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Towson provost speaks on Zaruba firing

Update: I just spoke to Allen Zaruba, the Towson University art professor fired last week for uttering a racial epithet in a class discussion.

Zaruba, 58, is a professional artist and has been a Towson adjunct faculty member for 12 years.

He was fired Thursday after using a slur in a class discussion earlier in the week. The class was discussing a chapter on identity and the body in a textbook called "Themes of Contemporary Art," according to coverage in the campus newspaper.

Zaruba, using a racial slur for African Americans, told the class he was a "(expletive deleted) on the corporate plantation," a reference to his status as a part-time faculty member without tenure or upward mobility. Zaruba is white.

"It was in the context of the class assignment, and it was a reference to myself, as a form of powerlessness," Zaruba said in a telephone interview. The book under study deals with racism "among many controversial subjects," he said, explaining the context of his comment.

"I knew as soon as I said it that I shouldn't have said it," he said. "I should have addressed it right then and there and I didn't."

Zaruba said he has "essentially a spotless record and excellent student evaluations."

He believes his firing - by telephone - was "an excessive, overdone reaction." Because he is a part-time professor, he said, "there was no due process, and that is deeply unfortunate. It sends a message to our students that I feel is detrimental to the way I feel our society is supposed to function."

Adjuncts have few rights at universities; Zaruba was fired under a contract that allows dismissal of part-time instructors for "any legal reason," according to reporting by the Towson Towerlight newspaper.

Towson Provost Marcia Welsh had this to say:

By his own admission Allen Zaruba made a poor decision to use a racial slur. Complaints to the Provost's office revealed that Zaruba's comments were not part of the academic discussion of his classroom. With this information, the department chair consulted with the Provost's Office to determine appropriate action and Zaruba's part-time employment with the university was to be terminated.

Towson University strongly supports and upholds academic freedom in the classroom and across our learning community; however, such patently offensive language on the part of university employees will not be tolerated and does not reflect our value system.

Welsh said a new instructor had replaced Zaruba and no classes had been canceled because of the firing.

Was firing Zaruba "the right thing to do"? In a survey by the Towerlight, 432 respondents, or 77 percent, said no.

Robert Kreiser, spokesman for the American Association of University Professors, told the Towerlight Zaruba should have gotten a full hearing.

What do you think? I'd welcome your comments.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  March 3, 2010; 2:23 PM ET
Categories:  Administration , Labor , Pedagogy , Publics  | Tags: Faculty, Towson University, labor unions  
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I just have a hard time believing that an adjunct professor of 12 years was summarily fired from an institution purportedly for "higher learning" solely for a single utterance of a single word in a classroom 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 administration 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 4:02 PM | Report abuse


One also would have to wonder if the university would have the temerity to fire a black professor for using the N-word under similar circumstances. Highly doubtful.

Yet another double standard from left wing academia.

Reprimand, censure, suspension even? Are these measures not enough? Not for the reactionaries who govern our universities in America.

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | March 3, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Don't act surprised. Employers are looking for any excuse to get rid of their employees. This guy wrote his own eulogy. You have to bite your tongue. Students are like cameras these days, and people focus on slurs rather than the concept he was trying to transmit.

Posted by: FiatBooks | March 3, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Those aged 18-20 are also adults and not "kids" or "teens". The former professor at Towson University deserved to be punished but not fired because he used a word which is a slur against African Americans. Although the material covered is controversial that doesn't mean that a professor can use a slur because academic freedom allows for better language than that.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | March 3, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Zaruba is a clown and a chump and I hope to read about him living in an alley in Southeast in a few weeks. Reminds me of what happened to one of the adjuncts at Bowie State University a few years ago when I was teaching there. He asked his class, full of African-Americans, "what's long and hard on a black man? The third grade!" Nyuk! Nyuk!

Posted by: FridayKnight | March 3, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

The provost has brought shame on Towson State. It's one thing for an adjunct art professor to say something stupid. But when the provost reacts so stupidly, with a knee-jerk by the nerves and no involvement by the brain, the whole university should be ashamed. Way to be bush league, Marcia.

Posted by: pundito | March 4, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

privatize Towson and then let the CEO fire/hire whomever they please. but while the state still taxes me to subsidize Towson's operations, no art teacher should be fired for saying something edgy. what kind of art teacher worth his work isn't controversial?

Posted by: millionea7 | March 4, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Ridiculous that he be fired. Some more of this politically correct double standard stuff found especially at colleges!

Posted by: lippys | March 4, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I think Zaruba should have received a full hearing. From his account, it sounds as if the word was spoken in an academic context. He wasn't calling anyone, except himself, that hated name. He's admitted that his choice of the word was extremely poor. Maybe he should have said he was a "second-class citizen on the corporate plantation." Professor Zaruba seems to have repented of his stupid action; the Towson University administration should do likewise.

Posted by: mjgeer518 | March 4, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

While the "N" word is a reprehensible word to be uttered by anyone, it should be noted that African-Americans use it all the time referring to themselves and each other. Why is it alright to say it is a terrible word in one instance and in another, it is not?

If it is an ugly word that the African-American community doesn't want to hear from "white America", then they should set the bar higher and not utter it either.

What is so hard about this concept? I find it hypocritical for African-Americans to complain about a white person using the term, but then use amongst themselves.

Posted by: EaglesFan4Life | March 4, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

What is so interesting about this case is that it points up how adjunct faculty have no rights. If a tenured professor had made this comment, there would have been a dust up but it would be impossible to get rid of him or her, absent a pattern of repeated behavior. That the university instantly terminated him only goes to prove that Zaruba was correct about his position on the "corporate plantation."

Incidentally, I don't believe a word of FridayKnight's posting. For one thing, I doubt if Zaruba will be "living in an alley in Southeast" given that he lives in Baltimore. And from the looks of the interview he gave to WJZ TV last night, it's a pretty nice home. The man is a successful professional artist.

My hope is that the Maryland Institute College of Art, a private school, will offer him a faculty position.

Posted by: jhpurdy | March 4, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Here we go again. Mommy and Daddy has to call the "principal" to tattle on teacher. Towson University wants to be a university but they reacted like a high school. This prof should have received a one time reprimand and given the heads up that there will not be a next time. The student, not the parents should have met with the prof to discuss the situation. The college students of today are the working people of tomorrow. When this student is 25 will Mommy be calling the boss when her child feels like the boss insulted him or her? Grow up kid, and deal with your issues yourself!

Posted by: jeiken | March 4, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like Prof Stein, the interim chair of the Art department was looking out for number one. Give the adjunct a break! He has been on board for twelve years, is by many accounts a very good teacher, and he is contrite. A mountain has been made out of a mole hill.

Posted by: napsdtr | March 4, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

My wife, the English Major, is fond of saying that the word 'but' negates everything in front of it. I think the Towson State Provost has used 'however' in much the same way. Therefore, you get:

Towson University does NOT strongly support and uphold academic freedom in the classroom and across our learning community. Towson University WILL fire any part-time faculty member without tenure whenever we feel like it.

Part-time facility members are much easier to deal with since they have no rights. I'm sure Professor Zaruba knew he was toast the moment the word escaped his lips. As a part-time facility member, he knew that telling the truth would not be a defense. I wish Professor Zaruba well in all his future endeavours.

I believe Professor Zaruba being fired by telephone reflects poorly on the Towson University Provost and the Art Department Chairperson. I think you should always have the guts to fire someone in person and explain the reasons. I find that firing someone by phone is pretty gutless. As a Towson STATE alumuni, I find this to be par for this course.

Posted by: Palamedes | March 4, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Shari Elliker of WBAL-1090AM spoke with the fired professor on Wednesday.
More at

Posted by: edlharris | March 4, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I've been an adjunct for over a decade; I've worked at more than half-a-dozen institutions; and, it's exactly the same as the job you have now. What would happen if you used the "N" word in a meeting? Perhaps, if the context were sensitivity training with HR, you'd be okay. If it were an evaluation of your work, things might now be so smooth.

Working in a university doesn't mean you get to leave your brain in a jar at home. Common sense says you use those kinds of words carefully, with caution, and at your own risk.

I founded where adjuncts explore different teaching opportunities, and a few pedagogical issues. I don't believe this issue has ever come up on our forums.

Posted by: david7s | March 6, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

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