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Prof still suspended for Colorado shooting joke

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is well into its school year without a professor who was suspended after he made a joking reference to the July Colorado movie shootings during class, where one cadet had a father among the victims.

Spokeswoman Marcie Katcher said Gregory F. Sullivan remains suspended but declined to comment further on the case, including on when academy officials will decide whether the humanities assistant professor should be fired.

"It's still in the process," Katcher said.

Less than two weeks after the July 20 massacre, Sullivan was about to show a documentary when he reportedly joked to his class: "If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit."

James Holmes, his hair dyed bright orange, allegedly killed 12 people and injured 58 others during "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman movie.

Sullivan could not be reached Friday night.

In that class was Weston Cowden, who had recently returned from attending his father, Gordon's, funeral.

The cadet's mother, Melisa Cowden, said she was told by Rear Adm. James A. Helis, the Kings Point academy's superintendent, that Sullivan's employment review would take months.

"He said it's a pretty long process," she said. "Because it's a federal agency, they have to follow the guidelines of a federal agency.

She had begged Helis last month not to fire the professor for a "dumb mistake," a plea her son also made to Helis, the mother said.

Many others have also spoken up for Sullivan, who quickly apologized to her son, she said.

"I just have to reassure my son that at this point, we've done absolutely everything we can do," Cowden said.

Sullivan reportedly told academy officials that he did not know about his student's loss.

But officials pointed out that he should have known because an email about the loss was sent to faculty and he had given two other students permission to miss class to attend funerals, according to reports.

The academy, which trains students to be ship officers, operates on a trimester school year, and Sullivan's suspension is now halfway into the first trimester, which Katcher said started July 17 and ends Oct. 26.

Sullivan, a Yale University graduate, has been teaching at the academy since 2006.

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