Letter: Phil Adamo responds

 Phil Adamo, Professor of History

[Editors’ note: Here Professor Adamo responds to the HON120 incident first reported by “The Echo” of 11/6. “The Echo” stands by their original reporting.]

To the Augsburg community,

Although I am currently on medical leave, I have been reading with great interest the stories and opinions appearing in “The Echo.” Like others on campus, I am struggling with my thoughts and feelings about the matters at hand. Foremost in my mind is the care and concern for students.

While the current campus-wide discussion was sparked by events that happened in my classroom, I am not sure people know what actually happened. A narrative is being constructed that is simply counter to the facts. This occurred most recently in the opinion piece written by professors Groeneveld Kenney, Wanyama and Combellick-Bidney [see the 11/30 publication of “The Echo”]. They presented this singular version of the story without once asking me what had happened. The Provost then amplified their story by citing their piece no less than four times in her December “update.” This, in spite of the fact that the Provost received from me a statement of facts, in writing, which is very different from the narrative being promoted.

Their first claim concerned my “repeated use of the N-word.” False. I used the word once, in the context of quoting James Baldwin’s novel ”The Fire Next Time.” My specific and only use of the N-word was as follows:

“In an academic context, quoting from an author’s work, was it appropriate to use the word ‘n*****’ if the author had written it that way? Wasn’t substituting the euphemistic phrase ‘the N-word’ in these cases, in fact, a disservice to Baldwin’s prose?”

The second claim of my faculty colleagues was that I “defended [my] use of the N-word multiple times against the objections of students of color.” False. I did send two articles to students as a follow-up to class discussion — something every professor at Augsburg has surely done at some point. Both articles are by African American authors; both have provocative titles.

One of these, by Andre Perry, was entitled “Good teachers use the N-word.” Yet the first line of Perry’s article says, “But it’s how they use it that makes all the difference.” According to Perry, context matters, a point also raised by several students in the class.

The other article, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, also has a provocative title, “In defense of a loaded word.” Yet this article is anything but a defense of the N-word, as its last line attests: “‘N*****’ is the border, the signpost that reminds us that the old crimes don’t disappear. It tells white people that, for all their guns and all their gold, there will always be places they can never go.”

Some students claimed that I sent them these articles to “defend the use of the N-word.” But this claim is quickly dismissed if one actually reads the articles.

I hope this clarifies what really happened in HON120. At a time when some students call my actions “hostile environment harassment” and others seek “review of the tenured professor policy,” knowing the facts seems important before rendering judgment.

Please know that I am as committed to diversity, equity and inclusivity as anyone on our campus. I am heartened by the Provost’s acknowledgment at the December faculty meeting concerning all the actions I have taken to diversify the Honors Program, and I appreciate her honest admission that these actions received little support from her office. In spite of the false narrative in its preamble, the piece by my faculty colleagues has many good ideas for improving inclusivity on our campus. I look forward to returning to Augsburg and joining in this important work.

This article was originally published in the Dec. 14, 2018 issue.