Scott to FAU: Explain this Jesus-stomping incident to me, please

posted at 10:01 am on March 27, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

I missed this incident of Academia Gone Wild when it happened, as I was in Rome covering the papal conclave, but it has all the hallmarks of cluelessness and faux “tolerance” that we’ve come to expect from higher education.  It started with a professor of intercultural communications (no, seriously) at state-run Florida Atlantic University requiring students to write the name Jesus in large block letters on a piece of paper, and then stomp on it.  One student — one? — refused to comply and told the professor that he would file a complaint over the assignment, which offended his religious beliefs.  The school promptly punished the student, who might still have been suspended had the case not attracted a large amount of media and legal attention, and hopefully a large number of jaws hitting the pavement.

Now Governor Rick Scott wants an explanation of this incident, and a very detailed plan on how FAU would never let it happen again:

Florida Atlantic University has apologized for a controversial classroom lesson that led critics to accuse the school of religious intolerance. But that didn’t stop Gov. Rick Scott for stepping into the fray on Tuesday.

Scott penned a letter to State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan demanding an investigation. “I am requesting a report of the incident, how it was handled and a statement of the university’s policies to ensure this type of ‘lesson’ will not occur again,” Scott wrote.

Earlier this month, FAU instructor Deandre Poole told students in an intercultural communications class to write the word “Jesus” on a piece of paper, throw it on the floor and stomp on it. Ryan Rotela, a junior at FAU’s Davie campus, later complained he was thrown out of class when he refused to participate. …

Rotela, who describes himself as a devout Mormon, went to Poole’s supervisor two days later to discuss the incident.

FAU officials defended the professor last week, but Rotela told The Palm Beach Post that he and an attorney from the Texas-based Liberty Institute met with FAU Dean of Students Cory King at the school’s Boca Raton campus on Monday and received an apology and a pledge that the disciplinary charges against him would be dropped.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has an excellent and nuanced look at the competing interests of academic freedom in play in this incident.  The school, the professor, and the student all have varying levels of protection for their speech in and out of the classroom, and that can make it very difficult to sort these incidents out to anyone’s satisfaction.  Lukianoff’s concern focuses on the school’s reaction to the incident more than the Jesus Stomp itself:

Further, charging the student with an offense for complaining about the assignment brings up serious free speech and due process concerns. If the professor had stepped on the word Jesus on his own, it could be argued that it was simply a provocative pedagogical technique. Instead, however, FAU saw fit to charge Rotela with violating a speech code FIRE has given a “yellow light” (on a red, yellow, and green light scale, depending on the severity of the First Amendment violation) because of the ease with which it can be unconstitutionally applied. And unconstitutionally applying its speech code to a student guilty of nothing except complaining about a professor’s class looks to be exactly what FAU did here.

Under any circumstances, the case highlights disturbing trends I highlight in my book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the end of American Debate. First of all, the double standard is glaring. I have zero doubt that a professor would have immediately understood the problem with the assignment if the name to be written on the paper had been “Mohammed” or “Martin Luther King” instead of Jesus. I also hope that a professor would understand he had crossed a line if he asked an atheist, like me, to bow down to a shrine. The fact is that universities these days rely on double standards to function, as the overwhelming majority of colleges, like FAU, maintain unconstitutional speech codes that typically ban inappropriate, offensive, or hurtful speech. If the plain language of these codes were followed, they would not last a day, since every professor and student would be found guilty of violating them. In order to exist, these kinds of codes must be selectively applied.

The incident also highlights attitudes about Christian students on America’s campuses. In my time at FIRE, I’ve seen a sustained effort to punish evangelicals or push them off campus to a degree that would never be tolerated if aimed at other religious groups. In my book, I talk at length about the University Wisconsin’s ban on RAs leading Bible study meetings in their own rooms and on their own time. Administrators on the university’s Eau Claire campus argued that if students found out an RA was a Christian, they might not feel comfortable talking to him or her. Meanwhile, following the pattern I’ve seen cases over the country, Christian students at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and now at Tufts University in Boston, are being told that they cannot be recognized student groups because their constitutions and beliefs “discriminate” against people who do not share their Christian beliefs. FIRE came to the defense of a Muslim group at Louisiana State University when it faced similar arguments, and, tellingly, the college quickly understood there was something wrong with telling a religious group that it could not exclude people who do not share the group’s faith. I wish campuses understood that the same principle applies to Christians as well.

There are more practical considerations, too.  If a professor of “intercultural communications” couldn’t see how offensive this might be to some of his students, he doesn’t sound too terribly qualified to teach the course in the first place.  Besides that, what purpose did this particular exercise serve, other than to denigrate a specific set of beliefs? The tuition at FAU is $200 per credit hour for undergrad residents and over $700 per credit hour for undergrad non-residents. That’s a lot of money for a dance course.

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Different story for a place like the Blue Zoo, Canoe U, or that gray place….

dentarthurdent on March 27, 2013 at 1:08 PM

I take it you mean Hudson High? :D
GWB on March 27, 2013 at 1:27 PM

THAT’S it. I just could not pull that one out. Getting old sucks.

dentarthurdent on March 27, 2013 at 1:53 PM

If the word was Muhammad this would be getting more press.

jrfromdallas on March 27, 2013 at 1:58 PM

workingclass artist on March 27, 2013 at 1:22 PM

Very nice find WCA – and nice writing Ace.

dentarthurdent on March 27, 2013 at 2:00 PM

If the word was Muhammad this would be getting more press.

jrfromdallas on March 27, 2013 at 1:58 PM

I can’t help but wonder if it would get more press because the left-wing media would assume it was some wacko Christian doing it, or if it might get less press given it’s a left-wing academic doing it and they would fear the inevitable Muslim fatwas of death.

dentarthurdent on March 27, 2013 at 2:02 PM

Christianity is under attack in our educationsl system. Islam, not so much.

bw222 on March 27, 2013 at 2:10 PM

Christianity is under attack in our educationsl system. Islam, not so much.

bw222 on March 27, 2013 at 2:10 PM

Only because the libs are actually afraid of the Muslims – who tend to blow up about insults – and they don’t want too insult their Muslim messiah in the WH…..

dentarthurdent on March 27, 2013 at 2:12 PM

This guy looks gay.

Schadenfreude on March 27, 2013 at 2:17 PM

This may already have been said, but why is it, that “intercultural communications” is aways about American citizens having to understand the culture of others, and never about students of other cultures having to understand us?

Screw “intercultural communications” courses, and get back to teaching plain old American History for a change.

waterytart on March 27, 2013 at 2:19 PM

I see stories like this and shake my head knowing that when Jesus returns, these Christ haters are going bend their knees and acknowledge who HE is even though they hate him, and then the dividing even unto the asunder begins, and there’s no where for them to hide.

44Magnum on March 27, 2013 at 2:24 PM

this is the instructor — please do not use “professor” although there are many professors who are not worth their weight in their sheepskin

wholefoodsrepublican on March 27, 2013 at 2:37 PM

This is another example of how a university education turns young people into more well rounded individuals. And if you disagree, you’re a foaming at the mouth fanatic.

ardenenoch on March 27, 2013 at 2:44 PM

depending on the severity of the First Amendment violation…

WFT????????????? A First Amendment “violation”? What the hell kind of a country have we become. Fire the dopey AA hire, period.

Twana on March 27, 2013 at 2:56 PM

Murf76 on March 27, 2013 at 1:08 PM
dentarthurdent on March 27, 2013 at 1:16 PM

For what it’s worth – most of that blame lies at the state level. The idea behind the inclusion of PE and other courses that seem entirely unrelated to the degree being sought is the “well-intentioned” idea of creating a well-rounded graduate. One of the theories used to be was that PE courses paid coache’s salaries – but I can’t validate the trusth of that one. I only know that each decade the PE hour requirement has steadily decreased. What used to be10 or more hours is now down to 1 – half a semester.

This “core curriculum” requirement is undergoing a serious overhaul before the fall of ’14 here – again state mandated – and we’re seeing a big cut in a lot of the “fluff” and more emphasis in major-relevant courses.

WhaleBellied on March 27, 2013 at 3:21 PM

One student — one? — refused to comply

Preety sad.

but then on the positive side… this man has shown that one person refusing to follow along, standing on principles can make a difference.

Sometimes all it takes is one. If only more of us would realize that.

JellyToast on March 27, 2013 at 5:39 PM

The _only_ circumstance I can see the original issue at all pedagogically sound is if the professor was explaining how the Japanese tested foreign traders by asking them to trample on the crucifix (maybe cross), and judged them by their reaction.

(The Portuguese would refuse; the Dutch would do it.)

The fact that a student was punished for not participating is, of course, patently ridiculous.

Scott H on March 27, 2013 at 6:49 PM

An important fact is missing from this story. As it turns out, Deandre Poole is also the vice-chairman of the Palm Beach County Democrat Party.

This is an important element of the story because it illustrates once again about how Democrats hate God.

Axion on March 27, 2013 at 8:29 PM

The fact that a student was punished for not participating is, of course, patently ridiculous.

Scott H on March 27, 2013 at 6:49 PM

You find that ridiculous and not the whole exercise?

Happy Nomad on March 27, 2013 at 8:46 PM

Scott H on March 27, 2013 at 6:49 PM

It wasn’t traders tested — it was Japanese Christians. The practice was called e-fumi. You could die if you did not step on the fumi-e. A fumi-e was a picture of a cross, a crucifix, Jesus, or Mary.

unclesmrgol on March 27, 2013 at 10:35 PM

03-22-13 University Apologizes for “Stomping Jesus”

Florida Atlantic University has issued an apology for a classroom assignment that involving students writing the name “Jesus” on a sheet of paper and then stomping on the paper. The university also said the lesson will never again be used.

03-25-13 University Takes Action to Punish Student

The “Notice of Charges” against Ryan Rotela is contrary to a statement the university released late Friday night saying no one had been disciplined as a result of the classroom activity.

“We can confirm that no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class,” the university said in a prepared statement.

However, according to a letter written by Associate Dean Rozalia Williams, Rotela is facing a litany of charges – including an alleged violation of the student code of conduct, acts of verbal, written or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person.”

“In the interim, you may not attend class or contact any of the students involved in this matter – verbally or electronically – or by any other means,” Williams wrote to Rotela. “Please be advised that a Student Affairs hold may be placed on your records until final disposition of the complaint.”

This is criminal

entagor on March 27, 2013 at 11:32 PM

From his bio at the FAU website:

“Currently, he is authoring the book, Obamamania: The Rise of a Mythical Hero…”

What a toolbag.

Bruce MacMahon on March 28, 2013 at 6:30 AM

This all goes back to federal college grants and loans. Before these guaranteed approval funding sources for college, a prospective student had to convince a lender that the degree he or she was going after would provide enough income to pay the lender back. Scholarships were also awarded based on the potential of the student and his/her major.

In the 80s I had to actually go to a bank and apply for and get my loan, but it was still guaranteed approval.

Now you just go to the financial aid office at the school and they take care of all the paperwork. Most students never even see the actual debt numbers or how much it’s paying for. I had to take my son into the FA office to find out.

So schools can offer classes in completely useless, utterly wasteful things like “intercultural communication.” They can offer degrees in African American Womens Studies. They no longer have to produce producers, they can pump out takers, people who will end up working in ever growing bureaucracies ticking people off just trying to get their car registration renewed. They will work at coffee shops, increasing the guage in their ear every few months, collecting food stamps and voting Democrat.

You will also notice that none of these useless degrees and classes are taught by conservatives. Ever expanding salaries and buildings and stables of professors (sorry horses, you are in many cases smarter) are justified cost wise, even in a down economy, with “it’s OK, our students can pay higher tuition with these neat government guaranteed loans”.

My son is being very careful to learn something usefull, at the best cost he can get. Hopefully next year I can help him avoid any more loans.

But the numbers of students graduating with degrees only usefull at some government funded department of diversity, or hate speech avoidance center is growing every year. And ALL of us producers pay for the loans (especially when the whole bubble bursts), grants and welfare of them.

PastorJon on March 28, 2013 at 5:02 PM

From Deandre J Poole’s “academic” precis [ht, wholefoodsrepublican, above, here]:

“Deandre Poole teaches courses in intercultural communication, ethnicity and communication, leadership and communication, and organizational communication. His research focuses on the role mediated messages play in shaping individual attitudes and beliefs concerning issues of justice and inequality, and examines how leaders, organizations, and other influential authorities dominate and oppress marginalized groups of people.
. . . .”

Interesting formula, that . . .

[Fill in the blank …] and communication.

But based on the “lesson” we’re reading about, why did he not include “intolerance and communication?” Or, perhaps more to the point, he should have listed “thuggery and communication” Clearly, those were categories he was personally demonstrating!

I think every kid in that class should be given the opportunity to withdraw from the course, and be fully reimbursed. Certainly Ryan Rotela is owed some form of recompense, and there would be no legitimate purpose involved in his returning to that class.

Secondly, you really have to wonder what a “mediated message” is or means in Deandre’s mind?

In a broad sense, my own read of one applicable survey is that a “mediated message” these days seems to be a term widely utilized whilst engaging in an academic pursuit that, in particular, is focused on that vast and rapidly increasing storehouse of media-created images and portrayals of African Americans in our culture, and the effect these “media-created” images have in perpetuating “messages” tending to perpetuate stereotypes, or which otherwise subtly stigmatizing African Americans. Thus, a negative or positive “mediated message” can arise out of cultural portrayals of real persons [e.g., O.J. Simpson], or of fictional characters [e.g., Dr. Lanie Paris in Castle]. At least, that’s the way I take it. And, in general, it seems to be more focused on exposure of what is referred to as “racialism,” and less on overt “racism,” although I’m not sure where that line is drawn by it’s various proponents.

But clearly for Deandre J. Poole, PhD, the term seems to include anything he personally detests — an obviously very broad category!

Stomp on Jesus? What a tool!

Gee, I wonder if FAU offers anger management courses? If so, the “teacher” should be sent back to school.

And by the way, in case no one else noticed it, Dr. Deandre J. Poole also wears another hat when not abusing students at FAU.

Deandre Poole is also, as noted by the Fox story, the Vice-Chairman of his local Democrat party organization — the Palm Beach County Democratic Party.

Huh!! Why am I not surprised?

Trochilus on March 29, 2013 at 11:22 AM

Again, as noted by the Fox story:

. . .
Fox News obtained a synopsis of the lesson taught by Deandre Poole, who also happens to be vice chair of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party.
. . . . (emphasis supplied)

So . . . is the “mediated message” vis–à–vis the mission of the Palm Beach Democratic Party now being subtly shifted by the Professor away from the old one of “carefully counting ballots” cast back in the 2000 Presidential Election, to a more hands-on [or should I say feet-on] stance . . . i.e., demanding that college students “stomp on Jesus” as an object lesson in intercultural communications?

Well, I say good for Rick Scott demanding a full accounting of the incident from the University.

By the way, you think the school gets any state or federal funding? Not that that would matter, of course.

Trochilus on March 29, 2013 at 12:07 PM