The Logical Conclusion Of Zero Tolerance: College Prof Suspended Because Daughter Wore A GoT Tshirt

from the tolerating-stupdity dept

When we talk about the stupidity that is school-affiliated zero-tolerance policies, the stories usually revolve around an administration’s inability to marry common sense with their reactions to non-issues. This can produce somewhat varied results, from really dumb stories about children being children and ending up in serious trouble, to a far more angering practice of victim-blaming. What it all boils down to, though, is an overreaction to certain tragic situations that results in bureaucratic lunacy on a level I never would have thought possible. School shootings and violence are the impetus in these cases, but we see this elsewhere as well. 9/11 resulted in the s#!*-show we know as airport security and NSA surveillance. The Boston Marathon bombing has resulted in the kind of militarized protection and media-blitzkrieg that would likely have other world nations that deal with far more terrorism shaking their heads. And, in each of these cases, we learn a simple truth that we should have seen coming all along: reactionary policies breed stupidity, corruption, and trouble.

So let’s get back to zero-tolerance policies in schools and witness the logical conclusion they offer: a college professor who had recently been at odds with his school’s administration was just suspended for posting a picture of his child wearing a Game Of Thrones t-shirt.

A popular community college professor was suspended after posting a photo of his daughter wearing an oversized T-shirt bearing a tagline from this season of Game of Thrones—Daenerys Targaryen’s “I will take what is mine with fire and blood.” Francis Schmidt, who teaches art and animation at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, shared the photo on Google+, where it was seen by several of his work contacts. One of them, a dean, decided the shirt was a veiled threat of some kind.

In case you can’t see the image, it’s of Schmidt’s daughter doing a handstand while wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt that includes the tagline: “I will take what is mine with fire & blood.” In case you think it’s reasonable that such a picture being shared on social media could be interpreted as a threat to commit violence at a local community college, stop thinking that because that’s a stupid thought. I imagine Schmidt said as much when he was called in to meet with the administration to explain why he’d sent a “threatening email”, despite the fact that no email had been sent.

At the meeting, Schmidt explained the shirt in the context of Game of Thrones and showed Miller that the “fire and blood” tagline has 4 million results on Google. The professor asked why his photo had caused such a reaction, and was told that “fire” could be a metaphor for “AK-47s.” Schmidt was placed on administrative leave without pay later that week, and told he would have to pass a psychiatric evaluation before he could return.

Now, like me, you should be even more confused. There’s no way you could somehow interpret “fire” to mean “AK-47” any more than you could interpret “fire” to mean “Easter ham.” They aren’t related. And if you’re thinking that there’s so little sense being made here that there must be something more to this story, there sure as hell is. The head of the school’s administration had just been delivered a vote of no confidence by the staff, including Schmidt, who had also filed a grievance recently for being denied a request for a sabbatical. You don’t need to read between the lines much to understand that this is probably a trumped-up charge serving to punish a member of the teacher’s union.

Which brings us nicely back to my original point: it isn’t just the stupid you have to worry about when it comes to zero-tolerance policies, it’s also the corrupt. When we overreact to admittedly tragic occurrences, we almost invariably open up the possibility for abuse through that overreaction.

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Comments on “The Logical Conclusion Of Zero Tolerance: College Prof Suspended Because Daughter Wore A GoT Tshirt”

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Christopher says:

Re: Re:

The question is, what were the adminsistration doing looking at his personal social media page.

This is becomming more of an issue today. 3 weeks ago I went for a job interview which I did not get simply because I flay refused to allow my potential employer access to my private Facebook information. I know this is teh reason because I was told so but as I said at the interview, some information I share with my friends only and they were not in that category.

melanie adams says:

Re: Re: Re:

fired and sued! as if this kind of fearful overreaction in schools isn’t enough, you have this horrible administrator using this fear to get back at a coworker an totally making everything worse! i’m not one to rally around a lawsuit; ppl have gotten too sue crazy. in this case though, a lawsuit is clearly in order. saying this shirt could have been a veiled threat is one of the most ludicrous things i’ve seen in awhile!

zip says:

Whenever someone gets reprimanded for the most trivial of reasons, there’s usually more to the story than what’s on the surface.

It might also be a typical case of someone disliked by his boss, who was just waiting for an excuse to slap him down, and this “terrorist thing” was the best thing he could come up with.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

There are phrases in this world that will sit in the back of your brain and vary slowly cause aneurisms. For example:

“If it wasn’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.”

I think we found a new one:

“‘fire’ could be a metaphor for ‘AK-47s.'”

Can saying something so stupid that it’s physically painful count as assault?

xenomancer (profile) says:

I Can't Even Vicariously Give Cookies Away Anymore

I’d say to give this guy a cookie, but you know how after a bite they have a crescent shape and how that kind of looks somewhat near the vicinity of a gun-like silhouet to someone presently or at once alive on some part of a planet somewhere… I don’t want him to be arrested for public indecency when his jaw hits the floor.

Anonymous Coward says:


Perhaps to solve these examples of complete bullshit with zero tolerance that suspending someone for complete crap like this will be considered fraudulently calling in a threat. Because really it amounts to the same thing in boy-who-cried wolf terms.

That or my other long-proposed solution to zero tolerance: threaten to replace the administrators. After all when a computer program with a minimum wage operator because if no thought is allowed let alone required why the hell are we paying them six figure salaries? After that’d we’d witness zero tolerance disappearing overnight.

Lawrence D?Oliveiro says:

In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

…because guns are indeed everywhere.

What a pity that any attempt to reduce the proliferation of weaponry in your country is seen as trampling on some sacred right. As a result of which, ordinary citizens end up living in continual fear of abuse of this weaponry. A fear which is entirely rational, because the weaponry does regularly get abused.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

Whether or not the failures of attempts to disarm US citizenry is a pity, is subjective. As an ordinary citizen of the US, I have to tell you that you’re wrong. As an ordinary citizen of the US, who is also a gun owner and qualified to teach handgun safety classes, neither myself nor any other ordinary citizen (gun owning or otherwise) that I know lives in any fear of guns, let alone continual. Here in the US, it is a right of citizens to own firearms, and for good reason.

Rhiadon says:

Re: Re: Re: In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

Did you know that 90% of car injuries in the US are accidental? Cars are dangerous.

Did you know that 90% of household injuries are accidental? Households are dangerous.

Did you know that 90% of bicycling injuries are accidental?
Bicycles are dangerous.


Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Cars are dangerous.

Ah, the old “cars are dangerous too” fallacy so beloved of gun advocates.

Can a gun take your kids to school? Help you carry home your shopping? Ferry a sick family member to the doctor? Attract a prospective date?

No, and no, and no, and no. A gun does one thing, and one thing only: it blows holes in things. A car has many constructive purposes, while a gun can only be destructive. What kinds of problems can be solved by blowing holes in them? What kind of mentality even considers that as a legitimate way of solving problems?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Cars are dangerous.

Well when a criminal shows up with an illegal gun (he is a criminal) I cannot pull a policeman out of my pocket and defend myself. But I can pull out my Glock and at least have a fair chance of defending myself and family.

A drill puts holes in things, it is its only purpose. It can mame and kill people too.

A drill and a gun are just tools. Stop blaming the tools for the acts committed by the people using them.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re:4 A drill puts holes in things

If you think about why you don’t need a licence (or a Constitutional Amendment) to carry a drill, you will answer your own point. A drill is a precision instrument: you can use it to build things, not destroy them.

It’s the difference between constructive and destructive, remember?

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Cars are dangerous.

There are lots of problems that can be solved by blowing holes in things.
Boss too demanding? Blow holes in him.
OOTB has returned and keeps on trolling? Blow holes in him.
Trapped in an airtight rooms and running out of oxygen? Blow holes in the walls.
Need to stop terrorists from getting away in their van? Blow holes in the tires.
Etc, etc, your argument is invalid.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Trapped in an airtight rooms and running out of oxygen? Blow holes in the walls.

You can also use a gun to blow holes in idiots who ask you to give them problems that you can solve by blowing holes in things and then basically call you nuts. By the way, I don’t even own a gun, genius.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

Speaking of gun safety, did you know that over 60% of US gun-related deaths are suicides? Did you know that all violent crime in the US has been steadily dropping for the last 20 years, including gun-related crime? Do you know that guns are inanimate objects, with as much ability to make choices as a stone is? Do you know how to add?

So much for your “math”…

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re:2 all violent crime in the US has been steadily dropping for the last 20 years, including gun-related crime

And that gun laws have been tightened a lot during that time, in spite of lobby groups like the NRA fighting tooth and nail against it? New York, for example, has lost a lot of the notoriety it had for violent crime just a few decades ago, and stricter gun laws played their part in that.

Craig Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re: In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

“I have to tell you that you’re wrong”. Well I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong.

No, let’s start again. What you should have said is “I disagree with you”. Just as I disagree with you. That you made a point does not make it right. You have a view on gun ownership, which is your right. Countless others have different views, which is their right.

I know many Americas who fear for the future of their country because of the proliferation of firearms. And a good number of people outside the US who choose not to visit for the same reason.

You say, correctly, that it is a right to carry firearms in the US. Then you say, incorrectly, that that’s for good reason. It isn’t. It’s an artefact of the days when the Constitution was written, and a complete and deliberate misinterpretation of the phrase in which ‘militia’ appears.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

…because guns are indeed everywhere.

You know where there weren’t any guns? In that picture.

If you look at that picture of a kid doing a handstand while wearing a T-shirt and that puts you in fear, that is not a “rational” fear, no matter how many guns the country has.

So I’m not sure what your point is, other than taking a shot at gun rights, which have nothing to do with this case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

Were the victims of accidental death by gun at or near death by gun before their gun accident?

Clearly one can play games with numbers and conclude anything they wish to be true.

reference material found via simple search:

Were the victims of accidental death by gun at or near death by gun before the accident?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

The only ones living in fear are the libs. The rest of us understand the real risks and see that we are much more likely to die of some other cause than by a gun. We also understand that making something illegal does not eliminate it. Didn’t work for alcohol or drugs, won’t work for guns.

JAL (profile) says:

Re: In The US, You Tend To See Guns Everywhere...

LD’O writ: “As a result of which, ordinary citizens end up living in continual fear of abuse of this weaponry.”

And you know this how?

Seriously, I am unaware of this being a fear of ordinary citizens and I have lived here all my life. Which is actually a pretty long time, as those things go.

Now if I lived in Chicago … where the illegal guns are rampant and regularly are used by criminals to maim and murders (check out this past weekend’s stats) while legally owned and carried citizen guns are virtually non-existent … now there — I would be very uneasy.

letherial (profile) says:

Can i point out that somewhere in this craziness is a lesson about how not to use Facebook.

People are stupid, greedy, corrupt, or just want to watch the world burn. Posting anything on Facebook is just asking to be targeted by one of the groups mentioned above, these immoral people will also not hesitate to use your kids against you, so posting your kids is just doubly wrong.

and also, why the fuck am i the only one to see this?

Jernau (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, saying that “posting your kids is just doubly wrong” is incorrect. The fault lies not with the poster (after all, the picture in question is completely harmless) but with the administrator twisting the law to publicly seek revenge.

Whilst I agree with you that any public figure has to either be utterly meticulous about anything they post on a social media site or downright crazy to do so, in this case it is not the poster that is at fault.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“why the fuck am i the only one to see this?”

Because it’s not actually true, maybe. Most people are actually decent. The ones who are corrupt, greedy, etc., are in the minority.

The problem, as I explained to my daughter when she was little, isn’t that everyone is bad. It’s that you can’t tell who’s bad and who’s good just by looking.

trollificus (profile) says:

Lack of common sense creates a fine dilema...

As the motive/rationale for Zero Tolerance Policies of all sorts is to remove certain ‘transgressions’ from the requirement of due process and case-by-case evaluation, we see from this case that this is probably a good ides. It is clear that school administrators lack staff with the prerequisite wisdom (or three-digit IQs)to interpret such cases correctly.

But however well-motivated these policies (“We’re idiots, you can’t expect us to exercise common sense!”), we also see from this case that ZTP can still offer the opportunity for admins to demonstrate their stupidity by interpreting upward the class of things banned by said policies. (finger guns, pew-pew laser shootouts at recess, pop tart guns and pictures of parents who are serving in the military, etc)

Dumb as may be those tasked with implementing the policies, “Zero Tolerance” should NEVER be accepted as substitute for rational thought, reasonable polices, and common sense.

Hell, in our legal system, we pretty much conclude that murder is bad, m’kay? but even there we allow for extenuating circumstances! Plus, there is a slippery slope of things that “we should never allow”…free meth in the lunch room? Zero tolerance. Bombs? Zero tolerance. Guns? Zero tolerance. Bigotry? Zero tolerance. Gender discrimination? Zero tolerance. Exclusionary socialization? Zero tolerance…and ultimately, we are left with the same people who can’t differentiate between a chewed pop tart and a gun defining what is allowed and disallowed in our children’s behavior.

Human interaction, even that of children, is a messy, complex business. Zero Tolerance policies are an attempt to pretend otherwise, or to “solve” some aspects of human interaction by decree. As we see over and over again, such wishful thinking policies are ineffective fictions, and should be done away with.

steponbugs (profile) says:


Is it just me, or does the stupidity lie in the fact that so-called “threats” are being identified, called out and disciplined, when in reality the crazies who actually commit acts of willful and premeditated violence rarely, if ever, issue threats? If anything, it seems as if these kinds of over-reactions to non-events will only cause the crazies to lurk even deeper in the shadows before they actually fulfill their fantasies of vengeance or mayhem…

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:


You have to understand about “adjunct-ization.” Most college classes are in courses which are sometimes taught in high school. In a large university, these kinds of classes are often taught by graduate students, at very low wages. There is a tendency to “ration” teaching assistantships, so that every graduate student gets a year or teaching employment, and thus, a chance to learn how to teach. The year I had a teaching assistantship (1989-90), I made, I believe, three thousand dollars and a tuition waiver (nominally $15,000, full-time equivalent). It was minimum wage, if that, considering the amount of work I actually did in preparation and grading. However, but if I had gone on for two or three years, teaching the same material to successive groups of freshmen, I would probably have become efficient enough to get through the work in a lot less time. People who get jobs at community colleges do just that, teaching the same freshman courses over and over.

What has been happening is that community colleges and teachers colleges, where there is no graduate program, have been insisting that such courses be taught by “adjuncts,” (adjunct professors) that is, instructors hired by the course, at essentially the same rate as graduate students. From a job which was rather better than teaching high school, and attracted people with better academic credentials, community college teaching is becoming a job which is considerable worse than teaching high school, and only attractive to people with other means of economic support. Here is an evocative description of the academic ghetto, teaching part-time at multiple schools, making about 15K for a 40-hr week, or 30K for an 80-hr week, no time to do research leading to publication, and no health insurance.

Mary Niederberger, “Health care law brings double dose of trouble for CCAC part-time profs,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 19, 2012

“Back office” tasks such as grading papers are being outsourced to India. It is only a matter of time before the colleges discover that a screen in front of the classroom, connected to someone in India, is much cheaper than American salaries.

One can assume that the Bergen Community College president, Kaye Walter, had tacit orders from above to fire ninety percent of the college faculty, and replace them with people who cannot afford to support a family. Obviously, as she is employed as a professional “hatchet-women,” having previously served in that capacity in Kansas, Florida, and Indiana, her relations with the unionized faculty are extremely bad. She was apparently trying to hijack the tenure committee, with a view to reneging on contracts of lifetime employment. She may have developed paranoid fears, or she may just have been looking for opportunities and pretexts to fire people. In practice, when you look at famous political paranoids, such as Tiberius Caesar, Elizabeth Tudor, Josef Stalin, and Richard Nixon, the two cases are not really separable.

The picture in question shows a little girl wearing a T-shirt which is obviously much too big for her. She is in fact dressed up in one of Daddy’s shirts, and is at liberty to raid Daddy’s wardrobe, take any shirt she fancies, and wear it as a dress. It could be that it is precisely this image of calm domesticity, supported by a civil-service salary, which is so threatening to the college president.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Adjunct-ization.

Ivan Bunin, in “The Gentleman From San Francisco,” wrote an ephitat for Tiberius:

‘Upon this island [Capri], two thousand years ago, had lived a man [Tiberius Caesar] who had become completely enmeshed in his cruel and foul deeds, who had for some reason seized the power over millions of people in his hands, and who, having himself lost his head at the senselessness of this power and from the fear of death by assassination by someone, lurking round the corner, had committed cruelties beyond all measure,?and humankind has remembered him for all time; and those who, in their collusion, just as incomprehensively and, in substance, just as cruelly as he, reign at present in power over this world, gather from all over the earth to gaze upon the ruins of that stone villa where he had dwelt on one of the steepest ascents of the island.”

Anonymous Coward says:

The Teachers Committees make these rules.

Here is a shocker for all of you. Teachers Unions have what is called “COMMITTEES”. These committees are usually the people who vote up/down for these rules and have them put into the teachers handbook and / or student handbook.

I work with teachers and have for many years and have seen personally multiple times, how they want rules to apply right up until it causes them problems. Then it’s all, “have some common sense, it wasn’t that bad what that person did”

John says:

Common sense?

I?m ?impressed? with the intellectual ability of administrators to equate fire with AK-47 or guns rather than arson. I think the administrators need the psych evaluation.

God help anyone that has a bible in the place – the metaphors and apocolyptic stories would have them calling the police.

I wonder how they teach english literature in their institution, although I can understand why those administrators aren?t actually teachers. If they thought it was a credible threat, why didn?t they call the police?

Jimmey Kimmel says:

Bergen Community College Sucks

As a person who’s been to Bergan Community college several times I can tell you the place is an Orwellian nightmare.

Non-stop police patrols. Cameras with facial recongnition software (I asked a security guard), and blue shirted untrained security thugs present at all times. Tell me why the commissary requires as many as ten renta-cops standing around? Many of these guards are visibly hostile to the students.

While it would be a neat tie-in to the staff-admin tussle going on I beleive the Bergan community-Police state is due to the substantial muslin population at the college. I have no doubt that the place is a Homeland Security Honey pot.

Stay away from that school if you don’t want a record. It’s a waste of time as an academic institution.

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s what bureaucracy does – it eliminates common sense, rationality, and most importantly, ethics. Bureaucracy replaces those characters with binary, unyielding rules that become the social model for morality.

In other words, when someone is charged for something, the immediate question is no longer, “is it ethical?”, but “is it legal?”.

With that mentality, people now define what is ethical based on laws instead of the other way around.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

The professor should make his daughter a new t-shirt that says “I will sue the crap out of you for your egregious stupidity”.

I wonder how the administration would interpret that. Probably terrorism, because that’s the go-to thing to call, it seems.

On a more related note, the T-shirt did have a violent tagline, but it would take an I.Q. of approximately 3 to interpret that as a threat.

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