Society

Duke University Professor Comes Under Fire For His "Offensive" Online Comment

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

Jerry Hough is a Duke University professor and a leading expert on the Soviet Union, but his comments on a New York Times editorial on the Baltimore Riots have thrust him into a firestorm of controversy.

The editorial, titled “How Racism Doomed Baltimore,” explained the long history of systematic racism and socioeconomic oppression which contributed to the unrest in Baltimore. Hough left a six-paragraph comment blaming African-Americans for not integrating and using “strange new” names.

Hough compared “the blacks” to “the Asians” and wrote, “The blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves.” He added, “So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn't feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.”

Hough has faced criticism from colleagues and students alike.

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“The comments were noxious, offensive, and have no place in civil discourse,” said Duke Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Affairs Michael Schoenfeld. “Duke University has a deeply-held commitment to inclusiveness grounded in respect for all, and we encourage our community to speak out when they feel that those ideals are challenged or undermined, as they were in this case.”

In an email to WDTV, Hough defended his comment. "Martin Luther King was my hero and I was a big proponent of all the measures taken at the time, including Affirmative Action. But the degree of integration is not what I expected, and it is time to ask why and to change our approach,” he wrote. “I am, of course, strongly against the toleration of racial discrimination. I do not know what racial intolerance means in modern code words and hesitate to comment on that specific comment.”

Hough has taught at Duke University for 40 year and told WDTV he’s currently on leave, although the university said they won’t comment on personnel matters.

Duke student Virginie Marchand called the comment “inappropriate.” 

"He represents the whole school in that one comment and that's not a good image for the school," she said.

Other students have criticized Hough’s prejudices on RateMyProfessors.com, a website where students can anonymously post reviews of their instructors. “Hough is too old to be teaching and though very smart, he harbors some prejudice,” reads a review from April 2010. Another student, who reviewed Hough a year later, echoed the sentiment. “Hough is interestingly out of date. His antiquated views are placed in a modern world…  He vocalizes some extremely strong prejudices so be careful.”

Sources: WDTV, The New York Times, The Washington Post, RateMyProfessors.com Image via Kevin Ceballos/Flickr