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An Award-Winning Professor Quotes James Baldwin, Who Used the N-Word. Now He's on Leave.

Augsburg University suspended Phillip Adamo after students complained.

AugsburgElkman / Wikimedia CommonsAugsburg University in Minnesota suspended a professor—Phillip Adamo, who also serves as head of the honors program—after he used the n-word in class.

The incident took place in October. Adamo had assigned The Fire Next Time, a book by the black, gay author James Baldwin. In the book, Baldwin writes, "You can really only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a n*gger." A student quoted this line, which prompted shock from other members of the class. Adamo attempted to foster a discussion about Baldwin's use of the word, and in doing so, also used it. Madness ensued.

Several students who were not enrolled in Adamo's class evidently caught wind of what had happened, and showed up for his next session. They went so far as to ask Adamo to leave his own class while they discussed his behavior; eager to placate them, Adamo exited. When he returned, students continued to scrutinize his decision to use the word, and secretly recorded his responses.

The recording is audio-only, so it's impossible to tell how many students are expressing dissatisfaction with the professor—or even how many students are in the class. Throughout the exchange, Adamo barely defends himself, mostly deferring to the students' insistence that he had wronged them. The students assert that they are holding him accountable for making marginalized students feel unsafe.

"You have a right to always feel safe and feel like you are wanted here and that you can speak in the class," says one student. "Especially if you are a first generation student of color, you should never feel outed by that."

Mortified that he made the students so upset, Adamo asks what he should do next. A student suggests he cancel class, and the professor agrees.

Afterward, he emailed the students, according to Inside Higher Ed:

After class, Adamo informed his provost what had happened. She suggested that he write a note to the students in the honors program, he said. That letter says, in part, that the classroom "is a place where any and every topic can be explored, even those topics considered to be taboo. This is how I understand academic freedom, which is a precious thing to me and other professors. It is the currency that allows us to speak truth to power."

Yet, Adamo continued, "I also understand that this point of view is available to me because of my privileged position. I am now struggling to understand how it may be better not to explore some taboo topics, and to weigh the consequences of absolute academic freedom versus outcomes that lead to hurt, racial trauma, and loss of trust."

Adamo wrote a separate email to the honors student leaders. Praising them for their defense of the program's values, he also noted his concern about their "methods," including showing up to class unannounced and filming him without permission.

Some students filed bias incident reports against Adamo, and the provost eventually suspended Adamo. He did not teach the rest of the semester, and he is still on leave this semester. His duties as head of the honors program have come to an end. He is accused of bad behavior in the following categories: respect for students, bias and discrimination, teaching competence and program leadership.

Adamo received the Minnesota Professor of the Year award from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in 2015. Between the award and his exceedingly polite, deferential behavior during the audio recording, it is hard to imagine that he is a disrespectful, biased, or incompetent teacher. There is, obviously, a huge difference between using the n-word as a slur and quoting it from a text. It's crazy to treat this as a punishable offense.

Augsburg is a private institution, and is thus free to give unreasonable students such powers to restrict classroom conversation. But this is the wrong approach, and it is likely to end the discussion before it even takes place.

Neither Adamo nor Augbsurg University's administration responded to a request for comment.

Photo Credit: Elkman / Wikimedia Commons

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  • Vernon Depner||

    "Go fuck yourself." That is the appropriate response in these situations. Practice it in front of the mirror until you're confident. "Go fuck yourself." The moment you offer the slightest conciliation, empathy, or apology, you're doomed.

  • Rossami||

    I would prefer to be slightly less crude but no less blunt in telling those trolls that they had no right to disrupt a class in progress and most certainly no right to define "taboo topics".

  • Quixote||

    Clearly he crossed the "line," and was properly placed on leave for his triggering "speech." He is lucky he didn't send out any emails under Baldwin's name, because concealing his identity in that manner could easily have landed him in prison. Perhaps he should be arrested all the same. See the documentation of our nation's leading criminal "satire" case at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Ecoli||

    Yes, I agree. Watch Adam Corolla. He says "go fuck yourself" with supreme confidence. It really is the best response to the censors, and the racist left.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    "I'm the professor. You're the student. This is my class."

    *Actual quote from one of my professors back in the day.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    Strange affirmation practice. I prefer "you can edge as long as you want," when looking at myself in the mirror, but to each his own.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Strange affirmation practice.

    Try doing it in blackface.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    "If you thought that was an upsetting word, how about this one: 'expelled'. Now, get out."

  • BlueCollarCritic||

    Amen

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's a good thing this type of stuff is only relegated to America's campuses.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    The Coddling of the American Mind is a very interesting book. If you haven't read it, I recommend it.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    No way. I refuse to read that garbage.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Does it make you feel unsafe?

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    How can you tell it's garbage if you haven't read it?

    O I C.

  • Kevin Smith||

    Its actually on my list but I haven't started it yet

  • Matthew Chalice||

    Thankfully, none of this insanity has spread to journalism, literary/film/arts criticism, or even Capitol Hill.

    Oh.

  • Ecoli||

    What happened on American campuses for the last thirty years has made its way into the mainstream left culture. The academy is responsible for the downward spiral and self flagellation of western culture.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, people should stop being such pussies. He should just say "It's my class, I decide what words I use, get the fuck out if you don't like it".
    When did this start? That even uttering the word "nigger" is considered an inexcusable offense for a white person? You can't study language or literature without using the goddamn words that are in the text.

  • Vernon Depner||

    You can't study language or literature...

    Isn't that the ultimate goal here?

  • Trigger Warning||

    Let's ask Pol Pot.

  • Zeb||

    Whose goal?

    I don't think it's as simple as that.

  • Libertymike||

    Welcome to Black Histrionic Month!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I'm curious how many black people are actually involved with this event. I would not be surprised if it was only the Author that was quoted.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Also, you okay? You're being hilariously anti-colored people today. Like, you're just going out of your way to flaunt it.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    That has been his schtick literally forever.

  • Libertymike||

    What "schtick" might that be?

    You know there are a veritable plethora of topics upon which I opine.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I don't recognize the New England Patriots as a topic.

  • Libertymike||

    What about Otto Graham?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    No, Grandpa.

  • Libertymike||

    BUCS, okay, perhaps I am applying a little more shoe polish today than usual.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Well if that isn't dog whistle for black face....

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    You're being hilariously anti-colored people today. Like, you're just going out of your way to flaunt it.

    He's from Boston.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Black Histrionic Month

    So, just women this year? Not cool, dude. Not. Cool.

  • Benitacanova||

    No it's his-trionic.

    "A negative trion consists of two electrons and one hole and a positive trion consists of two holes and one electron."

    It's all about threesomes my friend, all about black threesome month.

  • Zeb||

    What's the male counterpart to histrionic? Testy?

  • Sigivald||

    If you feel "unsafe" because someone used that word, such that you can't even process that they're quoting a black dude talking about how it's bullshit and there's nothing like a slur being actually USED on ANYONE?

    Well.

    Maybe higher education just isn't for you, right now?

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    They never miss an opportunity to wag the dog. Doesn't matter who says what as long as it can be weaponized via outrage and social media.

  • Matthew Chalice||

    Liberals Pounce on College Professor Who Taught James Baldwin.

    They won't stop until they get a taste of their own medicine.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    They will never believe that will happen, until it has happened, at which time they will ask "what the fuck happened?"

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    When I was in college I learned white people should not question black and brown people who feel they've been marginalized or offended. Because that would be speaking from a position of privilege, which automatically makes the speaker's words pretty much worthless.

    It would be a mistake to dismiss the students' concerns. If they say the use of that terrible word made them feel unsafe, we anti-racist white allies must believe them. And the professor should certainly face professional consequences. He brought this on himself.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Go fuck yourself.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Just practicing.

  • Ray McKigney||

    A prog wouldn't even suspect that that's parody.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Parody has become impossible.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Poe's law; every headline looks like The Onion.

  • JWatts||

    C-, it feels like you've got the basic idea behind this, but it just doesn't shine as your best work.

  • Ben of Houston||

    In all seriousness, I would agree that the student's concerns should be addressed. Then concern should be addressed about their concern.

    That word has become similar to the fictional the "Voldemort". A word so blasphemous that even using it in an academic setting in a direct quotation is taboo.

    The problem with creating a "word that shall not be said" is that it gives the word far more power than it really should have. It's a slaveholder's term for a black man. In short, it's calling someone a slave. Obviously incredibly rude, but it does not deserve the level of power that recent years has given it.

  • Vernon Depner||

    It's worse than that. It's not a "word that shall not be said"—it's a "word that shall not be said BY YOU—WE are going to continue saying it whenever we want, right in front of you". Acquiescing to that is passively endorsing the leftist idea that the same rules do not apply to everyone; that what you're allowed to think, say, and do depends on your group identity.

  • Seamus||

    Matthias: Look. I don't think it ought to be blasphemy, just saying 'Jehovah'.

    CROWD: Oooh! He said it again! Oooh!...

    OFFICIAL: You're only making it worse for yourself!

    MATTHIAS: Making it worse?! How could it be worse?! Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah!

    CROWD: Oooooh!...

    OFFICIAL: I'm warning you. If you say Jehovah once more...

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    "You can really only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a n*gger nagger."

    My God, people are so sensitive.

  • Ray McKigney||

    "People Who Annoy Me"

  • Spiritus Mundi||

    nagger guy

  • Vernon Depner||

    Nagro.

  • operagost||

    This guy nags.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Why the asterisk?

    It seems that these kids aren't ready for an honors class.

  • cgr2727||

    Why the asterisk?

    Because it was said in a 162-class semester. If they had said it in a 154-class semester, then it would've been a fair comparison.

  • Tu­lpa||

    Fuck you. You are safe. If you weren't, and actually felt unsafe, you wouldn't be seeking out the class where it occurred and the people who did it.

  • Ray McKigney||

    It's not really about safe/unsafe. It's about showing who's boss.

  • Benitacanova||

    "You have a right to always feel safe and feel like you are wanted here and that you can speak in the class," says one student. "Especially if you are a first generation student of color, you should never feel outed by that.""

    Safe? Wanted? Outed? Who's that crazy nigger!?

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    What the heck is a "first generation student of color" -- how can anyone today be a first generation person of any color?

  • Spiritus Mundi||

    trans-racial

  • ElvisIsReal||

    First-generation student, who is also of color. AKA, "The first person in my family to go to college!"

  • NashTiger||

    First generation student of color = two whiteys had a black kid?

  • lap83||

    "Several students who were not enrolled in Adamo's class evidently caught wind of what had happened, and showed up for his next session."

    When I was their age we would double dip at the movie theater. Now kids double dip their college classes, just so they can be offended? Am I just old or is the current generation incapable of having fun anymore.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    You're just old.

  • lap83||

    I prefer woke challenged

  • Joe DeVito||

    No response would satisfy them, as evidenced by his groveling not being good enough.

    Never give in to the mob, even if only because it doesn't work

  • Crusty Juggler||

    You're better on TV.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    There is immense power in victimhood these days. What's the use of having that power if you're not going to show it off?

  • JWatts||

    Wow, there goes the White Flag up the pole on Academic freedom:

    "That letter says, in part, that the classroom "is a place where any and every topic can be explored, even those topics considered to be taboo. This is how I understand academic freedom, which is a precious thing to me and other professors. It is the currency that allows us to speak truth to power."

    Yet, Adamo continued, "I also understand that this point of view is available to me because of my privileged position."

  • Eddy||

    He can contemplate his privileged position...on the Tree of Woe!

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Yes, speaking truth to power has never been anything that anybody in an unprivileged position has ever felt the need or desire to do. That's why there have been so few revolutions in world history.

  • Brandybuck||

  • perlchpr||

    Belgium!

  • awildseaking||

    I just want to know how so many people have deluded themselves into thinking slurs are kryptonite. Is Chaim Potok an anti-semite because he uses the word kike in his novels? Am I an anti-semite for reading it and quoting the real word even though I am Jewish? I know there isn't much comparison in America between black and Jewish history, but if I reacted to kike the same way these students do, it would only encourage anti-semites to use the word as frequently as possible because it's clearly damaging my psyche and well being.

    Am I even allowed to type this in our comments?

  • Tu­lpa||

    Yes, yes, and no.

  • Will Seth||

    Type away.

  • Nardz||

    (((Type))) away

  • Will Seth||

    Type away.

  • Nardz||

    Type (((away)))

  • Eddy||

    "Well, he *did* say 'Jehovah'" (thump of stones on flesh)

    "Look, nobody is to stone *anyone* until I blow this whistle, understand? Even if, and I want to make this perfectly clear, even if they *do* say 'Jehovah.'" (sound of redoubled thumps)

  • Fats of Fury||

    It's just not enough to suspend these profs. The schools need to re-institute corporal punishment.

  • Eddy||

    "Yes, do you have a copy of Dick Gregory's autobiography?"

    "What's the title."

    "I decline to answer."

  • Ray McKigney||

    Not to mention this thoughtful book.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Serves the bastard right for trying to think he was above everyone else here in the Union of Socialist Slave States of America and try to use free speech, especially in a re-education camp.

  • Frito Chews||

    Augsburg is a private institution, and is thus free to give unreasonable students such powers


    Not so fast there, bucko. Maybe there is a implied or explicit obligation to provide actually provide the class to the enrolled students who have prepaid some substantial tuition.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Several students who were not enrolled in Adamo's class evidently caught wind of what had happened, and showed up for his next session. They went so far as to ask Adamo to leave his own class while they discussed his behavior; eager to placate them, Adamo exited.

    If I were enrolled in that class I would sue and seek charges against these other students for theft. If I pay for a teacher to teach, I expect them to teach not some dimwit undergrad whom storms the class and begins stealing my time and money.

  • Truthteller1||

    The spineless twit deserves whatever the mob foists upon him. If you apologize for your race or "priveledge" you have nothing constructive to offer.

  • floridalegal||

    Just a sad state of affairs this campus has come to. No understanding of context. Blind hate and intolerance. The exact opposite of intellectual freedom. Groupthink in practice.

  • IceTrey||

    Anyone think Chapelle could get away with "The Niggers" skit today?

  • perlchpr||

    Well, I definitely think he should do a show at Augsberg and find out.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Yes, but any white person who laughed would be ostracized.

  • Enemy of the State||

    Lenny Bruce would be "disinvited" as too threatening.

    Blazing Saddles! would never be made...

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    "What in the wide Wide World of Sports is goin' on here?! I hired you people to try to get a little track laid, not to jump around like bunch of Kansas City faggots!"

  • Palatki||

    "It's spics and wops and niggers and kikes, with noses as long as your arm".... You can kiss those fucking days good-bye, for like forever. Firesign Theatre would today be a crime against humanity.

  • Vernon Depner||

    "Pull the triggers niggers, we're with you all the way."

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    *takes deep breath*

    nigger

    Yikes.

  • Enemy of the State||

    The Left
    Eating itself
    Now THAT'S entertainment...

  • ErinS||

    As a 41 year old I am so incredibly happy that I was in college when I was. We were all enjoying ourselves, often with other races on campus and off, running, dancing, playing sports, having sex, reading books and many other enjoyable activities that looking at screens 19.5 hours per day precludes.

    Is all of this anger a result of no exercise, flirting, sex, socializing etc. in the prime of your life because you never put your phone down and you never get any fresh air? It's a sad generation of nerds and they are lashing out the same nonsense they read all day long on the Internet. Written by basement dwelling nerds that want everyone to be like them, sad and angry. Go have some fun children, you're young and that doesn't last long.

  • Robert Crim||

    I note with interest that whoever at Reason, rather than quote Baldwin explicitly, substituted an asterisk for the "I" in "nigger." Which may say all that needs to be said.

    The reality is that black people DO use the word from time to time but almost invariably with a very different meaning from the original pejorative. That obliges me to question just about everything in Professor Adamo's response (at least as reported here). Did he actually understand what Baldwin was saying?

    Did any of the students who criticized him?

  • Eddy||

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Ack, video link. Is David Allen Coe on there at least twice?

  • Miter Broller||

    Umm, there has never been a 'right' to 'always feel safe'. No such right, go pound salt snowflakes! Can we please raise the voting age to 32?

  • BlueCollarCritic||

    Bunch of self righteous entitled little shits. This is what you get for raising a generation of "Everyone gets an award" kids who were protected from controversy and having to deal with anything close to rejection. Its also a by-product of single parent households where kids are raised by and thus influenced by just one parent when both parents are needed in a child's upbringing.

  • Jerry B.||

    Now he can stay home and watch 'Mary Poppins', since she's a racist too.

    Blackface Mary Poppins

  • Disenchanted libertarian||

    The inmates are running the asylum! And trying for the world.

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