NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — The family of a victim of the Colorado movie theater shooting has spoken out against what they have called the “public humiliation and reprimanding” that U.S. Merchant Marine Academy professor Greg Sullivan was subject to following a joke that he made about the incident.

Back on July 31, Sullivan was showing a documentary. Documents obtained by the New York Times say that as Sullivan was turning out the lights he said, “If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit.” The reference was to James Holmes, the accused gunman who dyed his hair bright orange before allegedly going on a rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

Weston Cowden was a student in Sullivan’s classroom. Only a week earlier he had buried his father, Gordon, who was among the 12 killed in the theater.

Professor Sullivan apologized immediately and said he didn’t know of his student’s loss, but Shashi Kumar, the institution’s academic dean, called the joke “notoriously disgraceful conduct” and recommended that Sullivan be fired.

Members of the academic community called the recommendation an overreaction.

“Yes, very surprised because it is not consistent with the norms of the academic community for an administration to take such draconian action against a faculty member without an appropriate hearing,” Robert Kreiser with the American Association of University Professors told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.

The Cowden family said that further reprimanding of Sullivan, who apologized for the joke, would be a victory for alleged shooter James Holmes.

In a statement released on Saturday the family said, “There has been enough pain throughout this tragedy and we do not want to see further suffering caused to this professor and his family over a single distasteful remark. If this professor is fired by the USMMA, Holmes again succeeds in harming a life. This professor has sincerely apologized, which we appreciated and accepted.”

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