Towson U. Adjunct Is Dismissed After Using Racist Term to Describe His Work Rights

March 02, 2010

Towson University promptly dismissed an adjunct art professor after he characterized himself as "a nigger on the corporate plantation" in a classroom discussion last week.

Allen Zaruba, a professional artist who has taught at Towson for 12 years, used the racially charged term to describe his employment rights as an adjunct professor during a broader discussion of representations of power in contemporary art. A student reported him to the provost's office after the lecture, delivered on Monday, February 22, and that Thursday, the art department's interim chairman, Stuart Stein, told him over the telephone he had been dismissed.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Zaruba said he deeply regretted using the phrase as soon as he had uttered it, and had apologized to his students when their class met last Wednesday. At the same time, however, he also said the university's decision to dismiss him without a formal hearing illustrated the broader point he was trying to make, about his status as someone who has few workplace rights and can easily be fired.

"I just finished talking to a lawyer," he said. "I have no ability to appeal anything."

University officials have declined to discuss Mr. Zaruba's dismissal, saying it was a confidential personnel matter. Towson's part-time faculty members serve under contracts that allow them to be fired for any legally allowed reason.

A report on Mr. Zaruba's dismissal in Towson's student newspaper, The Towerlight, quotes a student in the class as saying that Mr. Zaruba often used terms people might find offensive, but she did not interpret his comment as malicious. Mr. Zaruba serves in a prison ministry and notes that his own stepfather, now deceased, was black.

The American Association of University Professors' guidelines for colleges say part-time faculty members "have a right to a hearing before a faculty committee" before dismissal.