Emory law school professor who used racial slurs gets his job back

August 21, 2012 - Atlanta, Ga: The Emory University sign is shown along North Decatur Road at the main entrance to Emory University campus a week before fall term classes start Tuesday afternoon in Atlanta, Ga., August 21, 2012. For more than a decade, Emory University has intentionally misreported the SAT and ACT scores of its enrolled students, the university acknowledged in a statement on Friday after a three-month investigation.The private institution is ranked 20th in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The publication rankings are based on a number of factors, including data reported by universities. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM
August 21, 2012 - Atlanta, Ga: The Emory University sign is shown along North Decatur Road at the main entrance to Emory University campus a week before fall term classes start Tuesday afternoon in Atlanta, Ga., August 21, 2012. For more than a decade, Emory University has intentionally misreported the SAT and ACT scores of its enrolled students, the university acknowledged in a statement on Friday after a three-month investigation.The private institution is ranked 20th in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The publication rankings are based on a number of factors, including data reported by universities. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

An Emory University law school professor placed on administrative leave for using racial slurs has been reinstated to his former position.

Last year, professor Paul Zwier was banned from campus and Emory's Faculty Hearing Committee was asked to determine whether his tenure should be terminated. But the committee recommended Zwier's reinstatement, and law school Dean Mary Anne Bobinski recently signed off on it.

In a statement, Zwier expressed his appreciation and said he is committed to returning to the classroom to teach. He also said he wants “to bring this matter to closure for our entire university in a thoughtful and healing way.”

The controversy stemmed from two instances in during the 2018 school year when Zwier used the n-word — one when he was lecturing a class and another during a discussion with a student in his office.

The first time, Zwier used the slur occurred when he was describing a Jim Crow-era case about an African-American mathematician from NASA who was removed from an hotel’s restaurant in Alabama because he was black, said Lee Parks, Zwier’s lawyer. Zwier then questioned whether the man could sue the hotel for damages if he’d been called a n-word.

Days later, Zwier was describing to a student the insults he endured when he was young and working with African-Americans on civil rights causes, Zwier’s lawyer, Lee Parks, said. At one point, Zwier said whites had called him a “n-word lover.”

Complaints were filed over Zwier's use of the racial epithet, leading to a request last June from an interim dean that the professor be removed.

“What happened to Paul struck at the very core of tenure,” Parks said. “His victory vindicates the principles of academic freedom which make America’s universities the best in the world.”

In a letter to the Emory law community, Bobinski said the use of the n-word “carries with it the potential for harm, including the disruption or destruction of an inclusive learning environment for students, whatever the motivation of the speaker.”

Even so, she said, Emory has not adopted a ban on the use of any particular words. But a faculty member’s use of racially charged, derogatory language like the n-word, without a clear objective of teaching, could lead to censure or other discipline, Bobinski said.

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