While it may cost him his job, possibly, and his peace of mind, certainly, FAU Professor Deandre Poole's late February classroom exercise has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, indisputably.
Not since Gainesville pastor Terry Jones in 2010 got the Muslim world in an uproar by threatening to build a bonfire of Korans has the power of symbols to offend and cloud the mind been more conclusively proven, to the shame of the offended and their institutions.
That power was the point of Dr. Poole's instruction. And now he's in the crossfire for teaching it too well.
As all the world learned this week, Poole on that fateful February night had students in his communications class write the word "Jesus" on pieces of paper, place them on the floor and step on them. The exercise was drawn from a widely-used textbook whose author is a prominent scholar at a devoutly Norbertine, highly regarded Catholic liberal arts college. (Poole is himself, according to those who know him, a devout Christian.)
Offensive? The exercise is without force if the instruction does not offend. That's the whole point -- to learn the power of symbols through the emotional impact of seeing them degraded. Experience is the best teacher.
Most of what else happened that night is unclear (despite the certitude with which Poole has been denounced). Just one participant, the only known offended student in the class, Ryan Rotela, has publicly described it -- almost one month after the fact.
According to Rotela, as broadcast on local television news on the morning of March 21, he found the exercise objectionable and refused to step on the paper. (Rotela said Poole used the word "stomp." It does not appear in the textbook.) Rotela claimed he respectfully told Poole the exercise was inappropriate, unprofessional and deeply offensive.
According to CBS12 reporter Al Pefley, Rotela said Poole "showed no remorse."
"From that point on I knew I had to do something about it," Rotela then told the camera. "Because I'm not going to be sitting in a class having my religious rights desecrated."
According to the following day's Palm Beach Post:
Rotela said Poole brushed him off when he tried to object to doing the exercise.
After the class, Rotela said, he expressed his concerns to Poole and said he would tell Poole's supervisor and the media about the incident. He said Poole told him to leave the classroom.
(The Post reported that Rotela said the class was held March 4, but that would have been during Spring Break.)