Hampton University, a private school in Hampton, Virginia, recently fired nine of its campus police officers for sharing offensive jokes online. The university said the “misogynistic” and “racist” jokes were shared “via social media,” but some of the officers claim that the jokes were never public but rather part of a private group message. The university itself has been highly evasive in clarifying the context of the messages—understandably so, one supposes. If you fired someone for the high crime of saying off-color things in a non-public forum, you’d probably not want to publicize it either. It’s not a good look.
Let’s be honest: Too many university officials, both administrative and faculty, are hyper-sensitive and overreactive toward things like this. There is no need to fire people over offensive jokes. If there were evidence that this type of humor was not merely a matter of entertainment—if the cops exhibited behavior that suggested they sympathized with the beliefs off which the jokes were playing—that would be cause for concern and possible dismissal. But the university never indicated as much; they merely held that the mere making of such jokes was cause for termination.
We know where this kind of institutional cowardice comes from: University leaders have learned, through painful trial and error, that many of their students are prone to histrionic acts of fury, protest and in some cases destruction when it comes to offensive humor. In that respect, the people who run Hampton University are arguably just trying to get out ahead of a major campus scuffle. That is, to a certain extent, understandable. Just the same: A little more spine would be appreciated from the folks running our institutions of higher learning. You don’t have to like offensive jokes, but surely you don’t have to fire people over them, either.
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