My Prof Dropped the N Bomb

I was playing poker Tuesday afternoon when I glanced at my phone and saw a story from OU’s student newspaper, the OU Daily, that made my jaw drop.

One of the journalism professors — one of my journalism professors — said the n-word in class. He was attempting to make a crappy analogy, not actually calling someone that name. But it’s 2020 and you’re in the most woke place in the entire state. Seems pretty crazy.

The professor’s name is Peter Gade, and this is the story I read Tuesday afternoon. There are a lot more details there for anyone interested.

Unsurprisingly, the story gained legs pretty quickly. It made the front page of Wednesday’s Oklahoman. The OU Daily has done several follow-up pieces. The National Association of Black Journalists chimed in. The Student Government Association chimed in. OU’s Black Emergency Response Team chimed in. The interim President of the whole university chimed in. Gade himself chimed in, apologizing.

(Please click on all these links and read the work OU’s current journalists are doing. It’s free and will probably show how much better the students are now than the one who used to write for them 20 years ago.)

I took Gade’s class as a sophomore. It was one of the “weed out” journalism courses that left many changing their majors. It ended up changing my life.

Well, the class itself didn’t change my life, but in that class I became friends with Keith Dinwiddie. We wound up rooming together for our last two years at OU. It changed his life more than it changed mine, as his future wife ended up moving into the apartment below ours and they now live in her homeland of France. He visited Oklahoma a month ago and I got to see him a couple of times. I still consider him one of my best friends.

Funny thing is, Keith and I had several debates about Gade. Keith loved him. I loved him too — when he actually talked about journalism. He clearly had a great grasp on the big picture of journalism, and that manifested in him getting a couple of books published on the subject. He always encouraged a back-and-forth style of lecture, allowing students to jump in with questions or comments that kept the discussion flowing.

What I hated about Gade is that for some 20 minute portion of every lecture he would go on a political tangent. And that back-and-forth style would backfire when it came to these tangents, since there were a couple of poor saps who would counter Gade’s far-left opinions with their far-right opinions. He’d always take the bait and spend the next several minutes shooting down those dissenting views. It would frustrate me to no end because I didn’t care what Gade or anyone else in the class thought about politics, but I couldn’t just walk out because when the political tangent was over we’d be back discussing things that might be on the final exam. Keith didn’t mind those sidebars like I did. Ironically it sounds like one of those off-topic rants is what got him in trouble.

I can’t claim to know Gade personally, but I will say that he never said anything remotely racist while I was in his class. He was pretentious, but that certainly isn’t a unique quality among college professors.

On one hand, I feel a little bad for him because I don’t believe he is a bad person. We all make mistakes, especially when it comes to saying things we regret. On the other hand, it’s 20 freaking 20. That’s literally the one word you can’t say. He could throw the F word out there right and left. He could probably drop a C bomb if it wasn’t directed toward a student. But you can’t say the N word.

He should lose his job over it. At OU he would forever be known as the guy who said the N word. It would undermine all of his legitimate work. And it would be a pretty bad look for the school after the SAE scandal to punish students but let a privileged professor off the hook.

How times have changed. When I was a student, the President of OU and some of his top aides were touching dudes inappropriately. Everyone knew it and talked about it, but it didn’t cost him a damn thing for another 15 years. Now a random professor can’t get away with a single stray word without a press release from 40 different organizations and a town hall meeting.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it’s just the way it is. I would say I’m not the biggest fan of the “gotcha” culture that unites in piling onto people who make egregious mistakes because it makes them feel morally superior. Gade knows he screwed up. Even if it costs him his current job, it doesn’t mean he’s unqualified to speak about journalism ever again. Heck, he’s probably learned quite a bit about the power of modern journalism through this incident.

When I was working for the OU Daily and taking Gade’s class, my stories didn’t reach anyone until the next morning. This incident happened at around 10:15 a.m. I was sitting at a poker table in Goldsby and read about it just a couple of hours after it happened. Then I got to read several of the updates throughout the day. The next morning I read The Oklahoman’s version on the front page. It was interesting to think about the difference. Used to be, that Oklahoman wrap-up version was all you had.

Several of my former Daily peers are now in leadership positions in Student Media at OU. The students who work for the OU Daily are learning by doing, just like we did. And they’re doing journalism in real time, just like it’s done in the real world now.

I had trouble with the dial-up internet connection in Miami trying to file a story about the dadgum national championship football game.

The times, they are a-changin.

Also, don’t say the N word.

Update: Gade is stepping down from teaching the class for the rest of the semester.

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