The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

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 ….