Professor Patrick Donnelly issues an apology

September 26, 2017 


Dear Students,

I apologize to everyone enrolled in ENG 112: Reading Contemporary Poetry, and to everyone outside the class who may have been affected hearing about it, for speaking the n-word aloud in class on Sept. 19. I thought, wrongly, that because ours was a poetry and literature class, that we could speak any word of our texts aloud. I now understand that working with texts that include that word requires far different, student-led strategies for how such discussions should take place.

I also deeply regret, and apologize for, compounding the injury by saying that the course would be the same going forward, and that students who couldn’t deal with that should leave the course. 

I don’t ask you to excuse that, but it was due to my defensiveness in the moment. It was wrong, and a direct contradiction of the assurance to students in my syllabus that it was allowed, even encouraged, to express disagreement with me or with anyone in the course. 

I’ve accepted Provost Rowe’s request to appoint someone else to teach the course for the rest of this semester. By the time you read this, an announcement will have been made inviting students back into the course, under a new instructor. It was very wrong of me – much worse than my original mistake in speaking the n-word – to disinvite anyone from the course, or to deprive anyone of the experience of the course. 

Please be assured that I know it was my job to already be familiar with strategies for working with inflammatory language and materials, and to have them in place from the beginning of the course, which would have prevented this from happening. Thank you for teaching me, though that wasn’t, and should never have been, your responsibility. I pledge to you to continue to explore how I caused harm, so that I don’t repeat it anywhere.

I know that with feelings running so high, some students may not feel able to accept my apology, or to come back into the course. That is understandable, and also my fault.

Nevertheless, I do deeply regret and apologize for the anger and hurt I caused, as well as the trouble to the English Department, the Poetry Center and the College.


Patrick Donnelly