The Orange County Register, June 11, 1994
By Anne C. Mulkern
A university student filed a claim Friday seeking $1 million in damages from a professor who spanked him on his bare behind with a ruler as an option to a failing grade.
Keary Johns, 23, said Professor Emeritus Julian Foster of California State University, Fullerton, humiliated him when he struck him once last in April. He also charges that the professor's actions were racially motivated. Johns is black, Foster is white. When Johns, a former football player, began crying after the swat, he said Foster commented that "black fraternity members do much worse to each other," even branding each other during hazing.
"I honestly don't think he would have done this to a white kid if he would have come in there," Johns said Friday at a Santa Ana press conference. "I think he thought I was just another dumb athlete who wouldn't say anything."
Foster, 67, said he realizes the spanking was a mistake, but that he only swatted Johns lightly. He called the racism allegations "rubbish."
"If anything happens to a black person, their attorneys say it's because its racial," Foster said. "It's absolutely untrue."
Johns' claim, filed with the state Board of Control, seeks damages from Foster, the state and the university system's board of trustees. The board is the agency that considers claims against the state. If it rejects the claim for damages, Johns can sue.
The university has investigated Johns' allegation and took "appropriate action" this week, spokesman Jerry Keating said.
Foster, will not be teaching at Cal State Fullerton in the fall or next spring, he said. He was scheduled to teach before the spanking incident.
The political science professor joined the university in 1963 and has been teaching part time since he retired in 1989, Keating said.
The spanking occurred April 27 in Foster's office when Johns sought approval to drop a class Foster was teaching. Johns had not attended all semester and would have received an F.
A failing grade would have pulled Johns' grade point average below 2.0, making him ineligible for graduation this month, said his attorney, Ronald Talmo.
Johns said he discussed dropping the class with Foster several times before the swat. He said he once saw the professor in the hallway at the beginning of the semester and told him he needed to be dropped from the class.
He thought the professor had dropped him, but found out in April that he was still enrolled, he said.
The student met again with Foster in mid-April, telling the professor he needed to get out of the class. But Foster said Johns was ambiguous about dropping the class because he was receiving financial aid and needed the units to remain a full-time student.
"I told him he better work out what he wanted to do and that April 29 was the absolute deadline," Foster said.
But when Johns met with Foster again two days before the deadline, the student said, Foster would not consent to the drop. He began asking, "What can we do about this?" Johns said.
The professor finally offered an alternative: six swats with a ruler, the student said.
Desperate to graduate, Johns said, he agreed to the spanking and pulled down his sweat pants. But he was considering backing out, he said, when Foster "hit me quick. He hit me hard."
Foster, however, tells a different story.
He said he was angry that Johns waited until the deadline to drop the class. Foster said Johns was flippant.
"I said, `Do you want to be treated like an adult or like a child who gets his bottom swatted when he's naughty?' " Foster said. "It was a rhetorical question. I never dreamed he'd take me up on it."
Foster said he gave Johns "a little flick" and was surprised when the student became upset.
"I said to him `I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that,' " Foster said. "He really seemed terribly humiliated."
Foster's attorney, Frederick T. Mason, said the incident has been blown out of proportion.
"It's a foolish mistake to have made," he said. "But I don't consider it a racial hoo-ha."