EDITOR’S NOTE: The ninth paragraph was updated Nov. 24 at 4 p.m.
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. (BP) — A tenured, Southern Baptist professor at a university in California could face dismissal for allegedly “retaliating” against a student who complained about his support for traditional marriage.
“If I were to use legal terms — even though this is not a legal proceeding — I’ve been convicted but not sentenced,” Robert Oscar Lopez, an associate professor of English and classics at California State University-Northridge (CSUN), told Baptist Press. “They said that I was guilty of retaliation, which is a serious charge in academia” — punishable at CSU by demotion, suspension without pay or dismissal.
In June, Lopez learned university officials had spent eight months investigating him after students complained about being exposed to a “hostile learning environment” during a 2014 optional conference organized by Lopez at the school’s Reagan Library. The conference, called “Bonds That Matter,” emphasized the importance for children of having both a mother and a father.
CSUN found no fault with Lopez during its investigation into complaints about the conference’s supposedly “anti-gay” and “anti-female” agenda. However, in October, the university charged Lopez with “retaliating” against a student who brought complaints about him to the administration. Among the charges is that he prevented the student from receiving an award to which she allegedly was entitled, The Daily Signal reported.
Lopez contests this charge. The student received an “A” in his class, according to The Daily Signal, and Lopez said the allegations against him are based upon undocumented testimony of the student. The administration, he added, declined to consider emails and other documentation that seemed to corroborate his side of the story.
Charles S. Limandri, president and chief counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, wrote in a letter to CSUN Provost Yi Li that Lopez neither retaliated against students nor interfered with their attempts to bring complaints before CSUN’s Office of Equity and Diversity.
“Under these circumstances,” Limandri wrote, “we have no choice but to conclude that the disposition of this investigation is a purely political and ideological attack on Dr. Lopez for holding — and exposing students to — ideas about children’s rights [to a mother and father] which are apparently unpopular.”
CSUN spokesperson Carmen Chandler defended the university’s ruling against Lopez. The university, she told The Daily Signal, “is fully committed to upholding academic freedom and free speech, as well as the right of our students to bring forth concerns. Any investigation resulting from student complaints follows established CSUN protocol and is conducted on the basis of determining whether or not there has been a violation of university policy.”
A member of a Chinese Southern Baptist congregation, Lopez was raised by two lesbians and identified as bisexual as a teenager. He came to faith in Christ in 2008 and is the father of two children with his wife — though he wrote in a commentary for The Federalist that he still considers himself “bisexual.”
Lopez has been an outspoken advocate for the traditional, biblical definition of marriage and the right of children to have both a mother and a father. He filed an amicus brief earlier this year with the Supreme Court, urging justices not to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
The value of traditional marriage for children, Lopez said, literally was “written in stone” in the 10 Commandments’ admonition to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).
“That really means,” he said, “that you have to organize your time in this life around sexual difference and around a vision of family and a debt to your origins which respects both motherhood and fatherhood.”
In addition to the allegations brought by CSUN, Lopez faced opposition last year from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — one of the nation’s largest pro-gay activist groups. HRC made accusations against him as part of its so-called “Export of Hate” initiative and allegedly urged its members to call Lopez and his family, as well as the university. At times, Lopez said, the phone calls seemed threatening.
Lopez told BP he hopes ultimately to prevail against the charges brought against him by CSUN, especially since the outcome will “set a huge precedent.”
“I’m a member of the largest faculty union in the world, Cal State faculty union,” Lopez said. “And if they can get me for this, then that looks very badly for all higher education. …If we as a society are going to prohibit certain ideas, we’re on a road to a totalitarian society.”