Incoming ASU Journalism Dean Out After Microaggression Complaints

Public university revokes job offer after prof called some cops 'good'

Arizona State University campus / Wikimedia Commons
June 10, 2020

Arizona State University revoked a job offer from its incoming journalism school dean after students and faculty accused her of "microaggressions," including a tweet that called some police officers "good."

Sonya Forte Duhé was due to take over as dean of ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on July 1, but her offer was revoked on Monday after former students lodged complaints about comments they perceived as rude. Duhé was also criticized for her #BlackOutTuesday post that called some police officers good, in light of the George Floyd protests.

In a since-deleted tweet, Duhé wrote, "for the family of George Floyd, the good police officers who keep us safe, my students, faculty and staff. Praying for peace on this #BlackOutTuesday." One of Duhé's former students, Whitney Woods, responded by calling the professor racist. "There is no way in hell that black lives matter to you," Woods tweeted. "You are one of, if not, THE most racist human that I have ever encountered in a professional setting." After the tweet, Woods, a black woman, claimed that the former Loyola University-New Orleans (LOYNO) professor told her that her hair was too messy for television.

In an article for the State Press, ASU's student newspaper, 23 LOYNO students alleged that Duhé discouraged black students from pursuing television careers because of their appearances. One student, Andrew Ketchum, claimed Duhé criticized his voice because he is gay. Ketchum could not be reached for comment.

Duhé did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a report from AZ Central, prominent faculty members—including veterans of the Washington Post and New York Times—sent a letter to university president Michael Crow saying that hiring a dean accused of racism and mistreatment would harm the journalism school's reputation and finances. Several faculty members threatened to leave if Duhé became dean. Faculty who signed the letter either did not respond or declined requests for comment.

The Arizona State standoff emerged as prestige newsrooms have faced upheaval from young journalists and activists. Liberal New York Times staff members launched an open revolt against management after the newspaper published an op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.)—a conflict that led to a public apology from newspaper executives and the resignation of opinion page editor James Bennet. ASU administrators bowed to similar demands from students and professors.

Students from minority journalism coalitions issued a joint statement calling on the university to revoke Duhé's offer. The letter said Duhé has a history of making racist, homophobic, and bodyshaming comments. "The student leaders are demanding ASU retract its current offer of her incoming position as Dean," the letter reads. "We refuse to let minority voices go unheard, especially those of the Black community."

The student-led coalition started a petition calling for Duhé's offer to be rescinded. The petition garnered more than 4,000 signatures.

"I really believe that ASU did the right thing," said National Association of Hispanic Journalists president Marco Peralta. "For a journalism school such as Cronkite, it is important to be respectful of every ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation.… We felt, as students and leaders of ethnicity student organizations at Cronkite, Sonya Duhé was not the right person for the job. Racism and homophobia have no place."

A spokesman for ASU provost Mark Searle's office told the Washington Free Beacon that the school and television station "will be better served by not advancing with Dr. Duhé as their leader." The decision came after ASU president Michael Crow publicly called on the university to accelerate "the rate of enhanced social justice."

"The development regarding the Cronkite Dean is most unfortunate, but we now must turn our attention to meeting that challenge and ensuring we offer the highest level of journalism education," the spokesman said.

Woods said she was empowered by ASU's decision but wished LOYNO faculty and staff had made the same decision years ago.

"The real victory here is that people finally had a space to speak their truth and to finally feel like that truth was heard," Woods said. "What the ASU faculty and staff did is what we wish Loyola faculty and staff did while we were in school."