We have previously discussed protests over professors using the n-word in hypotheticals or as part of a course on hate speech. Professors are being denied basic academic freedom over such content to courses. The most recent such action was taken against Professor Phil Adamo of Minneapolis’s Augsburg University. He has been suspended for using the n-word during a classroom discussion about a James Baldwin book which uses the word.
Adamo was teaching Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and quoted this line: “You can really only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a n—–.” Baldwin used the full word in context and students objected. Baldwin addressed the issue of the use of this word as part of text and discussion.
Adamo was later relieved of his duties as head of the school’s Honors Program because he discussed “essays on the history of the word.” Adamo tried to make the “distinction between use and mention.” In other words, “To use the word, to inflict pain or harm, is unacceptable. To mention the word, in a discussion of how the word is used, is necessary for honest discourse.”
That distinction was clearly lost on some students who posted a taped class on YouTube under the title “Phil Adamo Justifying Use of N-Word.”
The incident reflects a growing unease among professors that they are not afforded basic academic freedom over the content of their classes, including using words that are the subject of research or actually mentioned in literary works.
What do you think?