Whoa, Dude

U. of Florida puts popular lecturer on leave after video appears of class lecture in which his exuberance amused some and disturbed others.
October 4, 2006

“Whoa… dude… Code of Hammurabi. I’ve seen this in … I’ve seen this in a British Museum.” If only these words came from someone goofing off in a high school class. Instead, they were uttered by a lecturer, John Hall, during a class he gave in September to more than 1,000 students taking a business course at the University of Florida.

Within weeks, highlights from the lecture were uploaded onto numerous Web sites, including Break.com, where the video is labeled “Stoned Professor,” and YouTube. And shortly after that, the university placed Hall on paid administrative leave. Another instructor has started teaching the “Principles of Management” course. (Some who have watched assume that the professor was drunk, not stoned.)

Hall did not return an e-mail, nor a call placed to his office phone. He has been a lecturer at Florida since 1988, and has been honored as “teacher of the year” by the business school.

“No other actions are being taken at the moment,” said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of human resources. Cavanaugh said that Hall is not tenured and is represented by the faculty union. He would not comment any further on Hall’s future employment at the university, except to say, “Everything is under consideration.”

A video of a lecture shows an obviously gleeful Hall, clad in a polo shirt and perched on the edge of stage, in front of a student audience. His musings seem thoughtful as he demystifies ancient texts by comparing them to modern ideas.

After reading a passage from the Code of Hammurabi, he proclaims, “This is a product liability … law, right?” There is a long pause as he searches for the word “law.” He recovers and then holds up Machiavelli’s The Prince, calling it “a 16th century, principle of management book.”

But when he reaches for Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, his poise leaves him. “Sun Tzu, this is how old? 2,000 years?” he asks.

A student from the audience offers up an answer. “Check the copyright.”

Rolling onto his back, Hall splays out over the stage and starts cackling.

He then sits up laughing. “Noooooooo. You can’t check the copyright because he didn’t copyright the damn thing!” he responds, taking a few more seconds to compose himself before losing himself in another laughing fit.

He then continues with his lecture. “And what Sun Tzu was saying was, ‘Here’s strategy,’ ” he says, nodding his head to draw agreement from the students. “Here’s how to compete.”

Within another minute, he has strayed off on another tangent, and begins advising a student he notices in the audience to go visit the Globe Theater. “Eh, I’m not a big Shakespeare fan, but the Globe is wonderful,” he says.

It is unclear who gave Break.com the video. An increasing number of students have been making videos of their professors, and posting them on popular Web sites like YouTube -- typically without faculty members’ permission or knowledge.

Hall’s lecture was videoed by the university because the course is offered for students on campus and to take online. Distance students have access to the course video, but members of the public do not. Cavanaugh said that the lecture in question has been removed from the campus’s Web site and is no longer available.

“It wasn’t addressing the instructional components,” he said of the video. Cavanaugh added that university officials are discussing how they should proceed with any copyright issues regarding Web sites that now carry copies of the lecture. “That is being looked at, but there is no decision as to legal standing.”


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