Purdue University Northwest’s faculty is giving its chancellor until Monday to resign after a racist comment he made has brought unwelcome attention and pain to the campus.
Letters obtained by the Post-Tribune on Saturday state that the campus’s Faculty Senate is giving Purdue’s Board of Trustees their “full support” if it chooses to relieve Chancellor Thomas Keon of his duties. Keon has been under fire this week for his comments mocking Asians during one of the campus’s two graduation ceremonies Dec. 10.
PNW Faculty Chair Thomas Roach said in the letter dated Dec. 16 that he and other members have asked Keon to resign because the remarks he made at the ceremony show he’s not to fit to lead the school. The Faculty Senate met Friday to discuss the matter.
“I encourage you to replace him immediately and prevent him from drawing out this national embarrassment with more public statements like the problematic apology he issued this Wednesday,” Roach wrote.
In a separate email obtained by the Post-Tribune, Roach told Faculty Senate members that he and another professor, Dave Nalbone, met with Keon Thursday and asked him to voluntarily resign before they “take further action.” Keon, Roach wrote, didn’t respond.
The problem, however, isn’t going away, and the university needs to do something, Roach wrote. He, as well as the American Association of University Professor Purdue chapter President David Detmer, then prepared separate statements and said that if Keon doesn’t resign by Monday, Roach will call for a vote of no-confidence against him.
“Every day we delay, the reputation of Purdue becomes more tarnished,” Roach wrote. “We need to relieve the chancellor of his responsibilities immediately and make it clear that his irresponsible, offensive actions do not reflect our values as a faculty and as an institution.”
A third letter signed by the Faculty Senate’s Executive Committee, unanimously demanded that Keon resign immediately.
This isn’t the first time the Faculty Senate has asked the Board of Trustees to replace Keon, Roach told the Post-Tribune Saturday. They asked the Board to do it last year over hiring practices and other general decisions the administration has made, he said.
“(The administration) completed the unification (of the Hammond and Westville campuses) without a plan, and they’ve been cutting the budget while not giving a reason why,” Roach said, adding that the administration often acts without faculty and student input. “And now, there’s nothing we can say to heal (the wound Keon’s remark left), but if we leave him in place, we’re saying to the world it’s ‘no big deal’ when it is a big deal.
“If you’re bleeding, you stop the bleeding.”
Roach, who was also dismayed by the Board of Trustees’ response to the incident, hopes the continued attention the campus is receiving will make them understand what’s at stake and allow the campus to rebuild into something better.
“(The remark) was dehumanizing, and not just in front of a graduating crowd — it violates our principles of tolerance and open-mindedness, and that isn’t who we are (at PNW),” he said. “I know we’re going to reform ourselves and provide a first-class education and make PNW a significant step in our students’ careers.”
Detmer, along with his vice president Lee Artz, wrote in their statement that even though Keon insists he didn’t mean to be hurtful, his actions represent “at best, a highly troublesome level of ignorance, insensitivity, and lack of judgement on his part.” It also isn’t an isolated incident, the letter said.
“The Keon administration has long been subjected to criticism for its heavily top-down, non-inclusive approach to university governance, an approach which is characterized by a disregard for the concerns of faculty, students, and staff, as well as an insensitivity to diverse cultures within the PNW community,” Detmer and Artz wrote. “While Chancellor Keon frequently talks about diversity and inclusion, he fails to implement these values at the top level of administrative university governance, an area under his total control.”
“In an increasingly diverse world, in which sensitivity to people from a variety of cultures is crucial for success, the time has come for Chancellor Keon to resign, or else to be removed by the Purdue University Board of Trustees, so that a leader better attuned to what it takes to engage multiple constituencies with respect — not ridicule — can be found.”
Representatives for both PNW and Purdue’s main campus in West Lafayette didn’t respond to requests for comment Saturday.
The letters come on the heels of outside calls for Keon to resign, with at least two petitions urging his resignation circulating. One petition, created by “A Concerned PNW student,” captured 2,938 signatures and counting by Saturday and asked the campus “to look at what he said and deeply recognize what effect this will have on the diverse communities at Purdue Northwest.” A second, posted and co-signed Dec. 15 by a group of Asian academics across the country, said Keon’s apology for the remark doesn’t address their community’s concerns.
Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.