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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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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