Professor banned from teaching following verbal confrontation

A tenured Portland State economics professor is currently suspended from teaching after he publicly accused a student during a class lecture of being an FBI informant and of trying to sell guns to students.

A tenured Portland State economics professor is currently suspended from teaching after he publicly accused a student during a class lecture of being an FBI informant and of trying to sell guns to students.

Professor John Hall, during his 2 p.m. “Economics 445/545: Comparative Economic Systems” class on Jan. 14th, verbally harangued student Zachary Bucharest for nearly half an hour, according to students in the class.

Hall, who has taught at PSU for 24 years, began the class with a lecture relevant to the course material but about halfway through the two-hour long class, he began to describe his experiences with law enforcement in other countries including Eastern Europe, according to a student who wished to remain anonymous.

Hall claimed to have been surveilled at times throughout his life and then told the class that an FBI informant and agent provocateur was in their midst. Hall said this person served as a sniper in the Israeli army and called him a killer with access to a personal arsenal.

He then pointed at Bucharest and identified him as the informant in question, according to the unnamed student.

Bucharest, a student at PSU since the fall of 2006 and the current chief of staff for ASPSU, sat silently throughout the ordeal, according to students in the class.

Hall accused Bucharest of trying to organize students to participate in violent acts against the university, according to the unnamed student.

Hall also said he believed that Bucharest is at times armed while on campus. He then put a letter on the document projector that he wrote to the FBI’s Portland Field Office. In the letter, Hall claims to know Bucharest’s identity as an agent. He then handed Bucharest a copy of the letter and told him to give it to his superiors.

After a time of silence, Bucharest got up and said that some of Hall’s claims about his military background were true, but that other claims the professor made were not. Bucharest left the classroom after being told by Hall to leave and not to come back to PSU, according to students.

In an e-mail to students in the class on Jan. 17, economics department chair Randall A. Bluffstone said that he was aware of Thursday’s incident.

“I would especially like to assure you that this incident is being taken seriously and that the appropriate university administrators are fully involved,” he said.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19—the next day the class was scheduled to meet—Bluffstone, Mary Beth Collins, director of Student Health and Counseling, and Carol Mack, vice provost for Academic Administration and Planning, met with the class. Hall was not present.

According to students in the class, many asked administrators why Hall was not there and what the administration would do to keep students safe. They were told that if they feel unsafe, they should contact the Campus Public Safety Office.

Students were encouraged by Bluffstone during the class and later via e-mail to meet with himself, Mack or Dr. Marvin Kaiser, Dean of the College Of Liberal Arts and Sciences, for private 30-minute meetings to discuss the incident.

Bluffstone reportedly said that the FBI informed the university that Bucharest does not work for them.

A formal complaint has been filed against Hall since the incident, according to PSU Communications Director Scott Gallagher.

“Hall has been relieved of teaching duties but he has not been suspended,” Gallagher said.
EC 445/545 is now taught by Dr. Charles Grant, according to Bluffstone in an e-mail to students on Jan. 25.

“There are no sanctions out on [Hall] as of yet because the situation is under investigation,” Gallagher said. 

Hall is still classified as a paid employee while the incident is under investigation, though he is not allowed on campus. He is still working on university-related projects, said Phil Lesch, executive director of PSU’s chapter of American Association of University Professors.

According to Hall, he has been verbally banned from campus.

Lesch said it’s not uncommon for someone to be barred from coming to campus during an investigation so that the outcome is not influenced by the person’s presence.

 “He had his reasons for doing what he did and I can’t speculate or put words in his mouth,” said Lesch, who identified himself as Hall’s union spokesperson. “The investigation will determine if he acted appropriately.”

Students were told that they could drop EC 445/545 for a full-tuition refund or register for another class without penalty. According to students still enrolled in the class, only a handful of the nearly 40 original students remain.

No determination has been made whether or not Hall will be back to teach in the spring, Lesch said.

“Based upon my students’ reports, I cannot help but to think that the process currently is being shaped in order to end my tenure at PSU,” said Hall in a statement delivered to the Vanguard by Allison Faris, a student enrolled in one of Hall’s classed.

“I decided to take a stand. I observed the situation becoming extremely dangerous, not only for me but for about eight of my very finest students,” Hall said in the statement. “I felt that what I had to do should not have been my responsibility.”

Faris said Hall is one of the best professors she has had in her five years at PSU and that “any allegations [against Hall] of instability are absolutely ludicrous.”

“I understand the students’ privacy is to be respected, as defined by the codes governing PSU,” Hall said in the statement. “I felt the level of danger had grown to such an acute level that I felt it fully in order to engage in an ‘emergency exemption’ of student privacy.”

The unnamed student said Hall was just trying to protect his students.

“Zaki seemed normal,” said Brett Condron, EC 445/545 student. He believed Bucharest posed no threat.
Bucharest made a statement made through his attorney, Elden Rosenthal.

“I have never been affiliated with the FBI in any way, and I have never been an informant,” the statement reads. “I have never in any way done anything to incite violence at PSU. I have admired Professor Hall since I first took a class from him, and cannot imagine what I did or said to cause him to treat me the way he did. I truly hope that the university will take steps to clear my name, and I also hope that something like this will never again happen to a PSU student.”