If you don’t remember Florida Atlantic University Professor Deandre Poole‘s name, you probably do remember what he became known for: The conservative Christian media claimed he forced his students to stomp on paper with the word “JESUS” written on it:
After student Ryan Rotela, a Mormon, refused to do so, he was suspended. Or so the story went, anyway:
That’s when I picked up the paper from the floor and put it right back on the table… I said to the professor “With all due respect to your authority as a professor, I just do not believe what you told us to do was appropriate. I believe it was unprofessional and I was deeply offended by what you told me to do.”
… From that point on, I knew I had to do something about it, because I am not going to be sitting in a class having my religious rights desecrated.
Even Governor Rick Scott threw in his own two cents, calling the assignment “offensive” and “intolerant.”
There were two things worth noting about that story:
First, the purpose of the assignment was not to desecrate or demean Jesus. It was to show that symbols can be powerful. Most students wouldn’t want to stomp on the “word” Jesus, just like most students wouldn’t want to stomp on their religion’s holy book, just like most students wouldn’t want to step on a picture of their own mothers. Elucidating the fact that we’re so averse to doing things like that which don’t have any tangible effect on anyone or anything was the very purpose of the lesson!
Second, when Dr. Poole finally broke his silence, we learned that Rotela was lying about how things went down:
Poole said that, as best he could tell, only one student in the course had an objection [to the lesson]. That student — whom Poole did not name in the interview, but who has come forward in local news reports saying he was suspended for objecting to the exercise — refused to participate and then said repeatedly, Poole said, “How dare you disrespect someone’s religion?”
After class, the student came up to him, and made that statement again, this time hitting his balled fist into his other hand and saying that “he wanted to hit me.” While the student did not do so, Poole said he was alarmed and notified campus security and filed a report on the student.
Poole, a Sunday School teacher and devout Christian himself, couldn’t believe how he was being targeted by right-wing groups for simply doing his job.
There’s finally some good news to report on this issue: Dr. Poole has been reinstated by FAU… but he’s not back in the classroom just yet:
Poole will be returning to his position, in the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, at FAU next week, but will only be teaching online courses for the first two semesters of his return.
That’s Poole’s decision, by the way, to be online. He fears for his own safety and thought it’d be the best option.
He also won’t be teaching the class that involved the Jesus-stomping:
Poole also mentioned that he will not be teaching the Intercultural Communications (SPC 3710) course that he was teaching when the controversy sparked.
That’s a real blow for the students who understood the assignment and who knew Poole was trying to educate them, not attack a religious faith (that also happened to be his own…):
“I think students are very good at determining how serious and good a faculty member is,” [Interim Dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters] Heather Coltman said. “Many students that I spoke to told me he was the reason they would drive down to Davie to take one of his courses. He’s a dedicated teacher who connects well with students.”
If the school is supporting him, I don’t get why he can’t teach the same class again… but the good news is that the school didn’t cave to the irrational Religious Right. Poole still has his job.
Too bad some Christians still don’t get what the assignment was all about:
… Mark Boykin, pastor at a local church, called Poole’s reinstatement an insult.
“What’s next?” Boykin asked WPTV. “Spit on the cross, you get tenure?”