The administration of San Diego State University has stripped J. Angelo Corlett, professor of philosophy, of his critical thinking course and his course on race and racism this semester, following lessons in those courses in which he provided examples of racial epithets.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports:
Corlett told The San Diego Union-Tribune he used an informational slide in both classes that listed 10 to 12 epithets that have been used against Black, Hispanic, Latino, Asian and White people.
“You have to mention the words in order to explain why they are racist and should not be used,” said Corlett, a 63-year-old Latino. “Some students are confused about what counts as racism. And some are more concerned about being offended than learning about the logic and science of language.”
On March 1, an unidentified Black student, who was not registered in Corlett’s critical thinking course, stopped by and repeatedly challenged Corlett’s mention of epithets, particularly one regarded as the most offensive slur against Black people. Corlett said he responded to the visitor, in part, by verbally mentioning epithets to illustrate the nature of the lesson. He claims that he did not encourage his students to do the same.
Later that day, Corlett was notified by the university that he would not be teaching the two courses for the rest of the spring semester. He is still teaching a course on political philosophy…
Corlett says that he has used this teaching technique at SDSU for about 20 years and notes that he has written widely on the subject, including publishing the book “Race, Racism & Reparations.”
“I am not a racist. I neither mention nor use racial epithets beyond the classroom,” Corlett said.
Luke Wood, SDSU’s vice president for student affairs and campus diversity, told the newspaper:
We have had a number of students who have come forward and who’ve complained about their experience in Professor Corlett’s classes… This has happened this semester but has also been a routine experience. … We took that into account… This is really a case of a faculty member who is being reassigned… This is not about free expression or academic freedom, but about teaching assignments… This was about actions, not about freedom of expression.
Since professors’ academic freedom extends to their teaching, it is unclear why Wood would think that the university’s removing of Corlett from his classes based on a lesson he taught is not about academic freedom.
The Tribune did not report which administrator at SDSU was responsible for the decision to violate Professor Corlett’s academic freedom. Perhaps further reporting will reveal whether it was Dean of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, Monica Casper, Provost Salvador Hector Ochoa, or the university’s President, Adela de la Torre.
Corlett, whose research includes work on philosophy of race and racism, along with writings on a range of topics in moral and political philosophy and epistemology, has not been told by the university what he will be asked to do in lieu of teaching the two courses.
There is no question that the removal of Professor Corlett from the classroom is a form of university sanction. It is also quite obvious that removal or “reassignment” of Professor Corlett in specific response to controversial but instructionally germane material that Professor Corlett introduced into his classroom is not just relevant to his academic freedom but a grievous violation of his academic freedom.
UPDATE (3/11/21): Professor Corlett has written an open letter explaining the teaching that supposedly precipitated the administration’s violation of his academic freedom (via Leiter Reports).