The Unpardoning Option? Duquesne President Issues Controversial Conditions For The Reinstatement Of Professor Who Used N-Word In Class

We just discussed the case of a John Marshall law professor who was suspended after using the censored version of the “n-word” on an exam. Now, another widely reported case has been resolved involving a professor who used the word in a class addressing such offensive terms. However, the restatement by Duquesne President Ken Gormley has a curious but signature touch: it may be rescinded if Professor Gary Shank ever engages in similar conduct. (It is reminiscent of Gormley’s earlier position that President Joe Biden could “unpardon” former president Donald Trump). The reinstatement however still does not resolve questions of academic freedom and indeed magnifies such concerns with its punitive elements.

According to the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, Gormley only agreed to a reinstatement if Shank would undergo a seven-month suspension without pay, agree to a diversity training program, accept a letter or reprimand and additional conditions. Moreover, he would be fired if he ever does anything like this again.

However, grievance committee reportedly found that Shank did not use the n-word with any “malicious” intent and was simply “misguided.”  It opposed his firing.

Shank was teaching an educational psychology class online and one of his students posted the video to Twitter.  While there are sometimes questions over germaneness in the use of such terms, but there is little question that it was germane to the lesson plan. Shank was discussing a presentation slide titled “Race (from a cultural sense)” which stated that “Based on perceived physical differences. Values assigned to race is cultural not physical.”

One can legitimately question whether a professor should use the word or a censored version like references to the “n-word.” However, there was no rule at the university against the use of the word and his use was found not to be malicious.

That brings us back to the conditions for reinstatement, including mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training ” and completion of a course in “Leading Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

The long list of sanctions seems in conflict with the non-malicious finding and the fact that it did not contravene a school rule.  The case raised serious concerns over academic freedom and the sanctions are likely to increase those concerns. He is still facing unpaid months and mandatory training over the use of the term.

Gormley’s threat of a later firing seems to allow him to undo the resolution of the long dispute. Gormley previously wrote in the Washington Post that not only can Trump not pardon himself but that Biden can “un-pardon” him if he does. The Washington Post regularly published highly dubious theories on impeachment and other issues related to Trump, including columnists who misrepresented the standing law or the actual rulings of court cases.  This column however was breathtaking. Gormley in my view is wrong on both claims, but the suggestion that a later president can unpardon someone borders on the bizarre. It shows the distortive effect that Trump had on legal analysis.

You do not have to agree with the use of the word in this class (which I do not) to recognize that the freedom of academics to make such choices.  We have seen professors facing disciplinary demands for assigning material or cases using this word or reading it from literary works or opinions.  Such matters can be addressed by faculties in discussing how best to approach such material but the use of formal sanctions leaves great uncertainty as to the scope of academic freedom.

Short of termination, it is hard to imagine a more punitive package than the one issued by Gormley. If his use of the term was viewed as germane and within the scope of academic freedom, the measures would be improper. The finding that the use of the term was “misguided” sounds like it was found germane but unnecessary or unwarranted. That would still suggest that it was within the scope of academic freedom, which is not about making ideal choices but pedagogical choices.

50 thoughts on “The Unpardoning Option? Duquesne President Issues Controversial Conditions For The Reinstatement Of Professor Who Used N-Word In Class”

  1. “Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.” JFK. That statement would now be labeled as white nationalist.

    “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” MLK, Jr. This quote is now considered an aspect of white supremacy. Literally. It’s used in graphics on white supremacy.

    Democrats like Clinton, Pelosi, Schumer, and the rest of the party used to be aligned on the position that illegal immigration was a crime, and bad for the country. The only right way to immigrate was through the legal immigration system.

    I remember when Democrats and Republicans had far more in common. We used to disagree on the roll of government and personal responsibility and freedom, and how much to spend. But we agreed that this is a great nation.

    I miss those days. You could argue about which policies were better, and still be great friends. When’s the last time a conservative thought it was safe to talk politics with a Democrat? They’ll cut you off, unfriend you, disown you, ruin you, destroy your business, get you fired, get you canceled.

    For people in their 20s, you may not realize how much the Democrats have changed. All of the above quotes were unifying principles, inspiring, and commonly held beliefs. These statements were never racist. Politicians, activists, and the media just label them so and work hard to convince you of it. Have you suspended common sense?

    20 years ago, on 9/11, the entire nation came together. Our hearts bled for the firemen and all those people in the World Trade Center Towers lost. Cops were out there covered in ash, helping people. These are the cops BLM and the Left would turn you against. Strangers of all races and creeds helped each other, sometimes carried each other, out of the City. No one cared what race anyone was. Who they voted for.

    That is a community that comes together in a crisis.

  2. In the Iron Heel by Jack London, there is a good professor who runs afoul of the monopolists. They force him out of university.

    Pretty much all the stuff we see happening now, London envisioned in that book, in one form or another. You should read it folks

    but you will have to get past hating on the socialists. In that book, they are the good guys

    Something to ponder. I guess in London’s day, they were not the sort of brats who call themselves by that name today. but the ideas and tools are what counts, not the false flags that global finance has planted everywhere to distract and confuse us.

    Sal sar

  3. All of the profs and TA’s are mindless robots with no sense of decency. In my profession, my peers would stand in unison with one of our own being mistreated. But not in academia. What a collection of worthless humans.

  4. Let me get this straight. People can listen to rap artists who cannot seem to heel-toe it through lyrics without repeated use of the actual N-word, but professors will be black-listed and ruined, straight out of McCarthyism, if they discuss the N-word in a class that expressly discusses offensive terms, because hearing it is so injurious.

    Do I have that right? And now even the euphemism “the N word” is on the taboo list?

    This is immature and neurotic. It defies all common sense, and we, as a society, should find our backbone and denounce this as utter nonsense.

    Stop being so afraid of the Left branding you racist, leading to your ruin. If more people stood up to them, there wouldn’t be this trend in sacking professors and ruining people for innocent usage of such terms.

    Now I’m just spitballing here, but if the N word is so traumatic to hear, perhaps the black community should stop perpetuating it. The word would probably have been forgotten, or sounded archaic, by now if it wasn’t ubiquitous in the speech of black people.

    The word’s everywhere. In movies, songs, everyday vernacular you hear between two black people in the grocery store. And here I am with my kid hoping and praying he doesn’t hear it and repeat it in innocence. After hearing the word spoken by black people, I had to have a whispered conversation with my kid that the word was not something he could ever say. It was a ridiculous situation, because he actually wasn’t sure he’d heard what those men had said. So then he asked what the N word was. I wouldn’t repeat it, and I told him OMG DO NOT GUESS WE’RE IN A STORE! NOR AT HOME!

    Non-black parents have to have these conversations with their kids, because of the certainty that they will hear it eventually in a movie, music, or from black people talking. And if they hear black people using it in the context of “homie”, that’s how white kids repeat it, trying to sound cool. Like that girl whose college acceptance was wrested from her because she made a video trying to sound cool.

    I don’t appreciate this.

    1. It defies all common sense, and we, as a society, should find our backbone and denounce this as utter nonsense.

      Don’t you know, there is nothing common about sense anymore. I had posted this article yesterday from The Federalist and it explains how we’ve gone truly Orwellian in controlling language. You’re right however, we need to fight back with more vigor than ever before.

      Orwell said, “In Prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender them.” If those whose business in life is to cultivate the language will not take up the fight, then who will?

    2. You are right. And it reminds us how prescient Monty Python were. We now know why everyone was so scared of those knights.

      The knights weren’t saying “ni”; they were saying “ni——“.

    3. Let me break this down for you again

      1. billionaires are in control

      2. they fear the white workers and middle class of america, who could, under the right circumstances, unite to destroy the billionaire group who are our slavemasters

      3. ergo, many decades ago, the billionaires seized on the idea of anti-racism as a way of harassing, demoralizing, and destroying the potential political unity of the white workers and middle class

      4. mass migration of nonwhite folks from abroad is another tool for this, with the added benefit of cheapening wages in every labor market which they flood into.

      5. they fear the legacy majority, but when it is reduced to only a plurality among many other fractured and atomized ethnic subgroups, then they will be safe from the threat

      ergo, it is just another stepping stone on the way to their globalist dreams of total dominion

      old bill gates is taking the lead now that soros is a doddering shadow of his former self. we will eat fake meat, and take his vaccines. or else

      billionaires, as a group, are the enemy. the various forces attacking white people in america is financed by them, but their goal is “nothing personal, just business”

      because of course, most of these creeps wear the white skin too. this is an irony that should not be missed. it is critical to understand all their lesser mercenaries who wear it too, and carry out the endless harassments.,

      I advise, don’t hate the foreigners or the black people they use against us. that is short sighted. no, i say, hate the billionaires, not one by one, but them as a group, for they are a deadly foe

      Saloth Sar

      1. I want to observe that most of the past several decades in which we have seen “racists” on tv and such, they have almost always been uneducated rubes and philistines who were not only idiotic and foolish, but hateful to the wrong people. they looked at the tip of the spear but never at the hand that wielded it. with almost no exceptions, they showed no insight to economic matters and even if they had it, the mass media owned by the billionaires were careful to edit that stuff out, in favor of the ignorant and offensive stuff.

        many people who are leery of the billionaires, get lost in the details. hence the error of antisemitism when pondering such as geo soros. no, another mistake. of course there are many jewish people among the billionaires, due to the famous industry and acumen of that tribe. but it is not the design of that tribe to reduce us, rather, it is the design of the group of the billionaires as such. to get lost in misunderstanding their personal details as a counterpoint to the essential message is to fail to resist them effectively from the start. so let me be clear about this, the jewish people also are not the enemy as such, nor more than mexicans or blacks or chinese peoples as such. no. the enemy is who? the billionaires, as a group.

        ah my Democrat detractors say you liked don trump. sure i did. and I like elon musk a lot too. i might like others. that does not matter. what matters is what they do as a group to divide, demoralize, diminish, and destroy us who are below them, and why they do it as a group.

        I know that my Republican detractors do not like how i focus on groups. They say I am wrong that individualism is not bad it is good. well. I say it is a false idol. we have to rise up like an army and not a herd of cats. there is no indivdualism in an army that works as a team. that is what matters now, if we’re going to survive the next 2 decades. you can feel free to be a rugged individual after that if we survive, how about that?

        it should be obvious that we are not only being crushed, but that not too far off, they look to depopulate us as well. cull us, thin the herd. then and only then will they actually be able to achieve the dream of a steady state zero carbon emissions economy. it will be impossible without a dieoff of at least half the world’s population, in the narrow time frame in which they believe climate changed will become irreversible. it doesnt matter if you believe that is an accurate prediction or not, what matters is, THEY believe it is an accurate prediction, and they are sure in heck not going to tell you the very one thing that is absolutely needed to realize their stated objjective

        depopulation, ie, dieoff.

        remember you heard if from Saloth Sar. the killing fields of the past will pale compared to those of the future.

        1. Kurtz, putting aside your fortunately doomed wish for racial purity – the world is now global in all aspects of human existence, and that’s a good thing based on human’s long tendencies to expand the “in group” – the real world does not work as you imagine it. Belief in conspiracies on a grand scale may make you feel that you have attained special knowledge and the unified theory for world events, but competition for power exists at all levels of society, including the top. Further, someone like Bill gates is much more likely to be motivated by what he says he is motivated by – a desire to be the guy, or a guy who helped solve the serious problems we face. You choose to think he is a villain because it fits your conspiracy narrative, not based on evidence. While he has a lot more power than you or I, and may or may not be correct in his vision for saving the world, he does not have the power you imagine, unless hundreds to thousands of others are are part of the plot.

  5. Another institution run by a man unfit to exercise discretion. No surprise there. Congress, the legal profession, and academe. Utterly corrupt.

  6. There is no reason to use the word, period. Academic freedom my ass. There is little reason to use even the censored version in today’s hypersensitive, micro-aggressive society. A smart person would not touch the word or insinuate it. Just the reality of the day.

    1. There is little reason to use even the censored version in today’s hypersensitive, micro-aggressive society. A smart person would not touch the word or insinuate it. Just the reality of the day.

      Smart, you say. Hmmm? Our founding generation must have been really stupid people. Abolitionists and the slaves they wanted freed must have been really stupid people. Women wanting the right to vote must have been really stupid people. Civil rights activists wanting to end Jim Crow era laws must have been really stupid people. Nazi era Jews must have been really stupid people. The dude standing in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square must have been a really stupid person. And on, and on.

      You might want to study Eric Bonhoeffer, you know, another really stupid person:
      Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.
      Not to speak is to speak.
      Not to act is to act.

    2. Of course there’s a reason to use it: to give the totalitarians the finger. Also, sometimes — rarely — it is the only word that fits the bill.

  7. What a sweet gig. Congratulations! We are please to inform you that you will be blessed with servitude at our school. You will continue teaching…pro bono. You are required to sit through reeducation training to correct your moral shortcomings and at the end of your 7 months teaching under our diversity microscope, we reserve the right to end your time at our school if you are deemed to have not adequately transformed your entire being to our ways.

    If he accepts these terms, perhaps he deserves them.

    1. Olly:

      This reads like a formulaic totalitarian dystopia. It just boggles my mind that it’s reality. People used to brush off concerns that America could lose its freedoms and success, as if the country was immune to self destruction.

      Look at how quickly and how far we’ve fallen. Look what we consider usual today and how insane it would sound to people 20 years ago.

      1. Karen, except for saying n……., we have many more freedoms now than 20 years ago, and especially 60 years ago when Jim Crow prevailed, you could be thrown in jail for sexual activities practiced by even many married couples of all political types, access to public information was more restricted, access to all types of information and opinions were more restricted, you could be fired for your sexual identity or for expressing certain political beliefs, and this one for better or worse (we could debate it), dress codes were more strict and conformist. I’m sure I’ve left things out, but the good old days were not so hot. Somehow I have managed to curb any impulses I have had to say n…… and without missing it.

      2. Karen,
        You’ve been on this blog at least as long as I have and we’ve seen a lot of changes in what I’ll refer to as the foundation of arguments. Of course the obvious is this is a legal blog, hosted by a constitutional law scholar. So naturally, we would expect arguments to be rooted in the rule of law. Tangible things like facts and evidence would force truth into the open and settle emotional arguments. If you take a 10,000 foot view of this blog, it would appear the same as it was 10 years ago. Our host posts articles about current events with an eye toward the law. His legal position remains as always, anchored in the constitution. Participants in the blog invariably take one side or the other. However, once you zoom in, it becomes clear that the reality of facts and evidence is rapidly losing ground to the reality of emotions. When I read that Federalist article I linked to you yesterday, it was the first time I really understood the crisis we are in. Normally, cultures change slowly, moving the majority in the same direction, at the same time. This has been an unnatural and fundamental transformation to our culture. What we’ve experienced is more like a cultural earthquake. Forces are moving beneath our feet and a majority of the population can’t see what is disorienting them. It used to be we could rely on reason and time-tested definitions to explain the world around us. But today, that’s all changed. The moment you think you’ve got an understanding, definitions of reality change. This is anti-enlightenment. We’re being forced into what Kant describes as nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance.
        I’ve posted this from Kant before and it really describes how we’ve regressed in so many ways.

  8. It is not very reassuring to see many in our legal profession, sounding more and more like Gormley. It is proper that Mr. Gormley be sent to China, where many of his desires are already being practiced on anyone who disagrees with every word said by the CCP or its chairman. I wonder how he would fare in a place like that, where freedom of speech is non-existent.

  9. Dr Turley: I am curious for your thoughts about the severe punishments being handed out Academicians and others for the use of this and other racially insensitive words, especially when they are used in non-malicious manners. When it is not rare to hear these words uttered in movies by Black Actors or in songs by Black Artists? I believe they do not similarly receive these severe punishments or any punishments at all. Many will make millions of dollars from these vehicles. Thank you.

  10. Hopefully Shank doesn’t talk in his sleep, as I’m sure that would be used against him too. “Diversity training programs” can only do so much…

  11. Professor Shank will be forgiven if he immediately reports to the re-education camp. We must make sure that he learns to think just like us. However, if his re-education is not effective he may be assured that his means of housing and feeding his family will be eliminated. Re-education will also be required for his family. If he persists confinement will be necessary. Evil must not be allowed to continue in the land.

  12. Dr. Sarah Parcak, Egyptologist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, made the following tweet about Rush Limbaugh’s death: “When a terrible piece of scum who caused immeasurable harm to millions dies, there is no sympathy. Only a desire that they suffered until their last breath.” To her credit, she later deleted the tweet.

    UAB President Ray Watts issued a statement condemning her tweet. This is not the first time Watts has had to condemn Parcak’s tweets. She’s also in her forties, so this ugly episode is pretty much what she is.

    I think it was appropriate to condemn her tweet, but for my own part, I don’t want Parcak fired, and she probably won’t be. UAB is a public university, and she might have tenure. And let’s face it, there are two sets of rules on campuses now–they’ll protect her for worse than they punished Shrank for.

    She has made impressive contributions to her field. Too bad she won’t volunteer to make them in Waziristan, where she really belongs.

  13. Having earned degrees from Duquesne (BA 1965 and JD in 1969), I am ashamed that Gormley is president of the University – and seeks media attention as he does. His personal opinions and this awful action reflect badly on Duquesne; but the University is apparently tolerating him. I agree with another commentator and urge students and their paying parents to seek their education elsewhere.

  14. “It shows the distortive effect that Trump had on legal analysis.” Sounds like you are blaming the victim for the actions of those providing the analysis. Hmmmm . . .

    1. If you had said the impact of Trump Derangement Syndrome on legal analysis, as in “Gulity before proven innocent” stategies used incessantly against conservatives, I might have understood, Mr. Turley.

  15. The “pardon” was not intended as an equitable ruling.

    It is punitive and a naked display of power.

    Parents: take note about Dusquesne – it does not teach fairness, justice or mercy. Do you really want to spend your tuition dollars there?

    Time for the adults (regents, directors, alumni) to step up and get rid of Mr. Gormley (by the way, am I the only one who thinks that Mr. Gormley fully deserves his nebbish name?).

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