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A professor may lose his job for referring to an offensive word a few times

This is comical absurdity

Paul Zwier, a law professor at Emory University, is getting a double dose of just how profoundly unfair campus politics can be. Zwier has been under fire at his university for many months now, all because he has said the word “nigger” a few times—never as a racist insult or targeted slur or even as an offensive poor-taste joke, but merely in the context of a class discussion and a private conversation with a student, in both cases without any malice whatsoever. For these two harmless instances of contextual word usage, Zwier was “banished from campus and remains suspended indefinitely.” He now faces termination from his school, presumably to be decided at a “closed hearing” in October.

The comical absurdity on display here is something to behold. In one instance of using the word, Zwier was quoting the seminal American author James Baldwin; in another, he relayed to a student that he himself had been slurred as a “nigger-lover” for his civil rights activism. (Ponder that for a moment: Zwier is facing the chopping block over accusations that he is a racist all because he offered compelling evidence that he is not a racist.) Students claim that Zwier threatens their “emotional well-being” and “safety.” The administration is responding accordingly.

Emory is free to fire anyone it wishes for any reason. That it would consider firing an instructor on the basis of such outlandish evidence does not speak well to its institutional priorities. Yes, certain offensive words are striking and uncomfortable when uttered. It happens. Are students, and administrators, genuinely incapable of telling the difference between a word and the application of that word? Is Emory gripped by such weird hysteria that this silliness may actually come to pass? We’ll all surely find out next month.

MORE: Emory is trying to fire professor who mentioned racial slur

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