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COMMENTARY: Will the First Asian American President of Purdue University Northwest Fire Its Racist Chancellor in 2023?



Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. His talk show is on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

Oakland, with its new Asian American mayor, is one of the most diverse cities in America.

How many times do you think Mayor Sheng Thao, an Asian American of Hmong descent, has heard someone make fun of her and all Asian Americans with some accented joke?

That’s why the racist comment by Thomas Keon, the chancellor and CEO of Purdue University Northwest really matters.

And the one person who can give us a sense of justice, ironically, is Dr. Mung Chiang, an Asian American immigrant from Hong Kong, set to become the next president of Purdue University on Jan. 1.

This is an important moment in Asian American history.

This all started on Dec. 10 at the commencement of Purdue Northwest, just south of Chicago in Hammond, Ind. Keon, a white educated man in accounting, acted the dumb white insensitive male and used an accent that sounded like doggerel but in fact was Asian. We know because he admitted it while in the act. The astonishing self-awareness of a racist.

See the video for full context if you missed it: (A keynote speaker ends, then Keon walks up and delivers an anti-Asian slur) https://www.youtube.com/clip/UgkxmOYq9oO5PqPLA470oR2D1d2Umwib5VC-.

This situation could have been a teaching moment for the entire nation about Asian Americans and social justice, had it been handled properly.

We are, after all, coming out of a three-year period where the organization #StopAAPIHate has recorded more than 11,000 hate instances against AAPIs. From minor to major transgressions, from verbal slights to aggressive assaults — sometimes resulting in death. This is the hate that’s emerged in American society since Donald Trump began scapegoating Asian Americans for what he called the “Kung Flu” and “China Virus.”

And Keon’s slur shows us that both he and the nation still don’t get it. Keon should have stepped down immediately from his leadership role of an institution of higher learning.

It’s an example all America needs to see.

No Resignation

Instead, Keon, the accounting guy, wasn’t held fully accountable for the harm his public speech caused. Four days after the slur, Keon finally issued a kind of bureaucratic apology on Dec. 14, indicating the slur didn’t express his values or the university’s. The Board of Trustees, not wanting controversy, hastily accepted.

That’s when the faculty senate became enraged and voted to demand Keon’s resignation. And when that didn’t happen, a majority of Purdue Northwest’s tenure-track and clinical faculty, including department heads and deans, gave Keon a “no confidence” vote, 135 to 20.

It was his second no confidence vote this year. And Keon still didn’t resign.

And yet the attempts by the board to save Keon’s job have been extraordinary.

Most amusing is how everyone knows it’s racist, and yet, there is such a willingness to discount it as if there is no real infraction.

African American scholar John McWhorter in the New York Times defended Keon, acknowledging racism but saying that Keon shouldn’t lose his job or be forced into retirement.

It’s a kind of gaslighting 2.0.

It happened; we’re not going to pretend it didn’t happen.

But we’re going to treat the perpetrator like it didn’t happen.

Everyone thinks about poor Chancellor Keon.

No one thinks about people like Vichar Ratanapakdee, the 84-year-old Thai man who was killed in San Francisco on Jan. 28, 2021, after he was shoved to the ground in a hate attack.

And he’s just one victim among thousands. The hate starts with an accent that “others” us and makes AAPIs vulnerable.

But the Purdue Board of Trustees, though recognizing the racism, wants to see a pattern in Keon’s behavior before they go beyond a reprimand. The faculty disagrees.

“There should be consequences for his behavior, and a reprimand is not the answer,” a tenured AAPI faculty member of PNW said in an email to me on Tuesday. “His behavior is a trigger for many and is still disturbing. He should resign or be fired. I am still livid.”

If the board doesn’t act, then justice is up to the next president of Purdue, Dr. Mung Chiang.

He’s a young hot shot academic, a Hong Kong immigrant who went to Stanford, starred in engineering at Princeton, and was lured to head the engineering school at Purdue for the last five years. More revealing is his stint as science advisor to the xenophobic and racist Trump administration.

That would signal a real change in America. The first Asian American president fires the racist chancellor who told a bad joke with an Asian American slur.

That’s almost too good to be true.

Just think. Would Keon still be on the job if he said the “N” word?

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. His talk show is on http://www.amok.com

The post COMMENTARY: Will the First Asian American President of Purdue University Northwest Fire Its Racist Chancellor in 2023? first appeared on Post News Group. This article originally appeared in Post News Group.


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