upon his First Amendment rights and academic freedoms after the nonrenewal of his contract with Palomar.

Navarro alleges that his contract was not renewed due to a negative evaluation by the Committee, which evaluates tenure of faculty and staff, as he claims it ranked him poorly for choosing controversial literature for competition, “Fleabag” and “PEN15.” He picked these pieces for the depiction of feminism and women’s experiences, but was told by Palomar’s Speech Team Director and Professor Dewi Hokett that they were inappropriate because of the sexual themes. The Committee subsequently prohibited him from selecting future works.

“I believe I was unfairly targeted because my progressive ideas were in opposition to the TEC’s more conservative ones,” Navarro said. “In January 2021, I was notified that they will not be renewing my contract next year.”

He claims this violates academic freedom according to the Palomar Faculty Federation contract, in addition to ED Code: 5 CCR § 70000.

When contacted for comment, Palomar Speech and ASL Department Chair and Professor Kevin McLellan extended the department’s mission statement or program description via email in response. It is as follows:

“Our mission is to provide an engaging teaching and learning environment to prepare our diverse student body to be successful leaders of tomorrow in education, business, and civil society. We pride ourselves in offering a practical skills-focused comprehensive communication program featuring courses covering all beginning aspects of oral communication, argumentation, interpretation of literature, interpersonal communication, human communication, and competitive speech and debate. We are committed to developing the potential of all students as members of interpersonal co-cultures, performative speakers, and critical thinkers.”

Palomar Director of Communications, Marketing and Public Affairs Julie Lanthier Bandy was also contacted for a statement. Although she said she was not able to comment due to personnel issues, she however offered Board Policy 4030 “Academic Freedom.”

Additionally, Navarro said he was given an improvement plan upon his negative evaluation, which included reading and reporting on a Christian self-help book titled “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

“This is not an academic text and requires complete agreement and acceptance of Christianity,” Navarro said. “I am not Christian and I believe the TEC violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the endorsement of a specific religion by a government entity.”

Navarro also alleges that TEC Chair Chris Lowry requested him to remove a “satirical monologue” from his YouTube channel that he had published for graduate school 13 years ago. Lowry thought it was “inappropriate.” Navarro said this infringes upon his First Amendment rights as a private citizen.

Navarro is in his second year as probationary faculty at Palomar, but has been an instructor for acting and public speaking for two decades. He is a national champion in competitive Speech and Debate and has managed award-winning teams for the past eight years.

“This matter affects more than just my career to fix my reputation and I will be taking every legal option available to me, in order to protect it,” Navarro said during the Feb. 16 Board meeting.

Members of the Board will review faculty contracts on March 3.

This is a developing story.

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