Towson Adjunct Professor Fired for Racial Remark In Class

Childs Walker, Baltimore Sun, March 3, 2010

A Towson University adjunct professor was fired last week after using a racially insensitive term in his art class.

Allen Zaruba, a local artist who had taught at Towson for 12 years, said he was discussing provocative works depicted in textbook chapters on the body and identity when he used the term.

“I crossed the line,” he said. “I made a terrible, terrible mistake.”

Zaruba, who is white, said his black stepfather used racial terms freely and that “I never quite got the horror of the word.”

“But I will never use that term again,” he said. “It is absolutely transgressive.”

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On Thursday, three days after uttering the remark, Zaruba learned he had been fired in a phone call from interim department Chairman Stuart Stein. He said Stein told him the racial slur was “never, never, never to be used anywhere on campus.”

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Though a report in the campus newspaper The Towerlight said Zaruba was examining legal options to fight his dismissal, he said Tuesday, “I am sorry, and I am not going to contest the provost’s decision.”

{snip} Deverick Murray, president of the Black Student Union, said most of his members had probably not heard about it and that the organization had not arrived at an official response.

Adam Jackson, president of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a campus group that promotes social justice, said he didn’t know the context of the incident but was intrigued by Zaruba’s wording, which included reference to “a corporate plantation.”

“I think that the university firing him on the basis of using a racially charged word is an excuse to escape criticism from across the university,” Jackson said. “At worst, it could be a racially insensitive analogy, but to call the university a ‘corporate plantation’ would be a deep statement that directly challenges the politics of this university.”

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Zaruba, 58, taught three classes this semester and said he was devastated that his mistake might cost him future teaching opportunities.

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Despite taking responsibility for his error, Zaruba said his firing raises troubling questions about the power of political correctness in modern society.

“Are we in for another state of McCarthyism?” he said. “We have to have compassion and realize that people are not perfect.”

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