A campaign sign for Barack Obama stands outside a polling location on November 6, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
A Brevard Community College professor in Florida placed on leave by administrators in September for allegedly forcing students to sign a pledge in favor of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, who was not yet elected to a second term, has officially been fired.
A 3-1 vote by BCC officials terminated Sharon Sweet, who taught algebra, for violating the school's code of conduct, which, according to Florida Today, barred employees from soliciting support for political candidates. Sweet, who was tenured, also was found in an investigation to have violated the code by creating a hostile academic environment. She will have the opportunity to appeal her termination with the board of trustees.
The statement from the college's investigation found that Sweet "strongly encouraged or mandated that students from several classes sign" the pledge card in question.
"Sweet's actions caused students to feel considerable discomfort, to believe their privacy was being invaded, to fear their grade could be negatively impacted if they refused to sign the pledge cards, and to feel intimidated," a statement, issued earlier this by BCC, said.
Florida Today reported Sweet's attorney, Thomas Brooks, saying he and his client didn't believe the evidence from the investigation was "anywhere near sufficient to make that kind of radical, career-ending decision."
Brooks also argued that Sweet didn't know the "pledge card" was in favor of Obama specifically, saying she thought it was non-partisan and encouraging students to simply vote in general.
This was the pledge in question. (Image via Campus Reform)
Here's more from Florida Today regarding this position:
“It never got through, it never dawned on her, that this was a pledge,” he said. “That wasn’t what she was trying to do.”
It wasn’t until the second class that she handed out the cards that she realized it was a pledge card, when a student mentioned it.
“She freaked out, she didn’t know what to do,” Brooks said. “Those are the only two classes that the pledge card was handed out in.”
Some students, in the questionnaires, said they didn’t recall any pledge cards. Some students who filled out the questionnaires indicated there was political discussion in class while others wrote that there were not.
Watch this report, which includes the trustees' vote and some of Sweet's perspective:
Some trustees though questioned how Sweet could fail to miss that the card was directed toward voting specifically for Obama, also pointing out how politics were an inappropriate topic overall in a math class.
“To divert any time to simply talking about politics, even though it might not be a biased discussion, seemed to be a misuse of college time,” Trustee Dewey Harris said, according to Florida Today. “These students paid for this course and expected to learn algebra in the course.”
Trustee Chair Alan Landman said given the subject of the class, regardless of questions the students might have asked related to the topic of politics, it should not have been continued.
“I don’t know how anyone can be talking about politics in face-to-face classes when the syllabus has nothing to do with it,” Florida Today reported Landman saying. “I just can’t put that person back in the classroom.”
Read more of the proceedings leading up to the vote here.
(H/T: Campus Reform)