SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: June 21, 2013

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Florida Atlantic University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:Ongoing Incident

On June 21, 2013 Florida Atlantic University (FAU) announced it would re-new the annual contract of Dr. Deandre Poole, an adjunct professor at the university.
As previously reported by SAR, after an academic exercise in which Dr. Poole asked students in his intercultural communications class to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and step on it, he received death threats and was placed on paid administrative leave. 
Following the incident the FAU Faculty Senate appointed a committee to investigate the controversial lesson and examine the university’s response. The committee’s report, released on June 20, concluded that the exercise was conducted appropriately and “found no evidence that the exercise was intended to discriminate against any religious groups.” The committee further found that the university administration had breached academic freedom by banning the lesson without consulting Poole or other faculty, and expressed concern about “chilling effects on academic freedom” at FAU. 
University administrators announced that Dr. Poole will only teach online classes during the summer and fall, due to concerns for his safety on campus. Heather Coltman, interim dean of FAU’s College of Arts and Letters, stated to media that the school will decide in December whether to give Dr. Poole classroom assignments for the spring semester.
Scholars at Risk welcomes the results of the internal review process at the institution which examined the complaints against a faculty member with due consideration for university values, including academic freedom, autonomy and social responsibility.  While welcoming the reinstatement of a scholar based on this internal process, Scholars at Risk remains concerned about any ongoing physical threats against an individual scholar or campus facilities which allegedly motivate the institution’s restricting the scholar to virtual instruction, rather than on-campus, in-class teaching.  While higher education leaders are responsible for maintaining the security within their institutions and communities, they must do so in a manner consistent with core values, including academic freedom.  By restricting Dr. Poole to virtual teaching, rather than taking steps to ensure the security of the classroom space from outside intimidation, the university appears to have sacrificed academic freedom, presumably for political and/or budgetary reasons.  Scholars at Risk urges university authorities not only to reinstate the scholar but to take all necessary steps to protect his safety on campus and ensure his timely return to in-class teaching. 
UPDATE: This is an update to an earlier report. To view, please click here.