press release Purdue regional campus chapter

PR: PNW AAUP Statement on PNW Chancellor Thomas Keon’s Graduation Ceremony Remarks

The Purdue University Northwest chapter of the
American Association of University Professors (AAUP)


December 16, 2022


David Detmer, President, PNW chapter of AAUP [email protected]/219-669-7723

Lee Artz, Vice-President, PNW chapter of AAUP – [email protected]/269-369-0846

Hammond and Westville, Indiana: The Purdue University Northwest chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) condemns the racially insensitive remarks made by Purdue University Northwest Chancellor Thomas L. Keon during PNW graduation ceremonies on December 10, 2022.

Though Chancellor Keon, in response to the widespread criticism he has received, has insisted that he “did not intend to be hurtful,” this suggests, at best, a highly troublesome level of ignorance, insensitivity, and lack of judgement on his part. But it is more than any personal racism by one particular university official; it suggests the all-but-complete ignorance of the institutionalized racism faced by Asians and other peoples of color in this country.

As the video of Chancellor Keon’s “joke” has gone viral on the internet, it has provoked a strong reaction:

  • Norman Chen, the chief executive of The Asian American Foundation, commented that Keon’s display “normalizes the narrative that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners” and further fuels “the current climate of anti-Asian hate.”
  • Stephanie Chang, a Michigan state senator, said she had gotten “used to hearing this kind of ignorance … but not from a high-ranking educational leader.”
  • And U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, remarked, “Over the past few years, we have seen the evidence of harm that these stereotypical tropes and racist caricatures, even in so-called jest, can perpetuate among our communities. The comments made by Keon were offensive and dangerous. His racist imitation no doubt caused pain to the student body and faculty at Purdue University Northwest and so many more. We have to continue to call out instances like these so that they never become the norm in our schools, neighborhoods and nation.”

As disturbing, as this latest incident is, it is unfortunately not an isolated one. The Keon administration has long been subjected to criticism for its heavily top-down, non-inclusive approach to university governance, an approach which is characterized by a disregard for the concerns of faculty, students, and staff, as well as an insensitivity to diverse cultures within the PNW community.

In the Keon administration, the seven-person “Senior Leadership Team” consists only of white people, which does not adequately reflect the diversity of our students, faculty or staff. While Chancellor Keon frequently talks about diversity and inclusion, he fails to implement these values at the top level of administrative university governance, an area under his total control.

In an increasingly diverse world, in which sensitivity to people from a variety of cultures is crucial for success, the time has come for Chancellor Keon to resign, or else to be removed by the Purdue University Board of Trustees, so that a leader better attuned to what it takes to engage multiple constituencies with respect–not ridicule–can be found.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), with over 50,000 members and 500 local chapters, champions academic freedom; advances shared governance; and organizes to promote economic security for all academic professionals. Since 1915, the AAUP has shaped American higher education by developing standards and procedures that uphold quality education.


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