Faculty Demands University Leader Resign Over Joke

Thomas L. Keon of Purdue University Northwest accused of insulting Asian Americans
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2022 7:27 AM CST
Updated Dec 19, 2022 9:35 AM CST
UPDATE Dec 19, 2022 9:35 AM CST

He has apologized, but the chancellor of Purdue University Northwest may lose his job anyway. The faculty senate of the Indiana school has called on Thomas Keon to resign after he spoke gibberish during a speech and called it his "Asian version" of a made-up language, per the AP. "His behavior does not reflect the diversity and inclusiveness that Purdue faculty, staff, and students value," said a letter released by the faculty group. It accused Keon of insulting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. A previous speaker had referenced a made-up language, and Keon's attempt at a joke played off that.

Dec 15, 2022 7:27 AM CST

The chancellor of Purdue University Northwest in Indiana has apologized after mocking Asian languages at a winter commencement ceremony. Thomas L. Keon took the podium at the event for summer and fall graduates Saturday after a talk on free speech from local radio host James Dedelow, who noted he sometimes used a "made-up language" on-air and in speaking with his family. "Well, all I can say is," Keon began, continuing with indistinguishable words. "That's sort of my Asian version of his," he added with a laugh. The student body is 2.6% Asian, per the Chicago Tribune. A clip of the remarks later went viral with many people stating Keon's comment was racist.

Richard Lee, a professor at the University of Minnesota, told NBC News it was not only racist but an "abuse of power" and showed that Keon views "a very heterogeneous racial group" as "all the same." The Asian American Foundation said Keon had humiliated Asian American students. Michigan state Sen. Stephanie Chang said she was "used to hearing this kind of ignorance ... but not from a high ranking educational leader," per the Washington Post. Keon apologized for the "offensive and insensitive" comment Wednesday "as my words have caused confusion, pain, and anger." "I assure you I did not intend to be hurtful and my comments do not reflect my personal or our institutional values," he said.

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Keon—who was honored for his "commitment to diversity and inclusion" by the magazine Insight Into Diversity in 2016—also said he would "take action to prevent such missteps from occurring in the future" and referenced a school task force that aims to increase diversity and foster "a welcoming climate and culture." A spokesperson said the Purdue University Board of Trustees accepted the apology, per the Tribune. But Sherrilyn Ifill, a law professor and former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said it was "utterly insufficient" as Keon had disgraced the school. She also questioned whether other professors seen laughing at Keon's comment had issued their own "statements of remorse." (More apology stories.)

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