SFGate, San Francisco
Jo Boaler, an education professor at Stanford University, and Jelani Nelson, a computer science professor at UC Berkeley, are continuing to trade missives over an email sent by the former to the latter that got her branded “Professor Karen” and “Retweet Rachel” on Twitter. The saga began March 31, when Nelson retweeted a filing showing that Boaler, one of the proponents of controversial new recommendations for math in California schools, was paid $5,000 an hour for a total of $40,000 by the Oxnard School District for consulting. The recommendations, which the authors say are intended to increase equity, are controversial partly because they “question the concept of student giftedness, saying the notion has ‘led to considerable inequities in mathematics education,'” Ed Source says.
On Tuesday, Nelson, an opponent of the recommendations, then tweeted a screenshot of an email he received from Boaler about his tweet from a week prior.
“As a courtesy to a fellow faculty member I wanted to let you know that the sharing of private details about me on social media yesterday is now being taken up by police and lawyers,” Boaler wrote to Nelson. “I was shocked to see that you are taking part in spreading misinformation and harassing me online.”
The author who wrote the original tweet containing the filing that Nelson retweeted did share Boaler’s home address in a separate tweet, but later deleted it and apologized. Nelson then compared Boaler to other white women who called the police on Black people over everyday occurrences, writing, “A @Stanford professor just threatened me with police. After BBQ Becky, Permit Patty, Golfcart Gail, and all the memes, we now have Retweet Rachel. Public advisory: don’t call the cops on black people for no reason. Black people disagreeing with you on Twitter is not a crime.”
After Nelson’s tweet started to go viral, Boaler told the San Francisco Chronicle she was not threatening him with police, and instead mentioned the police “as a courtesy, because I thought it better that he did not engage with” the person who fired off the original tweet. (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.)
Nelson told the Chronicle, and later reiterated in an email statement to SFGATE, that he did not buy this explanation, stating, “The accusations came immediately after a sentence invoking police and lawyers, a sequence that could only be read in context as a threat against me specifically.”
In the time since Nelson’s tweet gained traction nationally, others have used the “Retweet Rachel” label, and the Stanford Review, a conservative publication on campus, referred to her as ” Professor Karen.”
On Thursday, Boaler emailed SFGATE and maintained that she was not threatening Nelson with calling the police.
“I would never even think of threatening a Black man with the police, I know how serious that is in our society and there could be nothing further from my intent,” she wrote. “It goes against all of my life work which has been to support and elevate the needs of marginalized students. I have publicly stated that I am sorry for the way it read — that I did not intend it to be threatening.”
She also went back on the offensive against Nelson’s original tweet, doubling down on the idea that stating that she made $5,000 an hour “misinformation.”
“He was spreading misinformation — that is not my hourly rate, or anything close to the rate paid by Oxnard and as a fellow academic he knows this to be the case,” she wrote.
When SFGATE asked Boaler if the filing showing her making $5,000 an hour is inaccurate, she said that the hours listed on the document were only for “the contact hours with teachers,” and did not include the time she spent on prep time, which she also apparently billed them for. To illustrate the length of her prep time, she emailed SFGATE a link to a Quora.com page titled, “How long does it usually take you to prepare a presentation?” and cited an answer stating that it can take 10 to 15 hours to prepare an hourlong presentation.
“If we conservatively assume 11 hours per hour, then the rate of pay would be $454.00 per hour, If you ask academics you will find that is a very reasonable rate — actually on the low end,” she wrote.
“Correction — the rate is $416.67 an hour,” she wrote in a subsequent email. (Regardless of whether Boaler’s hourly salary was $5,000, $454 or $416.67, no one disputes that she received $40,000 from the school district.)
She added that she has apologized to Nelson, who she said has yet to respond. She wrote that “the result of his posting was that I received threatening, hateful and misogynistic emails and texts” and “I have even received graphic threats to kill my daughters, it is terrifying.”
“I don’t know what more I can do — but I can tell you that the threats I am receiving — and the misinformation that has now been spread — is hugely damaging, to my work, to my well being, and to my family,” she wrote. “The naming of me as ‘retweet Rachel’ has been picked up by right wing news media, and is horrible. My email to him was an invitation to talk, professor to professor.”
Nelson said that Boaler’s new claims — specifically, that he knew it “to be the case” her hourly salary was not $5,000 and that the “result of his posting” was harassment — are “incorrect” and offered no further comment.
He referred SFGATE back to a statement he put out at beginning of the saga, in which he stated, “What must not get lost in this troubling incident is the much larger issue of K-12 math education in this state: the California Math Framework (CMF) proposal is a misguided revision of state guidelines on math education that will negatively affect tens of millions of Californians, including my own two children.”
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