A former Emmanuel College adjunct professor, who was fired last week after using a classroom discussion to mimic the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech, said yesterday that the college violated his rights and has tried to stifle valid discussion of a controversial topic.
"Every other faculty member there has learned the lesson of 'be quiet,' " adjunct professor Nicholas Winset said in a telephone interview yesterday. "How can you be a professor and not touch on controversy?"
On Saturday, Winset posted an 18-minute defense of his actions on YouTube.com, a popular website for homemade video clips.
Under the title "Fired Professor Speaks Out!" the four-part video features Winset describing the lecture that led to his dismissal. He said it included a brief discussion of gun control, whether to respond to violence with violence, and the public's "celebration of victimhood" in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings.
In his financial accounting class Wednesday, Winset dramatized the massacre that left 33 students and faculty dead after 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho went on a shooting rampage, eventually turning the gun on himself. Winset, 37, said administrators had asked faculty members to engage students on the issue.
Winset said he opened the discussion by summarizing nonviolent philosophies, such as Tibetan Buddhism.
Afterward , "I walked among them, [aiming a marker at students] and went 'bang' five or six times," Winset said in the telephone interview. He then held up his hands, signaling to a student he had prepped before class, to draw his own marker and point it at Winset, "at which point, I went down," Winset said.
"Why did I stop?" Winset asked his 23 undergraduate students , before someone replied that the "gunman" was shot.
"So guns maybe aren't all bad," Winset told the group.
After class, students and parents contacted officials at the Catholic liberal arts school in Boston, which released a statement Friday saying the school prohibits "any behavior or action which makes light of or mimics the terrible tragedy at Virginia Tech."
"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 statement read.
A spokeswoman for the school declined to explain Winset's dismissal or comment on his alleged use of "discriminatory or obscene language."
Winset said the class discussion took roughly five minutes.
Christopher J. Stephens , an adjunct professor of English at Wentworth Institute of Technology, posted a response to Winset's dismissal yesterday in an online independent news publication. He said Winset misunderstood his role as adjunct professor.
"The whole point of being an adjunct professor is to write your syllabus, do your job, and move on," Stephens said. "There's no room for grandstanding, and I think that's what he did in his act."
This was Winset's first semester at Emmanuel. He said he had already alerted the school that he would not return for a second semester, and instead plans to teach cost accounting at a private New England college.
Winset said he has been banned from Emmanuel, but seven of his students sent supportive e-mails, and a handful plan to file a request for redress on his behalf.
Junny Lee , a 19-year-old mathematics major, said he is one of those students. Lee, who attended last week's class, said most students did not appear to find Winset's demonstration offensive, and the administration should have interviewed students before dismissing the professor with less than two weeks left in the semester.
"I know he was making a point," said the sophomore. This far "into the semester, firing a professor like that doesn't really help the students at all."
April Simpson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org