Bergen Community College Professor Suspended Over ‘Game of Thrones’ Quote on Daughter’s T-shirt

Francis Schmidt, an art and 3-D animation professor, shared a photograph on Google+ with those in his circle. The picture was of his 7-year-old daughter Sophia in a yoga pose wearing a T-shirt that read, “I will take what is mine with fire & blood.”

One of those contacts was a dean at the college. The next day, Schmidt said, he was called before college officials, who questioned him as to whether the photo represented a threat against the dean.

If you are familiar with the “Game of Thrones” show, you will obviously know that the quote comes from a character named Daenerys Targaryen (played by Emilia Clarke) who uttered that line during the second season of the show, which is based on the writing of Bayonne-born fantasy writer George R.R. Martin.

Schmidt said the Human Resources and security officials who interviewed him seemed unfamiliar with the show, he therefore searched for the quote on Google and came up with 30.8 million hits.

He said the interview, however, led to his suspension without pay and a trip to a psychiatrist before he was cleared to return to campus.

Schmidt said he asked the officials why they thought the slogan was threatening, and one said “when you see the word fire, then someone shows up with an AK-47 here shooting everybody,” he said.

“I had no idea what to say to that. For God’s sake, I’m a middle-aged art professor,” Schmidt said. “I don’t own any firearms.”

The incident also comes at a time when labor negotiations have roiled the Paramus campus.

About 175 faculty members, by a 2-1 ratio last week, cast a no confidence vote in college President B. Kaye Walter. College trustees rallied around Walter and suggested the vote stemmed from frustration over contract negotiations. Faculty and staff have gone without a contract since July 1.

Schmidt said his suspension began during the first week of classes, when he wasn’t allowed to contact anyone at the college, including new students. He returned after the eight-day suspension, reinstated with back pay along with conditions such as no wearing of clothing with questionable statements and no disparaging statements about the college.

Schmidt’s suspension was first reported Thursday on the Inside Higher Ed website.

College officials declined to discuss the matter.

“The referenced incident refers to a private personnel matter at Bergen Community College,” college spokesman Larry Hlavenka said in an email.

“Since Jan. 1, 2014, 34 incidents of school shootings have occurred in the United States,” Hlavenka added. “In following its safety and security procedures, the college investigates all situations where a member of its community – students, faculty, staff or local residents – expresses a safety or security concern.”

But Schmidt, a tenured professor, believes it was retaliation for a grievance he filed after being denied a sabbatical about two months prior to the incident.

“This was payback because I filed a grievance,” he said.

Ironically, revenge is a motif in “Game of Thrones,” the television series produced from Martin’s fantasy book series “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

“Fire and Blood” is the motto of Targaryen, one of the great houses battling for supremacy over the “seven kingdoms” of Westeros.

The fire is that of dragons. And it is Daenerys, the “mother of dragons,” who utters the memorable line in the show’s second season: “I am Daenerys Stormborn, and I will take what is mine with fire and blood.”

The warrior queen is, in fact, bringing three of the scaly fire-breathing creatures (along with an army of ex-slaves) to retake Westeros.

The phrase, like much else in “Game of Thrones,” has become an Internet meme in the months since it first aired in 2012: it has appeared on shirts, coffee mugs, stationery cards, iPod cases, rugs, throw pillows and wall clocks.

The show has become a cultural phenomenon. The debut of the fourth season of “Game of Thrones” on April 6 set a series record with 6.6 million viewers — HBO’s biggest audience for any program since the 2007 finale of “The Sopranos,” which drew 11.9 million viewers.

Fans who heard of Schmidt’s suspension said they were puzzled that the quote could be construed as a threat.

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