GCU professor on leave after saying some participants in Black Lives Matter 'should be hung'

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

A professor at Grand Canyon University is on leave after saying some members of the Black Lives Matter movement should be hung. The comments were made during a forum about social justice on September 19, 2016.

About an hour in, a student asks panelists about the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the video of the panel, Dr. Toby Jennings said some participants are very thoughtful about the discord.

"You have folks who claim to participate in that, on one side, that are very thoughtful about the matter, they are very gracious and discerning and conversationally dynamically dialoguing about the issue, they're wanting to hear what somebody else has to say about it."

And he continued with comments that he now admits were incendiary.

"You have people on the opposite extreme of that, that frankly should be hung, and yes I did say that on video," Jennings said.

"They are saying things that are not helpful in any way, shape, or form of human dignity or flourishing. That is not helpful to any conversation. That kind of rhetoric is not helpful to any conversation and that's what I mean by, they should be hung. That's not to say I'm joining the rhetoric, but I'm saying that is not contributing to the conversation, is what I mean by that."

Jennings is now on leave for the semester while GCU reviews what happened.A spokesperson told us they're going to talk to students to see if this is a pattern. That spokesperson also said they took immediate action when they learned of this, but they didn't hear of it until last week, from local Black Lives Matter activists.

Those activists heard about it from former GCU professor Dr. Shaun Bawulski, who was on that panel.

Bawulski was fired in June. He believes it partly has to do with his reaction to this incident, but the university said his firing was unrelated.

"A year later, after he was let go, Dr. Bawulski brought the incident to the attention of Black Lives Matter. We met with BLM representatives within 48 hours of learning about the incident and then released the above statement," said GCU spokesperson Bob Romantic in an emailed statement.

"The history of the terrorism that is lynching in America's past is one that is not to be treated lightly, to say the very least, and that leads to the second layer which is, I have many students of color and friends of color who are deeply traumatized by that language," Bawulski said.

Bawulski said the reaction in the room was tense.

"It was a laugh and some nervous laughs, you can hear it. Subsequently, I've talked to people of color in the room and they shared my revulsion," Bawulski said.

The University has posted public apologies from Jennings, as well as the Dean of Theology, for his handling of the incident.

Jennings said:

In light of the reality that I, Toby Jennings, am a sinner who has received the forgiving and rescuing grace of Jesus Christ, I confess that I both sin and have sinned. Particularly, I have inexcusably offended many fellow image bearers of God by my imprudent use of inappropriate, uncharitable, and incendiary language. Not only does my communicated sentiment not reflect my personal and more thoughtful disposition toward any and all priceless treasures who bear the image of my heavenly Father, but my impassioned choice of words certainly does not reflect the pathos, practice, and vision of Grand Canyon University.

Having been entrusted with representing such an institution that has a public record of contributing Godward change in individuals and in our community, I deeply and sincerely regret having communicated such ill-motivated rhetoric—particularly in light of our nation’s present rhetoric-saturated distress. While words, once spoken, can never be taken back, my hope is that my sincere apology for my own words can pave a more gracious path toward reconciliation—a reconciliation that is at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ—humanity’s sole hope for rescue from all its evils.

Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of Theology, said:

I, Jason Hiles, wish to extend a formal apology for my handling of comments made during the context of a Ministry Forum event on GCU’s campus in the fall of 2016. During the course of responding to student questions, a professor under my supervision made insensitive and incendiary comments about certain individuals within the Black Lives Matter movement.

These comments were entirely inappropriate, inexcusable, and out of line with the University’s views on racial issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. While I addressed the comments directly with the professor after the event, in retrospect I believe that an immediate, public refutation of the comments would have provided greater clarity to the 85 faculty and students in attendance and the 199 or so who have viewed the video since.

It was not my intention to leave ambiguity about the University’s position on these complicated matters, nor did I intend to imply that the comments were acceptable. While this is by no means an excuse for my misjudgment in this case, I am confident that what I have learned from the incident will enable me to respond more adequately if faced with a similar situation at a future date.

Again, I apologize for this incident and I accept full responsibility for failing to adequately address comments which clearly have no place in civil public discourse.

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Lindsey ReiserLindsey Reiser is a Scottsdale native and an award-winning multimedia journalist.

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Lindsey Reiser

Lindsey returned to the Valley in 2010 after covering border and immigration issues in El Paso, TX. While in El Paso she investigated public corruption, uncovered poor business practices, and routinely reported on the violence across the border.

Lindsey feels honored to have several awards under her belt, including a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award, Hearst Journalist Award, and several National Broadcast Education Association Awards.

Lindsey is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and she currently serves as a mentor to journalism students. She studied for a semester in Alicante, Spain and also earned a degree in Spanish at ASU.

She is proud to serve as a member of United Blood Services’ Community Leadership Council, a volunteer advisory board for the UBS of Arizona.

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