The Chronicle of Higher Education on the Greg Patton / USC / "Neige" Matter

A very interesting article, with many comments from Prof. Patton himself.


The Chronicle article, by Tom Bartlett, is here; an excerpt:

While Patton says he does genuinely feel bad that the example has caused such disruption, he has heard from Chinese students who don't think he should have expressed remorse. "If there's a complaint I'm getting, it's that I apologized and should not have," he says. He still struggles to understand how what he said could have been interpreted as laced with ill intent, as if he were sneaking in a slur. "I'm not springing it on them," he says. "I'm talking in an international context. I'm specifically talking about China and the language most commonly spoken in the world."

Patton doesn't believe he'll be able to teach in the full-time M.B.A. program again anytime soon. There's concern at the business school that the students who complained might object to his teaching the communication course next fall, or any other course, for that matter….

While he wasn't actually placed on leave or reprimanded, Patton does feel that his reputation has yet to be restored, and that his ability to teach remains in question. "I've used that example for years, and no one said anything to me. I've been going to China for 20 years, where I heard it all the time. I never once thought the two words were connected," he says. "It's painful because I've put in a lot of heart and soul into building up that program."


Some of the ["Black MBA Candidates c/o 2022"] email's factual claims are dubious. One is that Patton mispronounced the word, which appears to be untrue. The pronunciation varies depending on the region in China, but a number of videos and pronunciation guides offer the same pronunciation….

Another is that Patton purposely stopped the recording so that there would be no evidence of his having said the word. He and other professors in the business school do stop recordings when students are in breakout sessions, in order to avoid showing five minutes of the professor silently taking care of back-office work. In two of the classes that day, Patton neglected to switch the recording back on after the breakout sessions, so that the last few minutes—which included him saying the word—weren't captured. "With all the multitasking going on, it's not unusual to miss a restart," Patton says. But the example from one of the classes was recorded and posted on Blackboard. That clip, which was posted on the Language Log blog, has been widely shared and viewed well over a million times. Patton says he's never stopped recording for any reason other than to eliminate the gaps during the breakout sessions.

The complaint also says that students alerted Patton that the example was offensive, but that he continued using it in subsequent classes. Patton says he didn't hear any objections until the end of the final class of the day ….

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  1. “He still struggles to understand how what he said could have been interpreted as laced with ill intent…”

    Easy. The people who said that they were offended were lying.

    1. This. A lot of outrage is fake. And it’s possible to be concerned about actual racism in academia (this isn’t that) while calling out people who are faking injury.

      1. Just because the injury is illusory and those asserting it are obnoxious doesn’t mean they’re doing it dishonestly. If every time somebody gave you a dirty look there were people telling you you’ve been gravely offended and you’re entitled to satisfaction, you might believe it. And if you didn’t, others would.

      2. Outrage & grievance culture seems to thrive on the addiction to the perceived slight. The MBAs may not have been lying, but were, are remain ignorant, poorly educated, and less than completely honest in terms of their presentation of what occurred, pronunciation, and very likely it’s actual impact at the time. I suspect they met, and chose to become aggrieved & outraged.

    2. Of course. Never attribute to stupidity what can be explained by bad faith.

  2. “He still struggles to understand how what he said could have been interpreted as laced with ill intent…”

    The odds that any professor in 2020 would intentionally use a racial slur beggars belief.

    Oops, now I done it. Should have said “monetarily challenged through no fault of their own’d belief.”

    1. Also, “beggars” has G and R sounds. If you weren’t secretly thinking racial slurs, why would you use a word with those sounds in that order?

  3. Whelp, as they said on South Park, Greg Patton is now just another 那个 guy.

  4. The people who wrote the “Black MBA Candidates c/o 2022” email don’t have a lot of inherent power. The vast majority of their power is being granted to them by the school. A good question to ask is why the school is doing so.

    One reason might be because the school is convinced by the quality of the email authors’ argument. They sincerely believe that this professor is, in fact, offensive, and that the only just resolution is to have him removed.

    Another reason might be because the school doesn’t want to face the bad press they would surely get if they ruled that the email authors’ argument was unconvincing, and they have concluded that it would be better to have the bad press fall on the professor’s head rather than their own, even if that may be unjust. Survival, first.

    1. How about the fact that school tuition is $60,000 and those students are paying customers?

  5. At this point, it would be useful for someone to try to interview some of the people who wrote the email and find out what they have to say, or determine whether the whole thing was a hoax and if some right-wing group or perhaps simply some university prankster or other is laughing its ass off about how they got the administration of a major university to wet their pants.

    1. 1. Some of the mainstream press accounts I’ve seen say that the reporter has tried to talk to the students, but didn’t get a response.

      2. My understanding, albeit certainly not first-hand, is that the complaint was signed by all the black MBA students in Prof. Patton’s class, plus some white students; so it’s not a hoax, though I think it’s unsound for the various reasons I’ve mentioned.

    2. Occam’s Razor and a familiarity both the story and with academic follies rules out your right-wing group theory pretty easily. Also, the people who wrote the email accusation, if not completely full of shit, are likely partially untruthful. Interviews would only serve to possibly expose their dishonesty, and them to more ridicule.

  6. Don’t know if it’s been noted yet in regard to this controversy, but across the plaza, at the USC Law School, my alumni news alerts me to the publication of Prof. Jody Armour’s new book.
    How exactly are colleagues, and, for that matter, student bookstore employees, expected to refer to it?

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