USC concludes professor’s controversial comments did not violate policy

The investigation concluded days after 3 student groups issued a statement criticizing the university’s handling of the controversy.

Marshall Dean Geoffrey Garrett informed the Marshall community via a Sept. 25 email that USC’s Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX found professor Gregory Patton, who used a Chinese word that sparked controversy, “did not violate the university’s policy.”

According to the email, EEO-TIX “has concluded that the concerns expressed by students were sincere, but that Professor Patton’s actions did not violate the university’s policy.”

The email also sheds light on Patton’s current situation, with the dean reminding professors that he is still a part of the university.

“To be clear, Professor Patton was never suspended nor did his status at Marshall change. He is currently teaching in Marshall’s EMBA program and he will continue his regular teaching schedule next semester,” Garrett wrote.

The dean took the opportunity to address some of the concerns professors were having over possible misunderstandings.

“In order for our faculty and students to flourish in the classroom, it is essential that everyone feels free to express their views openly and to learn from each other from a perspective of mutual trust and respect,” Garrett added. “This can be challenging in today’s charged environment, but we must all strive to find the right balance.”

The email came three days after a joint statement released on Sept. 22 by the Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, Black Student Assembly and International Student Assembly. The statement denounced USC’s removal of Patton from his communication management course after he used a Mandarin phrase resembling a racial slur during class.

The three student organizations called out USC for its “lack of transparency and communication surrounding the abrupt departure of Greg Patton from his teaching position.”

Patton took a short-term pause from teaching the course after a group of Black MBA students wrote a letter about Patton’s use of the Mandarin word in his class on Aug. 20.

However, in the joint statement, the three organizations wrote that the MBA students never asked for Patton’s removal. Rather, the students wanted a “transparent response” to the discomfort Patton caused in his class. Instead, the three groups wrote in the statement, USC decided to remove Patton without consulting the MBA students and any of the other “appropriate stakeholders,” a decision that the groups said would be “falsely misleading people to think it was the MBA students who pushed for his removal.”

Though the statement defended Patton’s pronunciation of the Mandarin phrase as a proper reflection of its usage by native speakers, the organizations said that does not excuse Patton from his “ignorance” in using the phrase in the current social climate of racial tensions. They wrote that, despite Patton’s intention to teach, he can’t ignore how his usage of the Mandarin phrase had a negative impact on his students.

“Providing a simple preface that the word might sound similar to a racial slur would have made a world of difference,” the statement said.

USC and Garrett declined to comment on the organizations' statement about Patton.

The statement also called for USC to stop alienating Black, Asian and international students by claiming to speak for these communities while neglecting to address the more urgent issues.

“Greg Patton is only the tip of the iceberg for an administration that has repeatedly neglected student reports for even more flagrant offenders,” the statement said.

The three groups also raised concerns regarding the inaction of the EEO-TIX. They demanded that the USC administration investigate other professors who have negatively used racial slurs and stereotypes. In addition, the groups called for transparency to the process used by the USC Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX, stating that there have been “numerous student complaints that after notifying the office, there were no subsequent updates on their cases' timelines and whether or not any review was being conducted.”