As a Holy Week or Passover exercise, consider Intercultural Communications instructor Deandre Poole’s mandate that students write the name JESUS on a piece of paper, place it on the floor and stomp on it. Highly religious student Ryan Rotela refused, and told the instructor he “was deeply offended by what you told me to do” saying “if you were to stomp on the word Jesus, it says the word has no value.” Rotela also complained to Poole’s supervisor.

Subsequently, Rotela’s college (Florida Atlantic University, Davie campus) said this class exercise was “insensitive and unacceptable.” After this formal apology, FAU brought separate charges against Rotela and denied him access to his classes. 

With that background consider a legal question.

Do Deandre Poole and FAU have a fiduciary relationship and duty to protect students, including Rotela? Here’s why the question is important.

 A fiduciary relationship creates a duty of good faith, honesty, trust, and confidence between dominant and subservient parties when the subservient party voluntarily surrenders to the mind and will of the dominant party because of age, expertise, or mental capacity. [T]he dominant party has a duty to … avoid abusing the power differential.”

A fiduciary duty may exist between Rotela and both Poole and FAU, the two dominant parties. FAU’s words of apology seemingly admit an environment lacking “openness, tolerance, and civility,” as advocated by the American Council on Education. If the relationship exists and Poole or FAU violated their consequent duty to students, then Rotela (and any others similarly maltreated) may have a lawful complaint.

Colorado legal cases include seven figure judgments when fiduciary duties are violated, so this isn’t just legal gobbledygook.

FAU may escape fiduciary duty if it persuasively disclaims a duty to provide an open, tolerant and civil educational environment. It may, perhaps, be able to claim successfully that taking students’ tuition and establishing mandates for exactly how their educations shall proceed do not create a fiduciary relationship. (Poole’s Intercultural Communications class was a 75% mandate for communications majors by my read of major requirements.)

Gospel accounts of Jesus’ final days list the legal proceedings he endured, before the Sanhedrin, Herod and Pontius Pilate. Analyzing the accounts and known legal requirements for the three, all violated their established rules. Both Jewish and Christian traditions describe the consequences of rulers behaving unjustly.

We cannot judge Rotela’s guilt or innocence regarding violating student conduct rules. In a spirit of Christian forbearance, we should hope both that Rotela behaved properly and that FAU is not penalizing Rotela for his lawful actions. Colorado’s leaders, both political and educational, should behave in good faith and honesty – admitting they owe a quasi-fiduciary duty to all Coloradans and all students.