University of Missouri professor fired for making a mask joke to a student from Wuhan

A University of Missouri professor was fired after students complained about a joke the professor made to a Chinese student about face masks during a virtual class session, Outkick reported.

What was the joke?

Joel Poor, who was an associate marketing professor, was asking the class if anyone was from out of the country. One student responded that he was from China — specifically, Wuhan, which is where COVID-19 originated.

“Wuhan? Let me get my mask on,” Poor said with a laugh.

After students shared video of the joke online, complaining to the university, the school’s official Twitter account posted that the video had been referred to the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX.

Poor apologized for the joke in an email to students.

“To anyone who was offended by my comments, I sincerely apologize,” Poor wrote. “I have nothing but respect and love for the Chinese people and especially my students from China.”

Monday night, Poor notified his students that he had been “relieved of his duties.”

Context matters

Although many people were sharing a clip of the video that cut off immediately after the joke, a longer clip shows a much different interaction.

Immediately after the joke, Poor asks if the student has been having any trouble with travel or his living situation due to COVID-19. He offers the student a place to stay in his extra bedroom, if he needs it. He then remarks how difficult the pandemic has been for Chinese residents in the U.S.

Beloved professor

Poor, who is known via online professor reviews and colleagues to have a sometimes awkward sense of humor, is a decorated professor who is well liked by many students. According to his profile on the business college website, here are the awards he’s won:

Shelter Teaching Excellence Award in Marketing, 2010, 2018; Faculty Member of the Year, College of Business Students, 2016-2017; O’Brien Excellence In Teaching, 2013; Excellence in Education Award- MU Student Affairs, 2010; Most Inspiring Professor Award, Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, 2007- 2008; Global Scholars Award, India IT Study Bangalore/Hyderabad, 2007; Most Inspiring Professor Award, Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, 2002-2003; Business School Faculty of the Year Award, 2000-2001; Faculty “Superior” of the Year Award, 2000-2001

A petition is calling for the university to reinstate Poor. The petition acknowledges that the joke was “tasteless” but argues that a minor violation like the joke is not enough to justify firing such a valuable faculty member.

“While there is no room for this in the classroom, Joel gave an honest apology to his students (mind you the student expressed that he was not offended by the comment and took it as it was meant, a joke),” the petition reads. “We believe that one infraction does not justify losing one of Trulaske Business schools most important assets.”

More than 3,600 people had signed the petition as of 1:45 p.m. CST on Tuesday.

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