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UH-Hilo drops lecturer known for his colorful language

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HILO >> A University of Hawaii at Hilo lecturer suspended for cursing in class said the university system infringed on his free speech and academic freedom rights after administrators told him he won’t teach next semester.

Daniel Petersen, 61, last month agreed to an unpaid suspension as part of a settlement with the university over an incident involving a complaint made by a parent concerning Peterson’s use of profanity in his Philosophy 110 course.

Petersen told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald he wasn’t happy with the agreement, but felt that he would accept the punishment and move on. But then, he said the school told him he wouldn’t be needed to teach classes next semester.

“It’s not fair punishment,” he said. “I’ve not done anything wrong. … They’re putting me in the poor house.”

Petersen said he has never directed profanity at his students.

He said he uses profanity in the context of a lecture he gives during the first and second days of his classes every year,  to challenge his students.

“The first thing I say is ‘(Expletive) happens,’ in the context of free will and determinism,” he told Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

Petersen defended his methods as necessary to grab his students’ attention.

“I do what I do to wake students up,” he said. “It makes them stand up and take notice. I know many of them are very religious. It makes them sit up and think a little bit. But I’ve never sworn at a student.”

Petersen was allowed to continue teaching as administrators conducted an investigation into his teaching methods and alleged insubordination.

More than a year later, Petersen said, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly advised him to accept an agreement for a punishment of two-and-a-half months of unpaid suspension from teaching classes at Hawaii Community College.

After receiving news over the weekend that the university wouldn’t hire him to teach next semester, however, Petersen said he informed UH-Hilo he was resigning.

He’s also refusing to turn his grades in to the school, but that he would give them to the students individually.

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Philip Castille said he couldn’t discuss the issues surrounding personnel action involving Petersen.

Some students fear they may receive incomplete grades for his philosophy courses if Petersen doesn’t turn them in, but Castille said the school is making every effort to assist the students at the end of the semester.

“Our main concern is to make sure the students are dealt with fairly,” he said.

Petersen said he plans to sue the Hawaii university system for “trying to squash me and silence me. I believe in my heart I have done nothing wrong, and that they have violated my civil rights.”

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