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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Gary Robbins

SDSU removes teacher from 2 courses for using racial epithets in course work

SAN DIEGO — For the second time in less than a year, San Diego State University has reassigned a teacher for using racially charged language in the classroom.

The new incident involves J. Angelo Corlett, a tenured philosophy professor who last week was relieved of his duties teaching two courses, one on critical thinking, the other on race and racism.

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.

"We have had a number of students who have come forward and who've complained about their experience in professor Corlett's classes," said Luke Wood, SDSU's vice president for student affairs and campus diversity.

"This has happened this semester but has also been a routine experience. ... We took that into account," said Wood. "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."

He declined to provide further detail.

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.

Corlett said he does not know what he will be asked to do, if anything, now that he has been reassigned from those the two courses. SDSU says the issue has yet to be determined.

One of Corlett's colleagues, philosophy professor Robert Francescotti, told the Union-Tribune: "This came out of the blue and there had better be good evidence for removing someone from the classroom without giving them a chance to defend themselves. He is a long-standing expert on racism. He knows what he is talking about.

"(Corlett) likes to push students to think about things and he doesn't mind things being uncomfortable. I don't think that is a bad thing."

Corlett also received support from Dorette Ponce, a senior who has been taking Corlett's "Philosophy, Race and Justice" class. She told the Union-Tribune in an email:

"As philosophy majors, this is what we are taught from day one, TO USE CRITICAL THINKING. ... I am so disappointed in my department and the College of Arts and Letters. I thought we stood for truth and the pursuit of knowledge. I was under the impression that we respected all views and welcomed diversity. But yet, a professor expresses an unpopular minority opinion and he is removed from a course on a subject which he has been teaching, researching and publishing on for 30+ years?"

SDSU had to deal with a similar controversy in April after Robert Jordan, an instructor who was teaching an online class about cinema, used a cultural stereotype about Black people to make a larger point about racial ideology.

He told students he was going to express beliefs that he personally does not hold, then said, in a first-person style, "I might have an assumption that Black people are just not as intelligent as white people. Oh, I can hear already people getting all riled up, right. I can believe that ...

"That's just the way that, you know, my values are. It doesn't mean I am going to come and lynch you. It doesn't mean that I am going to do something attacking you. It might mean that I won't hire you ... "

An unidentified person took a brief clip from Jordan's remarks and placed it on Twitter, where it caused an uproar. Some students called for Jordan to be fired.

SDSU responded with a post on Twitter that said, "In the :50 video, the professor gives an example of a racist view or ideology. Professor Jordan insists the clip in no way represents his personal views or opinions.

"To be clear, SDSU does not tolerate acts of marginalization, racism and hatred based on personal background, identity or skin color."

SDSU removed Jordan from the class and reassigned him to a project that the university has yet to clearly explain. Jordan told the Union-Tribune shortly after the incident that SDSU told him not to talk to the media, a claim the university denies. He has not returned to his role as a regular lecturer.


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