Students Protest Professor's Rumored Termination Over Atheist Speaker

May 12, 2016

Pacific Union College students continue to protest the rumored possible termination of a tenured professor of psychology over his decision to invite an atheist and well-known critic of the Seventh-day Adventist church, with which the college is affiliated, to campus to speak. About 60 students marched across campus and several hundred attended a town hall about the matter last week, the St. Helena Star reported. Others have been active on social media over concerns that the professor, Aubyn Fulton, may be fired for asking Ryan Bell -- a former Seventh-day Adventist turned atheist who is critical of the church's position on such issues as gay rights -- to address a class he was teaching in the fall. The talk never happened, as Heather Knight, college president, canceled the event days prior, according to the Star. But Fulton wrote recently on his Facebook page that he would be fired at the end of the spring quarter for his role in the matter.

Fulton, who has previously clashed with administrators over comments about homosexuality, according to the Star, declined comment. Knight said the professor’s online comments had been “misleading,” and that she had not told him he’d be fired. She also said the college had set up a Academic Freedom Task Force to examine the college’s academic freedom policy. But she said that Fulton had praised Bell as “courageous” and “honest” in his Facebook post -- and that’s a problem.

“If you’re going to bring someone like that who’s repudiated church doctrine, who has publicly attacked the church and publicly attacked God, you wouldn’t want to seem like you’re making this person into a hero,” Knight said. Ideally, she added, faculty members would consult with colleagues or administrators before inviting controversial speakers to campus. There might have been an appropriate way for Bell to address students, she told the Star, but “there wasn’t enough time to figure it out. … We’re not saying students shouldn’t be exposed to these ideas.”

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