University Puts White Professor on Paid Leave for Using N-Word in Class

Duquesne University professor Gary Shank was placed on paid leave Friday after a video posted on social media showed Shank using a racial epithet during an online class.

As the U.S. grapples with how to deal with racism, some members of academia have been criticized for using racial slurs in the teaching environment. In February, teaches at an Oklahoma university were criticized for using potentially offensive language. In the incident at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University which became public on Friday, Shank can be heard in the video saying he would allow students to use the n-word during discussions of race in a "pedagogical sense."

"What's the one word about race that we're not allowed to use?" Shank asked. "I'll give you a hint. It starts with 'n.' It's even hard to say. I'll say the word and, again, I'm not using it in any way other than to demonstrate a point. Fair enough?"

"And that word is [n-word]," Shank continued in the video. He went on to describe phrases that have been used in the past that incorporated the N-word.

"You know what Brazil nuts are, right?" Shank said. "When I was a kid, people called them '[n-word] toes.' Could we do that nowadays? Absolutely not."

In a statement sent to Newsweek on Friday, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Duquesne University Gabriel Welsch said Shank is "not teaching. As this is a personnel matter, further specifics cannot be discussed, but another professor is taking over the course."

Professor Shank's biography page could not be found on the university's website.

remote learning
A Duquesne University professor was placed on paid leave Friday after video surfaced online of him using racial slurs while teaching an online class. iStock/Getty

School of Education Dean Gretchen Generett said in a letter sent to the students in Shank's class that the incident was "being taken very seriously by School of Education leadership."

"To be clear," Generett wrote, "I believe that there is never a time, pedagogically or otherwise, for a professor to create a hostile learning environment."

In February, the University of Oklahoma experienced two incidents where faculty members used racially-charged words. Journalism professor Peter Gade stepped down after telling a class that the phrase "OK, boomer" was comparable to referring to someone as the "N-word." Two weeks later, history professor Kathleen Brosnan read parts of a U.S. Senate debate from the 1920s that made repeated usage of the same offensive term.

"While she could have made the point without reciting the actual word, she chose otherwise," wrote then-interim President Joseph Harroz, Jr. in a February statement. "It is common sense to avoid uttering the most offensive word in the English language, especially in an environment where the speaker holds the power."

Harroz said at the time that university faculty and staff be required to complete a diversity, equity and inclusion course. An incident response protocol was also expected to be created which would employ "culturally restorative justice practices designed to create a pathway to reconciliation through education and the changing of behavior."

Updated 10:59 p.m. EST 09/11/2020: This story has been updated with a statement from Duquesne University.