• November 24, 2014

Towson U. Adjunct Is Dismissed After Using Racist Term to Describe His Work Rights

Towson University promptly dismissed an adjunct art professor after he characterized himself as "a nigger on the corporate plantation" in a classroom discussion last week.

Allen Zaruba, a professional artist who has taught at Towson for 12 years, used the racially charged term to describe his employment rights as an adjunct professor during a broader discussion of representations of power in contemporary art. A student reported him to the provost's office after the lecture, delivered on Monday, February 22, and that Thursday, the art department's interim chairman, Stuart Stein, told him over the telephone he had been dismissed.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Zaruba said he deeply regretted using the phrase as soon as he had uttered it, and had apologized to his students when their class met last Wednesday. At the same time, however, he also said the university's decision to dismiss him without a formal hearing illustrated the broader point he was trying to make, about his status as someone who has few workplace rights and can easily be fired.

"I just finished talking to a lawyer," he said. "I have no ability to appeal anything."

University officials have declined to discuss Mr. Zaruba's dismissal, saying it was a confidential personnel matter. Towson's part-time faculty members serve under contracts that allow them to be fired for any legally allowed reason.

A report on Mr. Zaruba's dismissal in Towson's student newspaper, The Towerlight, quotes a student in the class as saying that Mr. Zaruba often used terms people might find offensive, but she did not interpret his comment as malicious. Mr. Zaruba serves in a prison ministry and notes that his own stepfather, now deceased, was black.

The American Association of University Professors' guidelines for colleges say part-time faculty members "have a right to a hearing before a faculty committee" before dismissal.

Comments

1. thirdcamper2 - March 02, 2010 at 04:02 pm

I believe this is a word that should never be used in public and that no teacher should use it in a multicultural society, period. But it seems to me that Mr. Zaruba was using the word provocatively rather than disparagingly toward others, to try to describe the lack of status and dignity accorded him as an adjunct. If the university wanted to prove itself a Massah and prove Mr. Zaruba's comments apt, it could not have done a better job of it than dismissing him on the spot without a full and fair hearing of his peers.

2. 11272784 - March 02, 2010 at 04:06 pm

I suspect that the term was used as a statement to characterize his position. Certainly the wording was inappropriate, but if he were black/african-american, I doubt that similar action would have been taken.

3. lslerner - March 02, 2010 at 04:08 pm

Would he have been fired if he has said, instead, that he was a slave on the corporate plantation?

4. physicsprof - March 02, 2010 at 04:12 pm

From reading the article it seems Allen Zaruba's only crime was that he "used the racially charged term to describe" something. I guess it defaults Mark Twain and other writers off Towson U campus as well. What a disgrace.

5. rmelton5 - March 02, 2010 at 04:14 pm

Certainly not. But the word 'slave' and the word 'nigger' are by no means synonymous, either in denotation or connotation.

6. rmelton5 - March 02, 2010 at 04:15 pm

It would have been a greater disgrace had the University not acted as it did.

7. kayester - March 02, 2010 at 04:18 pm

I think Mr. Zaruba was right to describe himself in the manner he did because that's the way he's been treated, and in the end the university fiuratively lynched him because they judged his value as less than that of a slave.

8. grumpygradstudent - March 02, 2010 at 04:19 pm

Shades of the 3/5ths compromise - or Sharia law concerning womens' ability to testify - In Faculty World, adjuncts are less than a person, and TU promptly and completely demonstrated this.

I also find three other points of interest:
1. that the Department chair didn't have the courtesy or integrity to fire him face to face.
2. The tattletale culture is alive and well at TU, with no respect for freedom of speech
3. If any other faculty, staff, or student uses the N word or similiar term of disparagement at Towson to refer to themselves, are they also summarily fired or suspended? TU has set quite a high bar for themselves. Let's see how they deal with the looming spectre of hypocrisy.

9. javelina - March 02, 2010 at 04:20 pm

So, Mr. Zaruba was told by his attorney that he has "no ability to appeal anything"?

Welcome to the same treatment afforded university staff. We have to keep our jobs on MERIT and ABILITY, not because once, a long time ago, we managed to earn tenure.

By the way, this is what happens outside of academia as well. People get fired every day. Now it's happened to you -- in this case, because you used very inappropriate language. Stop whining about it; learn from it; and move on.

10. cwinton - March 02, 2010 at 04:23 pm

I hope there's more to this story than what has been reported. Firing someone for an untoward remark strikes me as quite a bit overboard, all the more so because Towson purports to be a university, but then maybe it's not.

11. wanderer_01 - March 02, 2010 at 04:25 pm

Why was Mr. Zaruba using his valuable lecture time to complain about the conditions of his employment to his students? That's not what they're paying for. He took the job, and unlike the indentured servants he's comparing himself to, no one at his university was keeping him in shackles. Free will, remember? If he didn't like it, he was FREE (operative word) to leave.

12. 22251262 - March 02, 2010 at 04:25 pm

As a rule, no one should use the 'N' word except in describing a part of history in which the context from the professor is known to be value neutral. An example would be the use of the term N-town, which was a term whites used for a part of the city.

But ultimately, there is a bias here. No one seems to get upset when saying the 'R' word, which is redskin. Can you imagine rooting for the Washington N's pro football team versus the Washington R's? The words have the same connotation, but this instructor would unlikely lose his position for using the R word.

13. buzzer - March 02, 2010 at 04:27 pm

Well - it's not like he worked at Towson for more than a year or two with an otherwise good record. Oh, wait -- he did work there for 12 years. Not a problem. The Plantation -- I mean the University, can obviously replace him easily.

14. 12052592 - March 02, 2010 at 04:30 pm

fired for using a WORD... Thank goodness I live in the United States. Oh, wait.

15. abejaobrera - March 02, 2010 at 04:32 pm

I agree that Mr. Zaruba would have been exhibited more appropriate behavior had had not used such vocabulary. Nonetheless, without knowing the full facts surrounding his 12 yrs of employment history at Towson, judging the university's decision to immediately dismiss him as too harsh is impossible. None of us knows if he, for example, might have a history of similar behavior for which he had been reprimanded. It does make me wonder, however, if Mr. Zaruba would have been terminated if he had been a tenured member of the faculty at Towson? In my experience as a higher ed. administrator at various types of schools, tenured faculty often get away with behavior that would result in harsh reprimands, if not immediate termination, for most other employees at the school. (Who knew that tenure/academic freedom extended to protection of illegal and/or unethical behavior?) I digress...

16. patricia28 - March 02, 2010 at 04:39 pm

This is political correctness gone horribly awry. That particular word is disgusting when used to hurt or inflame. That it ever be used to address or describe an African-American person would be an abomination. It is NOT an abomination to use it metaphorically as Mr. Zaruba did. Could he have made a better choice? Most definitely, yes. Is a fireable offense? I don't think so, since there was NO intent to wound or disparage.

17. bdbailey - March 02, 2010 at 04:49 pm

He did not use it to disparage anyone, or denigrate anyone. He was using it to illustrate his position. Who was it that once said "Woman is the nigger of the world"? I cannot think of a more powerful way to make that particular point. It simply describes status in society.

18. lsu2007 - March 02, 2010 at 04:50 pm

It looks like he's free at last.

19. roro1618 - March 02, 2010 at 04:51 pm

I wonder if the reaction by the school would have been the same had he been black?? But, for those who see this as a "freedom of speech" issue, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from reaction. He spoke and the university spoke, as well. Why is his "free speech" more important than that of his employer's?

Furthermore, I wonder how the black students felt about it, how the white students and how all students in the course felt about? If a professor feels comfortable describing himself like that publicly, it is reasonable that he may then use the term towards students' behaviors publicly, too.

The word wounds and offends, irrespective of intent.

20. 12052592 - March 02, 2010 at 04:54 pm

Start going after rap artists. Wait, I mean, start going after white rap artists.

21. mssmiley - March 02, 2010 at 04:57 pm

Nothing justifies that kind of language in the classroom or any public forum. I just wonder what he says in his family gathering when he felt so comfortable to utter those words in public. America will never be a post-racial society, so we shoud not fool ourselves thinking that we can "all just get along" and say things that offend the sensibilities of any group. This country has a sad history of racial intolerace nad bigorty; this should never be forgotten.

22. mainiac - March 02, 2010 at 04:57 pm

Judging by the currency and cultural popularity of his metaphor, he was engaged in performance art. Only the Admin/professional class asserts the nword is politically volatile.

23. major_ray - March 02, 2010 at 04:58 pm

As I was once told, I am just a "nigger with a PhD"; I can tell you what Mr. Zaruba meant. He was speaking metaphorically. Unless you are a Black scholar in American you will never understand. He meant that even if you graduate with honors in chemistry, physics, or math at one of America's top schools and even if you produce scholarly peer review research, in the eyes of most people in academia you are still just a nigger with a Ph.D... Once they meet their quota, they will place a couple "happy negroes" on the tenure committee to keep you off! I believe he was making a comparison between the rights of Blacks and the rights of adjuncts. I know because I used to hire adjunct faculty members. A simple apology should be enough. To fire him does nothing, but proves his point!

24. phylsteiner - March 02, 2010 at 05:03 pm

Certainly has a chilling effect on using historical literature that uses politically incorrect, currently frowned on language.

The chill is greater for the more marginally employed, i.e., adjuncts. So if a large percentage of students are taught by faculty who are self-censoring and gagged, not just with the n-word but probably with other words as well, then the "free" marketplace of ideas is the worse for it.

What's sadder is that students are part of the gag-squad. If they don't like what they hear, then they'll tattle. How could an adjunct have any authority to teach, and hold students to standards, in such an environment?

What next? Some words are verboten, and then thoughts, attitudes, reading lists, ideas, criticisms? Without a strong culture of academic freedom (there was a legitimate context and point for Zaruba's use of the hated word; he was self-describing, not abusing others) there is the real danger that those charged with teaching others--often young adult others--can only engage them in what these students deem safe, happy, appropriate talk.

I wonder how Socrates, so full of impious thoughts, would have fared in today's academy.

25. bobfutrelle - March 02, 2010 at 05:29 pm

The point of the metaphor is well-taken.
The utterance in the classroom was unfortunate.

The department's interim chairman is a coward. He didn't have the guts to face the instructor. I suppose there are even worse ways - a tweet or a Postit on the instructor's door.

He might as well have called in George Clooney from up in the air to do the job.

26. juanflores - March 02, 2010 at 05:35 pm

Interestingly, John Lennon and Yoko Ono used it in their song, "Women are the Niggers of the World," and they were seen as truth-telling heroes. That word has long been reclaimed.

Zaruba is really telling the truth - adjuncts are indeed "the niggers of the academic world." Perhaps two things that Zaruba should consider: be glad that he is no longer part of that school; get a good lawyer and bring this forward to the world!

27. dmccornac - March 02, 2010 at 05:36 pm

Made my son's decision easier. No way will he go to Towson.

28. jameswilliams - March 02, 2010 at 05:57 pm

What should be obvious here is that university administrators are, in even increasing numbers, using their power to prevent faculty from speaking the truth. Zaruba's statement accurately, albeit metaphorically, described the working conditions of adjuncts nationwide. At many schools, as shared governance is dismissed as inexpedient, it also describes the conditions of regular faculty.

29. jameswilliams - March 02, 2010 at 06:00 pm

As a post script: My interpretation of Zaruba's comment regarding his meeting with an attorney is very pragmatic. The attorney gave him an estimate of the costs involved in suing the university for wrongful termination and realized that he couldn't afford litigation. It is this reality, which administrators are fully aware of, that allows such abuses of due process and all reason to florish.

30. lunnty - March 02, 2010 at 06:06 pm

He used a very poor choice of words. However, I wouldn't have fired him over it though. If he had used the word "slave", his statement still would have had its intended effect. I would have suspended him though...it is still a very ugly word with horrific historical connatations, no matter how who uses it or how much it is used in pop culture today.

As for the commentator above (12052592) who seemed to hint that free speech rules were violated, they weren't. Freedom of Speech protects you from being arrested for what you say...it DOES NOT protect you from the consequences of what you say. If your employer does not like something you uttered, they do have the right to fire you. I can go to the office tomorrow and foolishly call my manager all sorts of names...she can't have me arrested, but she sure can have me fired!

31. martythehound - March 02, 2010 at 06:10 pm

#23 major_ray: "To fire him does nothing, but proves his point!" Your comment is exactly on-point; I completely agree.

32. 22228715 - March 02, 2010 at 06:19 pm

Mr. Zaruba and several previous commenters have a very weak grasp of American history and culture. A big reason why the comment is offensive is not the word itself; rather, it is the rather blase way in which he used it, that made obvious his basic ignorance of history.

The very fact that Mr. Zaruba was "let go" is evidence that he was not enslaved. If Mr. Zaruba's situation was in any way akin to the plight of 19th century plantation slaves, Towson administrators would have chained him to a stake in the hot sun to keep him from going. They might have lopped off a part of his foot, if it didn't interfere with the teaching they needed him to do. Then they would have whipped him in front of his family in order to make him teach in the manner that they wanted. If that didn't work, they might have sold him to another university, one far away from his family (who would not be allowed to go with him), but probably to a less affluent university, and probably to do something less interesting or prestigious than teaching.

It was a silly comment. And if he truly believed he was that vulnerable (as opposed to just feeling particularly sorry for himself that day and using his classroom as a bully pulpit to whine to people over whom he thought he had influence), then he should have been fully prepared to be fired when he said it.

33. laventa - March 02, 2010 at 07:05 pm

Completel agree with phylsteiner's comment above-- succinct assessment of the situation and its implications. This is a new brand of McCarthyism -- don't like what you, so you're fired.

Yes, free speech, in its literal sense, refers to the protection from government intrusion. However, there is such a notion as the concept of free speech and marketplace of ideas which should be one of the raisons d'etre of the university.

As reported in the article, the professor was employing the word as a metaphor within a broader discussion related to the context of his lecture -- Key words: "discussion or representations of power"

"Allen Zaruba, a professional artist who has taught at Towson for 12 years, used the racially charged term to describe his employment rights as an adjunct professor during a broader discussion of representations of power in contemporary art."

He did not use the term to disparage or characterize the students. Taking the comments of outrage by some to their logical conclusion, perhaps Mark Twain and other literary forms with "offensive" or charged language should be henceforth banned.

34. kaune - March 02, 2010 at 07:11 pm

I'm sorry but what exactly is this "N word" everybody is referencing? I assume that referencing it in this cryptic way is protecting us from thinking of the evil word, no? That "N word" is a sufficient mask that could refer to, oh, anything? Otherwise, if everybody knows what "N word" refers to, if we all have the reference word activated successfully in our thoughts through exposure to the stimulus "N word," then obviously nobody believes it is offensive to make anybody think about the word, even against their volition; it's only offensive to expose their fragile ears to the phonemes or their sensitive eyes to the specific arrangement of letters. Simply making them think of that specific word, that's perfectly OK.

Sometimes the hypocricies that we force ourselves into in order to avoid being offensive are magnificantly effing silly.

35. cybird9 - March 02, 2010 at 09:29 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

36. honore - March 02, 2010 at 10:05 pm

just one more embarrassing example of a culture so hobbled by political correctness and diversity-gone-wild goons that the only appropriate speech is silence...this guy did NOTHING wrong, but speak his mind in a not only "tolerated" but encouraged. sadly today, if some organism on some planet in some past milennia would take offense to any utterance, then the solution is quite simple....SILENCE him/her. Towson is an embarrassment to the American academy and the interim department buffoon who fired him should start packing his his Che posters. HIS behavior at best reflects bad judgment and at worst complete in incompetence.

37. hoopoebird - March 02, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I teach a college class down the road from Towson. In this class, we watch and analyze the comedy of Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce, both of whom use "the N word." We then watch a YouTube clip of Michael Richards using the same word and discuss the difference between registering racism and advocating racism and how this distinction plays on the stage.

Should I now fear for my job because the word's existence in a classroom is enough to get an adjunct professor fired? I hope not.

38. fanon2 - March 02, 2010 at 11:25 pm

I believe several posts have hit the "N" ail on the head. Others have missed the point totally. First, let me say that it is quite unfortunate that someone lost their job. I do not wish unemployment on anyone--theoretically--especially an artist. But the first thing we learn especially in this economic atmosphere where corporations and employers are looking for every opportunity to lower the bottom line--the employee shouldn't "bad mouth" the boss. "Don't hate on your pay check." Secondly, students are not your friends. You have the power to change their GPA--you are the enemy! Stop trying to be down with the kids especially if your letter of recommendation isn't worth that much. Recently a "student" reported a teacher for an inappropriate My Space posting. That teacher was released. Here, a student also went straight to the provost and made a complaint. If nothing at all these two cases prove that the institution listens to their cash paying clients/customers. Then, and finally--I was confused with the information in the latter part of the article: "Zaruba's dismissal in Towson's student newspaper, The Towerlight, quotes a student in the class as saying that Mr. Zaruba often used terms people might find offensive, but she did not interpret his comment as malicious. Mr. Zaruba serves in a prison ministry and notes that his own stepfather, now deceased, was black." What does working in a prison or as stated a "prison ministry" and having a black stepfather do to neutralize racial tension or somehow make the reader feel compassion for Mr. Zaruba? That--there--is the most racist thing in the entire information exchange! That was a "Some of my best friends are black..."

39. zefelius - March 03, 2010 at 02:38 am

As a lecturer, I know I have to be very careful in what I say in the classroom. On the one hand we're supposed to facilitate open, honest discussions on a number of controversial subjects in the humanities (I teach philosophy), but on the other hand you can never be absolutely sure what might offend any given student. The word "Nigger" or possibly even "Negroe" will almost always cross the line for some students. If you want to keep your job, it seems best to play it safe. But I've gotten myself into trouble for other words such as "retarded" and "midget" without even realizing these words were no longer acceptable! One student left my class after I used the word "midget" and went straight to the head of the department. Luckily for me, the head of my department didn't fire me. Our jobs as adjuncts are so tenuous, that I feel lucky to have a job at all given all the possible words and discussions which may offend any number of students on any given day. Now I use the term "little people" in class, but to be honest that doesn't sound too much better to me!

40. zefelius - March 03, 2010 at 02:45 am

Kaune (#34):

Well said! I've often thought the same thing myself.

41. rickinchina09 - March 03, 2010 at 06:15 am

I'm elated that for once the charges associated with racist remarks cut both ways. Oh, I know there will be some who claim appropriation of this vulgar epithet or otherwise try to rationalize its use. Indeed, one poster here believes that if one acts with good intentions (i.e. is a person of color absorbed in a righteous teaching moment), one should be exempt from retribution. But this is merely more political correctness in action; those who advocate it reap what they sow. I see it as poetic justice. This does not mean to say academics should condone racist remarks, especially in the classroom, but it does cause one to pause and wonder to what extent we are willing to enforce language use. Now if only the Jesse Jackson's of the political world could be held to the same standard.

42. perkata - March 03, 2010 at 07:55 am

I am astonished that academics and professional administrators cannot distinguish between the use of a word as an insult and the appropriate employment of a word in a context that completely justifies its use.

And, of course, Towson U. then demonstrated how correct the instructor was in his characterization.

What an insult to the intellect the decision to fire is. Certainly I shall be advising anyone I know who intends to attend Towson to rethink his or her decision.

43. lee77 - March 03, 2010 at 08:03 am

Kaune (#34) - your comments reminded me of the Harry Potter books and 'he whose name must not be spoken'...

44. willismg - March 03, 2010 at 08:21 am

#24... Apparently today Socrates would fare exactly the way he did way back in Merry Old Athens. As a former teacher in the Anne Arundel school district, I routinely discouraged my students from considering Towson as even their "safety" school. It appears I wasn't so far off after all.

I had to stomach the restrictions on speech as a high school teacher (the kids are a captive audience, after all), but how can any organization call it a learning environment after something like this. By the way, I agree with the post who called out the utter hypocrisy of considering "N-word" acceptable but not the "actual" thing.

The "petty-fication" of this issue surely has Dr. King rolling in his grave....

45. tridaddy - March 03, 2010 at 08:57 am

PC gone wild!

46. laventa - March 03, 2010 at 09:18 am

If a student had been heard uttering the word, would that student be expelled from the university?

47. vousetje - March 03, 2010 at 10:02 am

Our language is full of words that affect our thinking of that word based on the context in which it is used. We should all be aware of the context in which we use a word. It is interesting to me to see comments that show our frustration with having to be politically correct (professional, polite) Please consider the context and who the word nigger is directed and stand behind what you say and don't whine or worry about political correctness, just be correct!
The professor directed the use of the word at himself. He could have used another word that would have created the same thoughts by the listener, so what's the difference? I beleive, it's not the words you use that shows your intent rather it's how you use the words you use.
Some of the post also show the frustration by some (C's, WF's) why can't I use the word but it's ok for (BF's)to use it? Context!
Another point to consider for those that are frustrated about the use of the word nigger, (BF's) simply took the power away from those that used nigger to hurt. "Lemonade"
Last point for those that ask, if he was black would he have been fired? He is Black (race) according to what I was taught, his Daddy was Black!

48. kenpackman - March 03, 2010 at 10:25 am

I don't think he got very good legal advice. Because Towson is a state university (part of the U/MD system), its relations with its employees are regulated by statutory and constitutional provisions. State employees are recognized as having property rights in their jobs, with federal Fifth Amendment rights to procedural due process when faced with their loss or diminution. He should have been provided a hearing prior to final dismissal.
And at that hearing, because he is a state employee, he should be able to assert a First Amendment right to expression. While not all expression is protected, here where the language used was self-deprecating and critical of the state, and semingly not harmful to any legitimate state interest, he should prevail. Of course there is a difference between possessing rights and effectively asserting them: a difference separated by the cost of that assertion (fees to courts and to the lawyers presenting the issues). He might consider contacting the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild or law schools in DC or Baltimore that contain employment law clinics.

49. mssmiley - March 03, 2010 at 10:26 am

Laventa (#46), the student and professor cannot be held to the same standards, as the teacher stands in a position of enormous power, and has the ability to influence the student's view or perceptions in and out of the classroom. We must agree that he used an inappropriate choice of words period.

50. 62jac - March 03, 2010 at 10:38 am

We must do what? All have the same opinion? Kiss my longitudinally challenged verge on the precipice.
The word "nigger" has been used historically on many people. Saying it soley refers to blacks is like saying Break Dancing was stolen from black urban youth or Rock 'n Roll was stolen from the black community. Break dancing was called B-Boying back in the day, and one of the originators of several moves was a genius named Crazy Legs, and he was a little pink and beige. The roots of Rock 'n Roll go back to Blues, Rhythm and Country Music, which are themselves cultural mish mashes. Yes, Elvis Presley borrowed from other artists, but like Little Richard said, "You won't hear how much other artists, of all races, took from Elvis." This is absolutely disturbing to me that a faculty member can be dismissed without due process and we have a bunch of cattle mentality crevice lickers siding with this situation.

51. 11221879 - March 03, 2010 at 11:00 am

cybird9

some of us do have graduate degrees, and have worked for many more than 6-8 years to prove ourselves in our fields of endeavor, but will NEVER have true job stability or security like a tenured professor has. A change in department head won't mean a lack of security for a tenured professor's job, on the administrative side of academia a new departmental leader can mean a virtual house cleaning - not based on merit, but because the new head wants to put his/her own people into place.

52. edpro - March 03, 2010 at 11:02 am

I feel this is alarming. The classroom should be used to have uncomfortable conversations and discussions. Where else in this society can we begin to have meaningful and challenging dialogues, and "exchange of ideas", if not in the classroom. Even if I disagree with what is being said, I will defend a person's right to say whatever s/he may feel. It's bigger than "Freedom of Speech". It's the Freedom to Speak!

I am disappointed in the student who reported it. But, I'm more disappointed in TU.

53. jazmsngr - March 03, 2010 at 11:12 am

I've worked at a university where a professor had the book 'Nigger: The Stange Career of a troublesome Word' by Randall Kennedy prominently displayed on a shelf facing the door to her office so when someone walked in you couldn't miss it. She said she left it there because she enjoyed the reactions of people as they laid eyes upon it. I completely agree with Phylsteiner.

54. hmlowry - March 03, 2010 at 11:38 am

Perhaps it's time to compile the lexicon of "never to be used words" in academe. That the use of the "n" was ill-advised is certain. That is arose to a prosecutable offense is obsurd. We bristle at the Chinese governments beef with Google over censorship, but we forfeit our right to indignation. Offensive art is OK. Offensive use of certain words is a firing offense. Praise the Lords of propriety for their stewardship of our utterances.

55. 11271415 - March 03, 2010 at 11:59 am

Do not complain about how lousy your job is in a classroom. Students are not there to hear how miserable your life is. They are there to learn.

56. physicsprof - March 03, 2010 at 12:12 pm

#55 (11271415),
1) discussion in the classrom was about representations of power in art and if the instructor felt his life experience could contribute to the discussion it was in his power and competence to refer to it.
2) It has long been accepted that academic freedom implies freedom of classrom discussion at the discretion of the instructor.
3) Students are ought to be educated about their job prospects if they pursue a career in academia and end up as an adjunct.
4) It has nowhere been claimed in this case that the instructor's offence was talking about how miserable his life was. Now you are prosecuting him for something that even TU (for the the low-life it is) did not dare to charge him with.

57. robins44 - March 03, 2010 at 12:33 pm

We privilege the word "nigger" by claiming it must not be spoken under any circumstances. Anyone remember the poor wretch (an assistant to the DC Mayor, as I recall) who was forced to resign because he'd used the word "niggardly" (which, lest anyone be offended, means "miserly" and has no relation to the racial epithet)--and even though he apologized for using a word that his listeners did not understand, he still couldn't hold onto his job?

58. iskander - March 03, 2010 at 12:42 pm

You can not defend yourself by engaging in the practice you are accused of. The university actions prove that they view his employment as disposal akin to that of a slave

59. dank48 - March 03, 2010 at 01:30 pm

By Towson's standards, the CHE article and our responses should also be banished. And dictionaries. And . . .

60. jaysanderson - March 03, 2010 at 01:31 pm

There are two issues: The first is of the use of a demeaning word that darn near everyone agrees should never be used. Use of that word under any circumstances in our society today is inexcusable. He was fired and should have been. We are teaching students and modeling desired adult behavior to them (or supposed to be, anyway).

The second issue is that of the rights (or lack thereof) of adjunct instructors. This debate is seperate from the cause for termination in this case, and certainly isn't an excuse for what was said.

There is a third issue, and it is one of trust. Why did the instructor discuss his employment concerns with an art class? Stop using the classroom as a pulpit, and teach art. Take HR concerns to the HR department. What? They won't listen to you? Then go teach somewhere else. The looseness of the adjunct teaching agreement works both ways--if you've had enough, walk away.

61. amnirov - March 03, 2010 at 01:44 pm

I'm hoping that FIRE has something to say about this particular issue.

62. zefelius - March 03, 2010 at 02:16 pm

Dear mssmiley (#49),

The power argument is an interesting one, but I'm not sure it holds true anymore for "professors," since most professors aren't actually professors today. Indeed, the professor who was fired was an adjunct with little job protection.

Since I received my Ph.D. 5 years ago, and have been teaching as a full-time lecturer, I have to be honest that I've been feeling as though our students have more power than we lecturers do. If I had the power, I think I would give them many more Cs and Ds, but I know at least two adjuncts who have recently lost jobs due to giving students poor grades (and thus receiving poor evaluations). Likewise, when I used the word "midget" last year, not knowing it was politically incorrect, I was quite nervous I would lose my job after a student dropped my course and complained to the head of our department (I wasn't using the word in an otherwies negative way, incidentally). Fortunately for me, the head was forgiving. But I certainly didn't feel as though I had power in that situation.

63. mtboots - March 03, 2010 at 02:33 pm

For bdbailey from Wikipedia: "Woman is the Nigger of the World" is a 1972 song by John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band. The phrase was originally coined by Yoko Ono during a magazine interview in 1969. Lennon later said during his Live in New York City album that it took him until 1970 to "dig it." He was hoping to show how women had been and still were being treated.
For 12052592: Right on!

64. vousetje - March 03, 2010 at 02:36 pm

I stand corrected, Zaruba's step father is Black. I don't understand what that has to do with his lecture.(uhm) I now have to question Zaruba's intent.
Perhaps an understanding of what he believes the word means can shed more light on to why Zaruba used the term to describe his situation.

65. vousetje - March 03, 2010 at 02:43 pm

Doing some quick research the only possible context that Zaruba could have used if he has white skin is dictionary.com 3 meaning of the word nigger,
a victim of prejudice similar to that suffered by blacks; a person who is economically, politically, or socially disenfranchised. TSU must be a place that doesn't pay well, subscribe to group think, and is one big fraternity.

66. davidvanko - March 03, 2010 at 04:27 pm

Quit dumping on TU (not TSU) for one instance, especially since one story is unlikely to contain all the facts of the "case." The status of adjunct faculty members is a nationwide issue and something like this could (and perhaps does) happen in many places. To the writer who will now tell his/her advisees not to consider attending TU, on the basis of this (incomplete) story, what can I say? It's a silly reaction.

Disclosure: I work at TU, but have no special knowledge of this event. And I like TU.

67. jcialone - March 03, 2010 at 05:01 pm

Last I checked, the Consitution of the US does not grant us the right to not be offended. We as a society have become to sensitive. Have we fallen so far as to make such a big deal out of being 'hurt' by someones words. Remember, words only have the importance and weight you give them.

68. aaron_benjamin - March 03, 2010 at 05:35 pm

Those of us that have worked at Towson and left it, know that it is a toxic, petty place. Vanko loves it (what a surprise)! No one gets any respect, and the university administrators have no backbone to stand behind its instructional staff --- ever. Too bad this happened, but not surprising at all to anyone familiar with this institution. And adjuncts, I liked the metaphor, are on the university plantation significantly more than the time administrators actually spend in their offices.

69. lackeydaniel - March 03, 2010 at 05:55 pm

Whatever we think of the teacher's remark, we should be able to eliminate the hate speech argument in defense of his being fired or even, had that been the case merely, of his being censured. Nobody has asserted that the art adjunct, the step-son of a black man, was using the word to demean or threaten any person of color. But Jaysanderson asserts that the n-word should never be used. Never? Not even by an African American? Not even by a white teacher clearly speaking metaphorically? Perhaps for the sake of argument he would wish to qualify his assertion. But Jaysanderson has a more compelling point. Like Stanley Fish arguing that teachers should not use their classrooms for political proselytizing, Jaysanderson says that this teacher should not have been using class time to discuss his "employment concerns." According to the author of the Chronicle article, the teacher used the term in the context of "a broader discussion of representations of power in contemporary art." Perhaps what might be called the presumed vehemence implied by the n-word made for an autobiographical reference too charged to keep the discussion on its "broader" course. While in principle in sympathy with Jaysanderson (as I am in principle in sympathy with Stanley Fish), I still have to wonder: Really, does the punishment here fit the crime? As an armchair commentator, blowing off steam after a hard of teaching, I cannot assert absolutely that it does not. But I must doubt that it does. In "Areopagitica" Milton reminds us that the great art of limiting speech rests in being able "to discern in what the law is to bid restraint and punishment and in what things only persuassion only is to work." But the teacher did not even have to be persuaded that his choice of word was "inappropriate." Those who like Jaysanderson rush to make the inappropriate de facto illegal, thus eliminating that gray area in which we can work to persuade, alarm me far more than a 12-year veteran of a teaching post who is summarily discharged, perhaps not for the metaphor in which he armed his poignant truth, but for the poigmant truth itself.

70. lackeydaniel - March 03, 2010 at 05:59 pm

Errata from my rejoinder to Jaysander: (1) For "hard of teaching" read "hard day of teaching." (2) For "in what things only persuassion only is to work" read "in what things persuassion only is to work."

71. jsch0602 - March 03, 2010 at 06:14 pm

There are probably more than a few books in the school library that should be removed.

72. knmys - March 03, 2010 at 07:22 pm

While I agree that the mere use of the word shouldn't get someone fired, and that it depends on the context in which it was used, what about the fact that the entire sentence was bashing Zaruba's employer? He basically called the University's administrators slave owners. He's just ASKING to get fired from his at-will position.

What if the sentence was instead "I am treated like a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp"? It's basically the same idea as what he said originally, just using a different historical context and less(?) contentious 'buzz word.'

Would people rush to defend his 'free speech' rights (which don't exist in the context) if the reference was Germany, 1940s, rather than Georgia, 1840s?

73. lackeydaniel - March 03, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Response to "knmys" Comment 72: Let me try to answer your quasi-rhetorical question with a quasi-rhetorical question of my own: Is referring to oneself as "a nigger on a corporate plantation" the same as calling oneself "a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp"? The first thing to note is that the questions don't quite balance in comparison: (1) "nigger" is a highly-charged and (usually) highly objectionable word in issue from Caucasion lips, while "Jew" per se is not, and (2) "corporate plantation" announces a metaphor (i.e., "this university with its corportate structure is as dictatorial as a Southern plantation vis-a-vis the enslaved peoples it treated as their property') while "concentration camp" is dead metaphor cum euphemism for a place where a group of people, in this case, Jews, are either worked to death or worked until they can be executed in mass and dumped together into mass graves. In the first case, a response might be: "the university may treat you like a slave but you, as a white man, cannot use the n-word under any circumstances," and in the second case: "The university may treat you badly, indeed you may in your own way be a wage slave, but to even 'merely' by metaphor compare yourself to a Nazi genocide victim is to denigrate the sacred memory of the millions who suffered and died in the camps." The Nazi comparison might be regarded as a self-destructing hyberbole: instead of being an exageration that by its very unreality calls legitimate attention to a legitimate grievance, it is an exageration that makes the grievance seem ridiculously petulent. /// Re the "bashing of Zaruba's employer": you conflate an issue of principle ("should Zaruba have been fired for what he said?") with an issue of prudence ("Shouldn't this guy have had the sense to keep his mouth shut?"). An issue of prudence may legitimately be raised but in this case as in so many others it has (as itself a misguided principle!)the echo of such a statement as "Didn't she know that by walking down that dark street late at night she was just asking for trouble--not that anyone thinks she deserved to be raped."

74. cityprof - March 04, 2010 at 09:13 am

Re: #72's question (and #73's response), the analogous phrase wouldn't be " 'Jew' in a concentration camp" but " 'K*ke' in a concentration camp." Would we as a community be comfortable with using the K word as a synonym for Jewish people, even just those who were subject to the most virulent Anti-semitism? Somehow I doubt it. That's why the professor's statement was offensive--not that he compared himself to a disenfranchised group, but that he used an epithet as a casual synonym for that group. If he had said "slave on a plantation," his point would have been made just as clearly, without also setting up the racist equation, (enslaved) black people = niggers.

Frankly, I am amazed that no one has pointed this out yet--instead there has been a lot of effort by commenters to call the University's actions "overly PC" and to defend this professor's seeming comfort with the term 'nigger' as just another (metaphorical) way of making reference to blacks. Disappointing, to say the least, though perhaps not surprising. Good to know that my "enlightened" academic colleagues see nothing wrong with using the word 'nigger' as a synonym for people who look like me (in an historical context). To the poster who claims that the word has applied to many other groups apart from blacks--perhaps, but that's just another justification. When this professor invoked "plantation" slavery in a U.S. context, we all know he was talking about a system in which 99% of the enslaved were of African descent.

75. knmys - March 04, 2010 at 09:30 am

Re: lackeydaniel - Good point. I appreciate the time to explain your position/thoughts regarding my 'Jew/Nazi' question, and since I was on the fence about this. I guess my only point is that the adjunct could have been fired for 2 entirely different reasons: 1. The use of the 'N' word (which is what caused all of this uproar), OR 2. Bashing his employer to students of the university. Even if he shouldn't have been fired for #1 (something I don't necessarily agree with), I'm 'OK' with him being let go for #2.
Regarding the walking down a street late at night analogy, I offer my own, which I think is closer to the issue: You talk loudly to your friend about 'stupid fat biker guys' while drinking a bar run by the Hells Angels, and then later wonder why you woke up in a hospital being fed through a tube.

Re: cityprof - Thanks for pointing out the difference in wording (jew vs. k*ke). I agree your version is much more contentious and probably closer to the original statement. I agree with you, defending the use of the word 'nigger' because it might have at some point been used for other races/ethnicities by a small subset of the population is complete bunk.

76. tsali - March 04, 2010 at 09:57 am

This guy's word choice was not simply obnoxious, it represents a profound breach of professionalism.

If a grocery clerk, a tow truck driver, or pretty much anyone else made the same comment about their job in a public forum while on the clock, they would most certainly get canned. Why would an adjunct faculty person ever believe they could get away with saying such a thing in front of the classroom?

The student who reported him and the department made smart decisions. Those of you whining about political correctness need a reality check.


77. deliajones - March 04, 2010 at 10:23 am

the most pertinent comment above was the one that asked, "Why was he discussing his employment status with his students in the classroom?" My experience is that too many faculty use the class time that students have paid dearly for to go off on irrelevant and unrelated rants and or digressions. There is room to make connections with class topics through personal examples, but too many of us use our podium as though we were talk show hosts who could range frely and harangue students. Free speech doesn't mean that professors are free to digress, whine, and otherwise students' time.

78. rdeprospo2 - March 04, 2010 at 10:31 am

Judith Butler. "Sovereign Performatives in the Contemporary Scene of Utterance." Critical Inquiry 23 (Winter 1997): 350-377. "The state produces hate speech" (356). The Towson corporate plantation produces both the n_____rs and the hateful signifier "n______rs."

79. johntoradze - March 04, 2010 at 11:34 am

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nigger
Merriam Webster defines the 3rd meaning as "a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons" and usage notes state that this third usage is not an expression of bigotry.

Zaruba should contact the Maryland labor board and file a complaint. http://www.dllr.state.md.us/contactinfo/

Towson proved that adjunct Zaruba is indeed a "nigger on the corporate plantation" as defined by Merriam Webster's dictionary.

80. sponsa9 - March 04, 2010 at 11:48 am

I recall that Yoko Ono, Beatle John Lennon's wife, once said in a magazine interview that "woman is the nigger of the world." John Lennon then wrote a song in 1972 by that title and played it with his Plastic Ono Band. Many blacks, including black comedian, Dick Gregory, spoke out in defense of the song. (this info is from Wikipedia). Using a word should not result in summary firing of a teacher with 12 years working in his institution. Why aren't there any shades of grey anymore? Why are people fired without warnings? Why don't administrators work with the people they are supposed to serve to help them overcome stupid mistakes? It reminds me of the time Jesus encountered the men about to stone a woman taken in adultery, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." And the men all slunk off. Who is so perfect that they haven't made a mistake? I bet the administrators that fired him have made many mistakes.

81. qzxcvbnm - March 04, 2010 at 01:31 pm

I see it as a matter of professionalism rather than a PC or a racial issue.

He was supposed to be teaching, not preaching, or talking about his personal feelings regarding his job. Students and their families were not paying good money to hear his complaints about his work situation--and if such behavior were habitual, they have every right to complain about it.

That being said, if I were an administrator, and if he had no history of this kind of thing, I'd let him off with a warning, and keep an eye on him for a while.

82. lackeydaniel - March 05, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Re: cityprof (#74): Alan Zaruba doubtless wishes he had said "slave on a [corporate] plantation." Then he would still have his job. My main point was: did the punishment fit the crime? On the basis of the above news story (surely somewhat biased in favor of Zaruba) I say no. Cityprof might quite understandably take offense at a white prof uttering the n-word, but my point in noting its "metaphorical" use is to distinguish Zaruba's line of protest from "hate speech." /// Cityprof fine-tunes the discussion in saying the proper equivalent of "nigger on the corporate plantation" is not "Jew in a concentration camp," but "K*** in a concentration camp." I opined that if Zaruba had compared himself as a salaried adjunct employee at Towson with a Jew in a concentration camp, he would have made himself ridiculous--his hyperbole would have blown up in his face. Had he used the K-word instead of "Jew" he might have--what?--been just as offensive but also more . . . confusing? The question is beyond my powers in the wee hours . . .

83. lackeydaniel - March 06, 2010 at 11:11 am


Re #83: A good subject for an investigative report perhaps irrelevant to the Zaruba n-word incident, but then again, maybe not (see the cryptic quotation from Critical Inquiry at #78). Here is a scenario: The English dept. at Diversity U. receives 200 applications in response to a job ad that includes the usual "claimer" that qualified minority applicants are "encouraged." Its personnel office (but not the search committee)knows,by virtue of the standard query cards (in this hypothetical case all miraculously returned), that 20, or exactly 10% of those applicants, are members of various minorities, knows, in fact, that 15, or 7.5% of the pool are African-American. Of the original two hundred applicants, a total of 20 are selected for telephone interviews, and of those thus selected two are African-American. Of these 20, three are selected as finalists for an on-campus visit, and all three are Caucasian. In this scenario we need not say whether racism played any part in none of the 15 African-American semi-finalists being included among the finalists. We need say only that Diversity U. wants to say that it has been "reaching out to qualified minority candidates" and is concerned that their failure to include any minority candidate among the finalists will make their "outreach" proclamations seem insincere. They hire one of the Caucasian candidates, but try to "pad" their outreach efforts by pretending to review (as if they were actual applications for the job) the resumes of 50 English professors who have placed with a minority job listing service. They are now able to report (untruthfully) that they reviewed a total of 250 "applications," "almost thirty per cent of which were from persons of color." They are now able, that is, to report that they have not been able to find a qualified minority candidate even from a significantly larger pool of applicants. How would this count as better "outreach"? /// Aside from that question, is the question of what constitutes "outreach." This brings us to the issue of affirmative action, the principle which basically asserts that, other factors being more or less equal,race SHOULD BE a factor in hiring, and a principle with which I myself happen to be in accord. Perhaps even a white guy who has made himself offensive by applying to HIMSELF the n-word would agree that more descendents of people enslaved should be able to take their rightful place as wage slaves at Diversity U.

84. lackeydaniel - March 07, 2010 at 01:51 pm

Erratum for #83: For "Re #83" read "Re #74."

85. lackeydaniel - March 07, 2010 at 02:10 pm

Re: #84: Ignore. The comment to which I reponded, at that time #83 (with mine at that time being #84) is no longer posted. Why? Technical glitch? Removed--upon prudent second thoughts by author? By Chronicle in response to complaints from Towson?

86. louisekraz - March 12, 2010 at 08:21 pm

The scariest thing I have read here is all the calls to "ban" certain words, practices, ideas, actions, etc. Oh, really? Do you want someone sitting in your class making a list of your mistakes, bad words, personal comments, or complaints and then take that list to the administration/department chair? How often should we encourage this? Every day, once a week? It's ludicrous. The real solution is to have a student with a complaint about a professor to talk to the professor (which is what the department chair should have encouraged) not just send the prof packing. As a contract employee myself, I can confirm that Professor Zaruba was probably describing his situation accurately and it's too bad the student wasn't interested enough in the politics of academia to engage in a conversation IN CLASS about it.

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