Campus Free Speech

USC Marshall Business School Dean E-Mail on the Greg Patton / "Neige" Controversy

"The university's Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX (EEO-TIX) ... concluded that ... Professor Patton's actions did not violate the university's policy."


Here's the e-mail, just circulated this morning (I've confirmed this):

Dear Colleagues,

I have now attended department meetings at all seven of our academic units. Every meeting involved hard but important discussions, and I thank you for your willingness to freely and openly express your opinions and concerns.

A number of themes emerged that we will work on together in the months ahead. But one issue that stands in the way is the email I sent to our first-year full-time MBA students announcing that Professor Greg Patton was stepping aside from his GSBA 542 three-week course. I felt compelled to immediately address the genuine and serious concerns expressed by a number of student groups and individual students, including some enrolled in GSBA 542 who said they would stop attending the remaining two weeks of class. I will always respect and support students who come forward with concerns and will take them seriously, as I did in this case.

However, many of you have read that note as suggesting that I had prejudged the case. As I said when asked about this in the department meetings, this was not my intention. Nor was it my intent to cast aspersions on specific Mandarin words or on Mandarin generally. But I can see how reasonable people could draw a different conclusion in both cases from my email [see the original email below -EV]. I can only offer my sincere apologies that I left that impression, as I believed Professor Patton when he said he did not intend to do his students any harm and I have apologized to him as well.

The university's Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX (EEO-TIX) looked into this matter and concluded that the concerns expressed by students were sincere, but that Professor Patton's actions did not violate the university's policy. They have also communicated this to the professor and he allowed me to share their conclusion with you.

To be clear, Professor Patton was never suspended nor did his status at Marshall change. He is currently teaching in Marshall's EMBA program and he will continue his regular teaching schedule next semester.

More generally, this incident has led many faculty to question whether they will be supported if they "make an honest mistake" in the classroom. Faculty are at the heart of all great business schools and every member of my leadership team will always do everything we can to support you and to ensure you thrive in both your research and teaching missions. We fully support our students and staff as well.

In order for our faculty and students to flourish in the classroom, it is essential that everyone feels free to express their views openly and to learn from each other from a perspective of mutual trust and respect. This can be challenging in today's charged environment, but we must all strive to find the right balance.

During my very brief tenure as dean, I have seen you all rise admirably to the challenge of giving our students the best possible education in a remote environment. But working from home has made it impossible for me to get to know you, and for you to get to know me. It has created stresses that we have never before experienced. This has been a very tough episode for all of us. But I very much look forward to moving beyond it to work with you to elevate Marshall to new heights. I believe the future is very bright.


Geoff Garrett


Here, for perspective, is the original email from the Dean:

Last Thursday in your GSBA-542 classes, Professor Greg Patton repeated several times a Chinese word that sounds very similar to a vile racial slur in English. Understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students, and for that I am deeply sorry. It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students. We must and we will do better.

Professor Marion Philadelphia, Chair of the Department of Business Communications, will take over teaching the remainder of GSBA-542, beginning tomorrow, Tuesday August 25.

Over the coming weeks and months, I have no higher priority than to work with Vice Dean Sharoni Little, Vice Dean Suh-Pyng Ku and the other members of the Marshall leadership team to identify and redress bias, microaggressions, inequities and all forms of systemic racism associated with anyone's identity throughout our school. We each must grow and learn always to engage respectfully with one another while fostering and exemplifying the knowledge and skills needed to lead and shape our diverse and global world—such as courage, empathy, compassion, advocacy, collaboration, and integrity.

I am deeply saddened by this disturbing episode that has caused such anguish and trauma. What happened cannot be undone. But please know that Sharoni, Suh-Pyng and I along with the entire Full-Time MBA Program team are here to support each of you. We welcome the opportunity to have conversations with any of you individually.


Geoff Garrett


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  1. I wonder what they told the students.

    1. You don’t think someone leaked a copy of this to them?

      1. This doesn’t really address the over reaction of some students, possibly with ulterior motives.

    2. “As college educated individuals, the use of niggardly diction in the classroom is unacceptable.”

      1. I don’t think the word “niggardly” is being used correctly.

    3. Probably filler words.

  2. ” I felt compelled to immediately address the genuine and serious concerns expressed by a number of student groups and individual students, including some enrolled in GSBA 542 who said they would stop attending the remaining two weeks of class. I will always respect and support students who come forward with concerns”

    The most respectful was to address these concerns would have been to say, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

    Dean Garrett succumbed to the bigotry of low expectations.

    1. “The most respectful was to address these concerns would have been to say, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”


      Not even John Lombardi would say something like that — not to Black students….

    2. “I felt compelled to immediately address the genuine and serious, but completely stupid and contrived concerns expressed by a number of emotionally weak students and the student groups that encourage such grievance-seeking and weakness. I will always pretend to respect and support the silly crap they pretend is actually of concern.”


  3. A typical load of administrative bullshite but there is one key point that he didn’t quite hide well enough:

    “…including some enrolled in GSBA 542 who said they would stop attending the remaining two weeks of class.”

    Now that’s a real threat because the argument would have been that they *couldn’t* complete the class because it was a “racially hostile environment.” Now I don’t know how far that would go legally in terms of litigation, but it would be a freaking nightmare with ED’s OCR — the “mitigation” would include USC’s firing of this dean for failing to act, and don’t think he knew that.

    You have to have waded through a lot of the “Dear Colleague” crap that has come out of ED to understand this but the analogy would be permitting a sexually hostile environment to persist in the workplace — although how do you mitigate the loss of two weeks of class and the academic consequences?

    Once that threat was made, he really had no choice but to remove the professor — much like the police really have no choice but to issue a protective order against an allegedly abusive boyfriend.

    Like I said, he didn’t quite hide that well enough — and that’s what this was really all about.

    1. Baloney. Students threaren to not attend class and the professor has to step aside before we know whether there’s any basis for their complaint? That’s Alice-in-Wonderland stuff. Hang him now, and then we’ll have a trial.

      1. From what I have read, including the original famous “Dear Colleague” letter and the resulting Oberlin College star chamber procedures, “Alice in Wonderland stuff” has become simply routine.

    2. Hasn’t the current administration’s OCR stopped enforcing the “Dear Colleague” rules that were enacted during the second Obama term?

      I agree the previous administration’s OCR probably had far-reaching influence/fear on how deans react to situations like this. But I don’t think Garrett was worried about the OCR in particular when he relieved Patton of his duties. I think he was more worried about the incident blowing up and attracting the attention of the national BLM movement. That’s why he made the decision to shut down the incident after barely a day of investigation. If he was worried about the OCR, he could have taken way more time to make a decision considering (1) the federal bureaucracy is pretty slow to react to these cases; (2) the current OCR really cares about things like due process.

  4. “More generally, this incident has led many faculty to question whether they will be supported if they “make an honest mistake” in the classroom.”

    What “mistake”? There wasn’t any mistake, or at least, if there was, it was his, not the Professor’s.

      1. Me too. Mark the date.

    1. I wonder if Professor Patton would have been support if he’s said, “You thought it endangered your mental health to hear a Chinese word that sounded like ‘nigger’? That’s ridiculous. Now get back to work.

    2. I was just going to say this same thing: there was no mistake! There’s nothing wrong with what Greg Patton did.

      Also, why did the dean put quotation marks around these words? He seems to be implying, “I’m not the one who is calling it a mistake.” Well yes, he is. And I find it offensive. And he was my dean, I would not be mollified by his “apology.”

      I do think it was wise of him to talk to faculty f2f, however. And listen to them, to whatever extent he did that.

  5. Those students were “sincere” in the same way that a toddler is “sincere” when throwing a tantrum at being told he has to take a bath. Sincerity has nothing to do with it. Childish thinking and worse, childish behavior should not be reinforced. The Dean is a weasel who failed in his duty to both the students and the faculty.

    1. Yes. They were either so damned stupid that they should not have been admitted as students, or so damned duplicitous that they should be expelled. There was nothing sincere about pretending that a foreign word is a American racist slang.

      The dean’s stupidity or duplicitousness condemns him to the same hall of shame as the students.

  6. Is the word used in Chinese class? How has that never been a problem?

  7. I read the second e-mail to be “I rushed to judgement but I can’t say that so I’m going to pretend that removing Professor Patton and my focus on micro-agressions etc was not an implicit endorsement of the student complaints.”

    1. “Let me clarify a slight misunderstanding – I did not call the professor a racist, I simply said that I had taken cognizance of the professor’s behavior, and that all racists should be shackled to chairs and forced to watch Django Unchained. By which of course – and let me make myself perfectly clear – what I clearly meant was that the professor was not a racist and we in the administration value academic freedom. And that’s my final word until the political winds shift again.”

      1. “…until the political winds shift again, or until I receive the input that carries the *real* consequences: from Legal.”

  8. Grovels well, this one does…

  9. A basic problem with our culture is it teaches and encourages people to be weasels. It rewards weasily behavior.

    Dean Geoff had to come withe students, for fellowship. And now he has to be with the faculty. For fellowship.

  10. The Dean has a future in politics if this non-apology for a stupid move is typical of his thinking.

  11. This case illustrates two different problems about race, and how they interact. The first and worse problem is “critical race theory,” a false belief system that says America’s dominant culture is “white supremacist” and constitutes “systemic racism” against blacks. That so-called theory is so vicious and so obviously false that anyone who asserts it must be assumed not only a liar but one who maliciously seeks to destroy our culture. Notice that the Dean’s original letter expresses agreement with CRT using many of these keywords, and his latest letter does nothing to disavow it.

    The second problem, largely a result of the first, is that the laws governing our schools (and similarly workplaces) requires that the kind of bad-faith complaints that prompted Patton’s removal from teaching his class be taken seriously, rather than be summarily dismissed as ignorant at best (and most likely malicious) as they obviously deserve. The courts need to strike that provision down because it makes the law itself an object of well-earned contempt (both because the complaint, even if true, would be about trivia, less important than the trouble they create, and because nobody as thin-skinned as the complainers pretend to be has any business being in college).

  12. According to this letter, Professor Patton did nothing wrong. Why hasn’t Dean Garrett made this public??? Is he afraid of offending the complaining students. Will his letter end the fear expressed in the survey you previously posted?

    1. Three letters: OCR…

  13. I greatly admire Dean Garrett; he’s achieved amazingly much in life for someone without a functioning spine.

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