Pennsylvania professor fired for using N-word during lecture

A Pennsylvania professor who was caught on video repeatedly using the N-word during an online course has been fired, his attorney said.

Video posted to Twitter earlier this month showed Duquesne University education professor Gary Shank using the racial slur at least three times during a Sept. 9 Zoom session of his educational psychology course on child and adolescent development.

Shank, who had taught at the Pittsburgh university since 1997, learned of his termination in a letter Wednesday sent by university officials, his attorney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“I have received the report written by [Education Dean Gretchen Generett] regarding your conduct,” Provost David Dausey wrote in the letter. “I agree with the recommendation it contains. Therefore, pursuant to Section 9.2 of the Faculty Handbook, your employment at Duquesne is terminated for serious misconduct.”

Shank, who argued his usage of the slur was OK since it was being used in an educational setting, had previously been placed on paid leave pending an investigation, a university spokeswoman told The Post earlier this month.

“I’m giving you permission to use the word, OK?” Shank said on the clip. “Because we’re using the word in a pedagogical sense. What’s the one word about race that we’re not allowed to use?”

Shank later apologized to students in an email, saying he realized how “deeply troubling” his conduct was during the remote session, according to the Duquesne Duke, the university’s campus newspaper.

Shank’s attorney, meanwhile, said he plans to file a grievance on behalf of the fired professor.

“We have 30 days to grieve the termination and certainly will do so,” attorney Warner Mariani told the Post-Gazette Wednesday.

University officials declined to comment Thursday on Shank’s employment status, characterizing it as a personnel matter while noting Duquesne took Shank’s “repeated use of a racial slur” seriously.

“Duquesne University is deeply committed to providing a campus and learning experience that is respectful, safe and inclusive for all members of the Duquesne community,” vice president of marketing and communications Gabe Welsh said in a statement.

Shank’s profile on the university’s website was no longer visible Thursday. At least two groups have come to his defense, including the American Association of University Professors and the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Both groups claim Shank’s use of the slur was protected under the university’s commitment of freedom of expression and academic freedom. Officials at FIRE have also called on the US Department of Education to investigate the matter.

“Duquesne students and faculty will rationally choose to say nothing rather than say something that others might find controversial, as their university won’t bother to defend their rights,” Alexandria Morey, who works in FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said in a statement to The Post Wednesday. “That’s an unacceptable result at an educational institution of any caliber.”