Purdue Northwest faculty senate, AAUP, demand resignation of chancellor after racist comments go viral
Purdue University Northwest’s faculty senate are calling for the university chancellor to resign after his mocking impersonation of Asian languages went viral.
On Friday, both the executive committee of the faculty senate and the Purdue Northwest chapter of the American Association of University Professors released statements demanding the resignation of Chancellor Thomas Keon, citing “inexcusable behavior” that caused “national and international outrage.”
During Purdue Northwest’s December commencement, speaker Jim Dedelow talked about using a made-up language to calm down crying children.
Following him at the podium, Keon made unintelligible sounds, which he then described as “my Asian version” of Dedelow’s made-up language.
That moment has led Keon to issue an apology, saying that he made a mistake that did not represent “my personal or our institutional values.”
Shortly after his apology was issued, the Purdue University Board of Trustees issued a statement saying they were aware of Keon’s comments and had accepted his apology.
But faculty say the chancellor’s apology isn’t enough.
Thomas Roach is the chair of the faculty senate of Purdue University Northwest.
“The fact they [the Board of Trustees] accepted the apology is almost as bad as what he said in the first place,” he said. “The Asian community has been saying for years that they are being discriminated against, and they’ve also been saying everybody tolerates descrimination against Asian Americans. Here we have this discriminatory remark and the Board of Trustees saying ‘no big deal.’”
According to Roach, he sent a letter to the Purdue Board of Trustees earlier in the week notifying them that they would have the support of the faculty senate should they choose to remove Keon from his position.
That letter also points out there were calls for Keon’s resignation as early as last year, though Roach said those calls weren’t related to any specific event. He said a survey of faculty in 2021 showed over 50% had negative feelings about Keon’s leadership.
“Last year we wanted him to resign because of poor leadership,” Roach said. “This year it’s because he’s embarrassed the institution and offended members of our faculty and student body.”
To Roach, Keon’s resignation seems a foregone conclusion. He said he doesn’t understand why the board of trustees hasn’t yet removed him from his position.
“I think the outcome here is inevitable,” he said. “He can’t stay in place anymore. We need to resolve this as soon as possible and I don’t understand why this isn’t apparent to the board of trustees and Mitch Daniels.”
Roach said he will give Keon until Monday to resign or he will organize a no-confidence vote against him.
Also Friday, the Purdue Northwest Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a statement saying that the “time has come for Chancellor Keon to resign.”
In the release, PNW AAUP chapter officials said that the incident at commencement was not an isolated one, and pointed to Keon’s all-white senior leadership team at the university.
“While Chancellor Keon talks [emphasis PNW AAUP] about diversity and inclusion, he fails to implement these values at the top level of university administrative governance,” officials wrote.
David Detmer is president of the Purdue Northwest Chapter of the AAUP.
“I don’t know that there has been a pattern of overt racial insensitivity,” he said. “What there has been a pattern of is really not reaching out to the university community for consultation on decisions. It’s a very top-down authoritarian approach to university governance.”
Detmer said he believes calls for Keon’s resignation are only going to grow.
“But you never know what the board of trustees is going to do,” he said. “I’m reluctant to predict how it might turn out.”
There have also been student petitions urging Keon’s resignation for “mockery of Asian language” at the commencement, with some pointing to Keon’s role on the university’s PNW Respect, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (or PRIDE) team as a reason for serious concern.
Neither a spokesperson for Purdue University nor the office of chancellor Keon responded to a request for comment.
This story has been updated to include mention of Monday’s potential no-confidence vote.