Purdue chancellor who mocked Asian languages faces calls to quit

Incident is ‘shameful and disappointing’ and ‘undermines’ inclusivity on campus, says academic

December 15, 2022
Source: iStock

The chancellor of a US university is under pressure to resign over his impression of an “Asian” accent at a graduation ceremony.

Thomas Keon, who has led Purdue University Northwest (PNW) since 2011, has faced criticism after his apparent imitation of Chinese language during the event, which he jokingly called “my Asian version” of a previous speaker’s speech.

The words struck a nerve among some graduates of the university, which is located in Indiana and has become increasingly diverse in recent years.

Ellen Chang, a Purdue graduate and investment reporter, called the incident a “complete and utter travesty”.

“The overt racism displayed here is appalling. I am embarrassed to be an alum,” she wrote on Twitter.

Nearly half the students at PNW – which is part of the larger Purdue University system – are non-white. The institution’s student body is just over 24 per cent Hispanic, 10.6 per cent black and 3.3 per cent mixed race and 2.6 per cent Asian.

PNW has sought to bolster its reputation for inclusivity in recent years, touting its “steady increases in different race or ethnicity identifications among the student body since 2016”.

In a statement following the commencement, Dr Keon highlighted his own role in boosting diversity on campus and apologised for what he characterised as a momentary lapse in judgement.  

“We are all human. I made a mistake, and I assure you I did not intend to be hurtful and my comments do not reflect my personal or our institutional values,” he said.

“I am truly sorry for my unplanned, off-the-cuff response to another speaker, as my words have caused confusion, pain, and anger.”

But the statement didn’t appear to placate some alumni, who called for his resignation.

“As an alum…I’d like to know when the chancellor will be removed from his job,” wrote one.

Academics also took to social media to condemn the chancellor’s actions.

“This is shameful and disappointing. This regional campus prides itself on diversity and first-generation college student accessibility but this mockery is offensive and undermines the promise of an inclusive campus,” wrote Brian Hall, a professor and director of the Center for Global Health Equity at New York University Shanghai.

Some online commenters pointed out the irony in the timing of controversy, with Dr Keon’s statement continuing to make waves even as PNW published an editorial on a local website promoting its “culture of inclusion”, which “values students and employees from multiple backgrounds”.


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Reader's comments (2)

He's the Chancellor? Supposedly the model person of the university? And the board accepted his 'apology'? All should be deeply embarrassed and reconsider their roles.
Crap joke, badly made. Apologise and get over it.