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Towson adjunct fired for racial epithet

An adjunct faculty member at Towson University has been fired for uttering a racial epithet in class last week, according to reports in the campus newspaper and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In a Feb. 22 classroom discussion, Allen Zaruba -- who is white -- referred to himself using a racial slur for African Americans, saying he was working "on the corporate plantation," according to the report in the Towson Towerlight .

How did such language creep into an art course called Visual Concepts?

According to the Towerlight, Zaruba was discussing a textbook called "Themes of Contemporary Art" and, in particular, "a chapter on identity and the body."

Zaruba told the campus paper, "I am not a racist. I never have been. I've been raised overseas and in other cultures. It just absolutely kills me."

A student reported Zaruba's remark to the provost's office, according to the account. The article says Zaruba is a professional artist who has -- had -- taught at Towson for 12 years.

Adjunct faculty typically work under much weaker contracts than tenure-track professors. Documents obtained by The Towerlight show that the part-time faculty serve "at the pleasure of the University's president" and may be dismissed for "any legal reason."

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By Daniel de Vise  |  March 2, 2010; 4:05 PM ET
Categories:  Administration , Labor , Pedagogy , Publics  | Tags: Faculty, Towson University, labor unions, pedagogy  
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I can't help it!! I am guilty of major league schadenfreude.

When a liberal, trying to be avant garde, too cool, is hoisted on his own petard, there is a richness and irony that is breathtaking.

Go Towson!

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | March 2, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

His comments were inappropriate, but I hate when adults tattle tale before engaging in open dialogue.

Posted by: alc0f7 | March 2, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

In some regard i like the hard line approach to eradicate the use of the word. I would gather they are some students that should get expelled too. however inappropriate his choice of words, I am curious to his larger argument or the context in which the word was used.

Posted by: oknow1 | March 2, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Being fired by speech policemen for uttering a word in country with constitutional free speech protections, especially on a college campus, is an outrage. Will no one defend this man's right to speak?

Posted by: oldguyindc | March 2, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

His being fired pretty much reinforces the gist of his comment --- that adjuncts are exploited and have no rights. However, the analogy to slavery is over the top, as he volunteered to be an adjunct, and it trivializes what slavery was.

He should have gauged the sophistication of his students before using the N-word, and he could have explained that he is using the term with irony: it was his view of how he is seen by an exploitative university, and not a reflection of his view of blacks. And I wonder about the relevance to the course of his griping about his standing with the school --- why inject himself into the subject matter?

My impression, based on very little and therefore perhaps unfair, is that he was careless in his personalized grenade throwing. But it seems he is being fired for use of a term whose meaning and context can and should be discussed by intelligent college students. All concerned, from the student who reported him to the administrator who fired him, should have realized that the context of his high-blown comment reflected solidarity with the oppressed (ironically using a term an oppressor would use), and not an endorsement of racism.

What his students probably learned from this episode is not a lesson in history or use of irony, but rather the convenience of enforcing taboos to punish people we don't like.

Posted by: gasmonkey | March 2, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

It seems extreme to have fired him. Better to have challenged him on his choice of words, with so many images that could have been used without offense.

Posted by: bettina2 | March 2, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

privatize education, then let the CEOs fire/hire whomever they please. until that day, public universities should not be firing experienced art professors for edgy stuff like this.

taxpayer who subsidizes the rat's tuition

Posted by: millionea7 | March 2, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

oldguyindc writes:
"Being fired by speech policemen for uttering a word in country with constitutional free speech protections, especially on a college campus, is an outrage. Will no one defend this man's right to speak?"

He has the right to speak as much as he wants. He just doesn't have the right to have a job at Towson. I have a similar type of job (as many people do), meaning I can be fired for any legal reason. I can do pretty much what I want on my own time, but if my employer doesn't like the way I do my job, they could let me go, whether anyone else thought that their concerns were well founded or not. Freedom of speech does not equate to a guaranteed right to having a particular job. I'm sure there are other things he could have said that could have gotten him fired as well, for example making appreciative comments during class about students' bodies.

Having said that, I do think it's ironic that a percentage of Towson students probably regularly use the word that he got fired over, and he certainly didn't seem to be using it to disparage or insult anyone. But it's Towson's right to not continue to hire him even if their reasons were stupid. (Of course I think he's at the very least unwise for having used such a term in class, given the likelihood that someone would take offense).

Posted by: yrral | March 2, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

How come this article does not identify the free-speech hating university censor who decided to fire Prof. Zaruba?

Posted by: dcrussell | March 2, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Being fired by speech policemen for uttering a word in country with constitutional free speech protections, especially on a college campus, is an outrage. Will no one defend this man's right to speak?

Posted by: oldguyindc | March 2, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse
I don't know. As an 18 or 19 yr old kid, if a white professor was calling himself a N-word, and likening his job as a professor to being on the plantation field, I'd be miffed and possibly upset, especially if I were black.

Many Americans do not have jobs or are severely under employed or underpaid. Here is a guy working 3 or 4 days a week for at least $50K calling himself a N-word. He lacks judgment. He doesn't not need to be teaching students at the university level. He is too unpredictable.

Posted by: jabreal00 | March 2, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

It's not okay to have a white person call a black person the n-word.

Okay. I get that.

It's okay to have one black call another black the n-word.

Have heard that too many times that it's commonplace.

So, I get that too.

But, it's not okay for a white person to call himself the n-word?

If only George Jefferson was in the class to object and set the professor straight as just a typical honky jealous of not being a typical n-word

Posted by: mdpilot | March 2, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

No, it's NOT OK FOR A BLACK PERSON TO CALL ANOTHER BLACK PERSON THE "N" WORD!!!!!!! I am TIRED of hearing it. It's disgusting and I don't get the practice at ALL!

Posted by: sigmagrrl | March 2, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Once, you had a right to be wrong...

Posted by: gbooksdc | March 2, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

The use of the n-word by any white person in a public forum, is unacceptable. Why don't white folks get it?

Posted by: demtse | March 2, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

He is an educated man, surely he could have found another word to express the point he was trying to make without reverting to something that could offend someone. It was not oppropriate and totally unacceptable. If I had been in the class I would have been offended by his lack of sensitivity or consciousness to the possibility that he may offended someone.

Posted by: Pstacy | March 2, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Adjuncts professors usually make a couple grand without benefits per course. Many can indeed be described as underpaid and exploited. No professor at any tier is getting rich quick, and they typically work 60+ hours a week. Please let's retire the myth that this is a cushy job.

I too would like to know the name of the provost -- and I wouldn't mind knowing the name of the student, either. He went straight to the provost? He didn't talk to the prof, or even the department chair first? I wonder how his classmates feel about having their education disrupted?

Posted by: tuchulcha | March 2, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

What a clown and a chump. He should be jailed.

Posted by: FridayKnight | March 2, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

FridayNight, you'd be happier in a place like Cuba where one doesn't even have to be a clown or a chump to go to jail for saying things. What goes around comes around.

Posted by: oldguyindc | March 2, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

I love it. With real crime running rampant in Maryland, the authorities are stressed out over a guy using the N-word! Epithets are the least of worries for many blacks in Maryland and other nanny states.

Posted by: numbersch13 | March 2, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Niqqer please!

Posted by: whatyoutalkinboutman | March 2, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

This political correctness crap has gone on too long. What used to be an effective manner to address so of our shortcomings as a society has long since become away for those who know how to "milk the system" for their own benefit, to create havoc and racial hostility for self serving reasons. Grow up people. Try looking at each other as citizens as opposed to color swatches.

Posted by: | March 2, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

Depends on the exact context in which he said the word, but this professor would have a decent chance in a lawsuit against the school for firing him in violation of his 1st amendment rights. In the case linked here, a teacher got fired and successfully sued in almost the exact same situation:

Posted by: thatguy7104 | March 3, 2010 3:21 AM | Report abuse

Free speech doesn't mean free from responsibility. The slur was unnecessary to make his point. Freedom ain't Free and the price he paid was his employment.

Question is, was it worth it?

Posted by: kahlua87 | March 3, 2010 4:28 AM | Report abuse

oldguyindc wrote:
Being fired by speech policemen for uttering a word in country with constitutional free speech protections, especially on a college campus, is an outrage. Will no one defend this man's right to speak?

I'm Black and I don't think the guy should have been fired or reprimanded. BUT, please stop throwing out the "free speech" line every time one of these things pops up. The only thing where "free speech" is protected is to stop you from being thrown in jail for what you say or think. An employer does not have to keep you on if you decide to say something that might be offensive to that employer.

Posted by: dccavalier | March 3, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse

John Lennon wrote a song called "Woman is the Ni**er of the World."

Have John Lennon and Beatles albums been banned on Towson's campus as well?

Posted by: Hk45 | March 3, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I am just curious...if an african-american would have used that phrase in describing himself would the outcome been the same. Does it have the same wrath when females equate themselves with the b-word?

Posted by: PowerandPride | March 3, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Towson State University dropped the "state" and became "Towson University" in an effort to make the school more competitive amoung institutions of higher learning, but when you fire a professor for attempting to get his students to think, you might as well call yourself Towson Vocational Training Institute.

Posted by: MarilynManson | March 3, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I can't think of a quicker way to get yourself fired in this day & age. That word is the live wire resting in the puddle of water. You can't say or do anything to get yourself out of that mess.
You become an instant leper. Might as well see if 7-Eleven/Starbucks/Wal-Mart is hiring.

Does seem just a tad silly though.

Posted by: uncivil | March 3, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Look what happened to radio host Don Imus & he didn't even use the "n" word. You would have thought he had lynched someone. Jesse Jackson & Rev Sharpton jumping at the chance to get their faces in front of a camera & pontificate. "Let me get my best 'outraged' look on my face before I go in to make Imus beg for mercy. We'll make him do something for Rutgers, Jesse.
This is a good opportunity for us." Ridiculous.

Posted by: uncivil | March 3, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I still don't understand why he was fired. Saying he was working on the "corporate plantation" isn't a racial epithet.

Posted by: mocoresider09 | March 3, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I just have a hard time believing that an adjunct professor of 12 years was fired from an institution purportedly for "higher learning" solely for a single utterance of a single word in an academic setting which the PC/speech gestapo found offensive. If so, that doesn't reflect well on the idea of open discourse in an academic setting.

Perhaps more likely is that the college already had this faculty member in its crosshairs and was just looking for a reason to fire the fellow for other unrelated reasons, and this episode provided a convenient excuse. That also really wouldn't reflect well on the institution.

Either way, seems a rather niggardly thing to do.

Posted by: LAWPOOL | March 3, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm black, and I don't see anything particularly offensive about the professor's fact, if I'd have been in his class, I'd have probably gotten a chuckle from it. Big deal. There's much worse that he could've said, nor do I think that the statement gave any indication of him being racist. I really hope he finds another job.

Posted by: ms_mbacpa | March 3, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I, too, am black and feel that firing this person over the use of this word is extreme. Who did he harm and in what manner did he harm them? Was he overall a good teacher? It is difficult to understand where we are in this country on this. True racism that affect and destroy is left to flourish while insignificant crap such as this is given top-billing as a cardinal sin. Go figure! Americans are so so so selfish, crazy and misguided!

Posted by: wisewunn | March 3, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

For those who are up in arms over the use of the "N" word, get over it. It is a word that is bandied about in black households daily. I reserve the right to use the word, uphold and glorify it. Why? Because that word alone shows how far we have progressed from when it was meant to demean and devalue. Should non-whites use the word? In the privacy of your own home is fine, it is where you usually use it. In public or professional places, you should definitely refrain. It means something different when spewed from your lips in a angry or hateful manner. In the English language we have many many words that can be used in more than one way, this is but another.

Posted by: wisewunn | March 3, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

When blacks stop using the word as a badge of honor, or as a way to identify themselves, then come back and claim its use is offensive. Till then, give the man his job back. This is stupid.

Posted by: dougw3 | March 3, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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