Students outraged after beloved professor removed
Dr. B’s students reflect on their removed professor
“Father figure,” “invaluable asset” and “Jedi master” are only a few of the labels students use to describe adjunct African American Studies professor Kushal K. Bhardwaj.
UB administrators removed Bhardwaj from instructing his Introduction to African American Studies class following a closed-door administrative hearing on Oct. 16. After the hearing, Bhardwaj stated the charges against him were dismissed and unsubstantiated. The next day students returned to class with substitute professor Y.G. Lulat.
The university would not comment on the specific case.
“While the university does not comment on individual personnel matters, it takes seriously all allegations of inappropriate conduct by UB employees, particularly when they are entrusted with the instruction, grading and supervision of students,” a UB spokesperson said in a written statement.
Bhardwaj will not be returning to the classroom this semester but will continue to be a UB employee until the end of the semester on an “alternate work assignment,” according to Tara Singer-Blumberg, labor relations specialist for United University Professions. Singer-Blumberg declined to comment on what the assignment is. She said Bhardwaj is appointed semester by semester and is not sure of his status for next semester.
Students are upset they cannot resign from Bhardwaj’s class without penalty and they say the class is now fundamentally different from the class they signed up for. Lulat, they said, is changing the syllabus to include weekly verbal quizzes and a stricter grading policy instead of the “open discussion” they are used to.
Students remain confused as to what happened to Bhardwaj. They have heard no official explanation from the university.
Chynna Brown, a junior psychology major, took both of Bhardwaj’s classes last semester. This is Brown’s third college; she transferred from Monroe Community College to Niagara University, where she felt heavily discriminated against and like she had no home.
Brown felt more comfortable with her own identity because of Bhardwaj’s class. She finally felt that she had found a place for herself, among students who shared the same worries.
“My first day of class I thought, ‘This is an Indian man, he’s not going to understand anything I’m going through or any of my problems,’” Brown said. “But it wasn’t just that he didunderstand my problems. He created a safe haven for everybody to be comfortable speaking to him and with each other and not feel like they were going to get badgered.”
Brown feels because UB is a STEM-dominant campus, the humanities –– African American Studies, especially –– and other majors are forgotten. Brown feels like a number on campus, where nobody knows her face.
Brown said when students step inside Bhardwaj’s classroom, there’s a “genuine connection” and interest between him and his students.
“In his class, you can hear someone speaking from experience. He’s not just reading off of a PowerPoint or a page in the textbook; it’s different,” Brown said. “It’s a solace, with everything that’s going on with Trump and living in America [as a minority]. It feels like everyone could be against you, but that went away in his classroom. I feel like it’s a safe haven for students.”
Moiz Ansari, a freshman finance and economics major, learned about Bhardwaj’s class when he came to give a motivational speech at his high school last year. Ansari and his friends were invited to sit in on one of his classes over the summer. Ansari immediately emailed his adviser asking him to add the class to his schedule.
“Honestly, you don’t see many classes with tens of visitors coming in each week. These people aren’t getting credit, so there’s obviously a reason that they would spend their free time in Dr. B’s class,” Ansari said. “He touches people's hearts. He just has a way of being so genuine, that he’s willing to spend so many extra hours with his students and people remember that and come back to experience it again.”
Ansari feels “the lack of transparency” over the removal of Bhardwaj is unsettling during a rough semester for UB’s administration and reputation. He understands if Bhardwaj acted inappropriately, the university had to act accordingly, but he just can’t picture his professor doing such a thing.
Ansari wishes the university would have been more clear when explaining and handling the removal of Bhardwaj. He and other students are still confused why they are not allowed to opt out of the class without penalty after such a drastic change so late in the semester.
“I understand where the university is coming from, but I also understand the students’ frustration,” Ansari said. “We signed up for this class to be taught by Dr. B. Professor Lulat is a good teacher, but it’s just not the same course as before. I’m still going to finish the class, but I think they should have given us an option to resign the class with no penalty. I don’t understand how a course that Dr. B created could be changed by another professor so drastically.”
Ken Kuang, a junior computer engineering major and international student from China, took Bhardwaj’s class as a general education requirement, but found himself falling in love with the class.
Bhardwaj’s quirky teaching tactics and knowledge of his field drew Kuang in. He’s now mourning the loss of one of his favorite professors.
“He was our Jedi master,” Kuang said. “He wanted us to all be the same. It doesn’t matter to him what race you are, where you’re from, if you did a great job or made a mistake; we’re all his family. If he saw that the class was lacking energy, he brought out one of his funny characters, or acted all dramatic or yelled something funny to wake us all up. He expected everyone to participate for every minute of his class, and we did.”
For Kuang, Bhardwaj’s class became more than an “easy A.” It became a life lesson that he values dearly.
“This class is about African Americans. Being from China, I never really learned anything about the way they feel in society,” Kuang said. “But I realized, it’s not just African Americans he’s really talking about. He reaches all of us when he teaches his lessons. In the class you can openly communicate with Dr. B and all the fellow students. He makes us realize that we’re all not that different.”
Kuang said all students hope to have a professor like Bhardwaj during their college careers. He doesn’t understand why the university is punishing Bhardwaj when there’s so many students who swear by the lessons Bhardwaj instilled in them.
“I’m upset that I didn’t take his class earlier. That way I could have spent an entire semester with him,” Kuang said. “He’s the type of professor you see in a movie, that everyone loves and adores.”
Max Kalnitz is senior features editor and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org