A professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh has been placed on paid leave after he was filmed using the N-word during an online class and also appearing to grant his students permission to use the slur.
In the video that was shared on social media, professor Gary Shank can be heard giving the students the green light to use the word during the session because they are “using it in a pedagogical sense.”
He then goes ahead to ask: “What’s the one word about race that we’re not allowed to use? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with ‘N’.” After a few seconds of silence, Shank reiterates he’s not using the word “in any way other than to demonstrate a point” before going ahead to mention the slur – n*gger – and how it was commonly used when he was growing up.
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In a statement to NBC News, school authorities said Shank was placed on paid leave on Friday after they got to know of the incident.
“Effective yesterday, Friday, September 11, that faculty member in the video, education professor Gary Shank, is on paid leave, pending investigation,” the university said.
A second-year major who spoke with student publication, The Duquesne Duke, said the class was “one of the most uncomfortable” she had ever partaken in.
“Racial insensitivity is never ok and for a professor to hide behind a racial slur by saying it was for educational purposes is extremely disappointing and made me appalled,” she said, adding that Shank’s repeated use of the slur made her “extremely uncomfortable.”
“The fact that he thought that it was ok to say that in class makes me afraid that things like that still happen,” she continued. “As a future educator, I’m extremely upset. No student should have to feel scared to go to class and fear that they will hear a racial slur.”
Shank reportedly sent an email to the class in the aftermath of the incident on September 9 offering his “most sincere apology.” The email was also obtained by the publication:
As part of my pedagogy this morning I used a term that I now realize was deeply troubling to the class. It was not my intent to do so, but I must take responsibility for the impact of my words and teaching. I am offering each and every one of you my most sincere apology and my guarantee that I will never cross this line again in our class.
The Dean of the university’s School of Education, Gretchen Generett, also sent the students an apology letter after some of them officially filed complaints, NBC News reports.
“I understand that sending those emails was not easy and I want to thank students for using their voices to share the troubling and disturbing language that was used by your professor in class,” Generett told the students.
“There is never a time, pedagogically or otherwise, for a professor to create a hostile learning environment,” she added. “Using the ‘N word’ or seemingly encouraging students to use that word is not in keeping with the mission of the University, the School of Education, or the Pennsylvania Department of Education.”