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Faculty outraged, fearful after prof booted from class for using Chinese word that sounds like N-word


'Scared to death to teach in this environment'

Image source: YouTube screenshot

Faculty members at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business are outraged and fearful after a colleague used a Chinese word that sounds like the N-word — and reportedly was booted from the class over it.

What's the background?

Greg Patton — a professor of clinical business communication who's an "expert in communication, interpersonal and leadership effectiveness" — was explaining the usage of a Chinese filler word for "that" and comparing it to English fillers such as "like" and "um" during an online class, according to Campus Reform.

And when Patton uttered the Chinese word, its pronunciation apparently sounded too close to a version of the N-word.

Here's the clip:


Soon anonymous black students threatened to boycott Patton's classes because he had created "an unwelcome environment" for them, the College Fix said.

USC's Marshall School of Business confirmed to Campus Reform in a statement that Patton isn't teaching his course at present.

"Recently, a USC faculty member during class used a Chinese word that sounds similar to a racial slur in English," the statement noted, according to the outlet. "We acknowledge the historical, cultural, and harmful impact of racist language."

Patton "agreed to take a short-term pause while we are reviewing to better understand the situation and to take any appropriate next steps," the statement added, according to Campus Reform.

Faculty members speak out

USC insists Patton "volunteered" to step down from the class, the Fix added, but business school faculty who responded to a survey about the dust-up didn't view it that way.

The outlet said the Chronicle of Higher Education obtained the Marshall School's internal report on the incident, which indicates faculty felt "anger, disappointment, betrayal, and outrage" in response to Patton's punishment:

But that summary doesn't do justice to scathing comments from the survey. They provide a portrait of a business school in which professors are now convinced that a single student complaint, even a questionable one, could upend their careers, and that the school's leadership, as one professor put it, "doesn't have our back."

The Fix, in reference to the Chronicle's story, said interviewed faculty members felt "scared to death to teach in this environment" and "will have to walk on egg shells all the time" so as not to "be accused of being a racist, bigoted, insensitive." One said USC's response will "make me even more conservative and guarded than I already am," the outlet noted.

In addition, the Fix said Dean Geoffrey Garrett's email to students about the incident implied faculty would be punished for using words that "harm the psychological safety of our students" — and that, too, angered faculty. In fact, the outlet said, they're "pissed off" by the "chicken s**t" letter from the dean who's "willing to throw faculty under the bus in order [to] preserve the appearance of diversity and inclusion instead of opening up dialogues on both sides."

More from the College Fix:

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic said he obtained a "transcript" from the Faculty Council's discussion of the survey, which added that faculty are beset by "an overwhelming sense of vulnerability" that they could be "cancelled" at any time for their pedagogical choices. They are not only afraid to discuss diversity and inclusion, but also "such topics as politics and international relations."

One professor told Friedersdorf that Patton's punishment "rocked the business school," and the dean's letter in particular "caused immeasurable damage." Another said that freedom of speech and intellectual freedom "have largely fallen out of fashion" at USC, like "most elite universities," and the result is "a climate of terror among faculty."

Friedersdorf also wrote that USC administrators have not admitted error, apologized to Patton, or reinstated him to his classes, the Fix said, adding that the school's brass has left business faculty "so fearful and insecure that some are self-censoring to protect their positions."

Harvard Business School prof weighs in

Amy C. Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor, criticized Garrett's desire for "psychological safety" in a Psychology Today column:

"As one of the first scholars to document the phenomenon of psychological safety, I am here to report that this is a very common misapplication of the concept. Psychological safety is not the same as a safe space. It is not the same as a trigger-free space. It is not a space where you will always feel comfortable and not have your views challenged. It is almost the opposite. It's a brave space, really—an environment in which people do not feel they have to hold back with a concern or question for fear of recrimination or humiliation. And thus, it's often an environment of vigorous and challenging give-and-take. The deep irony here is that the felt pressure to enforce a PC culture appears to have diminished, not enhanced, psychological safety."

Edmondson added that "research has shown that psychologically safe work environments are those with higher learning and performance. When people lack psychological safety — and feel tied up in knots about whether others will think less of them — they hold back too much of what they are seeing and thinking, and their teams suffer."

(H/T: The College Fix)

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