The says it is investigating a remark made in July by a professor that seems to have been an off-color reference to the Aurora, Colo. massacre.
Before screening an in-class documentary, The New York Times reports that Professor Gregory F. Sullivan joked, “If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit.”
It was an obvious reference, it seems, to alleged perpetrator James Holmes, who dyed his hair orange, before barging into a theater and fatally shooting 12 people and injuring 58.
One of the students in Sullivan's class had just days before returned from the funeral of his father, Gordon Cowden, a victim of that shooting.
The grieving student left the room, and was visibly upset, according to The Times. Sullivan reportedly said he was unaware that his student had a lost a parent in the massacre, though USMMA sent a memo out to create awareness on campus, and the victim's son and two of his classmates had been given permission to miss Sullivan's class for a funeral.
“The Academy's first priority is the academic well-being of its students," said the school's superintendent, Rear Admiral James A. Helis. "As soon as I learned of the incident, I immediately placed the professor involved on administrative leave and he is not teaching class at this time," he added, also saying, "As with any investigation, we are interviewing both students and faculty, and the professor will have the opportunity to respond before we issue our final determination.”
A spokesperson for the Merchant Marine Academy said the school could not say whether Sullivan would contest the “notice of proposed removal” that was reportedly issued last week. Sullivan has reportedly apologized to the victim's son, his classmates and the school's administration.
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