The Florida Atlantic University instructor involved in the controversial "stomp on Jesus" class assignment has been placed on paid leave, with the school citing concerns for his safety.
Communications instructor Deandre Poole, who is black, has had death threats and racially charged messages left on his voice mail and in his email,
said Chris Robe, president of the FAU chapter of the faculty union.
"I've never seen anything like it on campus, the vitriol that has been released on this guy," said Robe, an assistant professor of communications.
Poole, who could not be reached for comment Friday, has been the subject of numerous derogatory postings on blogs and Twitter, many of which give out his FAU email address.
"As a result of the reaction to a recent exercise in Dr. Poole's intercultural communications class, the instructor's personal safety has been compromised," according to a university statement released Friday. "In addition, this decision will prevent further disruption to the day-to-day operations of Florida Atlantic University.''
During a March 4 class on the Davie campus, Poole asked students to write Jesus on a sheet of paper, throw it on the floor and then step on it. It was part of a lesson on the impact of words included in the instructor's guide of the class textbook, written by a professor at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin.
The exercise attracted national attention after Ryan Rotela, a student in the class, informed the media. FAU apologized March 22 and said the assignment wouldn't be used again. On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott asked the State University System to investigate the matter and called Rotela to apologize.
Rotela, reached Friday, said he was shocked to learn Poole may be facing threats to his safety.
"Leave the poor guy alone. I'm pretty sure he's been through enough," Rotela said. "People make mistakes. He shouldn't be demonized or killed for it."
No reports of threats against Poole have been filed with FAU police, but "other agencies may have them," university spokeswoman Lisa Metcalf said.
Poole is also an adjunct professor who teaches a speech communication class at Broward College in Davie. A college spokeswoman couldn't be reached Friday evening as to his status there.
It's unusual but not unprecedented to place an instructor on paid leave over safety concerns, said Jenn Nichols, of the Washington D.C.-based American Association of University Professors.
"If there's a threat of immediate harm, the university has to act on that," Nichols said.
Poole is a non-tenured faculty member and FAU won't say whether his one-year contract will be renewed next year.
Faculty are concerned about FAU's reaction to the incident, Robe said. After first defending the assignment, the university promised not to use it again. But professors don't vet their class assignments with administrators, he said, and academic freedom is included in the collective bargaining agreement.
"Someone being offended does not give the university the right to censor," he said. "Part of the mission of the modern university is to discuss controversial topics in a respectful fashion. Once that's compromised, people are going to be afraid to discuss anything that someone finds offensive."