Use of N-word at Emory Was Protected Speech

Emory University is seeking to fire a tenured faculty member for reportedly using the n-word on two occasions while teaching a class. Paul Zwier is director of Emory's Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution, as well as a tenured law professor.  Zwier was removed from teaching responsibilities in August 2018 after a student complained about his use of the n-word in the classroom. At the time Zwier released a statement to Emory faculty members explaining that he had been teaching a class on 1967 legal case where a black man was refused service and called a “negro.”

Zwier returned to teaching but was suspended again in November for repeating the n-word in the classroom. Emory University has now started procedures to revoke his tenure and terminate him.

On July 10 the AAUP sent a case letter Emory University provost Dwight A. McBride regarding his summary suspension from teaching. To quote the letter:

In short, our Association views Professor Zwier’s speech as protected under principles of academic freedom, notwithstanding any repercussions of that speech. Because Dean Hughes’s dismissal recommendation appears to be founded on Professor Zwier’s two uses of the n-word, the stated ground for dismissal is impermissible under AAUP-supported principles of academic freedom. We would therefore urge the administration, having failed to identify legitimate grounds for dismissing him, to cease its dismissal action against Professor Zwier. In the meantime, if the administration intends to continue Professor Zwier’s suspension, now in its ninth month, AAUP-recommended procedural standards require that he be afforded a faculty hearing in which the administration would be obliged to demonstrate adequate cause for doing so. 

Download the full letter here

Publication Date: 
Friday, September 6, 2019