Students, OU condemn professor's use of racial slur in class

Peter Gade

NORMAN, Okla. — University of Oklahoma administration says a journalism professor who used a racial slur during a Tuesday class is protected by his First Amendment rights, despite student calls for action.

Peter Gade, a faculty member at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, used the slur during his senior-level capstone journalism class Tuesday. According to OU, Gade equated using the n-word with using the popular phrase "OK, Boomer."

“Calling someone a boomer is like calling someone a (n-word),” Gade said, according to the OU Daily student newspaper.

While the professor said the slur in its entirety, OU Interim President Joe Harroz said in a statement that Gade's words are protected by his right to free speech.

"Today a professor stated in his senior journalism class that there is an equivalence between the offensiveness of “OK, Boomer” and the use of the “N-word,” using the actual word itself," Harroz' statement reads. "While the professor’s comments are protected by the First Amendment and academic freedom, his comment and word choice are fundamentally offensive and wrong. The use of the most offensive word, by a person in a position of authority, hurt and minimized those in the classroom and beyond."

"Our University must serve as an example to our society of both freedom of expression and understanding and tolerance. His words today failed to meet this standard. #WeAre speaks for our community; his words today do not." 

Gade serves as director of graduate studies and an endowed chair in Gaylord, where he has been a faculty member since 1998. The Transcript reached out to Gade for comment Tuesday afternoon, but had not received a response as of publication.

Gade sent an apology email Tuesday evening to his students.

In the email obtained by the OU Daily, Gade called his conduct “inexcusable.”

“I realize the word was hurtful and infuses the racial divisions of our country, past and present,” Gade said in the email. “Use of the word is inappropriate in any — especially educational — settings. I offer my deepest and most sincere apologies. In the coming weeks, I will strive to show you that I am an instructor and teacher who is trustworthy and respectful of all. Please give me that opportunity.”

OU's Black Emergency Response Team, a student coalition organized around fighting racism on campus, responded to the incident via Twitter Tuesday afternoon, calling for action against Gade and Gaylord College. 

"We do not condone or accept this behavior from any member of the OU community regardless of occupation or student status," BERT tweeted, along with the hashtag #Istandwithgaylordblackstudents. "This will not be tolerated or accepted and we expect full action be taken against the professor and college. In addition, we expect accommodation be made for the students who have experienced trauma because of this."

Gaylord Dean Ed Kelley said that he and the college's assistant deans met with at least seven students, Gade and with other university leaders in different meetings throughout Tuesday.

Kelley said several of the capstone students are evaluating their next moves in the regards to the class, and expressed a range of emotions to the deans. At least two of the students who were present in Tuesday morning's class are black, Kelley said.

"The reaction ranges from disappointment, to disbelief, to being really wounded by the use of the term," Kelley said. 

Kelley said Gade will continue teaching the course, and that the college will continue to hear from students over the next few days and as the capstone class meets again Thursday morning. Kelley said he has not received any other complaints about Gade's in-class conduct during his five years as dean, and that the college will be seeking a "suitable solution" moving forward. 

"Obviously, there's no way you can justify this — (it's) a terrible mistake, absolutely a terrible mistake from a man who has no record of using this kind of language," Kelley said. 

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