In the wake of the horrific Virginia Tech (VT) shootings that left 33 people dead, including gunman Cho Seung-Hui, former Emmanuel College professor Nicholas Winset was fired last week for a classroom "exercise" that mimicked killing students as they sat in their desks.
According to a press release by Emmanuel College made available to The Beacon, Winset's firing had nothing to do with academic freedom, as he claims, but a violation of standards of conduct and civility required of the college's community.
"According to students in his class, Mr. Winset staged a dramatization during a financial accounting class, mimicking the shootings at Virginia Tech and disparaging the victims as rich white kids combined with an obscene epithet," the release said. "He did not do this as part of an open debate with his students."
The release said Winset's "insensitivity" toward the victims and "use of obscene and discriminatory language" led to his dismissal.
Winset, who was unavailable for comment as of press time, described the classroom event in a YouTube.com video posted after his firing. In the video, he said faculty at the private Catholic college were encouraged to discuss the murders at VT.
"As a faculty member, I was encouraged to discuss with my students their fears," Winset said in the 18-minute video. "And the first thing I found ridiculous about this [VT incident] was there is no reason for them to be afraid."
Winset claimed in the video the students were more likely to be in a fatal car accident or struck by lightning than in a similar shooting incident. He said he began his class discussion of the VT shootings by saying he was a Buddhist and would never harm any students and that he asked them to nod their head in agreement to participate in the exercise.
Emmanuel sophomore business management major Pete Slesinski, who was in the finance and accounting class, said even before the exercise began, comments were made about the victims of the Virginia Tech slayings that caught his attention.
"[Winset] said in a sarcastic tone, 'we should all cry for the rich white boys,'" Slesinski said.
According to Slesinksi, Winset then asked him if he knew anyone who had been hurt at VT.
"I said I didn't know anyone who was hurt, but knew people who went there and were hurt by what happened," he said. "He said at that point that I probably knew more people who'd been raped."
Winset then used a dry-erase marker to mimic the barrel of a gun, pretending to shoot numerous students in his class.
Slesinski said Winset asked students why they had been shot. Then, a student who Winset had briefed before class stood and pretended to shoot the professor, who rolled on the ground dramatically.
"The point of it was to show that gun control isn't always the best thing," Slesinski said.
Winset makes the same point in his video.
"I feel that most of what's been going on is a maudlin sense of self-congratulation that 'Oh, we live in these terrible times,' this sort of celebration of victimhood, that we're all victims," Winset said. "I didn't want my students to live that way."
While Slesinski said he was surprised by the incident, he said Winset shouldn't have been fired.
"He should have used a different medium to transfer his ideas," Slesinski said. "I don't think he should've been fired. What he did wasn't really right, but he shouldn't have been fired two weeks before the end of class. Maybe it should have been something he got a talking to about."
Emmanuel senior and performing arts major Jessica Walsh, who wasn't in Winset's class, said she thought the college's actions were appropriate.
"I was glad that he got fired," Walsh said. "His interview on the news made him look like a jerk. He didn't seem concerned or sorry. If I was in that class I would have walked right out. To act out [shootings], and not to feel sorry about it after, is really awful."