An art and animation teacher at Bergen Community College in New Jersey believes his suspension over a shirt he wasn’t even wearing is part of an ongoing dispute between the faculty and college President Kaye Walter.
Schmidt was called in for a meeting with executive director for human resources Jim Miller and two other unidentified officials, including one working for campus security. After Schmidt used Google to confirm the origins of the phrase, he was allegedly told by the security official that the photo aroused suspicion because “fire” could be taken to mean “AK-47s.”
School officials later told Schmidt via email that he was being put on paid leave and ordered to see a psychologist before he could be allowed to resume his teaching duties. However, Inside Higher Ed reported that the suspension violates standards set by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which mandates that teachers may not be removed from their classrooms unless they present a clear threat to students. Officials must also inform a faculty committee before taking such action.
But Walter defended the move, saying it was appropriate in light of three school shootings around the country in the month prior to Schmidt posting the picture.
According to Inside Higher Ed, Schmidt felt his removal was retaliation for filing a grievance against Bergen for being passed up for a sabbatical. Meanwhile, the faculty union issued a vote of no confidence against Walter, citing not only what happened to Schmidt, but reduced access to speak to Walter and unwarranted changes regarding promotions and tenure. Walter has characterized the dispute as being related to union contract negotiations.
“There’s a lot of outrage at what the faculty perceive as a toxic climate in the management and lack of a collegial relationship,” one union member was quoted as saying. “It’s a theme I hear over and over again from faculty and students, that they’re demoralized and there’s a culture of intimidation and fear.”
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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