When Professors Say the Wrong Thing on Race

Comments about NFL player who started national anthem protest cost a Concordia (Mich.) instructor her job; Virginia professor keeps his job but plans a leave amid criticism of Facebook post about Black Lives Matter.

October 10, 2016

As tensions over race in higher education continue to surface on campus after campus, two faculty members have been criticized over comments they made questioning -- in ways many found offensive -- movements to draw attention to injustice against black people. One lost her job and the other is planning a leave.

At Concordia University, in Ann Arbor, Mich., an adjunct teaching social psychology was fired after she answered a question in class about her views on Colin Kaepernick, the National Football League quarterback who started the protest movement in which football players and others are kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to police violence against black people. The adjunct, Susan Quade, said that she would kill him.

Quade has not commented on the incident and could not be reached, but students recorded her discussion of the issue when she spoke to her class about the issue again a few days later. In that recording, the accuracy of which was confirmed by Concordia officials, Quade repeated the statement in describing what she had said.

In the video of her comments, Quade says that she did not mean the comment literally, and she suggests that students should have known that. "I'm not going to kill him. I'm not going to kill anybody. It was a figure of speech," she says. The video may be found here.

Gretchen M. Jameson, senior vice president of strategy and university affairs at Concordia (which includes Michigan and Wisconsin campuses), said in an interview that students reported the comments shortly after they were made. The comments were originally reported by white students, she said.

Concordia officials told Quade that she could try to regain confidence of students and the administration in the next class session (the one that was recorded) but said that she made things worse. "Not only did she not apologize, but she doubled down and made things worse," Jameson said. Quade was fired within an hour, she said.

Curt Gielow, director of the Ann Arbor campus, sent all students and faculty members this message: "Earlier this week, we were made aware of comments made by an adjunct instructor that do not align with Concordia’s values as a Christian university. After investigating this issue, the instructor will not be returning to the classroom. It is our goal to build a diverse and welcoming learning community, where all people feel accepted, valued and safe."

Concordia, as a private institution, is not covered by the First Amendment. The University of Virginia, where the other incident took place, is public and its officials cited the First Amendment in their responses.

The university's business and engineering schools both issued statements criticizing a Facebook post about the Black Lives Matter movement by Douglas Muir, who teaches in both schools. One of the statements said that Muir would be taking a leave and issuing a statement.

While the Facebook post is no longer visible, it was copied and circulated by others who said the university should respond. (The post illustrates this article.) The business school statement said, in part: "As a school within a public university, we respect and recognize people’s rights, including their First Amendment right to free speech. As an institution of learning, we also recognize that diversity of opinion is foundational. However, the personal statements made by Doug Muir regarding Black Lives Matter do not represent the views of this school."

The engineering school's statement said, in part: "While free speech and open discussion are fundamental principles of our nation and the university, Mr. Muir’s comment was entirely inappropriate. UVA Engineering does not condone actions that undermine our values, dedication to diversity and educational mission. Our faculty and staff are responsible for upholding our values and demonstrating them to students and the community. Mr. Muir has agreed to take leave and is preparing his own statement to the community."

Muir did not respond to an email seeking his comment.


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