A well-respected Long Beach City College professor could be facing termination Wednesday after an incident during this year’s commencement where a student alleged the professor intentionally elbowed her after a discussion about how to pronounce the student’s name.
The accusations stem from the June 9 ceremony where Kashara Moore, a part-time professor and counselor, was announcing graduates’ names on stage. Moore stumbled over the name Carmina Barraza, instead calling out “Carina Barajas.”
Footage of the graduation shows Moore and Barraza then begin talking at the lectern, with parts of their conversation picked up by the microphone.
“Do you want me to say it?” Barraza is heard saying.
“No,” Moore replies, before leaning back to the microphone to announce the name again.
Barraza is seen reacting to what appears to be some sort of physical contact between her and Moore and can be heard saying, “Excuse me, yeah, don’t do that again.”
LBCC Trustee Herlinda Chico then walks across the stage and can be overheard saying “She wants her name called; her name should be called,” before conferring with Moore and Barraza. Moore asks for Barraza to say her name again and Barraza can be overheard saying “she elbowed me” before Chico finally announces Barraza’s name into the microphone.
Moore can be overheard saying “sorry about that” before Chico returns to her seat on the other side of the stage where she starts talking to Superintendent-President Mike Munoz.
Moore’s colleagues say allegations based on the incident could now lead to her being terminated after having worked at the college for the past 10 years. Because Moore is part-time, she’s considered an at-will employee and is not protected from termination the same way a full-time professor is.
It’s not clear who began the disciplinary proceedings against Moore. The college declined to answer questions about her status at the college, including whether she had any previous disciplinary issues, who initiated the complaint against her or whether the college intends to terminate her employment.
Stacey Toda, a spokesperson for the college, said in an email that the college could not comment on personnel matters.
An attempt to contact Barraza for comment was unsuccessful. Colleagues of Moore, who is president of the part-time faculty union, said that she had been advised not to talk to the press in advance of any disciplinary hearing by the college.
Co-workers, though, are publicly objecting to the pending discipline. The college’s faculty unions—including the LBCC Faculty Association, which represents full-time employees, and the part-time faculty union, Certified Hourly Instructors—have both backed Moore.
An online petition started by Annahita Mahdavi West, a friend of Moore’s and a fellow professor at the college, had nearly 400 signatures as of Thursday. It calls for the college to reinstate Moore, who has been put on paid administrative leave since June and could find out in the coming days if her employment status will be decided by the Board of Trustees at its next meeting.
“She never denied there was physical contact, but for anyone for a second to accuse Kashara of intentionally wanting to make contact with a student … they are out of their mind,” Mahdavi West said.
Mahdavi West said Moore, who was eventually replaced as a name reader at the commencement ceremony, was “humiliated.” Mahdavi West accused Chico and others of yelling at Moore onstage, and she questioned whether it was appropriate for a trustee to get involved in the situation at all.
Chico said Thursday that it’s never been in her nature to not speak up. She said she saw the incident unfold as her attention was already fixed on Moore’s side of the stage after several other name mishaps.
“I did see the physical interaction and it made me uncomfortable,” Chico said. “I got up to make sure the student was OK because she was visibly upset.”
Chico was limited in her comments because the issue is still an ongoing human resources matter, but she said she believes the investigation conducted by the college was thorough and not based solely on the viewpoint shown in the video.
Still, numerous faculty members are concerned the infraction, which they view as small and accidental, could lead to a professor being terminated. A letter circulated among both full-time and part-time faculty members calls the district’s actions to potentially dismiss Moore, “over a mispronounced name and a false allegation,” shocking.
“If this can happen to this faculty member, it’s very concerning for all of us,” said Suzanne Engelhardt, president of the full-time faculty association.
Engelhardt described Moore as a person of integrity, purpose, vision and procedure. Before being hired by LBCC, Moore served as a social worker with the county’s Department of Children and Family Services and as a counselor for children with disabilities and mental health issues at the Long Beach Unified School District.
At LBCC, Moore helped counsel foster youth who attended the college.
On Wednesday, Engelhardt said that members of both faculty unions plan to be present and dressed in red in a show of solidarity for Moore during the next board of trustees meeting.
“If they get away with this, it’s a lot of power without a lot of evidence,” Engelhardt said.