San Diego State University: Professor Reassigned for Quoting Epithets, Teaching Use-Mention Distinction


San Diego State University

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Case Overview

On March 1, 2022, philosophy professor J. Angelo Corlett led a class discussion on the use-mention distinction and the concept of “offensiphobia” in his Critical Thinking and Composition class. He quoted racial epithets to explain that using coded language when referring to specific slurs is not proper linguistics. That evening, Corlett’s dean emailed saying he was being reassigned from his courses based on student complaints, stating “It is clear you are not effective in the course.” On March 8, FIRE wrote to SDSU, explaining the university may not reassign Corlett based on his pedagogically relevant utterance of epithets. We told SDSU faculty have pedagogical autonomy to determine what to teach and how to teach it, which is protected by academic freedom.