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College counters fired professor's outcry

Academic freedom not at risk, it says

Emmanuel College further defended yesterday its dismissal of an accounting professor, saying the decision was about the professor's "insensitivity toward the students who were murdered at Virginia Tech" and had "nothing to do with academic freedom."

The Catholic liberal arts and sciences college in Boston has drawn publicity around the nation since Wednesday's dismissal of Nicholas Winset for the adjunct professor's dramatization in class of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

Winset, who had begun teaching at Emmanuel this semester, responded to his firing by posting an 18-minute video on YouTube.com Saturday evening, saying the college was stifling discussion. But since the news of his dismissal, reactions posted on blogs and elsewhere on YouTube have been mixed .

Initially, the college, which has roughly 1,600 undergraduates, would not provide details about the dismissal. But in a 300-word statement provided by Emmanuel's spokeswoman yesterday, the college said Winset was dismissed because several witnesses reported that he had violated the college's standards of conduct and civility.

Winset disparaged "the victims as rich white kids combined with an obscene epithet," according to the statement. "He did not do this as part of an open debate with his students."

The professor said on his video and in interviews that he pointed a marker at a few students on Wednesday as if it were a gun to dramatize how 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho shot 32 students and faculty and then himself.

Winset, of Newton, told the Globe that professors were asked to discuss the shootings with their classes and that the dramatization led to a discussion of the massacre's effects on the stock market. He said that earlier in the term he had received a complimentary letter from administrators for bringing news into the classroom.

"The last weapon in the empty arsenal of the politically correct is to call someone a bigot, and that's pretty much what they're doing here," Winset said yesterday in response to the university's latest statement.

Tom Wall, chairman of the faculty senate, said in the college-provided statement that Emmanuel has a broad sense of academic freedom and encourages the discussion of controversial issues, "as long as the discussion is carried out in a fair and civil manner."

"This was decidedly not the case in Mr. Winset's class," Wall said.

"Creating fear and anger in his students with outrageous and disrespectful behavior and language is clearly about power," Wall said in the statement. "In no workplace would such behavior be tolerated."

Winset, whose brief lecture touched on whether to respond to violence with violence, maintains that his discussion was not insensitive and attempted to quell students' fears. Winset said he had not planned to teach another semester at Emmanuel, because he had been offered a teaching job at another private college.

Oscar Segarra, a student in Winset's financial accounting class, said the firing was unfair to students who are spending the remainder of the semester under the direction of a new professor. Segarra, a sophomore who plans to transfer to a Manhattan college next semester, said Emmanuel had misunderstood Winset's lecture.

The professor was emphasizing that the amount of news coverage on the Virginia Tech tragedy far exceeded the attention given to other world events, where many more people died, he said.

"He was basically proving a point that people every day get killed," said Segarra, 21. "Why blow it up as much as they do? Because it's a college? He did say it was rich white kids, but he didn't mean it in a bad way."

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