Monday, September 7, 2020

"Have You No Sense of Decency?" Over 100 USC Marshall Alumni Respond to the Firing of Professor Greg Patton

Two posts below, I discussed the controversy at USC Marshall concerning Professor Greg Patton's suspension for using a common Chinese word in class that sounded like an English racist word.  Over 100 USC alumni responded with the following letter, published on the Volokh Conspiracy. The highlights are mine.


Dear Deans, USC Administration, the Marshall School of Business and Alumni;

We write to you with great concern about the apparent removal of Prof. Greg Patton from his teaching role in GSBA 542 Communication in the Marshall School of Business at USC and the false claims that continue to circulate about the events. We have the following observations:

  • All of us have gained enormous benefit from the academic leadership of Prof. Patton. His caring, wisdom and inclusiveness were a hallmark of our educational experience and growth at USC and the foundation of our continued success in the years following.
  • We represent more than a dozen nationalities and ethnicities and support the global inclusiveness Professor Patton brings to the classroom. Most of us are Chinese, some ethnically, some by nationality, and many others have spent extensive time in China. Most of us live in China. We unanimously recognize Prof Patton's use of 'nei ge' as an accurate rendition of common Chinese use, and an entirely appropriate and quite effective illustration of the use of pauses. Prof Patton used this example and hundreds of others in our classes over the years, providing richness, relevance and real world impact.
  • A few of us, but many of our parents, lived through mainland China's Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). This current incident, and Marshall's response so far, seem disturbingly similar to prevalent behavior in China at that time—spurious accusations against innocent people, which escalated into institutional insanity. In the United States on 9 June 1954, the counsel for the U.S. Army, Joseph Welch, said to Senator Joseph McCarthy, 'have you no sense of decency?' Welch's question eloquently pointed attention toward McCarthy's misrepresentations and helped bring an end to the madness. It took courage to end the harm in both cases and we seek that from USC and Marshall.
  • We fully support social and economic equality and justice, an end to police brutality, and necessary criminal justice reform in the United States. It is in part because those goals are so vital that we deplore what seems to be Marshall's response so far; such ignorant and false charges as those leveled against Prof. Patton demean the importance of those goals, subvert essential social change and are deeply counter-productive.
  • We also find the motivation behind these charges highly questionable. After many years of the example's use, and positive feedback, this year the example suddenly caused deep mental health consequences and mental exhaustion? It seems entirely appropriate that the person or persons who brought forth such abusive and dishonest charges should be reprimanded strongly by Marshall not only for the obvious Student Conduct and Integrity violation, but for demeaning the important cause they pretend to stand for.
  • We are also deeply disappointed that the spurious charge has the additional feature of casting insult toward the Chinese language, the most spoken in the world, and characterized it and its usage as vile. We feel Marshall should be open to diversity in all areas—not only those areas convenient for the moment. We further suggest that any attempt to degrade this matter and suggest that a Chinese word different in sound, tone, accent, context and language itself is "exactly like" an offensive US term would be naive, a disgusting and intentional stretch and would further degrade important societal discussion.

We earnestly hope that our collective voices in this matter will help Marshall reach the ethically required decision in this matter: complete exoneration of Prof. Patton, and probably a reprimand to the ignorant-at-best instigators of such deplorable and false accusations. Below our list of names, you may see some of our individual comments about this matter….

Sincerely, Alumni of the University of Southern California & The Marshall School of Business

[102 signatory names, graduation dates, and geographical locations omitted. -EV]

(Scott Fruehwald)

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