USC Faculty Reaction to the Great USC Chinese Homonym Panic
From ‘Scared to Death to Teach’: Internal Report Cites ‘Chilling Effect’ (Chronicle of Higher Education, Tom Bartlett):
An anonymous survey of 105 professors at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business [conducted by the business school’s Faculty Council] suggests that many of them have lost confidence in the dean, and that they feel “livid,” “betrayed,” and “scared of students” after a fellow faculty member was “thrown under the bus,” as several of them described it, following a controversy over his use of a Chinese word.
The faculty member, Greg Patton, a professor of clinical business communication, used the word nèige (那个), which literally means “that” in Mandarin, but is also commonly used as a filler word like “um” or “er.” It was part of an example during a Zoom class last month on how such words can prove distracting during presentations. The word is pronounced “nay-ga,” and some Black students in the class complained in an email to administrators that it sounded like the n-word.
The business school’s dean, Geoffrey Garrett, sent an email to students saying that he was “deeply saddened by this disturbing episode.” He pulled Patton from the class and replaced him with another professor.
The Council’s summary of the survey, with many quotes from faculty members, is here. (Both the Chronicle and I have confidence that this copy of the survey results is authentic.) Some excerpts from the summary:
There was … an overwhelming sense of vulnerability, worry, insecurity, fear, and anxiety.
Another theme that emerged was that they felt that Prof. Patton was not afforded due process, that harm was done to his reputation, and that he was not supported by the administration. The feelings that w
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