Purdue reprimands chancellor for Asian gibberish, faculty says it’s not enough
Plus, a view of road conditions during this winter storm. New guy around the Purdue office: The Drew Brees edition. And today’s local holiday song: Malachi Jaggers’ ‘The Bells of Christmas’
Thanks to friends at Lafayette Brewing Co. for their support of the Based in Lafayette reporting project in 2022. LBC will host the 28th annual Winter Warmer, Indiana’s oldest winter beer festival, Jan. 28. Discount tickets are available through Saturday, Dec. 24. Prices go up after that. For details on tickets and the Indiana brewers who will be at LBC for the Winter Warmer, click the links below.
PURDUE REPRIMANDS CHANCELLOR FOR ASIAN GIBBERISH, FACULTY SAYS IT’S NOT ENOUGH
Purdue’s trustees on Thursday gave a “formal reprimand” to Purdue Northwest Chancellor Thomas Keon, who has the targeted for calls to resign after spouting lines of Asian-sounding nonsense during a Dec. 10 campus commencement ceremony.
But trustees stopped short of removing him from his post at the regional campus in Hammond, saying instead “that a repeat incident of a similar nature would provide grounds for further board action, including possible dismissal.”
Purdue Northwest faculty, who overwhelmingly issued a vote of no confidence earlier in the week, were incredulous over the trustees’ decision.
“If extremely offensive and unacceptable behavior isn’t enough to disqualify someone from being a Purdue chancellor, then what is?” Thomas Roach, chair of the Purdue Northwest Faculty Senate, wrote in an open letter to trustees Thursday night. “Embezzlement? Insubordination? Making jokes about a different ethnic group?”
Keon did not immediately respond to a message for comment about the situation. Late last week, Keon issued an apology for his display, calling his actions “offensive and insensitive.” Keon said he’d made a mistake but “did not intend to be hurtful and my comments do not reflect my personal or our institutional values.” He also turned the moment into an opportunity to look closer at diversity efforts on campus – in particular, to help “specifically understand and address issues of importance to the Asian American Pacific Islander community at PNW.”
During the graduation ceremony Dec. 10, a local sport radio personality, delivering a keynote address, mentioned that he used a fake language to help calm children in his family. He used it during the ceremony after hearing a fussing child in the audience. Keon came to the microphone and, while thanking the speaking, let out what he called “sort of my Asian version” of the speaker’s tactic.
Here's the moment from the commencement ceremony:
Keon has been under fire since then, as video spread on social media, Asian American organizations called his apology insufficient and faculty at Purdue Northwest called for his resignation. The vote of no confidence by faculty on the regional campus was 87% against Keon for those who responded.
Purdue trustees, who oversee regional campuses and their administration, had issued a statement earlier in the week that they were aware of Keon’s comments and had accepted his apology.
On Thursday, Mike Berghoff, Purdue Trustees chairman, issued this statement:
“Each member of the Purdue Board of Trustees has had the opportunity to review the entirety of the Dec. 10 commencement at Purdue University Northwest to examine the context of Chancellor Keon’s remark. Each has concluded that, in addition to its being extremely offensive and insensitive (as Dr. Keon himself has acknowledged in his apology), this offhand attempt at humor was in poor taste, unbecoming of his role as chancellor and unacceptable for an occasion that should be remembered solely for its celebratory and unifying atmosphere. The Board has therefore issued a formal reprimand to Dr. Keon.
“Although in the Trustees' estimation this offensive remark does not reflect a pattern of behavior or a system of beliefs held by Dr. Keon, the Board has made clear to him that a repeat incident of a similar nature would provide grounds for further Board action, including possible dismissal.”
What sort of sanctions came with a formal reprimand weren’t immediately clear. The trustees, through a university spokesman, said Purdue “does not intend to comment further on this personnel matter.”
On the Purdue Northwest campus, faculty leaders said they had problems with the trustees’ move.
“What ‘pattern’ is sought by the board?” David Nalbone, vice chair of the Purdue Northwest Faculty Senate, said Thursday. “Certainly, a pattern of incompetence, poor leadership (and) little faculty buy-in … is apparent. … If the board seeks a pattern of offending those of Asian descent during December morning commencements, there is no pattern. Otherwise, it's clear as day.”
Roach’s letter went further.
“We are not demanding his removal to punish him, we require his removal because he is not qualified to represent us,” Roach wrote to trustees.
“You state that Keon’s behavior was ‘extremely offensive and insensitive’ and that it was ‘unacceptable for an occasion that should be remembered solely for its celebratory and unifying atmosphere,’” Roach wrote. “We believe there are no occasions where it is acceptable for a chancellor in the Purdue University system to be extremely offensive and insensitive, and we do not want his continued presence to remind the public of his past behavior.”
Roach wrote that Keon’s “voice joke is the first offense” against Asian Americans and that “the board’s ambiguous reprimand is the second.”
“From this point forward, his mere presence is an affront to the Asian community,” Roach wrote. “Any condemnation of Keon’s actions by the board is meaningless if he remains as chancellor.”
Rupal Thanawala, president of the Indianapolis-based Asian American Alliance Inc., called the trustee’s reprimand of Keon disheartening.
“The students, alumni, community and faculty have spoken out loud that we do not have tolerance for this kind of poor leadership, and trustees should have demoted Dr Keon,” Thanawala said. “How come there is no accountability or any consequences? A university chancellor should conduct himself with highest level of integrity and character, and if they can’t demonstrate it then he should voluntarily step down. I am urging Dr. Keon to respectfully resign from his position.”
Purdue Northwest reported an enrollment of 8,911 students, including online and dual enrollment high school students, at the start of the fall 2022 semester. Of those, 2.6% of students were Asian, according to the regional campus.
WINTER STORM: OUT ON THE ROADS … IF YOU HAVE TO
Brutal night last night, as the wind and cold settled in, wasn’t it? One resource as you’re thinking about traveling this holiday weekend – and the overriding advice was: Don’t, unless absolutely necessary – is the advent of INDOT snowplow cams. For live updates on road conditions across the state, here’s a way in to the 511in.org system.
NEW GUY AROUND THE OFFICE: THE DREW BREES EDITION
Here’s to Jan Metzinger, Purdue’s associate athletics director for human resources, in the role of a lifetime. As posted Thursday by Purdue’s athletic department, about some random assistant football coach whose name is on the building. So good.
SUSPECT CAUGHT AFTER BANK ROBBERY DOWNTOWN
A suspected bank robber didn’t get far Thursday afternoon after holding up a First Merchants Bank branch at 250 Main St., cattycorner from the Tippecanoe County Courthouse. According to Lafayette police, Terrell Lenoir, 48, of Lafayette, demanded money from a teller at the bank at 2:31 p.m. Thursday, leaving with an undisclosed amount. Less than two hours later, West Lafayette police found Terrell in a Jeep Cherokee linked to the getaway in the 300 block of Brown Street in West Lafayette. He was arrested and was being held in the Tippecanoe County Jail.
AND FINALLY … ANOTHER LOCAL HOLIDAY PERFORMANCE: MALACHI JAGGERS
Heartland rocker Malachi Jaggers, a Delphi native, and Scott Greeson co-wrote and premiered “The Bells of Christmas” in 2020. Enjoy today.
Thanks to friends at Lafayette Brewing Co. for their support for the Based in Lafayette reporting project in 2022. If you want in on LBC’s legendary Winter Warmer on Jan. 28, discount tickets are available through Saturday.
THANKS FOR SUPPORTING INDEPENDENT, LOCAL REPORTING. IF YOU’RE ON BOARD, THANKS FOR BEING MAKING THIS REPORTING PROJECT HAPPEN. REALLY, THAT’S A BIG DEAL. IF YOU’RE READY TO JOIN IN, HERE’S HOW TO GET THE FULL RIDE.
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