U. of South Florida Scolds Staff Member Over Slide Comparing Priest and Toilet

The University of South Florida has chided a staff member who was accused of thoughtlessly including a slide comparing a priest and a toilet in a presentation at an academic conference, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Timothy M. Weil, the practicum coordinator for the master’s program in applied behavior analysis in the university’s department of child and family studies, gave a presentation at an academic conference last month, and allegedly started it with a slide that showed a toilet on the left and a priest on the right, with an equal sign between them. An audience member responded by saying that both were full of excrement.

An unnamed person later contacted the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which calls itself the nation’s largest Roman Catholic civil-rights group, according to the newspaper. The group’s president, William A. Donohue, asked that Mr. Weil be reprimanded.

Mr. Weil told university officials that the point of the exercise had been misunderstood. The objective, he said, was to show how people relate things that seem dissimilar. He said others in the audience had offered positive similarities, including that both the toilet and the priest “take bad things from us.” He said that upon hearing the audience member’s comment about excrement, he had replied by saying that he hoped no one had been offended.

But Julianne M. Serovich, dean of the university’s college of behavioral and community sciences, on Wednesday sent Mr. Weil a two-page “letter of counseling,” and Mr. Weil will also issue an apology.

Ms. Serovich stated in her letter that faculty members enjoy broad academic freedoms. But, she asked, ”the issue here is not academic freedom but rather, given the potential universe of images you could have used for arbitrary associations, was it good judgment to present a slide with the following equation: Catholic priest = toilet?”

Mr. Donohue on Wednesday thanked the university for what he said was its “judicious” response, and said he considered the matter closed.

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