Friday, September 11, 2020

More On The Controversy Concerning USC Marshall Professor Greg Patton

Earlier this week I posted about the suspension of Professor Greg Patton by USC for using a Mandarin word that sounds like an English racist word.  Yesterday, CNN called this situation an "international academic controversy."  (here)

Over 100 upset alumni sent a letter to the USC administration.  Excerpts:

"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 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."

Additional comments with the letter: ""If you had been in China long enough and learn more about how people act in so-called culture revolution 50 years ago, you will know it could be just someone hold a grudge with Prof. Greg and took the chance to ruin him."

""I went through Culture Revolution as a teenager. The fact of this becoming a concern to some and the handling by the Marshall management even if unwillingly, reminds me that crazy dark period in Chinese history."

"While not a native speaker of Chinese I lived and worked in China for over 12 years and become proficient in mandarin Chinese over this time. That being said, am absolutely dumbfounded by the school's decision to discipline Prof Patton for his use of an extremely common filler expression in Chinese within the context of the larger discussion around pausing or 'filling' during a conversation to collect ones thoughts or provide added message impact."

As I mentioned earlier this week, there is a petition on Change.Org calling for the reinstatement of Professor Patton.

For more details on this controversy, see The Volokh Conspiracy.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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