Once again, Florida Atlantic University associate professor James Tracy is questioning whether we witnessed a national tragedy or a government conspiracy.
Tracy, who is paid $64,650 to teach communications classes at the Boca Raton campus, drew national scorn when he questioned whether the Sandy Hook school massacre really happened. Now he's asking whether the Boston Marathon bombings were real.
University leaders have scrambled to distance themselves from his comments, but they can't stifle him because he's presented his conspiracy theories on his own blog, not in the classroom.
And he's got tenure.
"I was shocked when I saw this. I mean it's just conspiracy theory gone way wild," said Frederick Hoffman, an FAU math professor. "But as long as he doesn't tie the university into it, I don't think there's anything that can be done."
The bombing may have been a "mass casualty drill," Tracy wrote in Memory Hole, which has at least 3,200 followers. "What is now evident is a stark divergence between the narrative description of excessive carnage ... and at least a portion of the video and photographic documentation of the bombing itself," he wrote.
Tracy, 47, who could not be reached for comment, teaches classes that examine "the relationship between commercial and alternative news media and socio-political issues and events," according to his FAU bio. One of his classes is titled "Culture of Conspiracy."
Tracy's Sandy Hook postings received nationwide attention and prompted FAU to issue him a formal reprimand. This posting, though, may hit closer to home for FAU President Mary Jane Saunders, who is a Boston native.
"As with all postings on his personal blog, Florida Atlantic University does not agree with Mr. Tracy's views or opinions," a statement from FAU spokeswoman Lisa Metcalf said. "The university stands with the rest of the country in our support of the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy."
Heather Coltman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said Tracy's earlier posting has resulted in a number of negative consequences for FAU, including a large number of parents who withdrew their children's applications to FAU, a student whose parent asked that she be withdrawn from his class and a donor who withdrew his support to the Department of History.
FAU distanced itself from the Sandy Hook comments and then started an investigation. The reprimand came not because of the comments, but because Tracy failed to keep FAU out of his postings, according to a March 28 letter from Coltman. The entries on the Boston bombings do not mention FAU.
The American Association of University Professors defended FAU's conspiracy theorist.
"Professor Tracy may indeed have posted highly controversial statements on his website; but it is such speech, in particular, that requires the protection of academic freedom," wrote Gregory F. Scholtz, who directs the organization's academic freedom, tenure and governance department.
Several members of the FAU Board of Trustees voiced concerns about Tracy at an April 16 meeting, before the entries on Boston were posted.
"Our own FAU handbook says an employee may be terminated for questionable conduct, professional or personal," trustee Robert Rubin said. "And what Professor Tracy said wasn't?"
But making comments that are embarrassing to a university is not grounds to fire a tenured professor, said Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates on free speech issues.
"Professors are citizens, too. They have the right to espouse various ideas, even if they're controversial, as long as it doesn't impact their teaching and their students."
At least 200 were injured and three were killed during the Boston bombing, including Sean Collier, a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
An MIT spokesman on Wednesday declined to comment about Tracy's version of the Boston killings, saying university officials were too busy preparing for Collier's funeral.
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