Minnesota University Facing Backlash for Extending Suspension of Professor Who Used Racial Slur in Discussion

Minnesota’s Augsburg University is facing backlash after extending a professor’s suspension while it conducts a formal review of his use of the n-word in a class discussion.

Professor Phillip Adamo was suspended from his teaching duties in October when students complained about his use of the word through the school’s bias-reporting system. Adamo used the word while reading from a James Baldwin book, and later shared essays with his students about using the word in academic discussions.

“I see a distinction between use and mention,” Adamo recently told Inside Higher Ed. “To use the word, to inflict pain or harm, is unacceptable. To mention the word, in a discussion of how the word is used, is necessary for honest discourse.”

Adamo later took medical leave because of the stress of the situation, and now the university has announced that his suspension will be extended through the spring semester while it conducts a formal review.

In a February 1 statement, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) expressed concern that Adamo’s suspension “was a violation of his academic freedom, as it appears to have been primarily based on classroom speech that was clearly protected by principles of academic freedom.”

“Professor Adamo’s public suspension raises concerns about its impact on the climate for academic freedom at Augsburg University generally. The Association has long regarded suspension as a particularly serious personnel action,” the AAUP wrote in a letter to Augsburg University President Paul Pribbenow.

“In the words of the report of an AAUP investigative committee, ‘barring a teacher from his classroom inflicts ignominy upon the teacher and is destructive to the morale of the academic community.’ When such action is summarily taken for reasons that implicate principles of academic freedom, it is likely to have a chilling effect on others who teach at the institution,” the letter added.

But the university continues to defend its actions, and revealed in a January 28 statement that more than 30 individuals reported Adamo’s use of the word to school officials “through a variety of available mechanisms, including personal interviews and the university’s Student-Faculty Bias/Discrimination reporting process.”

Adamo continues to remain active at the university with “assignments outside the specific class and program areas involved with the review,” the statement adds, noting that the “formal process requires consultation with the university’s faculty-elected Committee on Tenure and Promotion,” which will provide “input on appropriate next steps.”

“We know that the work of fostering an inclusive learning environment is ongoing, and we are fully committed to it,” Pribbenow said. “We are grateful to the students, faculty, and staff who have spoken courageously to raise campus awareness, who have engaged in actively listening to issues being expressed, and who have called for changes that advance our equity work. Augsburg will address this important topic like it has many other critical issues in our 150-year history: we will acknowledge and engage the topic, not shrink from it, and work together to make the university better.”

According to Adamo’s faculty page, he was named Minnesota Professor of the Year in 2015 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

“In 2006, he received Augsburg’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching and Learning, and in 2014, the award for Distinguished Contributions to Scholarship,” it adds.

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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Phillip Adamo” by Phillip Adamo. Background Photo “Augsburg College” by Elkman.  CC BY 4.0.









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