A United States Merchant Marine Academy professor has been suspended from the school for jokes that he made to his students regarding the Colorado movie theater shooting, according to Yahoo News and the New York Times. To make matters worse, one of the student's fathers happened to be one among many that fell victim to the theater gunfire last month.
Gregory F. Sullivan was suspended from his tenured position as humanities instructor for saying the following to his students before showing a documentary:
"If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit."
It was evident that the remark was related to the Aurora Colorado movie theater shooting, as James Holmes, the suspect shooting, dyed his hair bright orange.
The school's academic dean, Shashi Kumar,immediately recommended that Sullivan be fired, referring to the joke as "notoriously disgraceful conduct." Moreover, Sullivan was informed on Aug. 10 that he had 10 days to contest his dismissal, according to an internal personnel document obtained by the New York Times.
The document further indicated that Sullivan had been unaware that the his student's father was killed in the shootings when he made the controversial statement, that he immediately apologized to the student after being told of his loss and also offered apologies to the entire class and the administration.
However, the notice additionally said that the professor should have been aware of the student's loss because a school-wide email had been sent to all faculty about it on July 25. In addition, the student had been absent for a few days and Sullivan had given permission to two other students to miss class to attend a funeral in Colorado.
B. Robert Kreiser, a senior program officer in the department of academic freedom, tenure and governance at the American Association of University Professors, told the Times that a tenured faculty member would usually receive a faculty committee hearing before charges would be brought.
"Given that it was single remark — an indefensible remark, but nonetheless a single remark for which he has apologized — it's hard to imagine why the administration decided he should be suspended" in the interim, Kreiser said.
The academy, which is located on Long Island and is run by the U.S. Transportation Department, has about 1,000 students who are trained for careers in the marine trade. Its faculty members are federal employees.
As of now, it looks as if the end of Sullivan's tenure as a professor at the Merchant Marine Academy is imminent. Yet, there is still some 3 days or so for Sullivan to challenge his dismissal.
The man has apologized and seems to be sincere regarding his "accidental" blunder. In the end, however, the fact that one of his students happened to be directly related to one of the theater victims will likely be insurmountable if Sullivan does exercise his right to challenge his dismissal.
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