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OCC professor returns to class

Deirdre Newman

OCC CAMPUS -- Four months after charges of harassment catapulted

professor Kenneth Hearlson from the classroom into the national media

spotlight, he returned to campus Tuesday night to confront a new group of


students in his Political Science 180 class.

Last semester, the infamous 180 class spontaneously combusted into

controversy when four Muslim students accused Hearlson of making

inflammatory statements against Arabs and Muslims. Hearlson was placed on


administrative leave while the school looked into the charges.

An independent investigation cleared him of the bulk of the charges,

but a letter from college President Margaret Gratton remains a thorn in

his side because he considers it a reprimand, equating it with prior


Tina Bruning, president of the Coast Federation of Educators, said she

expects to file a grievance by Monday to have Gratton’s letter removed

from Hearlson’s file.If Hearlson was worried about censoring what he


would say, it didn’t show on the first night of Poly Sci 180.

Hearlson entered the lecture hall dressed as a disheveled old man,

mumbling under his breath. He wrote his name on the overhead projector as

“Zine Snowjob” and said of himself: “His job is to try to teach you guys

something. The last time he tried that, he got kicked off campus.”

Chuckles ensued as Hearlson retreated to change into the more

conservative blue blazer and khakis he appeared in moments later.

While Hearlson has spent the last few months embroiled in controversy,


the students who packed the lecture hall Tuesday night largely had no

clue about the details of his recent travails.

“I heard he got in some trouble last semester. For what, I have no

idea,” said Chris Lewis, 23.

Hearlson, who admitted to having butterflies in his stomach before

going back “onstage,” said he has received a lot of support from staff

and students in the past two days. And while he says he will continue

infusing his lectures with his trademark passion, he plans to be more


“I’ve already done a lot of soul searching, and I want to be more

sensitive to all students,” Hearlson said before the class.

But don’t confuse sensitive with politically correct, he emphasized.

During the class, Hearlson explained what had happened last semester

and said he welcomed different opinions.

“I want you to challenge me. I want you to get in my face. I don’t

care what you call me. It doesn’t bother me,” said the 58-year-old


And he didn’t shy away from controversial topics either, chiding OCC

students for what he perceives as their ethnic segregation.

“What I see at Orange Coast College is different ethnic groups -- I

rarely see them commingle,” Hearlson said. “You’re safe with your own

group. I thought that’s what Martin Luther King said you shouldn’t do


While Hearlson’s new students settled in for the ride, one of his

students from last semester said she felt deprived for not getting the

full Hearlson experience.

“That was my last semester, and I felt really [ripped off]. That was

the most exciting class,” Billie Criss said.

* Deirdre Newman covers education. She may be reached at (949)

574-4221 or by e-mail at o7 deirdre.newman@latimes.comf7 .