Law professor has class canceled after using the N-word

After repeated use of the N-word during what he says was a teaching exercise, Professor Donald Hermann’s law class has been officially canceled by the Dean of the College of Law, Rosato Perea.

The College of Law is mired in debate as to whether the use of racial slurs belongs in the classroom.
(Jonathan Ballew | The DePaulia)

Hermann remains adamant that the cancellation of his class was “completely inappropriate,” and that he has been treated unjustly by Perea. Hermann said that he is filing a grievance with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) under the provision of academic freedom.

“I think there is a problem with the dean,” he said. “The fact that this was handled so poorly, I think, reflects the inadequacy of the administrative ability of the dean’s office.”

Hermann said that he used the N-word during a lesson on provocation in order to illustrate the power words can hold.

“I think their reaction to it is the very justification for the use of of it in this context,” he said.

But some students say that context doesn’t matter, and that the N-word has no place in or out of the classroom. Carli Wright was a student in Hermann’s class that took issue with Hermann’s use of the word.

“It was completely unnecessary for him to use the word in that context,” Write told The DePaulia after the initial incident. “We are all law students, we are smart people, we all have college degrees — it’s not hard for us to understand the impact of the word without him saying it.”

Another student from Hermann’s class, who asked not to be named due to tensions within the law school, said that they thought Hermann was treated unfairly.

“The DePaul College of Law has no backbone and provided a platform for easily offended students to rewrite the narrative of what happened, to the detriment of our education,” they said.

The student said Hermann’s teaching exercise was appropriate because “lawyers are confronted with uncomfortable situations daily.”

“Like Professor Hermann suggested, that word is used in police reports, court hearings, judicial opinions, etc., and lawyers can’t curl up into a ball and cry racism every time they hear it,” the student said.

Following the original incident, students went on spring break but were given the option to transfer to a supplemental class created by Perea. On the first day back, Hermann’s class had shrunk from nearly 80 students to around only 20.

But after only one class, Hermann and the students were alerted by the dean’s office on March 15 that the class would be canceled in the “best interest of the students.” Hermann said he does not agree with the decision and that he has taught classes with far fewer than 20 students.

Professor Donald Hermann
(Photo courtesy of DePaul University)

Additionally, Hermann took issue with the cancellation of his class before an investigation was concluded by the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity (OIDE).

The Dean’s office issued a statement to The DePaulia on April 5, detailing the conclusion of an investigation by OIDE. The dean’s office said that since it is a personnel issue, they could not discuss further actions that may arise.

“What I do want to make clear is my steadfast conviction that the college can in no way condone the use of racial slurs that wound and denigrate members of our community,” Perea said. “Such language is disrespectful and unnecessary, and should not be tolerated. (…) The ethical training of effective lawyers does not include purposefully exposing students to hurtful speech and conduct, notwithstanding its existence in the broader society.”

The statement from Perea also apologized to the students directly affected by the incident and said she hopes the law community can continue to make inclusion and diversity cornerstones of the law school.

OIDE also issued a statement saying that their investigation into the matter was concluded and that the action is now in the hands of the dean’s office.

Terry Smith, a professor at the DePaul law school, said that he supports Professor Hermann. He said that low enrollment was a poor excuse to cancel Hermann’s class and it was not in the best interest of all students.

“I think Dean Rosato’s explanations smack of pretext,” he said in an email. “If she wanted to respect students’ sentiments on this matter, she would have also respected the wishes of those students who wanted to be taught by Professor Hermann.”

Both Hermann and Smith mentioned that they believe the law school may be heading in the wrong direction, and U.S. News’ annual law school rankings seem to agree — DePaul has continued to fall in recent years. Currently, DePaul Law ranks at No. 128 while Loyola’s law school ranks at No. 74.