Shank receives termination letter

Kellen Stepler | Editor-in-Chief


Gary Shank, the Duquesne professor who was placed on paid leave Sept. 11 after using a racial epithet in a lecture, received a termination of employment letter Wednesday, Oct. 7 from university provost David Dausey.

In the letter, Dausey writes that he reviewed the report written by school of education dean Gretchen Generett and that, consistent to section 9.2 of the Duquesne faculty handbook, his “employment at Duquesne University is terminated for serious misconduct.”

“Pursuant to Section 9.2 and Section 10 of the Faculty Handbook, you have the right to appeal this decision by filing a grievance within 30 days from the receipt of this letter with the University Grievance Committee for Faculty,” Dausey wrote.

“We have 30 days to grieve the termination and certainly will do so,” Shank’s attorney, Warner Mariani, wrote in an email to The Duke.

In a Sept. 9 Zoom lecture to his Educational Psychology class, Shank used the N-word repeatedly and gave his students permission to use the word. A video clip of the lecture circulated on Twitter on Sept. 11, leading him to be placed on administrative leave.

Titled “Dismissal,” section 9.2 in the Duquesne faculty handbook says that, “[F]aculty members may be dismissed and, where relevant, their tenure forfeited for reasons of serious misconduct or professional incompetence.”

Serious misconduct, according to the faculty handbook, includes failures to adhere to the university’s mission statement, conduct involving moral turpitude, observe university policies addressing discrimination and sexual harassment, treat colleagues, staff, students or administrators fairly, honestly and with respect and to maintain the standards of professional conduct written in Duquesne administrative policies or the faculty handbook.
It also notes that professional incompetence includes the repeated and unreasonable failure to meet classes on time and as scheduled, failure to respond to students’ requests for appointments and assistance, failure to comply with faculty deadlines, failure to attend meetings to committees to which they belong and submitting reports and grades, and failure to meet the university’s expectations for teaching, scholarship, and service.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), filed a complaint to Robert King, the assistant secretary at the office of postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education, writing that, “Duquesne’s departure from promises of freedom of expression is most recently illustrated by its unjustifiable punishment of faculty member Gary Shank, who has relied on Duquesne’s promises of free expression and academic freedom throughout his 23-year teaching career at the university.”

The non-profit organization whose mission “is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities,” is calling on the Department of Education “to investigate Duquesne for substantial misrepresentations of its educational program.”

FIRE’s letter, dated Oct. 2, notes that it “is not the first time Duquesne has imperiled its constituents’ expressive rights,” citing Duquesne’s impeding of the use of the term “gender neutral” in the gender neutral fashion show held in fall 2019. Duquesne called the incident a “miscommunication” after receiving backlash.

Enclosed in FIRE’s letter are excerpts to “relevant” Duquesne policies, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education Standards for Accreditation and Requirements of Affiliation, Standard II and previous correspondence between FIRE and Duquesne. FIRE wrote a letter to Duquesne Sept. 16 for university officials to immediately reinstate Shank and recommit to their promises of academic freedom.

In response to Duquesne’s termination of Shank, Alex Morey, a representative for FIRE, said, “By firing Gary Shank for discussing a tough topic in his class, Duquesne betrays any commitment it purports to have to academic freedom, which protects the rights of faculty to choose whether and how to approach difficult subjects. Duquesne students and faculty will rationally choose to say nothing rather than say something that others might find controversial, as their university won’t bother to defend their rights. That’s an unacceptable result at an educational institution of any caliber.”

Duquesne spokeswoman Emily Stock said that the university would not comment “on the personnel matter,” but did say that they are taking Shank’s in-class conduct on Sept. 9 seriously.

“Duquesne University is deeply committed to providing a campus and learning experience that is respectful, safe and inclusive for all members of the Duquesne community,” Stock wrote in an email.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also demanded Shank’s reinstatement, writing a letter to Duquesne president Ken Gormley on Sept. 27.