Friday will be James Tracy's last day on the faculty at Florida Atlantic University. The Boca Raton school is cutting ties with the associate professor after he was accused of harassing the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed during the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a man shot and killed 20 children and six staffers.
Lenny and Veronique Pozner published an op-ed in South Florida newspaper the Sun Sentinel in December, expressing their grief over losing their son, Noah, and calling out Tracy, who taught at FAU's School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, for spreading conspiracy theories about the incident.
Tracy, wrote the Pozners, received national attention from over 800 news outlets when he began publicly doubting that the shooting had occurred, alleging the entire incident was not only a hoax, but actually the work of President Barack Obama.
According to their editorial, Tracy went on to vilify the couple for their attempts to keep photos of their son from conspiracy theorists, and wrote letters to the Pozners demanding proof that they had a son at all. When they filed a report of harassment with the police, Tracy accused them of using copyright claims to derail investigation into the shooting and called them "alleged parents" on his blog. (On the blog, Tracy has made similar claims about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, which he calls "staged-managed [sic] events" designed to justify national security and gun control policy.)
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"FAU has a civic responsibility to ensure that it does not contribute to the ongoing persecution of the countless Americans who've lost their loved ones to high-profile acts of violence," wrote the Pozners in their editorial.
Predictably, as Tracy continued to make headlines, prospective students began withdrawing their applications to the university and students dropped his class.
On Tuesday, university officials released a statement announcing their decision:
"Florida Atlantic University today issued James Tracy with a Notice of Termination. This follows the Notice of Proposed Discipline issued to James Tracy Dec. 16. The effective date of the termination is Jan. 8, 2016. James Tracy was scheduled to teach three classes during the upcoming Spring semester. Alternative instructors will be assigned to teach those classes."
In an interview with the New York Daily News, Tracy said he might sue the university on the grounds of freedom of speech, and according to the Sentinel story the United Faculty of Florida will provide him with legal counsel. But Tracy's lawyers may have trouble making this defense: Officially, he is being terminated not for his comments, but for insubordination and obstructing the university's investigation of the incident.
In the school's notice of disciplinary action, published by the Washington Post, FAU vice provost Diane Alperin wrote to Tracy, "You publicly engage in external personal activity that requires your time and effort ... You have repeatedly and willfully failed to provide the administration the information it needs to discharge its responsibilities."