Academia: Last Refuge of the N-Word

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

And not from the dwindling cadre of conservatives there. “The spring semester got off to a somewhat rocky start at Princeton University when a number of students walked out of a class in reaction to the instructor’s conduct,” Princeton Professor Keith E. Whittington writes on the academe blog maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). “Lawrence Rosen, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Princeton and an adjunct professor of law at Columbia University, was starting a class that he has offered before, ‘Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography.'”

“Apparently as has he has done in the past, he introduced students to the subject matter of the class with various examples of cultural and linguistic taboos. Among those examples was the use of the N-word, which Rosen said in full. Some students objected, words were exchanged, some students walked out and went public with their unhappiness with what happened in the class. The university and the department chair defended Rosen’s actions, but the story was picked up by the national media and eventually Rosen decided to cancel the class rather than try to continue under these circumstances.” So ironic that it should occur in the university Woodrow Wilson once presided over.

“While perhaps not common, such controversies are hardly unknown,” Whittington claims. “A few weeks after the Princeton incident, students complained to a dean when a law professor used the same word in class as part of a hypothetical, spurring a formal investigation of the faculty member. The previous semester, an English lecturer at Smith College was suspended for saying out loud the same word that was contained in a poem being discussed in the class. In the wake of the initial U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that burning an American flag is protected expression under the Constitution, a communications professor came under fire for burning a flag in her class on the limits of free expression and earned a formal rebuke by the state legislature.” Now that last one sounds more like the academia we’ve come to know.