Scott wants answers on FAU ‘Jesus’-stomping controversyby George Bennett | March 26th, 2013
FAU released this video today apologizing for the “Jesus”-stomping exercise.
Gov. Rick Scott has asked the head of the state’s university system to look into the controversy surrounding a Florida Atlantic University class assignment in which students were asked to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and step on it.
“I am deeply disappointed in the recent actions of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) faculty that raises significant questions over students rights and the lessons being taught in our classroom,” Scott says in a letter to University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, a former FAU president.
“I am requesting a report of the incident, how it was handled and a statement of the university’s policies to ensure this type of ‘lesson’ will not occur again,” Scott’s letter says.
FAU apologized for the exercise Friday and said it would no longer ask students to take part in it. The activity was included in an intercultural communications course to demonstrate that “even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings.”
A student who complained about the exercise, Ryan Rotela of Coral Springs, said he was accused of threatening his instructor after he raised objections this month. Rotela got a letter from an FAU associate dean informing him that charges had been lodged against him and telling him he could not attend the communications class or have contact with other students in it until the matter was resolved.
Rotela denied making any threats. The instructor, Deandre Poole, has not returned calls requesting comment. Poole is also vice chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party.
Rotela said he received a personal apology from FAU Dean of Students Cory King on Monday. Rotela said he also was assured that charges will be dropped and that he will be able to continue taking the class with a different instructor.
Hiram Sasser, an attorney for the Texas-based Liberty Institute, said the charge against Rotela smacked of retaliation by FAU. The Liberty Institute, which describes itself as a nonprofit organization “dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America,” contacted Rotela after WPEC Channel 12 aired a report on the matter last week.
Rotela and Sasser met on Monday with King, the FAU dean of students and an associate vice president, at the school’s Boca Raton campus.
“He apologized in person for what happened and how everything went out of control,” said Rotela, 21, who lives in Coral Springs and takes classes part time while working for a landscaping service.
Rotela and Sasser said that in addition to the apology, King assured Rotela that he would not be disciplined and that he could continue the class with a different instructor.
King said he could not comment on matters involving individual students. But, he said, “we apologized to everyone and anybody who was upset.” Without addressing Rotela’s case specifically, King also confirmed that FAU had decided that no students would be disciplined as a result of the incident.
“I feel great,” Rotela said this morning. “To be honest with you, I got everything I wanted. I’m not too crazy about going in the spotlight. The only reason I went in the spotlight is because I had no other choice.”
The “Jesus” exercise is included in the instructor’s manual for the textbook, “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach.”
“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,” says the manual, which predicts most students will hesitate to step on the paper with “Jesus” written on it. The manual says the instructor should ask students why they can’t step on the paper and “discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”