I thought this piece was fascinating.
Classroom confrontation on Portland State campus leaves professor in limbo, students concerned
By Noelle Crombie, The Oregonian
February 05, 2010, 8:44PM
A bizarre blowup between a professor and a student in a Portland State University classroom recently has sent ripples of concern and curiosity through the campus.
It also has prompted the student, openly accused by the professor of being an FBI informant and a killer, to hire a prominent local civil rights attorney, and led the university to launch an investigation into the educator. The school has taken the unusual step of stripping the tenured professor of his teaching responsibilities while it conducts its inquiry.
Meanwhile, others at PSU are divided along two lines: Those who think the professor did the right thing, if in an unorthodox way; and those who think his actions were strange and out of line.
Some questions remain unanswered: Why would a tenured professor choose to openly confront a student he viewed as dangerous; and what does the situation mean for the student, who has not been charged with a crime, yet is said to have offered to teach others how to make Molotov cocktails and buy assault rifles.
Professor John Hall has not taught on campus since Jan. 14, when, during a comparative economics course, he accused a 30-year-old student of being an FBI informant and threatened to place posters of him around campus. Depending on the outcome of the internal inquiry, Hall could face a range of sanctions, including termination, said Scott Gallagher, communications director for PSU. Gallagher did not know when the inquiry would be completed.
The Oregonian made several attempts to reach Hall, who has taught at the university for 25 years, but he didn't return messages. However, Phil Lesch, executive director for the Portland State chapter of the American Association of University Professors, defended Hall and said by e-mail Friday that Hall had asked him to act as his spokesman. The association is the union that represents faculty members.
PSU student Brett Condron, 20, who is studying German, was in class that day. He said about 40 students witnessed the confrontation between Hall and the student.
Condron said with about 30 minutes left in class, Hall made a dramatic announcement: An FBI informant was enrolled in the class. He talked about his experience with government informants in East Germany, then identified the student as Zach Bucharest.
Hall put a letter detailing his accusations on the overhead projector so the class could read it. Condron said Hall then handed Bucharest a packet to give to "his superiors."
"And then he proceeded to say a lot of unpleasant things about Bucharest," Condron said. For instance, he said, Hall called Bucharest a killer and said that he had the "spirit of Cain and the spirit of Judas."
During the confrontation, Condron said, Hall snapped a digital photo of Bucharest and said that if "he ever saw him on campus again, he would plaster his photo and copies of his photos all over campus and tell everybody who he was."
Condron said Bucharest was stoic and silent as Hall lashed out at him. Afterward, Bucharest defended himself, then walked out.
The Oregonian tried to talk to Bucharest multiple times but his attorney, Elden Rosenthal, advised his client against talking to reporters.
In one of two statements Bucharest released through Rosenthal, the student said he has admired Hall and "cannot imagine what I did or said to cause him to treat me the way he did."
Another student in Hall's class is Daniel Dreier, a 26-year-old economics major. He was among those who had earlier become concerned about Bucharest's behavior.
He said at a winter term Economics Department party in December, Bucharest told a campus activist how to make a particularly effective Molotov cocktail. Dreier said Bucharest also offered to act as a middleman to help students buy military style rifles -- AR-15s or AK-47s -- through a gun dealer he knew in Washington and that he had access to machine guns.
In a second interview, Dreier said that Bucharest frequently told stories about confrontations involving guns and said that Bucharest had shown him a gun that he carries on campus.
Meanwhile, Lesch, the union representative, confirmed that Hall confronted Bucharest in front of the class, but did so solely out of concern for the safety of his students and the community. Lesch said Hall's actions came after other students went to Hall with concerns that Bucharest was trying to "create a cabal of students on campus oriented toward violence."
"There were some students who ended up being very upset but there were also students who were grateful" to Hall for confronting Bucharest, Lesch said.
He said previously a group of eight students that Hall had been advising came to him with concerns about Bucharest.
They told Hall that Bucharest "was trying to get them interested in shooting and blowing things up -- all kinds of weapons, not just rifles, illegal weapons," Lesch said. "They were scared. They had a close relationship with Professor Hall and they brought it to his attention."
Asked why Hall didn't go to authorities with his concerns, Lesch said Hall had extensive experience with school bureaucracy and "did not feel like taking this to campus safety was the right way to go."
Lesch added in an e-mail that in Hall's years at PSU, "There have been a number of occasions where his personal safety has been threatened ... Hall reported these incidents through proper channels at the time, but the university either did nothing to address his concerns or dismissed his reports outright.
University officials could not be reached late Friday for response to Hall's perception of campus security.
"In addition," Lesch said Friday in an e-mail, "several of Professor Hall's students, in expressing their concerns about Bucharest, conveyed that Bucharest boasted on a number of occasions about a 'special' relationship with campus public safety, which suggested that they might not take any complaint about him seriously."
"Unfortunately, he ended up doing something that was very public and inflammatory and now his career is on the line," Lesch said. "He ended up doing this knowing he could face personal negative consequences. He thought it was the most immediate way of resolving what he thought was a potential threat."
Bucharest has been a PSU student since 2006, and a member of student government since 2009.
"Mr. Bucharest ... is not and never has been an FBI agent, or an FBI informant," Rosenthal wrote in a statement to The Oregonian.
The FBI in Portland confirmed last month, then again Thursday, that Bucharest is not an informant for the bureau.
"The suggestion that Mr. Bucharest in any way has tried to incite violence, or illegal activity, is false," Rosenthal wrote. "The suggestion that Mr. Bucharest in any way has threatened any PSU student is false. Mr. Bucharest is disheartened that Professor Hall's union representative is making inflammatory public statements, rather than letting the PSU investigation run its course."
In a previous statement through Rosenthal, Bucharest said, "I truly hope that the university will take steps to clear my name."
Hall has fans among his students at the downtown university, among them 23-year-old senior Allison Faris, who has spent five years as a college student in the United States and France.
"I would definitely classify him as one of the top five lecturers I've ever had in a university setting," said Faris, who is studying French and English. "I've never studied economics, and he actually made the subject accessible. He contextualized it, and he made it just very fascinating."