There are a wide variety of offenses that ought to lead to a college professor’s dismissal. Incompetence, for example. Our young minds should not be shaped by fools. A university should not tolerate discrimination and bias, either. Every occupant of a classroom should feel that he or she is equally welcome regardless of race, color, gender…well, you know the list. Abuse of power by a teacher shows a lack of trustworthiness; that kind of conduct, as well as its close relative, bullying, must be strictly forbidden on campus. Then there are an assortment of character traits and professional deficits that must lead to severance from a teaching position when they are in evidence, traits like laziness, ignorance, lack of respect for core American rights, and stupidity, which, neatly enough, brings us back to incompetence.
This also brings us to the case of Dr. Deandre Poole, the Florida Atlantic University professor who ordered her class to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and then to stomp on it. When one student, a devout Mormon, refused, and was clearly upset about it, he took steps to have the student punished for that old favorite, violation of the student Code of Conduct. Dr. Poole, through his participation in this ridiculous incident, has shown himself guilty of all the forms of unacceptable conduct listed above:
- Incompetence: Even for an instructor in such a mush-brained, politically-correct waste of tuition funds as his course on “intercultural communication,” inflicting this exercise on students shows affirmative idiocy. He is teaching intercultural communications by callously communicating to students that she has no respect for their cultures that he does not share. The student who balked at the exercise, devout Mormon Ryan Rotela, comes from a Christian culture in which stomping on Jesus Christ’s name is considered blasphemy. This is how he was raised; this is what his family and community believes, and this is a core aspect of his personal morality. The teacher’s command was an assault on his personal morality in a course and a university environment where he should feel safe from attack. It was a counter-productive exercise for the course, one which undermined the purpose of the course’s alleged goal, and for the teacher of such a course to think otherwise proves that she is unqualified for her post.
- Discrimination: The exercise purportedly served to demonstrate that people treat the symbols of revered people and things like the revered subjects themselves. By choosing only a revered figure that is important to Christians, however, Prof. Poole discriminated against the Christians in his class, and showed disrespect and lack of sensitivity to their faith and beliefs. For those who were not Christians, stomping on the name “Jesus” had as much meaning as stomping on the name “Cheetos.” He was, therefore, making an example of one faith, trying to show those students that their hesitance to stomp on a piece of paper was irrational. That is in-class discrimination and bias of a particularly ugly variety. Poole also showed himself to be a bigot, a hypocrite and a coward. He didn’t dare order a class to stomp on the name “Muhammad,” since she knows that those who worship him take this symbolism juuuust a little bit too far, and as a good Democrat Poole (who is, in fact, an officer in the local Democratic Party), knows only Christianity, and maybe the Jewish religion, are cool to disrespect. When I heard about the stunt, I assumed that the objective would be to point to the students who were not devout Christians and who happily stomped away, and remind them that by doing so they were forgetting about the impact their actions might have on fellow students who would regard such conduct as an attack on their religion and beliefs—that would at least make sense in the context of the class, though it would still be discriminatory. It is also noteworthy that apparently none of the Jesus-stompers stopped to consider the sensibilities of the Christians in their midst, which would be basic ethics—you know, the Golden Ru..Oh! That’s right! Neither Poole nor her compliant Jesus-stompers know about that, as they regard Christianity as just a convenient prop for cheap classroom ridicule.
A fair and unbiased version of the still-stupid exercise would have been to ask students to write down the name of any deity or individual whose principles and life is important to them—Jesus, Muhammad, Yahweh, Martin Luther King, a dead parent, a sibling fallen in combat, President Obama, Justin Bieber—and stomp on it, and may I add, obviously.
- Abuse of Power: Classroom exercise or not, no teacher should presume to command any student to perform acts that symbolically reject or denigrate his or her religious faith, nationality, or family, no more than a teacher should order students to support her pet causes, service her sexually or paint her house. He’s there to teach, not dictate. Then Poole, when Rotela expressed legitimate outrage at her insult to him and his faith, reported his actions and words (“Don’t do that again!”, which he took as a threat rather than the excellent career advice it was) to the administration, which suspended the student. Excellent trap, Dr. Poole! Single out a student for abusive treatment on the basis of his faith as a teaching exercise—good ol’ academic freedom!—and then accuse him of a code violation when he objects in appropriately strenuous terms! This is a superb teaching exercise for your FAU course in “Persecution Methods of Authoritarian Regimes”—wait, what? Your course is “intercultural communication”? Never mind then—scratch that. You’re just a bully and an idiot.
- Laziness, ignorance of basic rights, stupidity: When this story first came to light (as yet another story only deemed newsworthy by the “conservative media”), the university defended Poole because the exercise was in a book, “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition.” Ah. As long as an abusive, insensitive, poorly designed exercise is in a book, the professor slavishly following it no longer is responsible for her atrocious teaching methods. And if the book had said, “Order your students to slit their wrists,” that would have been fine too.
Upon reflection, Dr. Poole appears to accurately reflect the levels of competence, professional responsibility and ethics of the entire Florida Atlantic University administration. True, after there was an explosion of protests in the social media and the school received complaints, it apologized for Poole’s incompetence and said that the exercise would not be repeated, but it can’t promise that more abusive and discriminatory conduct won’t issue from Dr. Poole, since he has proven himself to be a dolt, a bigot and a bully despite teaching intercultural communication. He still is working there is a professor, proving that the school’s management doesn’t know a problem when it sees one. (Another FAU professor is claiming that the Newtown massacre is a hoax, showing that the school’s brain-dead hiring practices are friendly to both incompetent liberals and deranged conservatives.)
Fire them all.
Pointer: Tom Marr
“Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper,” advises the manual. “After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
The FAU class in which the Jesus-stomping assignment occurred studied “intercultural communications.”