Teachers under scrutiny for post-Sept. 11 comments

Unpopular remarks about the Sept. 11 attacks have caused two professors, one from New Mexico and the other from California, to face punishment by their schools.

Richard Berthold, a tenured University of New Mexico history professor, told a freshman class, “Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote.”

The statement, which he later apologized for saying, upset students and caused state Rep. William Fuller, R-Albuquerque, to suggest that the university fire Berthold. Berthold said that any attempt to fire him would violate his freedom of speech.

“I was a jerk,” he told The Santa Fe New Mexican. “But the First Amendment protects my right to be a jerk.”

University President William Gordon also reprimanded Berthold for his remarks and is considering taking disciplinary action.

In Costa Mesa, Calif., a political science professor at Orange Coast College has been placed on paid administrative leave after four of his students filed a complaint about his choice of words during a class discussion.

Ken Hearlson told the Los Angeles Times that he started his lecture on Sept. 18 with an intentionally provocative question, “Why do Muslims condemn the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon but never denounce terrorist attacks in Israel?”

Four Muslim students took the opening comments and some other remarks Hearlson made during the class discussion to mean that he was calling them terrorists and murderers.

According to the Times, the students claim Hearlson pointed to three Muslim students and said, “It was you who flew the planes into the World Trade Center. You are a terrorist.”

Hearlson admitted to making the comments but said they were not aimed at the Muslim students. He also said he apologized twice to his class.

The administration has hired an outside agency to handle the investigation.

In another case, Pittsburgh Public Schools reinstated Rooney Middle School substitute teacher John Gardner.

Gardner’s suspension was lifted on Sept. 21, a day after he was escorted by police off school grounds for having written the remark “Osama bin Laden did us a favor” in the margin of a newspaper. Gardner had jotted the quote he had heard on television to remember it for a book he is working on titled “On the Wings of Adversity”