public statements

AAUP-Purdue amplifies Purdue-Northwest faculty condemning racist remarks by Purdue-Northwest Chancellor

The Purdue University West Lafayette chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-Purdue) sides in solidarity with academic colleagues and progressive associations nationally in condemning the racist, Anti-Asian remarks of Purdue Northwest Chancellor Thomas Keon. We join the call of many others, led by Asian-American students and colleagues, calling for Keon’s removal.

Chancellor Keon engaged in racially charged behavior when he mocked Asian language at the Purdue Northwest (PNW) 2022 Winter Commencement. His performance both humiliated and dehumanized Asian Americans and Asians, and tarnished Purdue’s global reputation. An editorial written by a Purdue faculty member published in the Exponent (“Why the PNW Chancellor’s Words Matter” by Xiang Zhou, 21 December 2022), as well as an open letter from members of Purdue Asian American and Asian faculty and staff, explains how this grave behavior impacts our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) faculty and students. 

Chancellor Keon has offered only an inadequate apology, with no clear plan for addressing his own limited understanding of racism. Initially, the Purdue Board of Trustees bafflingly accepted Chancellor Keon’s apology and non-plan.

There was then national and international indignation to these responses. For instance:

  • Over 1,000 scholars have signed a statement of condemnation from hundreds of U.S. universities
  • Over 9,400 people have signed a student-initiated petition calling for Keon’s resignation
  • Asian American, Black, LGBTQ, and many other communities have released dozens of statements and public demands for his removal
  • The Urban League has removed him from its board, after asking Keon to resign and his declining to do so.

After these responses and other public pressure, the Board claimed they had reprimanded Chancellor Keon and added the threat of termination should he engage in racist behavior again. In so doing, the Board has demonstrated their lack of understanding of how power functions in racism, and has shown that Purdue leaders may engage in racist behavior as long as it does not inspire national outrage.

The AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, states: 

“The president should be equally qualified to serve both as the executive officer of the governing board and as the chief academic officer of the institution and the faculty. The president’s dual role requires an ability to interpret to board and faculty the educational views and concepts of institutional government of the other. The president should have the confidence of the board and the faculty.”

AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities

The Chancellor is delegated the authority of the President as the “chief executive officer for each of the Regional Campuses.” (Policy V.B.5) Since these events, 87% of Purdue-Northwest faculty have voted “no confidence” in the Chancellor. The University Senate at West Lafayette, and the Faculty Senate at Fort Wayne have joined with their Northwest faculty colleagues and advanced statements of condemnation. However, the Chancellor has declined to discuss the vote with the Northwest faculty and has stopped attending Faculty Senate meetings, thereby failing to fulfill the responsibilities of his position. 

The Board’s benign reprimand of Chancellor Keon’s behavior suggests that they will tolerate demeaning humor, historically used as a tool of oppression and subjugation. We join the vociferous chorus of students and colleagues nationally to emphasize that we do not tolerate such humor, nor should the Board. 

AAUP-Purdue condemns Chancellor Thomas Keon’s actions at the commencement, and his failure of leadership since that time. We amplify the call of the vast majority of Purdue-Northwest faculty who voted no confidence in the Chancellor, and its Faculty Senate that has called for his resignation. We support the University Senate’s call for the Board of Trustees to remove Keon from his position as Chancellor of Purdue Northwest.

This statement draws some content from the University Senate document 22-20, passed 2/20/23.

Passed March 6, 2023 by at least 50% of chapter membership.