In C.S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength the demon-worshiping villain Frost tells the novice Mark Studdock, as part of his initiation process, to trample a crucifix. Studdock, who is not a Christian of any kind, refuses, though he believes Frost may kill him for doing so.
The real world has, to some extent, caught up with fiction. A college teacher in a communications class told his students to write the word "Jesus" on a piece of paper and stomp on it. This was part of a prescribed exercise. Fox News, that bastion of Evil Right-Wing-ism, has helpfully obtained a copy of the assignment, which comes from a book called Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach (5th edition)
Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper,” the lesson reads. “Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.
Because thought experiments just aren't enough. I suppose this is part of the "group activities" mania. It isn't enough to say, "If I told you to step on a crucifix, I assume several of you would object. That's quite understandable. Let's discuss the importance of symbols in culture." No, you actually have to play Professor Frost and tell the students to stomp on Jesus' name.
Mormon student Ryan Rotela refused. Presumably refusing was one of the expected outcomes of the exercise, so that isn't what he is in trouble for. What he's apparently in trouble for is having the gall to complain to the professor and the chairman that the assignment was inappropriate. He's been kicked out of the class. I don't know what this means about his grade. Is he just going to be given a "withdrawn passing" or what? And if he needs the class to graduate, then what? And why should he be kicked out, anyway? Are students not allowed to complain to the chairman about an assignment they consider inappropriate? Especially in this case, when it is hardly a stretch to consider the class activity very inappropriate indeed.
I'm afraid that one clue to the school's circling the wagons and defending the teacher, even punishing the student for complaining, may lie in the fact that the professor is black (see photo).
A number of wise acres are quite rightly pointing out that this would never have happened with the name "Mohammed," though the point about cultural symbols would be just the same, especially if there were really Muslim students in the class. But it's precisely because there might be Muslim students in the class that that assignment would never be given, interesting "communications" illustration though it would be.
If a teacher had decided that the exercise would be interesting to try with "Mohammed," I think we cay safely say that the school would not blandly have responded to complaints like this:
“As with any academic lesson, the exercise was meant to encourage students to view issues from many perspectives, in direct relation with the course objectives,” said Noemi Marin, the university’s director of the school of communication and multimedia studies.
“While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate,” Marin added.
When it comes to Islam, the Muslims have made good and sure that we understand quite viscerally "the importance of symbols in culture." As in "insult Prophet Mohammed, we threaten to kill you."
Not that I'm recommending Christian death threats. Not that I'm blaming Christians at all for this. What I am saying is that when it comes to Christianity the academics merely chatter about "the importance of symbols in culture" while quite willingly working actively to undermine and attack whatever remaining importance Christian symbols have in culture. One result is exercises like the one in this story. We're all just supposed to say that hey, it's just an exercise, it wasn't real. Which is in itself taking a rather significant substantive position concerning the (un)importance of Christian symbols.
Good on the Mormon for refusing. I hope Christians would have done the same.
I look for this kind of thing to increase. I'm glad there is some growing outrage about this incident, and it wouldn't hurt at all for the student to win a lawsuit against the school. The precedents in that regard are convoluted, though. (I won't go into them here in detail.) It's not clear that he would win if he did sue. The question, if the courts are consistent with all precedents to date, is whether the courts would regard this exercise as being more like making a student write a paper arguing, as an academic exercise, for a position he disagrees with or like making a student write and mail an actual letter to a Congressman lobbying for a policy he disagrees with. As far as I know, we have no explicit Jesus-stomping court precedents.
If you don't believe that persecution of some kind or other is coming for Christians in the United States, look long and hard at this example. The prof. didn't just make the exercise up. It was in a communications course textbook. It had made it past a gauntlet of editors. I think that qualifies it as mainstream. Yet it is justified, and punishing students who complain is justified, on the grounds of "dialogue" and "getting students to view things from different perspectives."
Welcome to the Brave New World, and pray and prepare yourselves and your children for more of the same.
Update: The university has kinda sorta apologized. Why do I say "kinda sorta"? Because a) the university appears to be lying when it insists that the professor "told all of the students in the class that they could choose whether or not to participate." The whole point of the exercise appears to be making students uncomfortable by not telling them that they can choose whether or not to participate. The exercise, as described by the textbook itself, says to "instruct" students to step on Jesus' name. It doesn't say, "Instruct students to step on the name, but only if they feel comfortable doing so." b) The university says that no student was punished. Really? Was Ryan Rotela not removed from the class without his consent? Why is that not a punishment? This looks like another lie. c) We don't yet have word from Ryan Rotela that he's been reinstated to the class with a personal apology to him, and the university cites privacy regulations that prevent them from saying that he's right now (again?) a student in good standing in the class, even though these privacy regulations evidently don't prevent them from implying (see b) that Rotela lied when he said he was suspended in the first place.
Update #2: According to this new story, Rotela has indeed been punished by the school, which directly falsifies the school's statement that "no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class." In other words, they did lie. Rotela is being charged with violating the student code of conduct, with the university apparently alleging that he was threatening or harassing in the manner of his complaint against the class assignment. (It would be amusing if it weren't serious for Rotela that the "code of conduct" he's alleged to have violated prohibits "intimidation, harassment, or coercion," which of course is precisely what this assignment involves against the students.) What standards of due process Rotela has are unclear. He is forbidden by the university's letter to contact any other students in the class. This would seem to hinder his defense and would never be allowed in actual criminal proceedings, since other students in the class are witnesses of the incident and must be available to the defense. But I suppose universities make these things up as they go along and don't consider themselves subject to such pettifogging rules of fairness. I would say it is unquestionable that the university is retaliating against Rotela for reporting the incident to the press and causing them embarrassment. It remains to be seen whether they will get away with this second-order retaliation.
Update #3: According to this article, confirmed by the general tenor of a statement on Rotela's Facebook page ("FAU gave me everything I want! Victory!), Ryan Rotela has been reinstated in the course, though in a different professor's section. I'm sure he's only too happy not to have to keep taking the course from Deandre Poole. My remaining question is whether the school has dropped its absurd charges of "violating the academic code of conduct," mentioned in Update #2. I would assume from his statement that they "gave him everything he wants" that they did drop those charges, but it's not explicitly confirmed. Perhaps this means he won't sue. As Sage points out in the comments, the real lesson that will be carried away from this, however, is that students can be expected to be given a rough time (to have to retain legal counsel, etc.) if they stand up to outrageous classroom demands by leftist professors.