ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

On the Limits of Classroom Speech

May 30, 2005 by ACTA

When is a joke a threat? Who decides how a remark was intended, or what reactions to a remark are reasonable? Where does academic freedom end and unprotected expression begin? All these questions are on the table at Bowling Green State University, where an accounting professor was recently suspended without pay until January 1 after a joke fell flat with his students. Last February, frustrated when a student arrived late to his class, Norman Eckel made a comment about bringing a gun to class and shooting his students. The comment was made in the context of broad joking about student lateness, but Eckel's students did not take the comment itself as a joke. After several of them filed a complaint, the university investigated Eckel, concluding after a four-month-long inquiry that he had violated the university's Academic Charter by intimidating his students. A university spokesperson was unable to cite the exact policy Eckel allegedly violated. Eckel, who has been teaching at Bowling Green since 1979, must now submit to "professional development" education and "undergo peer reviews of his teaching each semester" as part of his punishment. He has sixty days to appeal. Eckel's case is being covered by Bowling Green's student paper. The article does not note whether he was accorded due process during his investigation.

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