Broward News

In Defense of FAU Instructor Deandre Poole, of "Stomp on Jesus" Controversy

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At no time in the television interview or the Post account does Rotela say, nor is he reported as saying, that Poole forced him to participate in the exercise or reprimanded him for not doing so.

If matters had stopped there, there might be no story. However, at some later point FAU officials became involved, launching an investigation.

According to the CBS12 report, two days after the classroom incident, Rotela went to Poole's supervisor to (as the station put it) "discuss his concerns. Ryan says since the incident he has been suspended from the class" and "told not to go back." Cut to Rotela, who tells the camera "I'm being punished." Cause, effect, detail -- all lacking.

The Post account is more informative:

After complaining to Poole's supervisor at FAU's main campus in Boca Raton, Rotela said he met with a hearing officer who questioned his account in a "hostile" way and accused Rotela of threatening Poole. Rotela received a letter dated March 8 telling him he had been charged with violating FAU's code of conduct. The letter tells him not to attend Poole's class or contact any students involved until the matter is resolved.

Rotela says he didn't threaten Poole and doesn't think his words could have been interpreted that way.

At this point, the rightwing blogosphere picked up the story. And ran with it. Predictably, they cried religious persecution, denouncing "leftist control of universities." According to the website of the Liberty Institute, a right-wing Christian legal foundation that intervened on Rotela's behalf, Rotela was "brought up on academic charges and suspended" "out of retaliation."

If true, that -- not a classroom exercise he freely opted out of -- would have infringed on Rotela's rights. (The exercise may well have offended him, but there is no constitutional right to go through life unoffended.)

There are, however, two big caveats: 1) FAU has never disclosed any information about the investigation that led to Rotela's suspension (which can only be done by school administration, not Poole) and 2) Poole's side of the story has yet to be heard.

When the story first broke, school officials offered a sedate defense of academic freedom.

In less than 48 hours, however, as Rotela's version of events was picked up and amplified in sensational healdlines, the school beat a hasty retreat. By Friday evening the school offered a public apology and struck the communications exercise from the curriculum. On Monday, the Liberty Institute claimed the school rescinded Rotela's suspension after "a closed-door meeting" with Liberty's lawyers.

If the investigation of Rotela has been concluded, why have its details not been released? What was the basis for the initial charges that (as reported by the Post) Rotela had violated FAU's code regarding "Acts of verbal, written (including electronic communications) or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person"? 

FAU maintains federal law forbids it to disclose information about the investigation.

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