About a third of students from an engineering class walked out this week after the professor told an international student he should “learn English,” students said. A different instructor has been assigned to teach the course while the matter is under review, according to a University of Kansas spokesperson.
Gary Minden, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, made the initial remark to the student during his embedded systems class on Tuesday, March 5.
“We're all sitting there stunned for at least a solid 45 seconds because, 'Did he really just say that to someone?' He didn't try to hide anything; he just said that straight out,” said Kyle Kappes-Sum, a sophomore from Shawnee who was in the class that day.
Shortly after, a student in the front asked Minden, “Did you really just say that?,” according to Kappes-Sum.
“[Minden] had faced it more as, 'You're on some sort of device. That's being disrespectful to the instructor,'" Kappes-Sum said. "We were all like, 'What you said to the student was disrespectful, also like, kind of racist.'"
Minden said a student in the front row of the classroom was using a cellphone at the start of class. Since the course has a no-cellphone policy, Minden said he went to the student to ask what the student was doing, and the student said he was using a translator.
“And the only quote I said to that student was, ‘Learn English,’” Minden said.
In response, students either walked out or confronted Minden about the comment, Kappes-Sum said.
“As some of this was going down, he started pulling other students into it, talking to people and asking what they thought," Kappes-Sum said. "The whole class was clearly uncomfortable. There were people who just said, 'You know, I don't want to be a part of this.' And then there were people who did give a response."
Minden said he later had an hour-long conversation with Arvin Agah, the dean of the School of Engineering, and Interim Provost Carl Lejuez. However, he said he doesn’t know of any disciplinary actions that may be taken against him.
“Everyone thinks I made a mistake. I did,” Minden said. “On the other hand, I don’t feel I should take responsibility for students’ feelings. They each have their own lives. They each bring their own life into the classroom.”
Lejuez, Agah and Andrew Williams, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion for the University, were among those in-attendance for the class period today. They talked to students for about 20 minutes before releasing them.
Kappes-Sum said it was announced during class today that Williams, not Minden, would lead the course following spring break.
Lejuez was not available for comment by time of press. Agah redirected the Kansan to University spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson.
"A number of students have raised concerns about events that occurred in their engineering class. In response to these concerns, the University has assigned a different instructor to review the course while the matter is reviewed," Barcomb-Peterson said in an email to the Kansan.
Minden said no students went to talk to him privately about the comment he made during class.
“If they come in and talk to me, I can help," Minden said. "I can do that. In this case, they didn’t."
This story is developing.