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Pennsylvania Professor on Paid Leave After Using the N-Word Three Times During a Lecture, Gave Students Permission to Use It In a ‘Pedagogical Sense’

A Pennsylvania professor was placed on paid leave after a video showed him using the N-word during a lecture last week.

Duquesne University instructor Gary Shank used the slur at least three times during a Zoom lecture, according to two clips posted on Twitter. The incident occurred on Sept. 9, per student newspaper The Duquesne Duke.

Duquesne University instructor Gary Shank was placed on paid leave after he used the N-word during a lecture last week. (Photo: Duquesne University)

Duquesne is a private Catholic university located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Data from the university’s department of Finance and Business states 77.98 percent of the student body is white. Black students only make up 5.36 percent of the population.

Both videos are less than a minute long. At the beginning of the first one, the education professor gave the students in his educational psychology “permission” to use the n-word because they would use it in a “pedagogical sense.”

“What’s the one word about race that we’re not allowed to use?” Shank asked his students. After no one responded, he tried to help them out. “I’ll give you a hint. It starts with ‘N,'” Shank added.

The class remained silent so Shank kept going and told them he would say it but he added a disclaimer.

“It’s even hard to say, OK. I’ll tell you the word,” he continued. “And again. I’m not using it in any way other than to demonstrate a point.”

No one else spoke until Shank called a man by name, who confirmed he was present. After their brief interaction, finally said the word.

“And that word is nigger,” he said before describing several instances in which he heard the word used in his lifetime. He used the slur two more times while telling the stories. The videos were viewed more than 57,000 times on Twitter.  The Duke obtained an email Shank sent soon after the lecture apologizing for using the slur.

“As part of my pedagogy this morning I used a term that I now realize was deeply troubling to the class. It was not my intent to do so, but I must take responsibility for the impact of my words and teaching,” Shank wrote. “I am offering each and every one of you my most sincere apology and my guarantee that I will never cross this line again in our class.”

School of Education dean Gretchen Generett targeted Shank’s initial justification for using the word in a statement condemning his actions.

“To be clear, I believe that there is never a time, pedagogically or otherwise, for a professor to create a hostile learning environment,” Generett continued. “I know this from my experience as a student, a professor, and now as Interim Dean of the School of Education. Using the ‘N word’ or seemingly encouraging students to use that word is not in keeping with the mission of the University, the School of Education, or the Pennsylvania Department of Education.”

Gabriel Welsch, vice president of marketing and communications at Duquesne, emailed The Duke to confirm Shank is on paid leave while the university investigates. Another professor will take over his class.

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