The Florida Atlantic University instructor who asked students in an intercultural communications class to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and step on it says he’s a “very religious” Christian who has been unjustly attacked and threatened for simply doing his job.
“No teacher at any level should feel or experience what I have been subjected to these past few weeks,” instructor Deandre Poole said in a written statement Monday. “We can have a healthy debate about the merits of this assignment, but attacks on my character and threats of bodily harm have no place in this dialogue.”
Poole was making his first public statement since a firestorm erupted last month after a student complained about the “Jesus” exercise, which is included in an instructor’s manual as a way to teach students about the power of symbols.
FAU initially defended the activity, but later apologized for it and dropped it from its curriculum. Gov. Rick Scott blasted the lesson last week and has asked the head of the state university system for a report on the incident and how it was handled by FAU.
FAU announced Friday that it had placed Poole on paid administrative leave because “as a result of the reaction to a recent exercise in Dr. Poole’s intercultural communications class, the instructor’s personal safety has been compromised.”
Poole is also vice chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating “multiple threats” made to the party because of the FAU uproar.
“For doing my job, I have been lied on, I have received hundreds of hate e-mails, I have been demonized by some in the press, and I have received death threats, all for doing my job. But, even in the midst of this storm, I still have faith in God, and faith in His word — that will not change,” Poole’s statement says.
The exercise at the center of the controversy is part of the manual that accompanies the widely used textbook “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach.”
The manual, which warns that the exercise is “a bit sensitive,” says the teacher should have students write “Jesus” on a piece of paper, then put the paper on the floor and “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.”
Ryan Rotela, a student from Coral Springs, has said students were asked to “stomp” on the paper. Poole said he never asked students to “stomp” on the paper.
Rotela said he objected during the class and afterward, but Poole brushed aside his concerns. Rotela said he then told Poole he would take the matter to Poole’s supervisor and to the media.
Poole’s statement doesn’t mention Rotela by name, but says he felt threatened by a student who disagreed with the lesson.
“Just because a student dislikes a class activity, does not give him or her the right to disrespect the professor. I filed an incident report with campus security immediately following class that night because I felt I was in danger of bodily harm. Any and all acts of aggression should be reported, and that is what I did,” Poole said.
In an interview with InsideHigherEd.com, Poole said the student balled his fist and smacked it into his other hand and said he wanted to hit Poole.
Rotela received a March 8 letter from an FAU associate dean telling him he had been charged with violating FAU’s student code dealing with “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.”
The letter ordered Rotela not to attend Poole’s class or contact any of the students in it until the matter was resolved.
Rotela has denied making any threats.
“If Ryan had really done something like this, the university would not have been so ready to exonerate him,” said attorney Hiram Sasser of the conservative Liberty Institute, which took up Rotela’s case after it began attracting national attention.
When Rotela told his story last month to WPEC Channel 12, FAU defended the lesson. But after the controversy drew national attention, FAU reversed course and dumped the exercise from its curriculum and apologized for any offense it caused.
Rotela and Sasser said FAU Dean of Students Corey King told Rotela last week that the charges had been dismissed. Poole said FAU never told him and he had to “find out online that the charges had been dropped.”
Poole defended himself against accusations that he is anti-Christian.
“In no way was this activity meant to disrespect Christianity,” his statement said. “I myself am a Christian. I believe in the word of God, which is responsible for molding me into the man I am today. I am grateful to my church family for believing in me and for their prayers of strength and encouragement. Psalms 34:19 says: ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.’ I will not let a one-sided news story define who I am in the Lord.”
In the interview with Inside Higher Ed, Poole described himself as “very religious” and said “I see how the name Jesus is symbolic. For people like myself, Jesus is my lord and savior. It’s how I identify myself as a Christian.”