Bias, Redux

I wrote about a case here, a case involving a Florida Atlantic University student being taken out of class a and facing expulsion because he objected to a class assignment that had him write Jesus’ name on a piece of paper, put the paper on the floor, and then stomp on it.  I closed that post with a note that FAU had “apologized” for their attack on the student.

Now more information has come to light on that case and on FAU’s “apologies.”  The latter are even more cynical than at first appeared.

Before I get to them, though, it’s important to note that the victim in the university’s charade has accepted its apology, so that case is closed.  This post, then, is on what’s masqueraded as an apology in 21st century America; I’ll be using FAU’s versions as illustrations, not to continue berating FAU.

This is more of the first apology in question:

First and foremost, we are deeply sorry for any hurt regarding this incident, any insensitivity that may have been seen by the community and the greater community at large.  We are deeply sorry.  …  We are truly sorry that this incident occurred.

And FAU’s second apology:

We are deeply sorry for any hurt this incident might have caused our students, people in the community, and beyond.  …  [The lesson involved] was insensitive and hurtful and we are truly sorry.  Please note we have not taken any disciplinary action against any student regarding this matter.  ….

Sorry for what, again?  These “apologies” carry not a whit of regret for the actual wrongful behavior—in this case the withdrawal of the student from the class and the university’s subsequent threats of suspension or expulsion.  The second version actually acknowledges those threats by asserting a final lack of disciplinary action, but it then disingenuously segues to other matters—there is no apology for that withdrawal, no apology for the threats of more punishment.

These…statements…don’t even carry any serious expression of regret for the outcomes of that behavior; they have only expressions of caveated sorrow for possible outcomes: “any hurt,” not “the hurt;” “any insensitivity,” not “our insensitivity;” and “may have been seen;” “might have caused.”  These last two are especially egregious.  There was no “may have been” to it, nor was there any “might have.”  The community and the greater community at large were quite vociferous in their expressions of outrage.  The university’s “insensitivity” was plainly seen and objected to; the hurt was palpably real and widespread.  There were no maybes involved; thus, “that was experienced by,” and “that was caused.”

How about a simple, straightforward statement of regret, promptly delivered, and devoid of weasel words and caveats?  A statement along these lines (by the Dean of Students and the Senior Vice President for Student Affairs in this example), issued publicly (as the above versions were), personally, and again in writing (as the first version seems to have been) seems suitable:

On my behalf, on behalf of Professor Deandre Poole, and on behalf of Florida Atlantic University, I apologize to [student] for our treatment of him regarding the Stomp on Jesus’ Name incident.  Our interpretation of the lesson, to actually require those actions, was erroneous.  Worse, our withdrawal of [student] from that class and our threats to suspend and/or expel him simply were wrong, and we should have known better.  I, and we, are sorry for our actions in handling this incident.

Now, back to the university.  FAU Dean of Students Corey King has said he cannot comment on employment matters when asked about Poole’s status at the university following this incident.  This is nonsense.  The comment restrictions are purely a matter of policy internal to FAU; Florida law carries no such restriction (Florida lawyers are free to correct me on this).  As such, that policy can be waived in particular cases; this one seems egregious enough that sanctions taken against Poole, if any, should be public knowledge.  Especially if FAU has chosen to take no action concerning Poole.

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