College retracts punishment of prof who dressed daughter in Game of Thrones apparel

A College in New Jersey retracted its punishment of a professor who shared a picture of his child in a Game of Thrones shirt.

An art professor at Bergen Community College (BCC) in New Jersey was forced to take leave without pay until he went through a psychiatric evaluation after posting a picture of his daughter in a Game of Thrones t-shirt in April.

Francis Schmidt uploaded a picture of his child on his Google+ account wearing a shirt that read, “I will take what is mine with fire & blood,” a popular quote from the hit HBO series. By sharing it on Google+, the picture was automatically emailed to his contacts, which included a dean at BCC. The dean found the email threatening and contacted human resources to report the incident.

According to Inside Higher Ed, when Schmidt asked administrators why the picture was perceived as threatening, the security guard claimed that “fire” on the t-shirt could be a kind of proxy for “AK-47s.”

Schmidt was placed on mandatory leave without pay and could not return until a psychiatrist could declare him mentally stable. He was reinstated after the psychiatric test, but an official warning was placed on his file at BCC and he was threatened with “suspension and/or termination” if he acted in an “unbecoming” way.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reached out to Schmidt, and defended the professor’s First Amendment rights.

FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, Will Creeley, told Campus Reform that FIRE “helped Professor Schmidt secure pro bono legal representation by connecting him with FIRE Legal Network attorney Derek Shaffer, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.”

After pressure from FIRE and Shaffer, BCC Director of Human Resources Patti Bonomolo sent a letter to Schmidt stating that the college “may have lacked basis” in punishing him and “may have unintentionally erred and potentially violated” his constitutional rights.

BCC has now removed any mention of the event on his record, and assured Schmidt that he “will be in good standing with BCC as if the Incident never occurred.”

“I’m very happy to have my First Amendment rights back. I’m glad to have this thing behind me and would like to get back to teaching animation,” Schmidt said in a FIRE press release. “I’m happy to know groups like FIRE are out there, protecting my valuable First Amendment rights as an academic. Without them our higher education system would be all the weaker.”

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