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Purdue President Says Black Scholar Comment Just a 'Figure of Speech'

Mitch Daniels apologizes after facing pressure to do so from faculty and students
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2019 8:10 AM CST
Mitch Daniels speaks at Purdue University's Electrical Engineering Building in West Lafayette, Ind., on Sept. 3, 2019.   (Nikos Frazier/Journal & Courier via AP)

(Newser) – Purdue University President Mitch Daniels is apologizing weeks after describing a black scholar as "one of the rarest creatures in America." "I retract and apologize for a figure of speech I used in a recent impromptu dialogue with students," the former Indiana governor wrote in a Wednesday letter directed at minority groups including Purdue's NAACP chapter and the black and Latino student unions, per the Lafayette Journal & Courier. Daniels' comment came Nov. 20 after a meeting with students about promoting diversity on campus. "I'll be recruiting one of the rarest creatures in America—a leading, I mean a really leading, African-American scholar," Daniels said, per the Purdue Exponent. Amid objections to word "creature," Daniels immediately responded, "It's a figure of speech ... Let me say, rarest birds. Rarest phenomenon."

Some faculty said "the idea that there is a scarcity of leading African American scholars is simply not true" as #IAmNotaCreature spread on social media, per the Journal & Courier. In a New York Times op-ed this week, Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr wrote that "Daniels seemed to question the possibility of sustained black excellence." Daniels now says his wording was "ill chosen and imprecise and, in retrospect, too capable of being misunderstood." "I sincerely believe that individuals of every race and ethnicity are capable of and demonstrate academic excellence and achieve top recognition in all of the academic disciplines," he adds. (Read more Purdue University stories.)

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