It took Florida Atlantic University administrators four months to conclude what should have taken days: banning the “step on Jesus” classroom exercise was not a good idea. Blame Gov. Rick Scott and his supposed concern for religious freedom for the long delay.
In March, FAU students Ryan Rotela went to WPEC-Channel 12 after the university suspended him for allegedly threatening communications instructor Deandre Poole, who had asked students to step on a piece of paper with the letters J-E-S-U-S. The exercise, designed to teach students the importance of symbols in culture, was not mandatory. In fact, Dr. Poole said most students refused to participate, as expected.
FAU initially defended the exercise, found in an intercultural communications textbook, noting that it is appropriate for an academic setting. That was the right call.
Then some Christians accused Dr. Poole and the university of religious intolerance, and demanded the instructor’s job. Dr. Poole received death threats, and was temporarily suspended to protect his safety.
The governor tried to capitalize on the controversy. He called Mr. Rotela to thank him for his “bravery,” and demanded a report on the incident from State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan — a former FAU president — and a guarantee that “this type of ‘lesson’ will not occur again.” FAU caved to the pressure, publicly apologized and announced that it would ban the exercise.
Then, in another reversal, the university decided to let the faculty decide whether the lesson should remain as part of the communications curriculum. Provost and Chief Academic Officer Brenda Claiborne communicated that to Mr. Brogan in a July 1 letter that also outlines a number of steps, including a civil discourse speakers series, the university will take.
Mr. Brogan sent the letter to Gov. Scott, who is now declaring a false victory. “The board at FAU has taken this matter seriously,” he said. “I am hopeful that FAU’s actions will ensure that such incidents never happen again.”
On the contrary. FAU has ensured its faculty’s academic freedom. There’s no guarantee that a single student in another class won’t be offended by another lesson. If it happens, the university will know how to respond: Keep calm and ignore the governor’s interference.
for The Post Editorial Board