In the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, comics like Dane Cook and Jeffrey Ross were ripped for making jokes about the tragedy. Now, a New York professor has been suspended for treading into this same territory due in large part to a member of his audience: Weston Cowden, who was in the theater that night, and whose father, Gordon Cowden, was killed.
According to New York's CBS2, the younger Cowden was a student in the class of U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Professor Gregory F. Sullivan. On July 31, Sullivan was dimming the lights to show a documentary when he said, "If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit."
Weston responded, reports the New York Times, by leaving the classroom.
Sullivan is said to have immediately apologized upon learning of Cowden's presence in the room -- but the Academy panel that ultimately suspended Sullivan believes he "reasonably should have been aware" he was there given an e-mail sent to everyone on the campus and Weston's absence for several days prior in order to attend Gordon's funeral.
Sullivan's resume is extremely impressive, as is clear from this Academy bio about the Yale grad:
Dr. Gregory Sullivan is a scholar of Asian history. He earned a Ph.D. and a M. Phil. in Modem Japanese History as well as a M.A. in East Asian Studies from Yale University. His dissertation is entitled, "War of the Corms: Haeckelian Bio-politics in Oka Asajiro's Evolution and Human Life. Sullivan earned a certificate for Japanese Language at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language in Yokohama and a certificate in Applied Linguistics from San Diego State University. His publications include "Tricks of Transference: Oka Asajiro (1868-1944) on Laissez-faire Capitalism," Science in Context 23, Issue 3 (2010), pp. 367-91 and "The Instinctual Nation-state: Non-Darwinian Theories, State Science and Ultra-Nationalism in Oka Asajiro's Evolution and Human Life," The Journal of the History of Biology Volume 44, Issue 3 (20 11 ), pp. 537-86.
Still, in the current climate, his academic prowess may not prevent him from being fired over the remark. CBS2 notes that two different groups are conducting investigations to determine whether a sacking is justified.
Look below to see a photo of Gordon Cowden, followed by a transcript of Weston Cowden's interview with Anderson Cooper, in which he speaks movingly about his father just five days before sitting down in Professor Sullivan's classroom.
Anderson Cooper 360 transcript, July 26:
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COOPER: Well, not far from the theater there's a makeshift memorial site bearing 12 light crosses. And people who lost friends and loved ones have been going there all week.
This is Brooke and Weston Cowden, along with other family members, at the cross for their father, Gordon. Brooke and her sister Sierra were with him in the theater on Friday.
On the cross the message says, "Dear Dad, it was a surreal and disorienting night. What was certain was your calling to us, I love you both."
Underneath their father's name is a second inscription, "I love you, Dad, and forever will."
Brooke and Weston Cowden join us now.
Brooke and Weston, I'm just so sorry for your loss. And I can't imagine what this has been like for you.
Brooke, how are you holding up?
BROOKE COWDEN, FATHER KILLED IN THEATER MASSACRE: It's a lot of off and on. I think our dad raised us and continues with the strength of us that we have strength but at moments you'll just break down and lose it.
COOPER: Weston, I read your dad described by a lot of different people in a lot of great ways. Somebody described him as a true Texas gentleman. What do you want people to know about him? What was he like?
WESTON COWDEN, FATHER KILLED IN THEATER MASSACRE: My dad taught me what it meant to be a man. He was -- he was a father first and last. And always. That was -- that was just what he was all about. We were trying to go through and figure out for the sake of the eulogy and such what he was and what he was into. But, really, it was just, well, he had -- he had us four kids. And that was just the life that he lived. And what he was all about.
COOPER: You guys were the focus of his life.
W. COWDEN: Yes. That was just -- he was, he was a dad.
COOPER: Brooke, your last days with your dad included some really special memories I understand.
B. COWDEN: Yes, sir. The -- actually, hours before we went to the premiere, he and I had recently declared ourselves running buddies. And we went to a local park where there was a concert going on and we actually danced at that concert and, I mean, I'll remember that dance for a very long time so --
COOPER: You know, Weston, we've been trying to just give family members the opportunity to just -- to talk about who they lost and what those people mean to them. Is there anything else you want people to know about your dad, about the life he lived?
W. COWDEN: Just -- he was -- the world's a worst place without him. That's not to sound as grim as it came out. But he was -- he just brought so much life. He lived so passionately. And lived life like it was supposed to be lived I guess would be the biggest thing. He was -- he was a father. Just -- that's honestly the biggest thing about him, was he was living for the four of us. He was passionate in his faith. He was -- like you had mentioned, a southern gentleman. He was living his life for all the right reasons.
COOPER: I understand your family set up a special fund in your dad's memory.
B. COWDEN: Yes. He did. It's under our name.
W. COWDEN: It's -- I guess the -- you would go to Chase Bank and it's the Gordon Ware Cowden Memorial Fund.
COOPER: We'll put that on our Web site so people have that information. They can go to basically any Chase Bank to make that donation.
Brooke and Weston, again, my heart goes out to you, and I wish you peace and strength to you and your family in the days ahead.
B. COWDEN: Thank you.
W. COWDEN: Thanks.