Purdue’s first Asian-American president takes office weeks after school official mocked Asian languages ​​on stage

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The first Asian-American president of Purdue University took office, weeks after a chancellor of his great school system came under fire for what many viewed as a racist onstage display during a ceremony.

Mung Chiang, a professor of engineering, began his landmark role last week, overseeing the university as well as other campuses, including Purdue Northwest (PNW) University. Chiang’s tenure comes shortly after PNW foreign minister Thomas L. Keon mocked Asian languages ​​during a winter start. Despite mounting pressure for him to resign, Keon, who has apologized, remains in office.

Given Chiang’s new role, some have asked him to address Keon’s actions. A post published by the nonprofit Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, written by writer Emil Guillermo, said Chiang’s action could send a strong message.

“Will he or won’t he rock the boat now? Chiang’s response as president could turn Purdue’s inaction in 2022 into a new sign of hope in 2023,” the post said. “That would be a sign of real change in America. First Asian-American President Fires Racist Chancellor Who Told Bad Asian Joke.»

Keon did not respond to a request for comment. And Chiang directed NBC News to a December statement from Purdue’s chairman of the board, Mike Berghoff, in which he said that after board members reviewed Keon’s comments, they determined they were «extremely offensive and insensitive», but they did not reflect a pattern. of behavior

«This attempt at off-the-cuff humor was in poor taste, unbecoming of his role as chancellor and unacceptable for an occasion that should be remembered solely for its atmosphere of celebration and unification,» the statement said. read. «Therefore, the Board has issued a formal reprimand to Dr. Keon.»

Thomas L. Keon, chancellor of Northwestern Purdue University in Indiana.Northwestern Purdue University

Chiang, who has accumulated more than 30,000 citations throughout his career and holds the title of Roscoe H. George Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, succeeds former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels as president. The 46-year-old is also the youngest president in school history. While Chiang’s start date comes on the heels of the controversy, the university had announced his role in June.

The incident, during which Keon did an apparent imitation of Asian languages ​​in front of a crowd of PNW summer and fall graduates, went viral after Richard Lee, a professor at the University of Minnesota, posted the video on Twitter. It subsequently raised concerns from many on social media about Keon’s ability to work with students and colleagues of Asian descent without bias. Keon wrote in his apology that he «did not mean to be hurtful» and that he would meet with members of student government, as well as lead a new diversity initiative to understand and address the issues of the Asian American and South Island community. Peaceful.

“On Saturday, December 10, during one of our two PNW commencement ceremonies, I made an insensitive and offensive comment,” Keon wrote in a statement. «I am truly sorry for my unplanned and impromptu response to another speaker as my words have caused confusion, pain and anger.»

However, calls for his resignation have only grown.

A Change.org petition, launched about a month ago, calling for Keon’s resignation, has since received more than 9,200 signatures. And the Indiana-based Asian American Alliance wrote a letter to university leaders, including Chiang, expressing disappointment at the leaders’ «hasty decision» to accept Keon’s apology.

Additionally, scholars in the school system and beyond drew the attention of both Keon and Purdue leadership. The Purdue University Northwest chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement demanding that the Board of Trustees remove the chancellor if he does not resign. And 87% of the PNW faculty senate cast a vote of no confidence in December, initiated by Chairman Thomas Roach, led by Keon.

“Last year we wanted him to resign due to poor leadership,” Roach told radio station WBAA. «This year it’s because he embarrassed the institution and offended members of our faculty and student body.»

Lee, the director of his university’s Asian American studies program, previously told NBC News that Keon’s behavior is not isolated. Instead, he said, it is a reflection of the larger problems that Asian and Asian-American students often face. They are simultaneously reified as a «model minority» in academic circles and continue to be mocked, Lee said.

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