An adjunct professor is no longer on staff at Babson College in Massachusetts after what he described as a “bad attempt at humor” in a Facebook post, in which he said Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei “should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb.” The prof suggested those targets might include Minnesota’s Mall of America and a home of the Kardashian family, among other locations.
The since-deleted Facebook post by Babson’s director of sustainability Asheen Phansey has been widely circulated on social media and was first reported by Turtleboysports.com on Tuesday.
The Wellesley school said in a statement Thursday that it had suspended Phansey with pay “pending the completion of our investigation” and that the college “condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate.”
Hours later, Babson sent another statement, writing: “Based on the results of the investigation, the staff member is no longer a Babson College employee. As we have previously stated, Babson College condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate.”
Phansey told local news outlets he regretted making his ill-received “attempt at humor,” which was an apparent response to a tweet from President Donald Trump on Saturday warning that, if Iran retaliated for the drone strike killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, it could face attacks from the United States on 52 Iranian sites, including those of cultural significance, a number the president said was symbolic of the 52 American hostages “taken by Iran many years ago.”
Leaders inside the United States and across the world, including Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, condemned Trump’s tweets and accused him of threatening a “war crime,” as well as breaching established norms of international law.
Days later, Trump grudgingly backed down from that threat after the Pentagon said the U.S. military planned to follow international law.
Phansey told The Boston Herald his post was an attempt to “juxtapose our ‘cultural sites’ with ancient Iranian churches and mosques” and that he is “an American, born and raised.”
WHDH-TV reported that Phansey was working with a public relations firm to handle the negative press after the post began circulating.
“I am completely opposed to violence and would never advocate it by anyone,” he told the Herald.
“I am sorry that my sloppy humor was read as a threat. I condemn all acts of violence,” he said.
“I am particularly sorry to cause any harm or alarm for my colleagues at Babson, my beloved alma mater and the place where I have enjoyed teaching students and serving as its sustainability director,” Phansey added.
Phansey’s “professional experience spans the software, aerospace, and biotech sectors,” according to Babson’s website, which also said he holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University and an MBA from Babson, where he frequently lectures.
For his part, Adam Steinbaugh, director of the the advocacy group FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, which focuses on student and faculty speech rights, defended Phansey on Thursday.
Before news of the professor’s ouster broke, Steinbaugh wrote that his post amounted to “core political speech, protected under any principled understanding of freedom of expression” and that, “while Babson College is a private institution not bound by the First Amendment, it has committed itself to principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.”
“Babson has betrayed those principles,” Steinbaugh said.