Professor’s ‘bless you’ ban prompts protests

By Scott Jaschik, for Inside Higher Ed

September 1, 2014

Leon Gardner’s syllabus for Introductory Physics I at the College of Coastal Georgia may have been the best-read syllabus in higher education last week.

That is because the conservative blogosphere (Drudge Report among others) and lots of television stations featured his syllabus for one of the behaviours it banned, with a threat of grade deductions: “Saying ‘bless you’. We are taught that it is polite to say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes. However, if you say this while I am talking, it is NOT polite, it is very rude!” The other banned behaviours are more standard – mobile phone use, being late for class, and so on.

While the syllabus rules aren’t new, the blog posts about the “bless you” rule went viral – and the calls started coming in to the college. Many of those calling did not realise that the “bless you” ban was part of a list of things that could disrupt classes. Many accused the college of anti-religious bias, but a college spokesman said that the professor’s objection had nothing to do with “bless” and would have been the same for Gesundheit (the German response to a sneeze). Professor Gardner just did not want his class interrupted.

The syllabus is quite specific that violations of any of the behavioural rules could result in immediate grade deductions or even expulsion from the class. But the college spokesman, who said that he knew Professor Gardner well, said that he was just trying to make a point, and that no student has ever lost any points over saying “bless you”. (Professor Gardner could not be reached for comment.)

Then, late last Wednesday, the college announced that the syllabus had been revised to remove the reference to “bless you”. A statement from the college said: “The professor’s intent was to explain that disruptive behaviour is not allowed in the classroom. The professor, who used other examples such as turning off cell phones prior to class and not arriving late, has removed the example and stated that no student has been disciplined or expelled from his class based on that example. The college is conducting a full review.”

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