LAWRENCE, Kan. – A white University of Kansas professor is on paid leave after using a racial slur during a class discussion about race.
The school told Andrea Quenette, an assistant professor of communication studies, on Friday that five people had filed a discrimination complaint against her, she told the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/1SbhBhY ). She requested a leave of absence, and the university says she will have to stay off campus during the administrative leave until the investigation is complete.
Students began complaining about Quenette after she used the racial slur during a Nov. 12 class for graduate students who teach undergraduate classes. The class met the day after a contentious university-wide forum on race and discrimination moderated by Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
The forum followed days of protests at the University of Missouri over concerns about the administration's handling of racial issues and the subsequent resignations of the system president and chancellor of the Columbia campus.
Quenette, who is 33 and has been teaching at the university for two years, said that diversity in the classroom was on the syllabus, and a student asked how they could talk about race issues in their own classes. The conversation then shifted to how the university should address racial problems.
She said she pointed out that racist incidents on other campuses, including the University of Missouri's Columbia campus, have been very visible, and used the slur when comparing the University of Kansas to the other incidents. Quenette said she could have apologized "in the moment" if anyone had responded, but no one did, so she continued the discussion.
But Amy Schumacher, a first-year doctoral student who was in the class of nine white students and one black student, said most "just shut down" after Quenette's using the slur. Schumacher said she believes Quenette "actively violated policies" during the discussion, hurt students' feelings — including the one black student, who left "devastated" — and has a previous history of being unsympathetic to students.
Quenette is relieved of all teaching and service responsibilities, university spokesman Joe Monaco said. He said administrative leaves are often used "to address substantial disruptions to the learning environment or concerns about individuals' welfare" while investigations are underway.
Quenette said she hopes to secure an attorney to represent her.
She also said she believes academic freedom protects her comments and that they were not discriminatory.
"I didn't intend to offend anyone," she said. "I didn't intend to hurt anyone. I didn't direct my words at any individual or group of people."
Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com