Dr. John Kelly, FAU's New President, Should Understand How Things Went So Wrong Last Year
But according to Poole (a summary of whose interview with the committee is included in the faculty report), what happened was that Rotela interrupted the exercise and, after the class was cut short, stayed after and threatened him. Poole contacted campus security, and on March 8, Rotela received a Notice of Charges letter (included in the committee report) stating he was under investigation for violating the school's code of student conduct.
Did the school investigate Poole's allegations? The faculty report states that the Notice of Charges letter:
is consistent with a Student Affairs investigation by FAU into the alleged threatening behavior of the student, but..without access to FERPA protected documentation, [the committee] can only surmise that the investigation was dropped without being completed as political and public pressure mounted. It appears to the AFDPC that this investigation did not concern the student's refusal to participate in the exercise during class, which he was well within his rights to do. Rather, the AFDPC believes it centered entirely on alleged threats of physical violence that the student made to his professor after the class was dismissed. These allegations, if true, would constitute a clear violation of FAU's Student Code of Conduct. Indeed, had the roles been reversed, this also would have violated the standards of behavior outlined in FAU's Faculty Handbook. It is simply unacceptable for any member of the university community to threaten another as the student is alleged to have done in this case. It is not clear to the AFDPC what the ultimate outcome of the student's disciplinary process would have been, but it does seem clear that the investigation was terminated before that outcome could be rightly determined.
The committee report includes three documents that appear to support Poole's version of events:
- According to the report, a student who allegedly was present for the after-class confrontation:
emailed Dr. Poole later that same night to clarify, "I am at a loss for words regarding what happened tonight. I just wanted to make it clear that I do not share the same views as my colleague and have the utmost respect for you as a professor."
- According to the report, on April 15:
20 students [out of 23] enrolled in his Intercultural Communication course, the very people in the room that night, on their own initiative signed a petition stating that they "were not offended by any classroom activities, including the one pertaining to the "Jesus exercise."
- A June 4 email to the committee from Interim Dean Dr. Heather Coltman, reporting on her April 15 visit to Poole's two classes, stated that the students in the class in which the controversial exercise occurred were:
... animated and universal in their support for Dr. Poole and their belief that the facts of the case had been misrepresented in the media... The students spoke for nearly 30 minutes and in that time I heard nothing but unconditional support for Dr. Poole, and their sense that the student was a belligerent and continued to inflame the issue despite Dr. Poole trying to de-escalate it multiple times. Students reported the exercise was "no big deal", that they did not understand what all the controversy was about and that the actual exercise had not offended them or been forced on them. Students reported that the student had, from the earliest days of the semester, been something of [a] disruption in class often speaking out at inappropriate times and using overly informal and potentially patronizing language to other students and to Dr. Poole (calling Dr. Poole "my brother" frequently for example). As in the first class students seemed determined to convey the message that Dr. Poole had been a consummate professional and an engaging teacher and they wished to see him return to his role on the faculty.
All of that is what the general public and the Christian right were unaware of or ignored. And while a mere (and accurate) report of the controversial exercise might have inflamed some, it was Rotela's claim of martyrdom that lifted the resentment into overdrive and subjected Poole to a virtual fatwa. The school's failure to fully investigate the instructor's complaint gave credence to Rotela's claims.
The GEO Group stadium naming rights deal, "Owlcatraz," also merits a postmortem. But that was chiefly a public relations disaster and a mark of the FAU Board of Trustees' political myopia. The school's mistreatment of Poole goes to the heart of the school's function -- the spirit of free inquiry.
The Academic Freedom Committee's evidence notwithstanding, it is theoretically possible that a complete investigation would support Poole's accusers. But FAU owed it to Poole to take his claim seriously and investigate it. The school failed to honor that obligation, leaving academic freedom subject to mob sentiment, with FAU complicit.
Kelly should inaugurate his administration with a search for truth. We hear it will set you free.
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