BOCA RATON — A university professor that came under fire earlier this year for having students stomp on a piece of paper that bore the name of Jesus has been reinstated after being put on leave for security reasons.
As previously reported, Ryan Rotela, a Mormon, told reporters in March that he was punished by school officials for not participating in the assignment in his intercultural communications class. The activity was part of a suggested exercise found in the instructor’s manual accompanying the classroom textbook.
“This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings,” the manual states. “Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment.”
“After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper,” it continues. “Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”
However, Rotela said that he was suspended for refusing to stomp on the paper, after his teacher, Deandre Poole, the vice-chairman of the Palm Beach Democratic Party, had his class perform the exercise.
“He had us all stand up and he said ‘Stomp on it,’” Rotela explained. “I picked up the paper from the floor and put it right back on the table. I’m not going to be sitting in a class having my religious rights desecrated.”
“Anytime you stomp on something it shows that you believe that something has no value,” he said. “So, if you were to stomp on the word Jesus, it says that the word has no value.”
However, university officials denied that students were required to stomp on the paper.
“Contrary to some media reports, no students were forced to take part in the exercise,” they stated. “[T]he instructor told all of the students in the class that they could choose whether or not to participate.”
Officials also asserted that Rotela was not punished for his refusal to stomp on the name of Jesus.
Poole was then put on administrative leave for security reasons, and Florida Governor Rick Scott demanded an investigation into the matter.
“Whether the student was reprimanded or whether an apology was given is in many ways inconsequential to the larger issue of a professor’s poor judgement,” Scott wrote in a letter to State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan. “The professor’s lesson was offensive, and even intolerant, to Christians and those of all faiths who deserve to be respected as Americans entitled to religious freedom.”
Poole was reinstated last week as a professor, but will only be teaching online courses for the time being.
“[The decision to reinstate Poole] was made after careful thought, due diligence and input from students, faculty and administration,” the university said in a statement to reporters. “The university’s administration will have an ongoing dialogue with the faculty to address issues of academic freedom and responsibility within the FAU community.”
Poole, who identifies as a Christian and serves as a Sunday School teacher, said that he was thankful to be rehired at Florida Atlantic University.
“I am pleased to be returning back to FAU,” Poole told the Christian Post. “I regret the misinterpretation of the class exercise, which was grossly mischaracterized. My Christian faith has been strengthened by this valley experience. God is my rock!”
“The last few months have been challenging some days and some days have been just fine,” Poole also stated to the Palm Beach Post. “But now that this is behind me, I’m looking forward to moving on and contributing back to the university.”