Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

WSU panel says teacher's comment was 'immature'


Tuesday, December 12, 2006 · Last updated 7:32 p.m. PT
WSU panel says teacher's comment was 'immature'


SPOKANE, Wash. -- A Washington State University assistant professor who used a vulgar racial term during a heated political dispute with Republican students was "immature" and "thoughtless," but his actions did not constitute discrimination, a new report concludes.

John Streamas has also called WSU a "racist university" and contended that some say WSU should stand for "White Supremacist University," said the report from the university's Center for Human Rights.

"I certainly don't see the university as bad as all that," said Raoul Sanchez, director of the rights center at the Pullman-based school.

The report was given to the parties involved in the dispute, and a copy was released Tuesday by Dan Ryder, the student who complained to campus officials, saying he had been insulted.

The report directed some blame for the incident toward WSU's College Republicans, who on Nov. 2 erected a 24-foot-long stretch of chain-link fence on campus as a show of support for the Bush administration's plan to build a fence on the border with Mexico.

The fence drew a crowd of protesters who engaged in heated arguments with College Republicans, and the videotaped showdown garnered national attention, especially on conservative radio and television broadcasts.

During the dispute, Ryder said Streamas, an assistant professor of comparative ethnic studies, called him a "white (solid waste)-bag."

College Republicans demanded that Streamas be fired for saying that, and have said the incident was an example of bias against conservative views on campus.

University President V. Lane Rawlins said last week that Streamas would be reprimanded, but not fired.

"One utterance of a faculty member in the heat of discussion is not the kind of thing for which you terminate someone," Rawlins said.

Earlier, Streamas has acknowledged using the term, but said it wasn't directed at any individual. Last month he called the fence a provocative and racist symbol, and compared it to Nazis carrying a swastika through a Jewish neighborhood.

The report said it was unwise for Streamas to have made the comment, which it called "immature, intellectually unsophisticated and thoughtless." But a single such utterance during a robust debate did not, by itself, constitute harassment, discrimination or intimidation, the report said.

Streamas, who was born in Tokyo, did not immediately return Associated Press telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment Tuesday.

The report quoted what it said was an unsolicited voice mail message Streamas left for investigators: "This is a racist university. Many of our students say that WSU stands for White Supremacist University.

"I don't care about the hurt feelings of one white person. The feelings of one little hurt white boy who's got all his white-skinned privilege are nothing compared to the hundreds of people he offended with his racist fence," the voice mail said.

The report said that Ryder objected immediately to the term and that Streamas apologized, and then the two continued to debate.

"The precise definition of the word `(solid waste)-bag' is unclear, but complainant and respondent agree that it is a derogatory term," the report said.

Ryder disagreed with the center's finding.

"I feel that a person who instructs in a department that preaches equality and diversity and accepting all ideas is not fit to instruct in that department if he can't even have that tolerance for other people's views," said Ryder, who is from Olympia.

Ryder said Tuesday he is considering pursuing legal action.

The center does not have any power to discipline employees, and can make only suggestions for corrective actions, Sanchez said.

"It's not our role to take sides," he added. "The reality is never as clean as one side or the other. We simply try and be fair to everyone."

The university must remain a place where many viewpoints can be expressed, Sanchez said.

"The best cure for offensive speech is more speech," he said.

This is the 2nd time (possibly 3rd time) we, the WSU College Republicans, have hit the AP. Some of us have been considering legal action (one CR in-particular has been in talks with various people). We really appreciate your support and anything you can do to help, donations (icon at the top right hand of the site), legal counsel, letters to the editor, etc. We thank you for standing strong with us!

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