Civil Liberties

College Professor Reinstated Following Suspension over Joke

Oh, the ridiculous oversensitivity


The University of Central Florida (UCF) has reinstated Professor Hyung-il Jung three weeks after unconstitutionally suspending him on the basis of an in-class joke. FIRE wrote to UCF President John C. Hitt in April, urging this result and reminding UCF of its First Amendment obligations. 

On April 23, Jung, a lecturer in UCF's Rosen College of Hospitality Management, was leading an exam review session with roughly 25 students in an accounting course when, according to the Orlando Sentinel, he stated: "This question is very difficult. It looks like you guys are being slowly suffocated by these questions. Am I on a killing spree or what?" A student in the review session reported the joke to the UCF administration, which issued Jung a reprimand letter on April 24, suspending him from "all … university duties," barring him from the Rosen College campus, and prohibiting "contact of any nature, with any students, for any reason." UCF additionally demanded that Jung undergo a "thorough mental health evaluation" and obtain written certification from a medical professional that he was "not a threat to [himself] or to the university community." 

FIRE wrote to UCF on April 26, reminding the university of its duty to protect Jung's First Amendment rights and making clear that his in-class joke in no way constituted an unprotected "true threat." In Virginia v. Black (2003), the Supreme Court defined true threats as "those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals."