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Shut up and get out

Profanity complaint leads to lecturer’s suspension

Published: Friday, November 12, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 11:11

Peterson Image

Photo by Clare Yi

Lecturer Daniel Petersen will begin his suspension in Spring 2011. He has been teaching in the UH system for 21 years.

Chancellor Noreen Yamane

Interim Chancellor Noreen Yamane issued a memo stating that Petersen’s personal website possibly violated university, state, and federal policies.

Barbara Arthurs

Dean of Student Services, Barbara Arthurs, received the initial letter of complaint.

Peterson Letter

Letter from parent to Daniel Peterson

Veteran Hawai`i Community College lecturer Daniel Petersen has been placed on suspension, stemming from his use of profanity in the classroom. The suspension possibly violates his first amendment rights and academic freedom.

According to a settlement agreement between Petersen and the University of Hawai`i, to return after suspension he "agrees that he will refrain from using profanity and other inappropriate language, including but not limited to, the words "shit" and "goddamn" while teaching his courses."

A local doctor and past board member of Hilo Missionary Church, Timothy Jahraus, sent a letter to Dean of Student Services, Barbara Arthurs on Aug. 25, 2009. He complained about his 18-year-old daughter's experience in her first day of class in Introduction to Logic, Philosophy 110.

A copy of the letter was personally addressed to Petersen's home in Kea`au. He posted the letter on his website and urged his students to "decide whether or not this is an example of critical thinking, and whether or not you agree with the assessment of my teaching methods in the class, that have been made by this person."

Petersen also posted the sender's name and address, "should any students want to discuss this with him." The website was eventually censored by the community college, and the letter was removed.

In an internal memo from Interim Chancellor Noreen Yamane to Petersen, she cited his posting of the letter on his website as a possible violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Repeatedly through the memo she cites that his actions may be in violation of university, state, and federal policies. However, no judicial ruling has been noted.

The letter states, "From what my daughter describes of the language and attitude of the instructor, I'm surprised that such an individual would be retained by the college in a teaching capacity. I'm told that not only was his language profane but students were told that they could leave if they found the language offensive. Needless to say, my daughter has withdrawn from the class."

Multiple calls to Dr. Jahraus for questioning were not returned.

Petersen contends that his slight use of profanity is to prove a point about the philosophy of religion, in relation to fanatics like Osama bin Laden. This first-day lecture is a ritual he had been practicing for over 21 years, without ever receiving a formal complaint.

"I've never sworn at a student. I've never used profane language speciously or in any way that's vulgar. I don't even understand why this guy complained. He complained on something his daughter told him," said Petersen.

Devin Kelley, one of Petersen's current students and former UHHSA senator, wrote in the lecturer's defense, "In regards to foul language, I've heard him curse once on the first day of instruction to make a point and that was the last time I have ever heard him do it."

Multiple calls to Chancellor Yamane for questioning were not returned.

Petersen noted, "I tell all of my students if you don't like the way I look, the way I talk, the way I smell or anything about me—there is the door. You can leave. You don't have to take my class. You can always take Math 100."

Philosophy 110 is not a required class, but may be substituted for Math 100.

Student Devin Kelley wants the community college to rethink their decision.

"He is hands-down one of the best teachers UH and HawCC has and is always there for his students twenty-four-seven. This is college and not grade school; we are young adults and anyone who can't handle real-world conversation that may include foul language is not ready for higher education, let alone life. Dan is the man and handsome or not, he is a great guy who is being treated unfairly."

Starting in the spring semester, Petersen will be placed on suspension from HawCC, but not from UH Hilo. He will be paid for half a semester, although he will not be teaching any community college classes.

Internal memos, the settlement agreement, video footage, and audio excerpts from the Petersen interview will be available at

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Sat Jul 30 2011 23:45
UHH is run by Japanese coksuckers.
Sat Jul 16 2011 22:57
I will always respect Daniel Peterson and think of him as a brilliant highly educated man. I took all of the courses he offered because although they may have been rigorous and difficult they were highly rewarding, taught me to think critically, and I always felt a high sense of accomplishment upon getting my final grade. There are endless amounts of information he taught me that I reflect upon when remembering his classes and the knowledge I learned because of Daniel Peterson did indeed make me a better student academically. Freedom of speech is our right and the suspension of Daniel Peterson definitely violates his first amendment rights and academic freedom. The girl that reported Mr.Peterson should have changed classes if she did not agree with what was being said in the philosophy class she signed up for. College is not supposed to be a place that supresses freedom of speech but rather an institution that supports freedom of speech. I can't believe that one of the most brilliant professors I have ever known has been suspended and I do hope that he goes to court and wins... not only to bring justice for himself but also to stop this from ever happening again. It is disheartening to know that the college I attend does not support free thinking and freedom of speech and expression.... especially when those are the principals that this nation was built upon. Daniel Peterson is a veteran who helped to protect our nation and always spoke highly of America during class to his students. He always spoke of getting the best grades and motivated his students to be the best they could be and I just dont understand how a professor of his caliber could be disrespected in such a way, especially over saying a bad word. Philosophy is about thinking critically and Daniel Peterson discussed ideas and events during his lectures that were relevent to his teachings and were meant to get us to think critically about the world.
Thu Jan 27 2011 18:09
It's the right of the first Amendment, free speech for him to say whatever he wants. Just because some students are overly sensative is not his fault. He is completly right that if the students do not like the way he talks then they do not have to be in his class. I am currently a college student and alot of my proffessors swear and I have not heard a single complaint towards them and think they are great teachers. That students parent needs to learn to grow up and know everyone can not talk the way they want him to. 90% of collge students maybe more swear so why cant the teachers?
Sun Dec 19 2010 12:26
virtuous one 808, i know exactly who you are. you work for uhhsa.
Fri Dec 17 2010 07:53
What scum. Posting the address for anyone who wants to cause trouble to use. Very unprofessional.
Sun Dec 5 2010 02:32
I love this...VIRTUOUS ONE 808 believes they are the only virtuous sole in the 808. geez these people just don't have a clue. Contradicting views, differing opinions, upsetting is not the end of the world. They are just trampolines for thought.
virtuous One 808
Tue Nov 30 2010 20:11
virtuous one 808 = not the complainant ... sorry... i know youd like that to be true... than you would feel justified in your hate... im just another virtuous soul in the 808 state ;) But I tell you one thing if my instructor does anything wrong you can bet id file a complaint... in a ny minute... anyways get over the profanity my big beef is with the violation of privacy.. and for all i know girlfriend, "fly on the wall" could be peterson himself... which i would find hysterical... peace and prosperity.... to all who are virtuous hehe ..... and sheezus get a NEW SUBJECT already... this one is sooooo PLAYED... i think im going to make my regular visits to all the columns on this paper.... beware though of impostors... theres only one true VIRTUOUS ONE 808 lmaoooooooooooooo =]
Mon Nov 29 2010 21:40
virtous one 808 your probably the student that got Dan fired! Ultimately saying a swear word doesn't consitute losing one's job. The punishment doesn't fit the crime, enough said.
Mon Nov 29 2010 15:57
& also I cant speak for the students father as to why he doesnt want to return your calls but after reading your latest issue if I was him, I wouldnt bother responding at all either.. What for? The paper has already shown what side its on.. besides this has turned into a war... what he meant was to inform UH of what was going on and that HE didnt like it.. his purpose was fulfilled.. anything further than that that fans the flames comes entirely from ke kalahea.
Mon Nov 29 2010 15:44
@ fly on the wall -- helloooo girlfriend, it was an EXAMPLE... of course i dont swear..swearing is uncouth.. and shows a lack of good breeding.. (that is how I was raised and i believe in it fully) ;) . i said that i "COULD" listen to myself talk ... like that if i wanted to.. omg I am exactly how i preach.... i walk with the lord... you should step in line with us :) dont you know that when you make your attacks personal it shows a clear lack of education? Im sure that is not how you want to be perceived... and i only said that about being able to swear because its true unfortunately we all have the capability to do it but it is those who take the high road and refrain from it who should be given kudos. :) why does coversation regarding this incident get you all workedup fly on the wall? YOUR COMMENTS ATTACK me personally while I choose to talk about what I believe in and what I think.. Maybe you should be reported on here... or do you WORK HERE? now that is the million dollar question. =] hehe
Sat Nov 20 2010 17:15
"Multiple calls to Dr. Jahraus for questioning were not returned."

Whats this guy got to hide? He can't stand up behind his letter or something?

So virtuous one you have higher standards of morals and ethics? so you just said if you wanted to hear profanity you would just listen to yourself talk...but no not others?!! you like to dictate how things should be whenever it suits you. You should conduct yourself on the same level you expect of others before you go pointing fingers.

Sat Nov 20 2010 04:30
what outlandish attacks did I make? i merely stated that I chose to sidestep a class and go on to anither and am satisfied with the one i am in? i dont know the person he is, but obviously he did post that letter online and it WAS WRONG.

Maybe he was upset/angry/humiliated.. i cant say im not in his mind but I do know that someone of his age should be wiser than to pull such a stunt. He is not a 'rookie' professor, the article says that he has taught for 21 yrs.. he cannot claim ignorance so indeed, what is his claim? ... ke kalahea should have taken that route and confronted him on HIS CHOICE to post the complainants address & contact info online... now THAT would be **REAL JOURNALISM**... hmmnn perhaps I should join the K.K. staff & bring my expertise.. =] (former editor & columnist)...from my time spent at another UH paper..

if i wanted to hear profanity id turn up a rap cd i own..or just listen to myself talk... ;) on the flip side he COULD be a very interesting individual... maybe even one id like to share a drink with... but definitely not one id pay $$ to listen to for 5 months... nothing personal... i guess I have higher standards of ethics & morals than most others... i expect those in a position of authority to conduct themselves on a higher level... Should'nt Everyone? food for thought....

Fri Nov 19 2010 18:27
Everyone has a choice as to whether or not to take religious questioning or so-called "profanity" personally. I feel sorry for this student, who will not benefit from the incredible knowledge and critical thinking skills that this course and instructor has to offer. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion (and therefore religious questioning) should have a place in the college environment, where we all have the choice as adults to either be open to other points of view, or withdraw from class. Dan Peterson should not be punished, he should be applauded. As a former student of his, I can attest that he is one of the smartest, generous, and most dedicated teachers I have ever encountered.
Thu Nov 18 2010 15:57
Dan Petersen is one of the best teachers I've ever had. Sure, he said things that I didn't agree with, and even some things I was offended by. But this is part of his instructing technique. If you don't agree with him, you learn how to argue...logically! I can see how a religious person who has never been asked to question their religion would be disturbed by Dan's teaching methods. All I have to say is grow up and join the real world. People are going to offend you and question your beliefs occasionally. Wouldn't it be nice to be equipped for those occasions? To be able to argue your case calmly and logically instead of immediately giving in to stupid knee-jerk reactions that cause so many problems in the world? This is what Dan is trying to teach us. If his teaching methods are too disturbing, of course you can just leave! But don't try to get him fired. So many students have benefitted a great deal thanks to Dan's dedication to and passion for his job. Don't take that away from the rest of us students who are mature enough to handle a "shit" or "goddamn" every now and then.
Wed Nov 17 2010 21:07
Dan is one amazing person. He is intelligent, kind, and well-rounded. This is no reason to suspend him. I am so curious to see who they plan on filling Dan's shoes, because in all honesty, I doubt that will ever be possible. Dan has always been more than available to his students and creates an environment for students to succeed. Unlike the many professors who teach for a job, Dan is passionate about his knowledge and conveys his information in a way that makes learning fun. He challenges his students to go beyond normal thinking which thus creates an immense opportunity for higher thinking and learning.
Wed Nov 17 2010 01:28
This discussion reminds me of 1960 when I first arrived at Berkeley in the midst of the Free Speech Movement. The community became energized and some serious critical thinking ensued. the issue relates to the supreme court decision on free speech and profanity. "Has the language any redeeming social and or artistic value." Clearly professor Petersen has this in his camp. Here we have the case of a loving parent protecting his/her child from the world we must live in. And, here too, we have the situation where Hilo and the University of Hawaii must face the past theocratic baggage that apparently refuses to release its grip on social policies and thinking. Beware Mark Twain doesn't return to singe the ears and minds of all of us. Tomas Belsky Hilo
Tue Nov 16 2010 06:17
Dan Petersen is an amazing instructor. Yes, he can rub people the wrong way, but I think it is due to taking what he says out of context. Sometimes we forget the second person plural 'you', and think things are said directly towards ourselves, and we become offended. What he says and the way he delivers his lectures are done in a way so people will snap out of their socialized way of thinking. D. Petersen RESPECTS his students!! He is 'on call' 24/7 for any of his students whom need his help. If it wasn't for Dan Petersen, I wouldn't have a degree in Philosophy and I probably wouldn't have graduated with 'highest honors': my ability to think critically and radically stem from his classes. If you have any reservations for taking his classes, you shouldn't. He's very kind and very helpful... He's a handsome man. The subjects he teaches aren't the easiest to begin with, he will guide you through them, but he's not going to coddle you. We should all read Socrates' Apology, and hope our society continues to welcome free speech. I think we learn most from people we disagree with and as Dan would say: "Think FOR yourself, or someone will do your thinking for you".
Tue Nov 16 2010 03:00
I have taken Dan's class in the past and can assure you that he never used obscene language or anti religious rhetoric in his class. For someone who hasn't even taken a class from him you have no right to make such outlandish attacks. I took Dan's class in the early 90's and have gone on to become a PhD in Finance. Dan's class not only taught me how to think logically but it also taught me how to interact with people in the real world. The world outside of quaint Hilo can be very cruel and cut-throat. Without Dan's class I probably would have been crushed like a bug when I first moved to southern California. I thank Dan for the sometimes daunting but interesting lectures, life lessons and fun learning environment. No he shouldn't have posted the mans address, but hey hes handsome, what are you going to do?
Mon Nov 15 2010 20:14
Proffessor Peterson is a great teacher and it is a shame to lose him like this. He really does care about his students learning logic. He constantly offers extra time to demystify logic to all of his students. I think the student and parent blew the whole thing out of purportion due to living in a "protective bubble" and not knowing how to deal with a person that will not spoon feed them what they want to hear. Ask anyone who has taken his class of what a great teacher he is and how inspiring he is to them.
Mon Nov 15 2010 05:43
also one more thing, I have noticed a lot of profanity and sexual comments and gestures being made in SEVERAL OF my other current classes, all of which is being done by INSTRUCTORS. Some are 'veteran' instructors, some are new to the job. Just because ppl talk like that and make those gestures in the real world, doesnt mean that it is acceptable behavior in a learning environment. There is a time & place for such things and in a classroom WHERE I PAY 4 THEIR TIME, such conduct is subversive. ADMINISTRATION: IF YOU WANT TO FIND ME TO FIND OUT WHO IT IS, MAKE THE EFFORT TO FIND ME AND I WILL TELL YOU TRULY ALL I KNOW.

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