Dr. John Kelly, FAU's New President, Should Understand How Things Went So Wrong Last Year
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It's a cliché and a truism -- one FAU's new president, Dr. John Kelly, should heed.
The horrors FAU birthed in 2013 -- the GEO Group stadium naming rights deal and the "Step on Jesus" kerfuffle, primarily -- were the school's own doing. The publicly funded institution has never offered a full public accounting of its missteps, and there is no sign a full internal review has been done. Now that the school's search for a new president is over, both are in order.
This is particularly true of the controversy around communications instructor Dr. Deandre Poole, whose integrity the school failed to defend, leaving him vulnerable to vilification and worse by ill-informed elements of the Christian right and the politicians who pander to them.
It is particularly true because all publicly available objective evidence in the matter weighs in favor of Poole's account of events and against the claims of his accusers.
(We've written on this before but  no one seems to have taken notice and  no other local media outlet has picked up on it. So we're going to spell it out again.)
Poole was placed on leave after a dispute arose over his February 25 communications class last year in which students were asked to step on a piece of paper with "J-E-S-U-S" written on it. According to its text, the exercise (which students were free to opt out of) "really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings."
Take them on they did: Student Ryan Rotela complained to local television that he had been suspended for objecting to the exercise. He presented himself as having voiced his objections to Poole "with all due respect." CBS 12 reporter Al Pefley's sensationalist reporting was picked up on and amplified by equally reckless national media. The political and cultural right exploded in outrage. Poole was threatened with violence. The anger abated when the school bowed to the pressure (and Gov. Rick Scott) and apologized. It banned the exercise and later, for his safety, placed Poole on leave.
Poole's year-to-year contract was later renewed (and he continues to teach at FAU). But in the interim, in early April an alarmed faculty directed its academic freedom committee (AFDPC) to investigate the affair. Its report can be found here.
The committee was greatly hampered by a federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which forbids colleges to disclose the contents of student records without student consent. The faculty report includes no indication Rotela cooperated. cooperation was sought. The report's description of his version of events is found in references to media reports and through a link to his attorneys' website, where they claim that Rotela had been "brought up on academic charges and suspended from class out of retaliation [italics ours] for reporting the incident to university authorities."