COLUMBIA, Mo. — There’s a growing petition to save a University of Missouri professor’s job after the school removed him from teaching duties for something he said to a student from Wuhan, China, during a virtual class.
A Zoom video of the interaction was posted on Twitter. When associate marketing professor Joel Poor learned where the student was from, he responded, “Wuhan? Let me get my mask on.”
Poor later apologized for the comment in an email to students.
"Letting these jokes slide will just allow more things to slide,” said one Asian-American student who asked 5 On Your Side not to report her name.
She said she took Poor's class a few years ago.
“Maybe people don't understand what Asians and Asian Americans are going through with being targeted because of this virus, but because I have that context, that comment did rub me differently,” she said.
She added that some comments the professor made when she was a student struck her as inappropriate, especially when she was planning an event to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
“He was talking about, like, ‘What is even Lunar New Year? Do you guys have a moon flag? Are you guys worshiping the moon?’” she said.
The university said Poor is still employed — assigned to other duties — and will receive due process. Mizzou said the comment was reported to its Office of Civil Rights and Title IX for investigation.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 6,400 people had signed a petition calling for Poor to keep his job.
"He's trying to make a boring class less boring. That's really his intent,” said former student and Mizzou football player TJ Moe. “I nominated the guy for teacher of the year in the athletics department and he won."
Moe said Poor cares about his students and showed it during that same Zoom class, describing how in a longer form of the video shared on Twitter, the professor followed up his Wuhan comment offering the student a place to stay if he needs it.
“Somebody needs to have some morals and some guts and stand up and say, ‘We've reviewed it. It took all of 15 seconds, and we decided that that was a nice little joke, perhaps not his best — he's a pretty funny guy — no big deal, we're gonna move on and those who get offended by it need to get a hobby,” Moe said.
Some are hoping the conversation about what’s acceptable and what crosses the line will open minds.
“Even if you don't agree, maybe think about it from a different perspective,” the Asian-American student said.