After announcing last week that he may be terminated from UC Berkeley next year, Alexander Coward, a widely known lecturer in the math department, responded with a post on his website alleging that his termination is part of what he calls a “practice of systematically removing the best teachers” from the campus.
The math department has decided against renewing Coward’s contract, according to a Facebook post he wrote Wednesday. The announcement has sparked concern and confusion among students, many of whom know of Coward because of an email he sent to his class in fall 2013 that went viral.
Coward, who has been a lecturer in the department since 2013 and currently teaches Math 1A, declined to comment on the reasons behind the decision but shared a post called “Blowing the Whistle on the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department” on his website Sunday night.
In the post, Coward outlines a series of allegations against the math department, including that the department mischaracterized his teaching in his personnel file by failing to report his student evaluations for Math 1A.
“I should mention that what I have reported above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of wrongdoing that is committed at the highest level in the UC Berkeley mathematics department,” Coward wrote in the post.
Coward has also filed a formal grievance with the university alleging incomplete documentation and procedural violations in the review process that led to his potential dismissal.
Soon after the post was published, student organizers started sharing a Facebook event for a protest on Oct. 20 to keep Coward on campus. They also began circulating an online petition which, as of Sunday evening, has more than 1,000 supporters.
On Tuesday, a former UC Berkeley student posted on Facebook regarding a rumor she had heard about Coward leaving campus next year. Coward responded to the post confirming that the department had decided to dismiss him, effective after the current academic year.
“Well, if the campus authorities don’t overrule the mathematics department’s decision to fire me, then yes, this will be my last year teaching math at Berkeley,” Coward said in a comment reply to the post. “I hope they do overrule the decision, because I absolutely love teaching here.”
The campus does not commit to lecturers’ ongoing employment until after they have taught at the campus for six years and have undergone a “rigorous academic review of their teaching,” said campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.
“Many lecturers have appointments that may be for a single term or up to two years,” Gilmore said in the email. “They often fill in for regular faculty who are on leave, provide additional teaching to cover surges in enrollment, and teach large undergraduate classes.”
Gilmore declined to comment on Coward’s situation, citing confidentiality in the case of individual personnel matters.
Coward received national attention in November 2013 when an email he wrote to his students went viral. The email was sent out the night before graduate student instructors and other employees across the UC system went on strike, and explained why Coward did not plan on canceling class the next day.
“Whatever the alleged injustices are that are being protested about tomorrow, it is clear that you are not responsible for those things,” Coward wrote to his students. “I do not think you should be denied an education because of someone else’s fight that you are not responsible for.”
The email, in which Coward also reflected more broadly on the value of higher education, was circulated on several online platforms and was read by more than 1 million people, according to Coward’s personal website.
Coward has not made an announcement about the dismissal during lecture, according to multiple students in the class.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is upset and generally confused about why he’s leaving,” said Jeff Wu, a freshman in the course. “The way he teaches is very personal, and students would be pretty upset to lose that.”
Coward and his union representative will meet with members of the campus administration on Oct. 20 to review his grievances with the department.