(New York, NY) — A news outlet in Michigan last week revealed Central Michigan University fired Tim Boudreau, a tenured professor and chair of the journalism department, after an investigation concluded that his use of the N-word and homophobic slurs in the classroom “created a hostile learning environment.” The investigation was launched after an alum filed a complaint this summer, and posted a video from 2017 in which Boudreau can be heard saying the N-word, quoting a lawsuit about a former CMU basketball coach who was fired for using the N-word. Boudreau told investigators at the university that he believes “it is important not to censor the facts of a case or situation because the field of Journalism emphasizes truth in reporting” and that he “doesn’t believe it is appropriate to ‘sugar coat’ language.” In response, Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program, said the following:

“Racial and homophobic slurs invoke historical trauma. We have seen time and again that, even in a pedagogical context, they can cause deep offense. Professors do have the academic freedom to choose what words they use in their classes, but they should do so with care and attentiveness to their potential impact, reflecting on whether pedagogically the use of such words is truly necessary to illustrate the lesson at hand. The wider social and political context, as well as the history of racism and exclusion in universities, puts a particular onus on professors to exercise a duty of care when planning lessons or engaging in discussions about slurs or offensive language.”

“That said, it is unfortunate that CMU has responded to this case by taking the extreme step of firing a tenured professor. Universities do have an obligation to confront racism, bigotry, and hate, but they also have to uphold a space for open discourse, academic freedom, and due process. This blunt response risks sending the wrong message that students and professors deserve to be retaliated against if they misspeak or offend others in class discussions, regardless of context or intent. Instead, CMU leaders should have pursued efforts at dialogue and community support that were not punitive. It behooves CMU leaders to reverse this decision and seek other ways to rectify the situation, in ways that do not infringe on Boudreau’s academic freedom as a professor.”