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Babson College fires employee after Iran post controversy

Babson College.
Babson College.Joanne Rathe Strohmeyer

Babson College has fired its director of sustainability following an investigation into a joke Facebook post that suggested Iran should list 52 American sites to bomb.

Asheen Phansey wrote the now-deleted post, which was a response to a threat by President Trump in recent days to target Iranian cultural sites. Phansey wrote that in retaliation for Trump’s threat to target cultural sites, Iran’s leader should “tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um ... Mall of America? ... Kardashian residence?” Phansey has indicated it was a lame attempt at humor and on Wednesday he apologized that his “sloppy humor was read as a threat.”

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The post was widely circulated on social media and the college confirmed Wednesday that Phansey had been suspended. On Thursday, a Babson spokesman, Michael Chmura, said in a statement the school “conducted a prompt and thorough investigation related to a post shared on a staff member’s personal Facebook page that does not represent the values and culture of the College."

“Based on the results of the investigation, the staff member is no longer a Babson College employee,” said Chmura. "As we have previously stated, Babson College condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate.”

Chmura declined to say if Phansey was fired or if he resigned, but Phansey, in a statement, said he was “disappointed and saddened that Babson has decided to abruptly terminate my 15-year-relationship with the college just because people willfully misinterpreted a joke I made to my friends on Facebook.”

“I would have hoped that Babson, an institution of higher education that I love and to which I have given a great deal, would have defended and supported my right to free speech," Phansey said. “Beyond my own situation, I am really concerned about what this portends for our ability as Americans to engage in political discourse without presuming the worst about each other.”

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Earlier in the week, Phansey said he regretted his “bad attempt at humor.”

“As an American, born and raised, I was trying to juxtapose our ‘cultural sites’ with ancient Iranian churches and mosques,” he said. “I am completely opposed to violence and would never advocate it by anyone. I am sorry that my sloppy humor was read as a threat. I condemn all acts of violence. I am particularly sorry to cause any harm or alarm for my colleagues at Babson, my beloved alma mater, and the place where I have enjoyed teaching students and serving as its sustainability director.”

Trump had threatened that if Iran attacked any American assets to avenge the US killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the United States had 52 targets across the Islamic Republic that “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

Trump added that some targets are “important to Iran & Iranian culture.” The president later backtracked from his threat and said in a speech Wednesday, following Iran’s retaliatory strike on US bases in Iraq that did not injure any Americans, that the US would impose “additional punishing economic sanctions” on Iran.

Travis Andersen of Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.