A business school professor was relieved of his teaching duties after he made a joke about putting on a mask to a Chinese student—a joke that the student did not find offensive.
University of Missouri (Mizzou) professor Joel Poor was placed on a leave of absence following a complaint to the school's Office of Civil Rights and Title IX by another student, Lourdes Torrey, who called Poor's comments xenophobic and racist. In a recording of the Zoom incident, Poor asks if any students are taking the online class from outside the United States. One student responds that he is from Wuhan, China—the province where the coronavirus pandemic originated—to which Poor replies, "hold on, let me put my mask on." Immediately after making the joke, the professor inquired about what it is like for the Chinese student to travel amid the pandemic.
— #StillConcerned (@MIZ_ISC_2020) August 24, 2020
Rising junior Nathan Etheridge told the Washington Free Beacon that he spoke with the Chinese student after the incident, who told Etheridge that he was not offended and knew Poor was joking with him.
Students have taken to Twitter to defend the popular marketing professor. One Mizzou student—who spoke to the Free Beacon on the condition of anonymity—said Poor was making a joke and nothing more.
"This is a direct attack infringing our right to speak freely in 2020," the student said. "Now is the time to fight for our rights when so many of them are in jeopardy."
After the backlash, Poor sent out an email apologizing for his comments and insisting that he only meant to make a joke. The university has nonetheless suspended Poor as he undergoes an investigation. A Mizzou spokesman confirmed that the incident was being investigated, but said that he could not discuss the probe further. Poor did not respond to requests for comment.
Several students accused the university of overreacting. "To be offended for another student is ridiculous," Jordan Duenckel, a senior at Mizzou, told the Free Beacon. "[The school] should not cave to public pressure at the expense of a quality education."
In response to Pool's suspension, the Mizzou College Republicans organized a Change.org petition calling on the university to keep the professor, whom the group dubs the business school's "most important asset." Will Curtright, a member of the College Republicans, told the Free Beacon that Poor's treatment mirrors McCarthyism.
"Joel Poor ... has an edgy sense of humor, but certainly not a racist sense of humor," Curtright said. "I'm fed up that you can lose your job or social standing over something as silly as a very mild joke."
In light of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, professors have faced backlash for comments that contradict leftwing views. An Arizona State University dean had her job offer revoked following complaints of "microaggressions" and two University of California-Los Angeles professors were placed under investigation—one for refusing to cancel black students' final exams following the death of George Floyd and another for reading the n-word aloud in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail."