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'Bless You' Isn't Banned

August 28, 2014

Leon Gardner's syllabus for Introductory Physics I at the College of Coastal Georgia may have been the best-read syllabus in higher education Wednesday.

That's because the conservative blogosphere (Drudge Report among others) and lots of television stations featured his syllabus for one of the behaviors it banned, with a threat of grade deductions: "Saying 'bless you.' We are taught that it is polite to say 'bless you' when someone sneezes. However, if you say this while I am talking, it is NOT polite, it is very rude!" The other banned behaviors are more standard -- cell phone use, being late for class, and so on.

While the syllabus rules aren't new, the blog posts about the "bless you" rule went viral -- and the calls started coming in to the college. Many of those calling didn't realize that the "bless you" ban was part of a list of things that could disrupt classes. Many accused the college of anti-religious bias, but a college spokesman said that the professor's objection had nothing to do with "bless" and would have been the same for Gesundheit. Gardner just didn't want his class interrupted.

The syllabus is quite specific that violations of any of the behavioral rules could result in immediate grade deductions or even expulsion from the class. But the college spokesman, who said he knew Gardner well, said that the professor is just trying to make a point, and that no student has ever lost any points over saying "bless you." (Gardner could not be reached for comment.)

Late Wednesday, the college announced that the syllabus had been revised, to remove the reference to "bless you." A statement from the college said: "The professor’s intent was to explain that disruptive behavior is not allowed in the classroom. The professor, who used other examples such as turning off cell phones prior to class and not arriving late, has removed the example and stated that no student has been disciplined or expelled from his class based on that example. The college is conducting a full review."

Here is the syllabus portion that set off the controversy:

 

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