Archive for Friday, March 18, 2016

KU investigation clears professor who used N-word in class

Four-month leave, inquiry followed students’ complaints of racial harassment, discrimination

Some Kansas University students filed a discrimination complaint with KU against assistant professor Andrea M. Quenette, who they accused of using racist language, in November 2015.

Some Kansas University students filed a discrimination complaint with KU against assistant professor Andrea M. Quenette, who they accused of using racist language, in November 2015.

March 18, 2016

Advertisement

After a four-month investigation into whether she racially harassed and discriminated against students, a Kansas University professor who used the N-word in class has been cleared.

Assistant professor of communication studies Andrea Quenette said KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access notified her late Friday that it found she did not violate the university’s nondiscrimination or racial and ethnic harassment policies, as several graduate students had complained last fall.

Quenette — who has been on paid leave since the investigation opened in late November — said she thought KU’s process was thorough and fair, but she is relieved it’s over and looks forward to returning to campus.

“I believe they did due diligence in taking the students’ concerns seriously, and I do appreciate that,” she said. “I didn’t believe I had violated policies ... so I’m glad that the outcome reflected that.”

Key to the university’s decision was that while Quenette did say the N-word during a November class discussion about race, she did not use it as a slur.

“This word is offensive, but it was used in the context of retelling a factual event that occurred at another campus,” Quenette said, summarizing what the university wrote in a letter explaining its conclusion. “It was not used in racial animus.”

In addition to complaints from that class discussion, KU investigators looked at complaints about a lack of diversity training in orientation for communications graduate teaching assistants — for which Quenette coordinates the curriculum — and a simulation video she created for a media and terrorism class that students called stereotypical and offensive, Quenette said. KU addressed each but found no policy violations regarding them, she said.

KU’s conclusion made several recommendations for Quenette going forward, she said: Undergo cultural competency training, reevaluate orientation curriculum to include more diversity support and pair up with a faculty mentor.

“I think diversity training would be welcomed, and I think it is important for all faculty, so I embrace the opportunity to be able to do that,” she said. “A faculty mentor, I think, is a great thing.”

KU also recommended possibly reassigning duties within the communications department, Quenette said. She said specifics of that would likely be discussed with the department chair.

A total of eight communications graduate students filed formal complaints against Quenette with the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, Quenette said. Some of the students were in the class where she said the N-word but the majority were not, she said.

The university keeps names of complainants confidential.

KU spokesman Joe Monaco confirmed Friday that the investigation was complete and that all involved parties had been notified of the outcome. University administrators won’t comment on the findings, Monaco said, citing confidentiality.

Quenette, now in her third year as a tenure-track assistant professor, doesn’t have any classes this spring because she was previously scheduled for a research-intensive semester, but she said she expects to return to teaching this summer or fall.

She requested and was granted paid leave for the duration of KU’s investigation after a week of backlash from the Nov. 12, 2015, class discussion — including social media posts with the hashtag #FireAndreaQuenette and a critical open letter posted online by graduate students.

Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little listens to a question as she moderates a town hall forum on race at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union in November 2015.

Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little listens to a question as she moderates a town hall forum on race at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union in November 2015.

Jyleesa Hampton, a first-year communications graduate student who is black, signed the open letter but was not in the class. Hampton did not say whether she was among students who filed Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access complaints, because that information is supposed to be confidential.

Hampton said Friday that the office's conclusion that Quenette didn't violate policy doesn't mean her comments weren't perceived as racist by those who received them.

"The students that wrote that letter stand behind that letter, that it is possible to do and say racist things and not violate the law," Hampton said. "That doesn’t make them any more acceptable.”

The class discussion in question came the day after KU’s heated, universitywide town hall forum on race.

It was sparked by a graduate student posing the question, “What is the best approach to talk about that event and these issues with our students?” according to the letter.

During the discussion, Quenette said that as a white woman it was difficult for her to relate to others’ challenges because she has not experienced racial discrimination herself, according to both Quenette and students. At KU, unlike other campuses reporting highly visible racist acts and assaults, “It’s not like I see (N-word) spray painted on walls…” the letter quoted Quenette as saying.

“Dr. Quenette’s deployment of racially violent rhetoric not only creates a non-inclusive environment in opposition to one of the University of Kansas’ core tenets, but actively destroys the very possibility of realizing those values and goals,” the students wrote.

Students said Quenette’s remarks caused them “shock, anger and pain,” according to the letter. They said they would refuse to attend Quenette’s class, and called on her to be fired.

Some in academia will consider KU's decision a win for academic freedom. Quenette's case made national news and attracted commentary from free speech advocates including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE.

Quenette said she thinks everyone at KU can feel reassured, because both she and the students had an opportunity to be heard and that the process worked.

“People need to be respectful of other people’s feelings and situations and positions, and that will always be true,” she said.

“I feel hopeful there is opportunity for everyone to learn from this experience but also that faculty here can feel comfortable and not afraid.”

KU news
Have a story idea?
Contact Journal-World KU reporter Sara Shepherd:

Comments

Richard Ballard 3 months, 1 week ago

Good!

I'm tired of all these youngsters getting their fillings hurt during the course of common conversation and discussion in a class.

I have never in my life used the N-word against another.

But I have used it in a class on diversity as part of my job years ago. With no protests or repercussions from my peers.

On the other hand, I can't count the times blacks called me a Honkie during my Army service. Or Slick at work.

I smiled and went on.

I also found out we all bleed the same color red when the fertilizer hits the fan.

To the young educated kids at K.U. Get over it!

That's the way it is in the real world.

rc

Renee Patrick 3 months, 1 week ago

Those who get their fillings hurt should see a dentist.

Mike Edson 3 months, 1 week ago

Really? "Slick" is a derogatory word? I have never used it in that manner.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 1 week ago

I don't condone the H word any more than I condone the N word, and Slick isn't a racial word. People of any color can be called "Slick". I don't think that this professor was using the N word to insult. Obviously that is what the investigation bore out. Using that word in class can be tricky. I used to teach "To Kill a Mockingbird", and told students when we read aloud, if you are uncomfortable saying that word, just change it to "n-word" or skip over it. I was uncomfortable saying that word, so I did the same.

Pius Waldman 3 months, 1 week ago

I find it interesting that black people used that word to describe others and also black entertainers get laughs when they use that word in programs. Also it is worthy to mention that students that weren't enrolled were part of the group that wanted the teacher to be fired. Hope there will come a time when people won't get fired or threatened for simply making a comment.

Renee Patrick 3 months, 1 week ago

I might get chuckles if I call myself cracker, but I don't think I would feel happy if it were hurled at me by a person of colour. I definitely wouldn't consider it a mere comment.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 1 week ago

So all black people use that word? I don't think so. Many of them fight to get other Blacks not to use it. You are making broad generalizations.

Scott Quenette 3 months, 1 week ago

To some, referring to them using the word you did is offensive. See how words are tricky?

Nicholas Stix 3 months, 1 week ago

"Many of them fight to get other Blacks [sic] not to use it."

No, they don't. You are making broad fabrications.

Nicholas Stix, Uncensored @NicholasStix

Chris Condren 3 months, 1 week ago

A four month investigation to tell us what we knew. Word spoken in an academic exercise. Four months salary wasted. Professor declared innocent but still must be reprogrammed by KU thought and speech police. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff. It tells me that KU has way to much money that it is happy to waste respources while striving for political correctness. Very sad.

Paul Silkiner 3 months, 1 week ago

This investigation took four months and I wonder how much money? This could have taken care of in about twenty minutes and a cup of coffee. Please come to your senses, do not be intimidated by individuals...........just because they are LOUD!

Steve Jacob 3 months, 1 week ago

I just think it's funny they released the results on a Friday afternoon when the students are gone. Not at all a consistence.

Kate Rogge 3 months, 1 week ago

KU's administration operates to fluff up its $$$ donors and to avoid litigation. All else is window dressing.

Brett McCabe 3 months, 1 week ago

It's important to be able to discuss these words/ phrases, etc., in context, in an academic setting. Certainly, it's not comfortable, but it is very important. These types of discussions might actually help generate more understanding.

I think that KU's hands were tied in that they had to perform the investigation given the events going on in CoDumbia. Though it wasn't really fair to the professor, it was probably the right way to handle it.

Scott Quenette 3 months, 1 week ago

While we are glad with the result, they went far beyond their normal timelines for this.

Scott Burkhart 3 months, 1 week ago

It looks like the "Neototalitarians" will need to look elsewhere for a fight.

Peter Macfarlane 3 months, 1 week ago

Oh Scotty! Give it up with the name calling and aspersions! You are tiresome!

Charles L Bloss Jr 3 months, 1 week ago

All of this BS from a supposed place of higher learning. The professor investigated, off work for four months, over one word. It was used in the process of teaching, too. All you folks should have grown up where I did, you would really have your tender feelings hurt. I submit you couldn't take it. I have been called names throughout my life, and that is not even what this is about, and I ignore it. In my job I was ordered to attend an 8 hour workshop on diversity, which I did. I learned a lot. There was a black man there.. He shared that on his way to and from work he passed by a house that had small decorative black jockey statues, with rings, to simulate a place to tie horses up had they been full size. Yard art, nothing more, nothing less. He stopped, went to the home owner and told him how much it offended him passing by them. The home owner agreed to take them down. I am not racist, I thought this was bar none the silliest thing I ever heard. If this bothered him that much, go down another street. People that let a word, a small piece of yard art, or any thing else upset them to this degree need to mellow out. Ignore it. This is the real world folks, toughen up, it is not always fair. I have been knocked down time and again, I always get back up and go on. I ignore attempts to bait me into getting upset over such silly things, you should too. I know this letter is going to really fire you liberals up, go for it. We have such a thing as free speech in America. I will listen to your side as I expect you to do the same. Have a nice day.

Richard Crank 3 months, 1 week ago

I've been gay all my life, not always openly so. I, every so often, heard words like homo, queer, fag, faggot, and pansy (not to mention dyke) since childhood. Most often it was deliberately hurtful; but sometimes those words were spoken by gay people (male and female) in defiance of convention ("reclaiming" them and remaking them as positive terms, they often told me).

I still get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I hear those words, spoken by anyone (even my mother), so I resent the advice to "mellow out" or "get tough" or "grow up" about "simple words" -- more than 5 decades of hearing them has an indelible impact on a person. I'm a firm believer in free speech and know there's no way of stopping it short of dictatorship, which I oppose in any form. But I believe in civility, too, and that means measuring our words and keeping the audience, intended or not, in mind.

From what I know about this story, which is only what I've read in the Journal World and the UDK, I'm glad (even relieved) that Prof. Quenette has been cleared, I'm also glad to know that KU apparently completed a thorough investigation before taking final (and irreparable) action.

Brenda Bonzer 3 months, 1 week ago

Yet, you just said each one of them.

Proving the point that it's not the word, it's the usage and the context.

Harlan Hobbs 3 months, 1 week ago

Dorothy, you really need to wake up. The bottom line is that this type of inquisition is nothing but modern day fascism. I find it interesting that you, an obvious far left person, aren't a champion of free speech.

Perhaps KU saw what happened to Missouri over these types of incidents. According to the latest articles, Mizzou has seen a 25% reduction in enrollment, and a $32 million budget deficit due to the rabble-rousing over there. My guess is that KU is on the verge of seeing some similar results. Will be interested to see the next reports.

Liberals love free speech when it protects them, but everyone else has to be silenced. If you really want to espouse that, then move to Cuba, Russia, China, or any other socialist/communist country you want. You'll probably find that you aren't that welcome their either because they will want to suppress you in the end.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 1 week ago

What are you talking about? I'm glad she was cleared after the investigation. But I do think people need to be more sensitive about certain words. My daughter used to tell me she hated that my mom would get mad at her for using cuss words around her. I told her to be respectful of her grandmother, and learn to use cuss words where it's appropriate, or maybe to try and express herself without using cuss words at all. I don't call people of any races derogatory words. And if they call themselves that, I'll ask them why? It's called having respect. But I don't think this woman was trying to be disrespectful. Free speech is ok, but being respectful is important too. But you are free to be as rude as you want. Do you cuss around your grandmother?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 3 months, 1 week ago

Well, you all beat me to it again. Personally, I have never seen such a stupid, insane response to a simple use of a supposedly toxic word in a class lecture. I think that the University shows incredible stupidity in even considering this. It reminds me of the stupid bathroom signs that depict a half man/half woman figure.

Yeah one thing I agree with of Mr. Trump (about the only thing) is that there is entirely too much political correctness today and the fools at the Kansas University are guilty of incredible stupidity and foolishness over the pursuit of this non-issue.

And yeah, how much taxpayer money has been wasted on this foolish and nonsense issue??

Michael Shaw 3 months, 1 week ago

If you read the article carefully, you will see that a number of issues were raised, and that all of them were investigated. One might also consider what was happening at the same time in neighboring states.

Doug Hensley 3 months, 1 week ago

The whole field of race relations is strewn with land mines. A little understanding and forbearance can help us "all get along".

It must surely be an exceedingly rare professor who sets out to hurt students' feelings by flinging racial insults. It's unwise of a faculty member to say anything that might be taken badly, and Prof.Q has had that lesson driven home. But it does no one any good to assign improbable and malignant motives to speech that can be given a more charitable interpretation.

Harry Potter is not trying to invoke Lord Voldemort every time he uses the name instead of "You Know Who." He had just rather confront the matter head on.

Bob Smith 3 months, 1 week ago

"... It's unwise of a faculty member to say anything that might be taken badly..." In these days of hysterical PC, almost any statement might be taken badly.

Richard Heckler 3 months, 1 week ago

Welcome back assistant professor Andrea M. Quenette hope you stick around for awhile.

Stacy Napier 3 months, 1 week ago

Doesn't anybody see an issue that of the 8 students to complain there were some that were not in the class and did not hear her say the word at all.

So anyone can complain about someone based on just hearsay?

Richard Aronoff 3 months, 1 week ago

The fact that this complaint wasn't thrown out the day after it was made is a stain on KU.

And I'm really tired of all this "n-word" nonsense. When you see "n-word" in print don't you think of THE word?

Would the students have complained if the professor said she had "never seen the n-word" on her office door?

Is it now acceptable for someone to say to a black person, "You're just a stupid n-word"?

The word that must not be mentioned. Lord Voldemort, please call your office.

To paraphrase Rodney King, why can't we all just......grow up.

Mike Ford 3 months, 1 week ago

and Many students come to college hoping for an enlightened environment. They hope to be in a place that academically inspires them. Kids that work hard and escape urban and rural areas of intellectual repression which is Kansas. The last thing someone would want to hear in an academic environment that they're going into debt for is a racial epithet.

I took Survey of Latin America in 199

Mike Ford 3 months, 1 week ago

In 1991 and 1992 at Washburn University. My professor taught about the conquistadors and the Peninsulares and Criollios. He didnt care about Inca, Mapuche, Aymara, Mayan, Quicken, Olmec, Nahautl, or Tarahumara history. I walked after that class and have spent two decades educating myself. There is a paternalistic attitude in this circumstance. This professor isn't African American and only one or two of the posters on here are. If these kids are paying for this education with debt who are you all to tell them what is offensive and what isn't? I didn't go to a place of higher learning to hear Archie Bunker echoed. Education should be about learning history that has been ignored or pursuing productive and exposing statements that lead to greater learning. Not reinforcement of past and repeated mistakes.

Bob Smith 3 months, 1 week ago

If you expect college to be a safe place where you are never challenged, you should have stayed in preschool where you'll feel better.

Mike Ford 3 months, 1 week ago

And you should know that Archie Bunker didn't go to college and if you and your ilk aren't afraid of diversity in college why do you use the Koch Brothers and money to buy silence? Narrow thinking and conservative regression have no place in higher learning.

Bob Smith 3 months, 1 week ago

You invent so much of what you think you know about people. I'm not buying anybody's silence.

Scott Burkhart 3 months, 1 week ago

Mike, I would argue that there is too much diversity in college. Children are going in debt to obtain worthless degrees that will never land them a job, even if there are any available. Oh, and poor you, that your professor wasn't teaching what you thought the syllabus should be. At least you had the good sense to leave the class and not ruin the educational experience for everyone else in it.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 months, 1 week ago

So you are saying we should only have white, rich kids in college? Are you having a hard time finding people to work for almost nothing?

Mike Ford 3 months, 1 week ago

I left college being higher learning isn't really learning if it's just a White academics view of history which was the case in 1991-1992. The observations that some of you still want this environment is the problem you dance around or refuse to acknowledge.

Richard Aronoff 3 months ago

Congrats to the administrators at KU. You made it onto Professor Jonathan Turley's blog. As many of you may know, Prof. Turley is a constitutional law professor. He's a liberal who approves of the president's intentions but believes that a number of his executive orders are unconstitutional and has said so to congressional committees.

Here are his thoughts on the subject of this LJW article. The bad news for KU is that his blog is followed by over twenty million people. WIth this sort of publicity, I imagine that KU may experience the "Mizzou effect.":

https://jonathanturley.org/2016/03/23/kansas-professor-cleared-of-racial-insensitivities-in-use-of-the-n-word-in-lecture-then-asked-to-undergo-retraining-and-other-changes/

Scott Quenette 3 months ago

I commented on Turley's blog. It is very heartening to find that there is so much support from all around the country. I fear the fight has not ended. The SJWs have launched a misinformation campaign based purely on obfuscation and lies. This wasn't about inclusivity, this was a personal grudge by one and a political ploy by others.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.