Palm Beach News

Asian FAU Professor Fired After Mysterious, Anonymous Emails Circulate

According to a federal lawsuit filed Friday, a person calling himself "Mr. Joe" started an email campaign against Florida Atlantic University officials in 2014. The messages accused various members of the faculty of colluding with one another to keep salaries low and promote inept employees.  

This May, the university fired a tenured education professor, Dr. Chunxue "Victor" Wang. Wang is now claiming in a lawsuit that he "did not have anything to do with the emails" but that as they were being investigated, he complained about his salary.  The lawsuit explains that the offending emails had been sent from Indonesia, and "FAU concluded that since Wang was Asian, and 'Joe' is from an Asian country, then it was either Wang who sent the emails or someone that he knows from Indonesia." Wang is alleging two counts of retaliation under the Florida Civil Rights Act and one count of deprivation of due process. 

The emails said things like, "Provost Alperind, you must not rubber stamp faux tenure promotions." Another asked Dean Valerie Bristor to "have a backbone" and "stop the bully mentality from chairs and admin toward faculty and students."

One of the messages also made repeated references to the "COE," which presumably stands for College of Education. "Faculty morale in the COE is at its lowest point in 2 decades, yet our dean seems unaware or unconcerned about it," one email read.

Emails also show that "Mr. Joe" was fixated on "pay discrepancies" at the school. 

China and Indonesia are thousands of miles from one another. The two nations have wildly different cultures, social customs, and languages. A flight from Beijing to Jakarta — China's and Indonesia's capitals, respectively — takes more than seven hours.

Curiously, though, the emails signed by "Mr. Joe" came from an account called "[email protected]" — "Changsha" being a large city in China, rather than Indonesia.

According to the lawsuit, FAU conducted an investigation and pointed its finger at Wang, a tenured professor of Educational Leadership and Research Methodology who'd been at FAU for more than 10 years. Wang's online bio says the professor has published "more than 200 refereed books, book chapters, and journal articles." He's also won the school's Distinguished Faculty Scholarly & Creative Achievement Award.

The complaint says FAU concluded that Wang had sent the emails "because other professors at FAU opined that the dialect used by Wang and the dialect used in the anonymous emails is similar, essentially that Asians sound similar."

After the school finished its investigation, the university then sent the report to members of Wang's department. "The publication of the investigative report to those inside and outside of FAU is a reckless disregard for the truth and has caused extensive damage to Wang’s reputation," the lawsuit says.

As the email campaign was ongoing, the suit says, Wang also learned that he was being paid about $19,000 less than the school's other "non-Chinese" tenured professors. On March 12, 2015, Wang sent the school a message complaining about the wage gap.  But after speaking up about being repeatedly mistreated, he says, the school gave him a "C" during his next annual evaluation, suspended him for five days, sent him to training workshops, and told him to "make an official apology to other professors who accused him of sending emails from a country that he had never been [to]."

After retaining a lawyer and demanding that the discrimination stop, he was instead fired on May 24, 2016. Wang is now suing the university's Board of Trustees, along with university President John W. Kelly, Dean Valerie J. Bristor, College of Education Chair Robert Shockley, and Associate Provost Michele Hawkins in federal court.

Wang did not respond to requests for comment. His lawyer, Shawn Birken, stressed that his client "did not have anything to do with the emails and did not condone or endorse the messages." Multiple Florida Atlantic faculty members did not respond to requests for comment. We'll update this post if we hear back from any of them.

Meanwhile, if "Mr. Joe" wants to contact us, we're all ears. In the meantime: We'd encourage Florida professors to quit sending incriminating emails.
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli