Dr. Andrea Quenette, an assistant communications professor at the University of Kansas, has been taken off a semester of teaching following a months-long investigation conducted by the university into her alleged offenses against political correctness and racial sensitivity.
Quenette, who is white, allegedly was placed on academic leave after some of her students refused to return to her class following a Nov. 12, 2015, class discussion concerning "white privilege," according to the Daily Beast.
During the course of the conversation, Quenette, in an attempt to admit her lack of knowledge concerning racism, allegedly stated, "As a white woman I just never have seen the racism ... It’s not like I see ‘N**ger’ spray painted on walls…"
The response to Quenette's utterance of the "N" word was swift and furious.
"As you can imagine, this utterance caused shock and disbelief," several of Quenette's students wrote in an open letter. "Her comments that followed were even more disparaging as they articulated not only her lack of awareness of racial discrimination and violence on this campus and elsewhere but an active denial of institutional, structural, and individual racism. This denial perpetuates racism in and of itself."
Quenette defended her utterance of the word in an email sent to Inside Higher Ed:
"I believe academic freedom is an important issue in this situation. This topic was already the focus of the readings in class for this day, and issues of race and discrimination are current issues our campus is focusing on. I did not call anyone this word, nor did I use it to refer to any individual or group. Rather, I was retelling a factual example about an issue elsewhere."
But in addition to the n-word incident, the outraged students included another example of Quenette's behavior that they found to be particularly offensive, recounting what happened after Ph.D. student Ian Beier presented evidence about how low retention and graduation rates amongst black students reflect racist attitudes and a lack of institutional support.
"Dr. Quenette responded with, 'Those students are not leaving school because they are physically threatened everyday but because of academic performance,'" the open letter stated, adding, "This statement reinforces several negative ideas: that violence against students of color is only physical, that students of color are less academically inclined and able, and that structural and institutional cultures, policies, and support systems have no role in shaping academic outcomes. Dr. Quenette’s discourse was uncomfortable, unhelpful, and blatantly discriminatory."
After listing several other offenses allegedly committed by the professor, her students called for Quenette's immediate termination from the University of Kansas and its Department of Communication Studies.
"Dr. Quenette’s comments in this specific class, though, clearly demonstrate a legitimate pedagogical concern," the letter continued. "The goal of the course is to produce practitioners, so by imbuing racist language, remarks, and viewpoints into the pedagogy her students were meant to replicate, Dr. Quenette was training us to perpetrate acts and ideas violating the policies of the university. Therefore, her speech is not protected by the First Amendment and employer discipline for her remarks is not only legal, but necessary based on her breach of contract."
Representatives from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education disagreed with Quenette's students' assertions.
“The longer Quenette has to wait for what should be a fundamental affirmation of her rights as a professor, the more deeply speech will be chilled at KU,” FIRE Associate Director Peter Bonilla wrote in an email to the Daily Beast.
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