Professor Faces Firing for Joke Tied to Shootings

Discussion in 'Merchant Marine Academy - USMMA' started by beyond, Aug 15, 2012.

  1. beyond

    beyond KπΣ15'

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    Professor Faces Firing for Joke Tied to Shootings
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/n...pect-in-colorado-shootings.html?smid=tw-share


    After turning down the lights in his classroom at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Prof. Gregory F. Sullivan began showing a documentary and prepared to step out for a moment.
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    But first, according to an internal personnel document, he paused to make a parting joke: “If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room,” he is said to have remarked to his students, “run for the exit.”

    The joke — a reference to James E. Holmes, who is accused of fatally shooting 12 people and wounding 58 more last month in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and who dyed his hair bright orange — would not have been especially funny in any setting. But in this classroom, 11 days after the shootings, it was dreadful. One student’s father had been killed in the shootings. Hearing his teacher’s joke, the student left the room, obviously upset, according to the internal document.

    The institution’s academic dean has recommended that Professor Sullivan, who, according to the internal document, said that he had been unaware of the student’s loss, be fired for the remark.

    In a “notice of proposed removal” issued last week, the dean wrote that the joke constituted “notoriously disgraceful conduct” under the academy’s rules forbidding “misconduct generally criminal, infamous, dishonest or notoriously disgraceful.”

    The notice said that Professor Sullivan, a tenured humanities instructor who has been at the academy, in Kings Point, N.Y., since 2006 and had a positive reputation among students, had offered a “quick and remorseful admission” to administrators and a “personal apology immediately following the incident” to the bereaved student and to the class as a whole.

    But the notice said that Professor Sullivan “reasonably should have been aware” of the student’s loss, because the academy had sent out an academywide e-mail about it on July 25, because that student had been absent from Professor Sullivan’s course for several days and because the professor had given permission to two other classmates to miss class so that they could attend a funeral in Colorado.

    “I find there is no lesser sanction to effectively address this misconduct” than dismissal, the dean, Shashi Kumar, wrote.

    The notice, dated Aug. 10, informed Professor Sullivan that he had 10 days to contest his dismissal. He has been suspended in the meantime.

    Professor Sullivan declined to comment, saying that the academy’s faculty was not permitted to speak with the news media unless the academy gave permission.

    B. Robert Kreiser, a senior program officer in the department of academic freedom, tenure and governance at the American Association of University Professors, said that in “generally accepted principles of tenure,” a professor with tenure would receive a hearing before a faculty committee before charges would be brought. Professor Sullivan’s suspension, Mr. Kreiser continued, would be appropriate only if he “represents a threat to himself or to others.”

    “Given that it was a single remark — an indefensible remark, but nonetheless a single remark, for which he has apologized — it’s hard to imagine why the administration decided he should be suspended” in the interim, he said.

    The academy, which is near Great Neck, on Long Island, is a civilian institution run by the United States Transportation Department whose faculty members are federal employees. The academy trains students for careers in the marine trade, but it operates under the rules of military discipline. Its 1,000 or so students, who attend without charge, are organized into a regiment; many of its faculty members identify themselves by rank.

    The academy is led by Rear Adm. James A. Helis, who said: “The academy’s first priority is the well-being of its students. As soon as I learned of the incident, I immediately placed the professor involved on administrative leave. and he is not teaching class at this time.”

    “As with any investigation,” he added, “we are interviewing both students and faculty, and the professor will have the opportunity to respond before we issue our final determination.”
     
  2. proudmomcolorado

    proudmomcolorado Member

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    professor remarks

    Top story, channel 9 news, 5 p.m., Denver, Co. It already took unbelievable courage for this 18 year old to return to school. This borders on being intentionally cruel.
     
  3. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    It doesn't take unbelievable courage to return to a school, especially a relatively secure school with classmates you trust.

    His immediate apology was likely.... saying something "clever", suddenly realizing what he had done, and apologizing to the student.

    I've seen graduate students cry and leave a room for much much less (but grad students tend to be thin skinned).
     
  4. Pima

    Pima Parent

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    LITS,

    I beg to differ this is not about a secure environment regarding courage. This is about a child who lost their father in a blink of an eye. Emotionally you just don't go: Well the funeral is over, I am off to go back to school thousands of miles away, see you at Thanksgiving!

    It takes a lot to get your head on straight and compartmentalize that pain so you can do what your father wanted...make a future for yourself. It takes a lot of courage to move forward and not take the easy route of leaving. Nobody would have thought less of him if he left under these circumstances, not talking about the remark, talking about the loss.

    I hope you have not had to deal with the loss of a parent yet, but trust me, I have and mentally,emotionally it takes time to get back in a place of all there, more than just a week or two.
     
  5. jessibee2013

    jessibee2013 Member

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    It takes unbelievable courage!!!
     
  6. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    We're devaluing the word "courage" much as we have done with the word "hero".



    Is it hard? Yep. Do I feel for him, and other families involved? ABSOLUTELY!

    I had classmates who lost their parents while we were cadets. We gathered around them and did whatever we could. After awhile your academy family becomes a part of your family. My best man at my wedding was my classmate and roommate. He was right there settling my nerves and ensuring I didn't pass out or puke at the alter.

    Let's not say someone has courage because they have hardships that countless others have each day. I was never willing to call Gabby Giffords a "hero". She isn't.

    To take it a step further and call it "unbelieveable" courage? No. Not in my book. It devalues the actions of others that is truely courageous.

    I'm not willing to willy-nilly assign meaningful words to any old action or inaction.
     
  7. Pima

    Pima Parent

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    LITS,

    You know I respect you, but honestly I think you are 1000% off base.

    Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon

    He is 18, lost a parent and now because this Professor said a stupid remark he is thrown into this media mix, while trying to maintain his grades, mourn the loss of his father and feel the guilt of a Professor liked by his students being dismissed, within what 11 days after his father was killed.

    You nor I know his relationship with his father. You nor I know how his Mother or siblings are handling this loss. It takes a lot to go back to school and forget the fear that Mom and little sis/bro are at home packing up Dad's things.

    That is courage.

    I like you LITS, but WOW is all I can say when you posted this part
    Seriously??? I get you are family as an SA member perspective, but I don't get how you think there is an equivalent to the happiest day of your life and the saddest day of someone elses. I know you didn't mean to be crass with that comment. I know you were trying to illustrate the camaraderie, but for me you missed the mark big time.

    Dad's death and wedding day jitters are not in the same ballpark, not in the same world, or planet. That was or should have been the happiest day of your life, not the saddest day. Honestly was there a chance in your mind that you would pass out or vomit on your wedding day? The night my father died, my sister, 34 yos vomited in his hospital room because she was crying so hard. My grandmother when my grandfather died had to be pulled away from the casket because she just wanted him to wake up.

    I was 28 when I lost my father, I was not close to him, but my heart broke because he would never see his namesake, he would never see my sister and brother get married. My MIL is stage 4 cancer, 12 months at best, 8 grandchildren. She will never see a grandchild get married, and only see one graduate from college. My heart is breaking and I am 47. I have buried everyone of my grandparents and my father. I am preparing our children for her death. They have time to say what is needed to be said. This kid could have had an argument the last time they talked, something for the rest of his life he has to live with. He had no time to prepare.

    You need to think about the pain that 18 yo child felt/feels. Anyone that has lost a parent at whatever age has respect for him and in their mind he showed courage to dust himself off and move forward, return to school a week after his father's death.

    Sorry, but OMG this kid is courageous in my book.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2012
  8. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Point being..... cadets/midshipmen also get strength from their classmates.

    I think of the professors comments in terms of something countless people have done....

    friend, classmate... whatever says something stupid..... you respond with "that's not what your mom said last night".... which is followed by someone else (of that person) saying.... "not cool man, his/my mom died".

    I've seen this, and I'm pretty sure a ways back I did this. It was followed with "holy ****, I'm so sorry".

    or.... sometimes the person lied.

    Pima, I like you too, but you and Bullet are very willing to give people the benefit of the doubt or "respect" (as has been done in a recent thread) or heaping "courage" on others without it being warranted.

    I have no doubt someone who loses a parent to a violent act as an individual feels no less pain than one who lost a parent to something like the shooting in CO. In fact, any sudden death is a blow. I also don't think people just "dust themselves off". The healing process is much longer and more developed. BUT the healing process does have to happen. One thing we can ALL be sure of, we will lose loved ones and we will all die. We will all have to live beyond the death of a loved one. We will know people who are sick. We will know people who are killed, or die from an illness or die unexpectedly, or of natural causes. That does not make us ALL courageous. It makes us stronger, that's for sure.
     
  9. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    This thread is departing it's original intent (which was also being discussed elsewhere) at this point.
     
  10. Pima

    Pima Parent

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    LITS,

    You know what is common for your response?

    PEERS

    Professors are not PEERS. That are not your friend, they are not your classmate, they are above you in the pecking order. They are to be mentors/guides and INSTRUCTORS.

    Professor Sullivan is not their friend, he is their instructor/mentor/guide.

    I am thankful you have not endured that pain at 18 like this child, now thrown into national media. I am sorry you just feel the way you do. I won't change your opinion regarding the word courage. You won't change mine either.

    We have to agree to disagree, and hope that the USMMA student doesn't google this and find a link to this site. I would hate for him to read your posts.

    Xposted, I agree there is another thread to discuss this on. I hope that if the student finds this site he knows posters admire his strength, and know that his character illustrates the best at KP.

    I personally want to wish the KP community my best thoughts regarding the impact of the situation and the morale that can occur in the aftermath.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2012
  11. jasperdog

    jasperdog Member

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    LITS:

    With respect but indeed picking up where Pima is leaving off. Speaking from first hand experience since while at USMMA 32 years ago and a third classman I lost a parent (Mother) suddenly and unexpectedly, I will tell you - even with the tremendous support and understanding of virtually all my classmates, the entire USMMA chain of command and WITHOUT media circus, interest and any absolutely stupid, insensitive statements by professors who can only be classified, at least in this case, as having acted like an *** - even with/without all that - it took me until at least 3 years after her death - 1 year following successful graduation for me to be able to take the time and sort out the loss and what it meant to me personally.

    It took that long simply because returning to the exact environment that is being properly captured here as a generally nurturing, safe environ, you are indeed also clearly separated and away from the rest of your family and the stress and emotions you go through because of that cannot, at least in my personal experience be compared in any way, shape or form be related to happy but stressful moments in our lives when the joy can be accompanied by stress all be it our wedding day or the birth of child, etc.

    My heart goes out to the family and the midshipman involved. I hope and pray his classmates and the KP community put twice the cocoon around him they put around me back in 1980 - these times with media, social media and the internet while full of wonderful technology, make this situation worse and harder from what I can see. I also know how horrible just recalling those days make me feel now even 32 years later when I reflect on them thinking about what I am typing here... It's an indescribable pit in my stomach and it's causing me to hesitate hitting submit here - not because of me but because I just think the young man and his classmates probably don't need ANYONE stirring up this pot or hornets nest.

    That said call it courage or not - I wouldn't have given a "darn" about what anyone outside of my cocoon felt and I still clearly feel scorn for any who feel the need to comment on this other than perhaps whether they think the statement by the prof involved was simply callous and ill considered, slightly stupid or just outright total lunacy. I have no doubt as a tenured professor and federal civil servant due process will be given him. Also whatever happens, he will have learned from this (hopefully) and if need be his life will go on well elsewhere in academia, not really something I'm personally concern myself with. He's probably a decent guy and he made a mistake and his life will go on one way or another.

    I do know from personal experience though for the midshipman you are talking about, rather cavalierly in my personal opinion, and his family they are only at the beginning of a journey in coming to terms with the grief involved with a horrible, un-anticipatable, and tragic loss. They need our support, our non-judgemental, unqualified understanding and support and in my opinion are deserving of it. That goes not just for the midshipman involved but all the families of these victims.

    Sorry for the ramble, the preachiness and the poor grammar (run-on sentences, etc.). This is just a topic I'll never be able to be detached or unemotional about. All that said, and probably more than I should have, all the victim's families, especially the midshipman and his families have my sympathy and support and I will not comment or preach further on this.

    In closing, I'd suggest we in the USMMA family provide that unqualified and non-judgemental support going forward privately out of respect for the situation, move on to other things in public forums such as this.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2012
  12. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    I likely chose the wrong forum to have the discussion that eventually developed.

    I could easily use the "heroes" article in the Tennessean which described students passing standardized tests as "heroic".

    That said, I am not judging the grief, pain, agony or anything else the student is going through. My initial comment had more to do with the press description.

    Of course, since that comment, it has devolved into my justify the use of certain words, or disagree with the use of certain words to describe a situation fresh in people's minds. That, in my mind, has nothing to do with the student or his loss, at least I hadn't intended for it to.

    I can save the debate for how the profit driven media uses terms like "courage" "hero" or "valor" for another day.
     
  13. paradigm6

    paradigm6 New Member

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    please stop
     
  14. Kram1

    Kram1 Member

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    Was the comment out of line? Indeed it was given the circumstances. Was it meant to intentionally harm? I seriously doubt that it was. Should the professor in question apologize for this to the the Midshipman? Absolutely.

    Should the professor be fired...ABSOLUTELY NOT! Ridiculous to even think that way. I am as saddened by Kings Point's response as much as I am by the initial comment knowing now the harm it created for one specific Midshipman. We can all hope and pray that this Midshipman finds peace after such a tragic and painful loss.

    Seems to me to be just another over reaction...such that we see way too often these days. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this professor had absolutely no clue that anyone in any way related to the tragedy was within ear shot let alone in his classroom. That is a reasonable assumption...the idea that he "should have known" is absurd on the face if it in my opinion...note I said my opinion.....Amazing how fast folks like to call for people to be fired over such things as this.....I hope none of the folks supporting this action against this professor have never said something they later regretted...and, hopefully, no one went way over the line and called for their firing. Ridiculous on the face of it...I can guarantee you that if i were this professor and was actually fired over this...well, lawsuits would be flying.

    My heart and prayers go out to this Midshipman who found the ability to return to Kings Point. Anyone who has lost a parent...especially in an unexpected event...such as I have...knows exactly how this feels. It hurts, it's hard. But absolutely no reason to compound the tragedy by firing this professor...a heat5felt personal apology both in private and perhaps to the class as a whole be in order...in my opinion.
     
  15. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    There have got to be some midshipmen on SAF who know the professor and can say how he is and what the feeling is at KP.
     
  16. paradigm6

    paradigm6 New Member

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    Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
    Abraham Lincoln
     
  17. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    Paradigm has two posts, both here and today.

    Thinking of adding to the discussion?
     
  18. bruno

    bruno Retired Staff Member

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    Folks- can we please let this subject drop? we are talking about real people in a very tragic situation- and I don't believe that anything good will come out of this discussion. The USMMA will not be influenced in how it handles things one way or the other by continuing to discuss this here, but I can well imagine that someone already victimized will be further hurt by prolonged discussion on a forum that they may well be a member of of. Please - let's drop this thread at this point and leave it to others to discuss?
    Thanks for your consideration
     
  19. Lynpar

    Lynpar Member

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    Dear Service Academy Forum members,
    Below is an exerpt from a letter written by Melisa Cowden, mother of M/N Westin Cowden. Mrs. cowden originally posted this letter on the Facebook page for the Parents and Family of KP's class of 2015. As we all know Mr. Cowden was one of the victims in the Aurora theater. I asked Mrs, Cowden's permission to post an edited version and to delete her her name and number on this forum however she responded she wanted to leave it in. The paragraphs below are her exact words ( first paragraph removed) and I thought she ought to be heard. She was asking for help with contact numbers to notify government and administration officials of her feelings as well as media outlets and others who had offered her future help but as she herself was out of town those numbers were not available to her. So she chose to use the Internet. This is the message she wants out there.


    -
    Hello,

    We are sad to see the public humiliation and reprimanding the Professor at the USMMA is receiving for his distasteful joke.

    There has been enough pain throughout this tragedy and we do not want to see further suffering caused to this professor and his family over a single distasteful remark. If this professor is fired by the USMMA, Holmes again succeeds in harming a life. This professor has sincerely apologized, which we appreciated and accepted.

    We would be grateful if our thoughts and wishes for an immediate stop to the media attention and potential loss of this professor's job would be taken into consideration.

    Sincerely

    Melisa Cowden
    On behalf of my children
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 20, 2012
  20. Lynpar

    Lynpar Member

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    May we now close both threads? I think Mrs. Cowden deserves the last word .
     

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