(Photo: WPEC-TV video)
The Florida Atlantic University professor who reportedly told his students to write "Jesus" on a piece of paper and stomp on it has been reinstated by the school after being placed on leave for several months due to concerns about his personal safety.
A statement from FAU says the university offered Deandre Poole an appointment as an instructor "after careful thought, due diligence and input from students, faculty and administration." In an email to The Christian Post, a university spokesperson said Poole began teaching summer classes online on Monday.
"I understand this decision may not be popular with all members of the community," said Heather Coltman, interim Dean of FAU's Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, in a statement. "But it was based on months of thorough research and consideration."
School officials have also received a report from the Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Due Process about the controversial classroom exercise that began making news headlines several months ago. The school's statement says the administration "will have an ongoing dialogue with the faculty to address issues of academic freedom and responsibility" at FAU.
In an email to CP, Poole said the experience helped strengthen his Christian faith.
"I am pleased to be returning back to FAU," wrote Poole. "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 controversy began when Poole told an Intercultural Communications class to write Jesus' name on a piece of paper and step on it as part of a lesson on symbols in culture as found in the book, Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition. A Mormon student, Ryan Rotela, refused to participate, calling the lesson inappropriate, and was slapped with academic charges after reporting Poole to university officials.
Liberty Institute, an organization dedicated to defending religious liberty, took up Rotela's case. In March, Rotela and Liberty Institute Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser attended a closed-door meeting in which school officials apologized to the student and agreed to expunge the charges from his student records, the organization reports. The school also allowed Rotela to take the course under another professor.
Varying accounts of the incident in the classroom were reported to the media. The professor told Inside Higher Ed that he never instructed students to "stomp" on a piece of paper with the word "Jesus" written on it, but rather asked them to step on it. The student said he was suspended for refusing to participate in the lesson. Poole claimed that Rotela said after class that he wanted to hit him, which is why Rotela was disciplined. Liberty Institute has denied Poole's claim.
The professor received several death threats and went on administrative leave for safety reasons at the end of March. He's back teaching again, however, and Liberty Institute seems to think his new opportunity is acceptable.
"The only statement we have is: We believe in grace, mercy and second chances," said Sasser in a statement.
Florida Governor Rick Scott, along with several other politicians, denounced the Jesus-stomping lesson. Charles Brown, FAU Senior Vice President of Student Affairs, said in video statement from March that the lesson was "insensitive and hurtful" and that it would no longer be used at the school.