A Black professor at Arizona’s Grand Canyon University has been suspended following his comments suggesting that members of the Black Lives Matter movement “frankly, should be hung.”
The private Christian university hosted a panel discussion nearly a year ago, during which professor Toby Jennings made the comments, AZCentral reported. However, school officials said they were unaware of the professor’s “reprehensible” remarks until last week after the local NAACP and Black Lives Matter branch contacted them, thanks to video that resurfaced from the forum.
Jennings has since been placed on administrative leave until the end of the semester pending an investigation into his controversial comments.
“The University wants to be clear that the professor’s rhetoric in no way reflects the heart of this University or its dedicated students, faculty and staff,” GCU said in a public apology on its website. “The University’s President is leading an investigation into this incident and has met with the professor who made these statements, as well as the Dean of the College, who both agree it was completely inappropriate.”
Jennings was one of four professors who spoke at the Sept. 19, 2016, forum titled “God’s Concern for the Poor: What’s Missing in Social Justice?” that focused on justice from a biblical perspective and how it could be applied in modern-day society, AZCentral reported. His offensive comment came after an audience member asked the panelists their thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The Black Lives Matter movement, we can’t even talk about it as the Black Lives Matter movement because it is not a monolith. That is, it does not look the same all across the board,” the professor said. “You have folks who claim to participate in that on one side that are very thoughtful about the matter. … And then you have people on the opposite extreme of that that, frankly, should be hung.”
“And, yes, I did say that on video,” Jennings continued. “They are saying things that are not helpful to any way, shape or form of human dignity or flourishing. That is not helpful to any conversation. That kind of rhetoric is not helpful to any conversation. And that’s what I mean by they should be hung.”
The university noted that the leaders of the College of Theology that hosted the forum were aware of Jennings’ offensive language at the time and addressed it with him after the event had ended. The incident was never brought to the attention of school executives, however.
“As we continue our investigation, we’ll interview students who have attended this professor’s classes and students and guests who attended the forum to gain their perspective on this professor and this incident and why it was not brought to the attention of University executives sooner,” the university wrote.
Leaders of the local NAACP and Black Lives Matter branch don’t think the school’s punishment goes far enough, however, and are calling for Jennings to be fired.
“Left unchecked, this sort of divisive rhetoric is a dangerous seed in the soil of impressionable minds,” they wrote in an email to GCU Provost Hank Radda last week.
Michael Ingram, BLM-Phoenix chair, told the paper that apologies help the first time something like this happens but claimed “this is not the first instance that GCU has allowed anti-Blackness to flourish.”
Jennings himself has since issued an apology, taking responsibility for his failure to “adequately address comments which clearly have no place in civil public discourse.”
“I deeply and sincerely regret having communicated such ill-motivated rhetoric — particularly in light of our nation’s present rhetoric-saturated distress,” the professor said. “While words, once spoken, can never be taken back, my hope is that my sincere apology for my own words can pave a more gracious path toward reconciliation.”