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Los Angeles Times, 30 March 1996
$35,000 Settlement in College Swatting Suit
Courts: The 1994 incident involved a Cal State Fullerton professor spanking the plaintiff on his bare buttocks with a ruler, allegedly in lieu of flunking him. The university and the ex-teacher both agree to pay.
By Michael Granberry
FULLERTON -- Cal State Fullerton and a retired professor have agreed to pay a settlement of $35,000 to an alumnus who accused the teacher of swatting him on the bare buttocks in lieu of flunking him from his class, sources close to the case said Friday.
Keary Johns, 25, will receive $25,000 from the university and an additional $10,000 from professor emeritus Julian Foster, 69, according to sources. All parties involved with the case say the settlement is confidential.
Margaret Atwell, associate vice president for academic affairs at Cal State Fullerton, defended the confidentiality of the agreement, calling the resolution of the civil lawsuit "a personnel matter." Atwell said that despite its standing as an institution funded by taxpayers, the university is justified in concealing details of the settlement.
"It isn't a secret settlement," she said. "It's a confidential settlement."
But Colleen Bentley-Adler, spokeswoman for the CSU system, which is based in Long Beach, confirmed Friday that the university has paid Johns $25,000. She said she was unable to disclose the amount being paid by Foster to Johns, "because that's confidential between the parties."
Bentley-Adler said the university was free to enter into a confidential agreement, "but as we told the parties, we can't guarantee the terms of confidentiality, because we're a public institution. So, I will confirm to you that we're paying [the plaintiff] $25,000."
Frederick T. Mason, the Fullerton attorney who represented Foster, said, "I believe the matter was settled on terms satisfactory to all parties."
Foster, an Oxford-educated professor, was teaching political science at the time of the incident in April 1994.
Neither Johns nor his attorney could be reached for comment Friday.
A former gridiron star who had previously sued the university for dropping its football program in 1992 and then ending his financial aid, Johns had been seeking $1 million in damages in Orange County Superior Court in an action he contended was racially motivated. Johns is black, Foster is white.
Johns' lawsuit alleged that he approached Foster about 12:50 p.m. on April 27, 1994, in a last-minute attempt to drop a political science class the professor was teaching.
Johns has acknowledged that he failed to attend any of Foster's lectures and that had he been given a grade of F, he would have fallen below an aggregate 2.0 grade-point average, the minimum required to graduate.
According to the suit, Foster gave Johns an ultimatum: Drop the class as an incomplete, which would result in a failing grade, or accept six swats on the bare buttocks with a thick ruler.
Foster said later that he regretted the incident but called it a joke that had been blown out of proportion. A Fullerton professor since 1963, he had been teaching part time since his retirement in 1989. He has not taught since the incident.
But Beatrice Foster, the professor's wife, who said Friday that she was free to talk about the incident even if her husband wasn't, disputed the version of events spelled out in Johns' lawsuit.
She said her husband had left a message for the student at the school gymnasium, saying Johns needed to come by the classroom and pick up a form to withdraw from the class in lieu of being given an F.
"He was trying to help him out," she said.
She said her husband was sitting during his entire conversation with Johns and had playfully suggested a spanking as punishment while trying to reprimand the student for not taking his classwork more seriously.
The professor has said in previous interviews that he was "shocked" when Johns agreed--and then pulled down his pants. Foster admitted to having "lightly swatted" the student but said he "deeply regretted" the incident.
But in his lawsuit, Johns claimed the professor told him that, should he agree to the swats, Foster would sign the form that would allow the student to drop the course without penalty.
The suit alleged that the first swat was powerful and "sent chills through Johns' entire body," after which the plaintiff pulled up his pants and told Foster he preferred not to continue.
In its most contentious aspect, the suit also cited a racial element, which Beatrice Foster said has angered her husband. She described her spouse as a longtime civil rights activist who would do nothing to tarnish a black person's self-respect.
In the suit, Johns accused Foster of violating the antislavery provisions of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Foster had absolute authority over Johns and "occupied a similar position as an owner/master to his black slave" when he struck Johns, according to the suit, which Beatrice Foster called "frivolous."
"This was an abuse of power," Johns' father, Walter Johns, told The Times in a previous interview. "To do that to a grown man is just degrading."
Johns was represented by Ron Talmo, a former official with the Orange County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Talmo had been Johns' lawyer in his previous suit against Cal State Fullerton.
"I honestly don't think he would have done this to a white kid if he would have come in there," Johns said at a June 1994 press conference. "I think he thought I was just another dumb athlete who wouldn't say anything."
"I wish to God I had never done it," Foster later told The Times. "His being black had nothing to do with it."
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