In a twist worthy of Mark Twain himself, a St. John’s University professor has been fired for reading a passage containing the N-word from Twain’s anti-slavery novel “Pudd’nhead Wilson” in her “Literature of Satire” class.
Hannah Berliner Fischthal, an adjunct teacher on the Catholic faculty in Queens for 20 years, uttered the N-word as soon as throughout a distant class Feb. 10 — after she first defined to college students the context of the phrase and mentioned she hoped it will not offend anybody.
“Mark Twain was one of the first American writers to use actual dialect,” Fischthal mentioned. “His use of the ‘N-word’ is used only in dialogues as it could have actually been spoken in the south before the civil war, when the story takes place.”
The day after the category, nonetheless, she acquired an e-mail from a pupil who mentioned she needed to “abruptly” depart the decision due to Fischthal’s use of an “inappropriate slur.”
“It was unnecessary and very painful to hear,” the scholar wrote within the e-mail seen by The Post.
Fischthal apologized to the scholar in an e-mail and arrange a non-public dialogue on-line concerning the subject that she titled “Insensitive Language.”
“I apologize if I made anyone uncomfortable in the class by using a slur when quoting from and discussing the text,” Fischthal wrote. “Please do share your thoughts.”
Six college students responded, together with the preliminary complainant. Two defended Fischthal and the remaining mentioned the N-word mustn’t have been used. Fischthal additionally invited college students to debate the controversy throughout the subsequent class however she mentioned the N-word was not utilized by anybody throughout that dialogue.
“Pudd’nhead Wilson,” revealed in 1894, is one among Twain’s lesser-known novels. It focuses on the absurdity and tragedy of racism and slavery. The plot activates a light-skinned slave named Roxy who decides to modify her light-skinned child boy together with her grasp’s child boy shortly after start with a purpose to save her little one from being “sold down the river” and to make sure him a lifetime of wealth and white privilege.
Roxy’s organic son, nonetheless, grows as much as be a spoiled monster whereas the grasp’s organic son grows up as a humble man of character. The story turns right into a homicide thriller on the finish when Roxy’s organic son commits a vicious crime and his actual id is revealed.
“It satirizes the entire evil institution of slavery,” Fischthal informed the Post. “The point of this novel was that there is no inherent difference between Blacks and Whites. Clothes and education are what distinguishes people. Both the boys in the story look exactly the same, even though one is by law a slave, and the other one is a privileged white boy.”
Fischthal mentioned she was unaware of how racial politics have exploded at universities across the nation however mentioned she was “horrified” by the case of one other SJU adjunct teacher, Richard Taylor. Taylor was fired earlier this 12 months when college students complained that he was racist due to questions he posed throughout a lesson involving slavery.
“I never thought that would happen to me,” mentioned Fischthal, who’s the daughter of Holocaust survivors. “I’m one of the last people who should be accused of racism. I know where it leads and I know where it ends. In every class I teach the evils of stereotyping.”
But Fischthal’s apologies and her efforts to deal with the difficulty in the end didn’t assist.
On March 3 she was referred to as into a gathering with HR about her use of the N-word at school, the next dialogue of it and a remark she allegedly made a few Black pupil’s hair. Fischthal mentioned she solely made a comment a few pupil’s head being wrapped up throughout class and it had nothing to do together with her hair.
She mentioned she was additionally criticized for mentioning her household’s expertise within the Holocaust throughout class.
On March 5 she was suspended pending an investigation she had violated the college’s coverage in opposition to bias. On April 29 she was fired.
Fischthal mentioned she at all times obtained good efficiency opinions from each her bosses and college students.
Attorneys for FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) despatched the Rev. Brian J. Shanley, SJU president, a letter late Friday calling on him to reinstate Fischthal.
“Quoting (Mark Twain’s) work in a class on satire falls squarely within the protection afforded by academic freedom, which gives faculty members the breathing room to determine whether — and how — to discuss material students might find offensive,” the FIRE letter learn.
When contacted by The Post, Brian Browne, a spokesman for St. John’s, mentioned that “if your assertion is that she was fired for reading aloud from a Mark Twain novel, that is incorrect.” He refused to elaborate, saying the college doesn’t touch upon personnel issues.
“I just know I’ll miss my students and classes,” Fischthal mentioned. “I love teaching.”