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Duke Professor Defends Comments Comparing Blacks, Asians

Duke professor Jerry Hough (Duke University)
Duke University professor Jerry Hough (Duke University)

JONATHAN DREW, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Duke University professor criticized for an online post comparing blacks and Asians said Monday that it’s not racist to discuss what he sees as differences in how the groups have performed in the U.S. over the past few decades.

Political science professor Jerry Hough has been sharply criticized for a response he posted in the online comments section of the New York Times editorial “How Racism Doomed Baltimore,” dated May 9. The 80-year-old professor, who is white, has been on an unrelated academic leave for the past school year.

In his online comments, Hough wrote that Asians have been described as “yellow races” and faced discrimination in 1965 at least as bad as blacks experienced. Of Asian-Americans, he wrote: “They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.”

The posting goes on to say: “I am a professor at Duke University. 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 an email Monday to The Associated Press, Hough defended his comments but said it’s difficult to be subtle in a post on a newspaper’s comments section with a limited word count.

“I only regret the sloppiness in saying every Asian and nearly every black,” he wrote in the email. “I absolutely do not think it racist to ask why black performance on the average is not as good as Asian on balance, when the Asians started with the prejudices against the ‘yellow races’ shown in the concentration camps for the Japanese.”

Hough described himself as a disciple of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s who supported integration. In his lifetime, he said, he’s observed prejudice ranging from the World War II-era internment camps for Japanese-Americans to segregation in the South, and he’s dismayed that more progress hasn’t been made.

“My purpose is to help achieve the battle of King’s battle to overcome and create a melting pot America,” he said.

Hough has been on an academic leave unrelated to the comments, according to an email from Jack Knight, the chairman of the university’s political science department. Knight said Hough was granted academic leave for the 2014-15 school year under a standard policy for faculty.

Hough’s comments on the newspaper site were met with strong criticism on social media and in the Duke community. A statement released to several media outlets over the weekend by Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said: “The comments were noxious, offensive and have no place in civil discourse.”

A professor in Duke’s African & African American Studies department, Mark Anthony Neal, posted an image of Hough’s comments last week on his blog under the title “#DearOldDuke: The Unchecked Racism of a Tenured Duke Professor.”

On Monday, Schoenfeld said that Hough’s standing as a professor hasn’t changed. He also pointed out that the school’s faculty handbook gives a professor the right “to act and to speak in his or her capacity as a citizen without institutional censorship or discipline.”

Hough said he plans for 2016 to be his last year of teaching, and he’ll retire in 2018 after four decades at Duke. His resume on the Duke website lists several degrees from Harvard University, including a doctorate, as well as a dozen books about Russia and the Soviet Union.

“Except for Schoenfeld’s email, which I think hurts Duke more than me (it only helps me spread my ideas and maybe get more book contracts), Duke has been fine through this,” Hough said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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