Professor Hyung-il Jung was reinstated this week by the University of Central Florida after being suspended three weeks earlier for an in-class joke that offended one of his students.
A lecturer at UCF's Rosen College of Hospitality Management, Jung was leading an exam review session in accounting when he said: "This question is very difficult. It looks like you guys are being slowly suffocated by these questions. Am I on a killing spree or what?"
Jung's attempt at humor was subsequently reported to the UCF administration by one of his approximately 25 students in the review session.
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As a result, Jung received a reprimand letter from the UCF on April 24, suspending him from "all ... university duties," barring him from the Rosen College campus, and prohibiting "contact of any nature, with any students, for any reason."
Additionally, the university required Jung to undergo a "thorough mental health evaluation" as well as obtain a written certification from a medical professional that stated the professor was "not a threat to [himself] or to the university community."
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Jung expressed his surprise with the reprimand.
"It was purely a joke, of course
," Jung said. "I thought all of the students laughed together with me."
Calling the comment "completely inappropriate," UCF spokesman Chad Binette did not agree with Jung's assessment of the situation.
"The student who reported the comment to us interpreted it as a threat to her class, and we will always take any reported threat very seriously," Binette said. "This is not an acceptable topic to joke about, particularly in light of recent events around the country and on our campus."
In March, a former UCF student, 30-year-old James Oliver Seevakumaran, who was still living on campus, killed himself in in his dorm room. Seevakumaran had reportedly drafted plans to kill others in his dormitory before he settled on just taking his own life.
In response to Jung's suspension, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), wrote to UCF on April 26, reminding the school that the professor's in-class joke did not constitute a "true threat," and that the university has a responsibility to protect the professor's First Amendment rights.
In a FIRE press releases, the nonprofit educational foundation cites the 2003 case of Virginia v. Black in which the Supreme Court defined true threats as "those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals."
In addition to FIRE's objection to the suspension, at least 20 of Jung's students who were taking the pre exam review e-mailed a letter to the UCF within days of the suspension saying that the class overwhelmingly understood Jung's remark as a joke and not a threat.
Students also began an online petition calling for Jung's reinstatement as a lecturer at the university.
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"Yes, there are jokes and sometimes they are taken too far," said Sophomore Marina Reasoner, one of the students who signed the letter, told the Sentinel. "But if you know this man he would never mean anything in that way."
On May 13, Jung was reinstated by the UCF.
Following his reinstatement, Jung, who began teaching at the school in 2005, said he regretted making the remark.
"Now, I think I should have been a little more careful," Jung told the Sentinel. "I should have said, 'Am I torturing you?' That probably would have given a different feeling."
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