After inciting controversy in May with a comment on a New York Times editorial titled “How Racism Doomed Baltimore,” Research Professor Jerry Hough—formerly James B. Duke professor of political science—will teach two undergraduate courses next spring.
Hough, 80, commented that “every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration” in response to the editorial about how the isolation of the African-American community led to the riots that took place in the city. The comments, which were perceived as racially insensitive, caused a flood of discussion among students on social media and received national media attention.
Following a two-year leave—which was planned well before his comments—Hough, an expert on the Soviet Union, is set to teach courses on the American presidency and a senior seminar on party strategy and presidential elections.
As of Wednesday, 10 of the 35 spots in the course on the American presidency and six of the 18 spots in the senior seminar had been filled.
“I have two reactions [to the situation],” Hough said Wednesday. “One is annoyance at myself because I said it was a peripheral comment. I essentially believe what I said there, but I phrased it in a very bad way. The second thing that surprised me was when the president of the University speaking through his official communications agency, that [President Richard] Brodhead came out and said both in public and in private and said there should be no freedom of speech on this sort of issue.”
Following Hough’s comment in May, Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for government affairs and public relations, stated that the comments were “noxious, offensive and have no place in civil discourse,” while noting that Duke’s Faculty Handbook protects against institutional censorship.
On Wednesday Schoenfeld noted that Hough returning to teach has been handled within the political science department, and deferred comment to Jack Knight, Frederic Cleaveland professor of law and political science and chair of the political science department.
“As always, the political science department expects Professor Hough to meet the same high standards for teaching excellence that all of our faculty are held to,” Knight wrote in an email.
Hough noted that he hopes the controversy does not affect his future experiences on campus. He is scheduled to teach again in Fall 2016 and has signed an agreement to retire in 2018.
“The statement I made was very peripheral and it’s not something that I really teach about. What I teach about is presidential strategy,” he said. “I’m not going to be talking about racism one way or another. It’s just not my theme.”
A faculty member at Duke since 1973, Hough also cited two New York Times opinion pieces that have been published since his comment as the type of dialogue he meant to inspire with his thoughts. He said he was “pro-integration,” noting that he previously assigned the book “Black Like Me” as a professor at the University of Illinois.
Hough also said that he has not been asked by the University to go through any additional bias training since the comment beyond the sexual harassment training mandated under federal law.
“People are going to find it hard to attack me for any kind of racist comments I make in the class, and I don’t think what I said was racist," he said. "I made [a statement] that probably wasn’t polite. If you’re given a name by your parents, it generally is not polite for you to change it. I was really speaking to the students [saying], ‘Don’t name your children this way,’ and for the perfectly good reason that The New York Times gave—it leads to discrimination.”