Biology Professor Says He Was Fired for Teaching Science of Male and Female

by Greg Piper


Johnson Varkey has for 20 years taught anatomy and physiology at St. Philip’s College, part of the Alamo Community College District of Texas.

Nineteen years and 1,500 students into his teaching, he says a few of them became visibly offended by his textbook lessons on the biology of male and female.

St. Philips fired Varkey for violating its “faculty code of professional ethics” based on “several reports” that he committed “religious preaching, discriminatory comments about homosexuals and transgender individuals, anti-abortion rhetoric, and misogynistic banter,” according to a Jan. 27 memo on his “termination of employment and contract” attached to his legal threat letter.

First Liberty Institute is representing the adjunct biology professor, demanding Varkey’s reinstatement and “written acknowledgment” from St. Philip’s and Alamo that his firing violated the First Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“It is preposterous” the college would fire Varkey “for teaching basic, widely accepted biology” for two decades despite his “exemplary performance reviews,” his counsel Keisha Russell said.

Varkey’s Alamo 2021-2022 evaluation, attached as an exhibit, shows he “exceeds expectations” in each category.

“But now that cultural elites are at odds with these ideas, the school no longer supports professors who teach them,” Russell said.

Science instruction is increasingly a minefield due to its conflicts with gender ideology, which often does not acknowledge the biology of sex or deems it irrelevant.

“Biology faces a grave threat from ‘progressive’ politics that are changing the way our work is done,” from grant applications to teaching, evolutionary biologists Jerry Coyne, of the University of Chicago, and Luana Maroja, of Williams College, each vocal critics of so-called wokeness infecting science, wrote in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

The idea that sex in humans is a “spectrum” is “one of the most common political distortions of biology,” they wrote. “For all practical purposes,” sex is binary in all humans, plants and animals “because natural selection has favored the evolution of a binary.”

Yet because “much of what we discuss occurs within academic science, where many scientists are too cowed to speak their minds, the public is largely unfamiliar with these issues,” their article argues.

Coyne and Maroja told Just the News they wanted to learn more about the dispute before commenting.

“As a practice, the Alamo Colleges District does not comment on personnel matters or pending or threatened litigation,” Associate Vice Chancellor of Communications & Engagement Kristi Wyatt told Just the News. St. Philip’s didn’t respond.

Last fall, the Archives of Sexual Behavior published an account by Harvard sex researcher Carole Hooven, known for her popular book on testosterone, of what she considered the college’s inaction when a diversity bureaucrat publicly accused her of transphobia for going on TV to explain how “sex is binary and biological.”

The journal’s publisher, Springer Nature, recently retracted a paper on suspected rapid-onset gender dysphoria in 1,700 children following a threatened boycott, claiming the parents who answered the survey did not give informed consent.

Supporters of the authors pointed out Springer Nature had published pro-transgender papers with the same alleged problem.

St. Philip’s has declined to specify the content of the “complaints” it received about Varkey, but he presumes they are based on a Nov. 28, 2022, classroom incident, according to the First Liberty letter.

He was teaching at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland as part of St. Philip’s academic program for service members.

Four students walked out when Varkey said, “Sex was determined by chromosomes X and Y.” The letter includes Varkey’s slides, taken from the textbook.

Vice President for Academic Success Randall Dawson notified Varkey on Jan. 12 it had received an “ethics violation complaint” related to his classroom conduct and that JBSA Lackland had already revoked his access to the base, according to an attached exhibit.

Dawson would not share the complaint and said human resources would take over.

The termination letter from Dawson followed two weeks later and referred to “numerous complaints” without any information about the alleged violations “last semester” or indication that they were investigated.

“While some of the subject matter may be connected to class content, it was very clear, from the complaints, that you pushed beyond the bounds of academic freedom with your personal opinions that were offensive to many individuals in the classroom,” Dawson wrote.

He cited in the faculty ethics code, which requires educators to “treat all persons with respect, dignity, and justice” and avoid “arbitrary” discrimination, “strive” to help students realize their “full potential,” and “encourage and defend the unfettered pursuit of truth” while “observing the highest standards of academic honesty and integrity.”

“You are already not scheduled for Spring 2023 classes, but the seriousness of your behavior warrants the prohibition of any further employment with the College District” and his JBSA access “has been revoked, until further notice,” Dawson wrote.

To the extent they are specified, the allegations are false, First Liberty’s letter states.

Varkey and his wife are volunteer pastors at a local church and host a “Bible teaching radio ministry.” He says he tells students at the beginning of each semester that he is a pastor but that he “never discussed with any student his personal views – religious or otherwise – on human gender or sexuality.”

Varkey believes that “one’s sex is ordained by God” and that people should not try to “erase or alter” their sex through “drugs or surgical means” or “sterilize” themselves, a common result of so-called gender-affirming treatment.

But as a Christian and academic, he is bound to teach “accurate, true concepts that comport with his many years of research and study in the field of human biology,” including that “life starts when the zygote begins to divide” and that “reproduction must occur between a male and a female to continue the human species.”

The college violated the free speech clause by punishing him for “academic statements in the classroom setting,” which are based on “standard principles about human life and reproduction,” and for “making statements that aligned with his study of biology and his religious beliefs,” the letter states.

In addition, the college showed “unconstitutional religious animus” and a violation of Texas religious freedom law by investigating Varkey’s protected speech, deeming his “opinions … unacceptable” and depriving him “due process, evidence, or opportunity to respond” to the ethics charge that led to his firing.

“College decision-makers could have met with Dr. Varkey, given him a chance to meet with the students who complained, or taken a range of actions less punitive than termination,” the letter further states. Under the Texas statute, he can pursue compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.

Harvard’s Hooven told Just the News she was puzzled by the college’s characterization of Varkey’s teaching, at least as presented in the letter, particularly what could qualify as “homophobic.”

“He is correct about human sex being determined by the presence of the Y chromosome (as is the case with all mammals). He is also correct that human sex (and mammalian sex) is immutable,” she wrote in an email.

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Greg Piper has covered law and policy for nearly two decades, with a focus on tech companies, civil liberties and higher education.




Reprinted with permission from Just the News 

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