The lesson in a Florida Atlantic University class involved the professor instructing his students to write Jesus’ name on a piece of paper, put the paper on the floor, and then stomp on it. A student refused to do the stomping,
I said to the professor, ‘With all due respect to your authority as a professor, I 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.’
The student also went to the professor’s boss, who then suspended the student for refusing to comply with the professor’s instruction.
The lesson itself reasonable; here’s the lesson syllabus:
Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.
The instructions in the syllabus are intended to build a feeling about the action in the student so the student can reflect on it—at no point did the syllabus expect the student actually to carry out any step of the lesson.
It’s clear from the description of the incident (and for this post, I’ll assume the description to be accurate) that FAU reacted wrongly in a number of ways: it overreacted to the student’s protest, and the reaction it had was in the wrong direction. Suspension was both too much (no opprobrium of any sort was appropriate), and if the school were to react in any way, it needed to act on the professor’s handling of the lesson.
The other error that FAU made was that its reaction violated the clear intent of the syllabus—to make the students think about an action, not to force the student to do that act.
Paul Kengor, Executive Director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College in Grove City PA:
Gee, I wonder if the instructor would dare do this with the name of Mohammed[.]
Indeed. And so there’s a third error by FAU: Mohammed, Buddha, Brahma, and so on, should have been subjects of this lesson, also. The broad range of reactions to a suggestion to desecrate these deities would have added immensely to the lesson’s outcome.
In the end, FAU “apologized” for the lesson. The university also said the lesson will never again be used.
We sincerely apologize for any offense this has caused. Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs.
Not “our offense.” A cynically amorphous “any” offense. And apparently not a word of apology to the student for the university’s treatment of him for his objection.