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Kings Point prof suspended over Colorado shooting joke

Seven people have been appointed to an advisory

Seven people have been appointed to an advisory board that will be examining instruction and management at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point. (Feb. 22, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A professor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point has been placed on administrative leave and may be fired after he joked about the Colorado shootings in front of his class, which included a cadet whose father was among the victims.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the academy, declined to release details of the incident.

According to published reports, however, an internal document identified the professor as Gregory F. Sullivan. He has been suspended from his tenured position as humanities instructor because he told his students before showing a documentary: "If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit," according to published reports.

James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others in the July 20 movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., had dyed his hair bright orange.

The professor had just turned down the lights to start the film and was preparing to step out when he made the remark, according to the published reports.

In a statement issued Thursday, Rear Admiral James A. Helis, superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, said that "the academy's first priority is the academic well-being of its students. As soon as I learned of the incident, I immediately placed the professor involved on administrative leave and he is not teaching class at this time. As with any investigation, we are interviewing both students and faculty, and the professor will have the opportunity to respond before we issue our final determination."

Sullivan could not be reached for comment Thursday, but the internal document says he has said that he did not know that the father of one of his students had been killed. The internal document said Sullivan immediately apologized to the student. He also apologized to the entire class and the administration.

According to an academy spokeswoman, the dean and a faculty personnel committee will investigate. The professor will have 10 days to respond to the inquiries before the superintendent makes a decision.

The academy trains deck or engineering officers to serve on private ships or military vessels. Graduates of the four-year program leave Kings Point with Coast Guard licenses and Naval Reserve appointments.

With AP and John Valenti

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