Norman Eckel was frustrated. By the winter of 2005, he’d been teaching business classes at Bowling Green State University for 26 years and felt that students “had gotten worse and worse” over the years, according to court records.
So when a student walked into his 11:30 a.m. accounting class 15 minutes before the hour-long class was to end, you might say Eckel flipped. From court records:
[Eckel] then turned to the rest of the class, pointed his finger like a gun, put it to his own head, said “duh,” and then said no, he should “shoot you guys.” [Eckel] continued, telling the class he should shoot the whole class with his AK-47, and “two clips ought to do it.”
Some students laughed. Some didn’t.
Eckel, who had tenure, later told school officials he was joking, according to court records.
Some of the students who didn’t find the comments funny complained to university officials, who eventually suspended Eckel without pay for about eight months. Eckel appealed, going through the faculty grievance process and the case eventually moved into the state Court of Claims. The court sided with Eckel.
That court said Bowling Green State University owed Eckel $87,978.88 in backpay and damages.
Last week, a state appeals court sided with the tenured professor, too, writing in its decision that the school was wrong to suspend Eckel as punishment for threatening to shoot students:
Although the [lower] court determined BGSU acted reasonably and within its discretion when it initially suspended plaintiff with pay pending the investigation, the court concluded BGSU’s reasonable response “escalated into an arbitrary punishment for plaintiff’s one-time lapse in judgment.” … BGSU not only interfered with plaintiff’s tenure right but breached its employment contract with plaintiff by imposing an unpaid suspension and by failing to follow the disciplinary measures outlined in the policy prohibiting workplace violence.
Eckel was making more than $102,000 at the time of the incident and has since retired.
University spokesman Dave Kielmeyer said the school was reviewing the decision and would not comment on pending litigation.
Was Eckel actually a threat to students?
At the trial, Eckel’s expert witness said Eckel did not pose a serious safety risk. Bowling Green’s expert witnesses said his statements were threatening and Bowling Green was right to remove him from campus.
What does tenure have to do with it?
The appeals court’s says Bowling Green was wrong to suspend Eckel without pay because, among other reasons, it violated “the vocational security the right of tenure ensured.”
What do unions have to do with it?
Not much. The Bowling Green faculty unionized in October 2010, after the original comments and suspension took place.