Of all the grounds for the firing of a financial accounting professor, those behind the dismissal of Nicholas Winset of Boston’s Emmanuel College may be among the strangest. The 37-year-old teacher was dismissed last week after leading a classroom discussion about the Virginia Tech shootings, in which he pantomimed the shooting of students with a dry-erase marker and said “bang.”
The five-minute classroom exercise included a discussion of gun control, about whether to respond to violence with violence, and about the public’s “celebration of victimhood,” Winset said. He recounts the controversial classroom session, and defends his actions, in a 6-minute video posted on YouTube.com, under the title “Fired Professor Speaks Out!”
The adjunct accounting professor said Emmanuel, a Catholic liberal arts college, was stifling free discussion about a controversial topic, and that the move would have a “chilling effect” on open debate. “A classroom is supposed to be a place for academic exploration,” Winset told the Boston Herald.
Administrators at the college had asked faculty members to engage students on the issue after the Monday shooting by Seung-Hui Cho, he said. Instead, he got a letter Friday saying he was fired and ordering him to stay off campus. “Emmanuel College has clear standards of classroom and campus conduct, and does not in any way condone the use of discriminatory or obscene language,” the college said in a statement.
In his YouTube video, he said he considered the school’s assignment for teachers to discuss students’ fears to be “ridiculous” because of the rarity of such attacks. “Statistically, the odds of their being in a major car accident, being hit by lightning, or possibly being hit by a meteorite are greater than the odds of dying in some mad-man shooting,” he said. After a discussion about violence that started with the mention of various nonviolent religious philosophies, including Buddhism and Sufism, he held up a dry-erase marker and pointing it at students, he said. One student had been instructed by Winset to “shoot” back. “I’m kind of a showman in class,” he said.
Winset, who said he had already informed the school that he would not return next semester because he had another job, maintains that he has received supportive e-mails from seven students.
Student Junny Lee, 19, told the Boston Globe that most students did not appear to find Winset’s demonstration offensive, and that the administration should have interviewed students before dismissing the professor with less than two weeks left in the semester.