Campus Free Speech

This Professor Is Still Out of the Classroom After Offending Her Students Months Ago

University of Kansas investigates Andrea Quenette for using improper language and making non-PC statements.



Andrea Quenette is the victim of a witch hunt. A University of Kansas assistant professor, Quenette is on leave while the administration completes its review of her allegedly inappropriate behavior. 

Quenette made the unfortunate mistake of trying to speak candidly about race after her students prompted her to address the recent protests on campus. She conceded that as a white person, she had trouble putting herself in the shoes of activists. 

"As a white woman I just never have seen the racism… It's not like I see 'Nigger' spray-painted on walls," she said, according to a student-initiated petition to get her fired. 

As I wrote in a recent column for The Daily Beast, Quenette erred in using offensive language, but she ought not to be punished for it: 

But she did not use inappropriate language to describe any of her students—or to describe anyone else. She was describing her own blindness to racial animus. Could she have used different language? Sure. Should she have? Probably. But genuine self-reflection isn't usually rehearsed. This wasn't a public address—it was a classroom discussion about a controversial topic. Some imprecision should be expected, and tolerated. 

One can hold the position, I suppose, that it is never okay to utter the n-word, even in a merely explanatory way. I would argue that doing so gives the word additional power to inspire fear, like saying "You Know Who" instead of "Voldemort." Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer, feminist, and former board member of the American Civil Liberties Union, argues persuasively that there is an "obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet." 

In any case, given that Quenette's intention was to shed light on her own lack of experience with racism, rather than to offend her students, it seems like a simple apology and promise to be more cautious with hurtful words ought to have sufficed. 

Full thing here

Instead of seeking a dialogue with Quenette, her students undertook a campaign to run her off campus. Such is the fate of all too many people who don't immediately obey the dictates of the illiberal mob.