It’s never wise to joke about a national tragedy, especially when that tragedy hits close to home.
That’s the predicament Prof. Gregory F. Sullivan of the United States Merchant Marine Academy found himself in the other day, after he had turned off the lights in his classroom while preparing to show a film and joked as he exited:
“If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room…run for the exit.”
What Sullivan didn’t know was that one of his students had lost their father in the Aurora, CO shooting massacre that claimed the lives of 12 people and wounded 58 others.
According to the New York Times:
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.
Professor Sullivan has 10 days to contest his dismissal, and he has been suspended with pay in the meantime.
Of course the joke was in bad taste, but we doubt that Sullivan knew one of his students’ fathers had lost their lives in the shooting. Should he get fired for a bad joke?
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