SAN DIEGO — For the second time in less than a year, San Diego State University has reassigned a teacher for using racist language in class.

The new incident involves J. Angelo Corletta tenured philosophy professor who was relieved last week of his duties teaching two classes, one on critical thinking, the other on race and racism.

Corlett told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he used an information slide in both classes that lists 10 to 12 epithets that were used against blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Asians and whites.

“You have to mention the words in order to explain why they are racist and should not be used,” said Corlett, a 63-year-old Latino. “Some students are confused about what counts as racism. And some are more concerned with being offended than learning logic and the science of language.”

On March 1, an unidentified black student, who was not enrolled in Corlett’s Critical Thinking course, stopped and repeatedly challenged Corlett’s mention of epithets, particularly one considered the insult most offensive against black people.

Corlett said he responded to the visitor, in part, by verbally mentioning epithets to illustrate the nature of the lesson. He claims he did not encourage his students to do the same.

Later that day, Corlett was informed by the university that he would not be teaching both courses for the remainder of the spring semester. He still teaches a course in political philosophy.

“We’ve had a number of students come forward and complain about their experience in Professor Corlett’s classes,” said Luke Wood, SDSU vice president for student affairs and campus diversity.

“It happened this semester, but was also a routine experience. … We took that into account,” Wood said. “This is really a case of a faculty member being reassigned. It’s not about free speech or academic freedom, it’s about teaching assignments.

“It was about actions, not free speech.”

He declined to provide further details.

Corlett says he’s been using this teaching technique at SDSU for about 20 years and notes that he’s written extensively on the subject, including publishing the book “Race, Racism & Reparations.”

“I’m not racist. I don’t mention or use racial epithets outside of the classroom,” Corlett said.

Corlett said he doesn’t know what, if anything, he’ll be asked to do now that he’s been reassigned from those two courses. SDSU says the issue has yet to be determined.

One of Corlett’s colleagues, philosophy professor Robert Francescotti, told the Union-Tribune: “It came out of nowhere and there had better be good evidence to pull someone out of the class without giving him a chance to defend himself. He’s a long-time expert on racism, he knows what he’s talking about.

“(Corlett) likes to push students to think about things and he doesn’t mind things being uncomfortable. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Corlett also received support from Dorette Ponce, a senior who took Corlett’s “Philosophy, Race and Justice” course. She told the Union-Tribune in an email:

“As philosophy majors, that’s what we’re taught from day one, TO USE CRITICAL THINKING. … I’m so disappointed in my department and the College of Arts and Letters. I thought we stood for truth and the pursuit of knowledge. I felt like we respected all points of view and welcomed diversity. Yet, a professor expresses an unpopular minority opinion and is removed from a course on a topic on which he has been teaching, researching and publishing for more than 30 years?

SDSU faced similar controversy in April after Robert Jordan, an instructor teaching an online course on filmmaking, used a cultural stereotype of black people to make a broader point about racial ideology.

He told the students that he was going to voice beliefs that he personally didn’t hold, then said, in the first person, “I would assume that black people just aren’t as smart as white people. Oh, I can already hear people getting angry, okay I can believe that…

“It’s just like that, you know, my values. It doesn’t mean I’m going to come and lynch you. It doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything to attack you. It could mean I’m going to’ I’m not hiring you…”

An unidentified person took a brief snippet of Jordan’s remarks and posted it on Twitter, where it caused an uproar. Some students have called for Jordan’s dismissal.

SDSU responded with a post on Twitter that read, “In video: 50, the professor gives an example of a racist point of view or ideology. Professor Jordan insists the clip in no way represents his personal views or opinions.

“To be clear, SDSU does not condone acts of marginalization, racism and hatred based on personal background, identity or skin color.”

SDSU removed Jordan from the class and reassigned him to a project the university has yet to clearly explain. Jordan told the Union-Tribune shortly after the incident that SDSU told him not to speak to the media, a claim the university denies. He did not resume his role as a regular speaker.


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