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My University Treated Me Like a Criminal Over a Joke

PHOTO: Jamesgmartin.center

By Trent Bertrand | 19 July 2017

THE JAMES G. MARTIN CENTER FOR ACADEMIC RENEWAL — For the past six years, I have taught an undergraduate course on international economics at Johns Hopkins University. Most of my students thought it was a very good course. So I was shocked when, on December 6, 2016, I was met at the door of my classroom by Johns Hopkins security personnel and barred from entering.

The next day, I received a letter from my dean suspending me from my teaching duties—just three classes before the end of the semester.

What had I done to cause such a reaction by the administration? I had told a joke when discussing off-shoring, the practice of firms shifting work abroad, often in search of lower wages. Here it is:

An American loses his job due to his work being off-shored. He is very depressed and calls a mental health hot line. He gets a call center in Pakistan where the call center employee asks, “What seems to be the problem?” The American responds that he has lost his job due to the work being sent overseas and states, “I am really depressed and actually suicidal.” The call center employee says, “Great. Can you drive a truck?”

The lecture on off-shoring took place several weeks earlier. The stated reason for my suspension was that three students (out of 68) complained that my joke had created a “hostile learning environment” in the class. That’s a charge most college administrators now take with the utmost seriousness. […]

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