A professor at the United States Merchant Marine Academy has been suspended and is facing dismissal after making a joke about last month's shootings in Aurora, Colorado. According to internal documents reviewed by the Times, shortly before professor Gregory Sullivan showed a film to his class, he dimmed the lights and said, “If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit." The father of one of Sullivan's students was killed in the shootings, and the student reportedly left the room upset.

Sullivan, a tenured professor at the Long Island academy since 2006, made a "quick and remorseful admission" of guilt, and a "personal apology immediately following the incident." Dean Shashi Kumar wrote in a "notice of proposed removal" that those steps are not enough, and that he should be fired: “I find there is no lesser sanction to effectively address this misconduct."

Kumar argues that because Sullivan received an academy-wide email about the student—who missed class for several days—and because other students had permission to miss class to attend a funeral, the professor "reasonably should have been aware."

Sullivan has ten days to contest his firing. A senior program officer in the department of academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, B. Robert Kreiser, said that tenured professors usually have a hearing before dismissal, as part of the "generally accepted principles of tenure."

Kreiser adds that suspending a professor usually only happens when they are a "threat" to themselves or their students. “Given that it was a single remark—an indefensible remark, but nonetheless a single remark, for which he has apologized—it’s hard to imagine why the administration decided he should be suspended."