LETTER: Purdue University Northwest Chancellor Should be Removed

Purdue Chancellor Thomas Keon Speaks at Commencement Ceremony | Photo Courtesy of CNN
Purdue Chancellor Thomas Keon Speaks at Commencement Ceremony | Photo Courtesy of CNN

Editors Note: This letter addresses concerns about the chancellor of Purdue Northwest. While IUPUI's campus is run by IU administration and Purdue will soon be departing from our campus, the editors of The Campus Citizen decided to move forward with the publication of this letter as this issue affects the Purdue students on our campus. The following is the second of two letters addressing the Purdue Board of Trustees sent in by the Purdue Northwest Faculty Senate Chair Thomas Roach. The first was sent on Dec. 23, 2022, and the second was sent on Mar. 23, 2023.

On Dec. 10, Chancellor Thomas Keon of Purdue University Northwest made a racist joke in response to keynote speaker Jim Dedelow’s address. The speaker spoke about a made up-language that he used to stop his child from crying, and once the chancellor returned to the podium he said “all I have to say is [racial stereotype of asian speech]… that’s sort of my Asian version of his…”

The Chancellor issued an apology on the Purdue Northwest Twitter page on Dec. 14. On Dec. 22, the Purdue Board of Trustees issued a formal reprimand of Keon, and said that a similar incident in the future would be grounds for his removal. The Chancellor received only a 50% approval rating last year even before the incident.

Since then, three separate Purdue-affiliated faculty councils voted to call for Keon's dismissal.

Dear Purdue Trustees:

Three months ago, Purdue University Northwest Chancellor Thomas Keon performed his Asian gibberish joke at our graduation ceremony. At that time, I informed you that you had faculty support if you removed him as chancellor. Instead, you announced that you had accepted his apology and that he would remain in his position. 

We now have resolutions passed by the three senates in the Purdue system, all calling for his removal. I hope you will take this as an opportunity to revisit your decision. 

Here are some additional points to consider:

·      Keon’s apology was overwhelmingly rejected by the Asian American community, as is evidenced by growing list of Asian American and civil rights organizations who have called for his dismissal. 

·      A university chancellor publicly represents the institution’s history and values. We would not have hired Keon had he committed an act so negligent, inappropriate, and offensive in a prior position at another university. 

·      Your inaction makes us complicit. Leaving Keon in place tacitly condones his conduct. If the board does not dismiss him specifically for this incident, he will retire, and Purdue will lose its only significant means of publicly rejecting his irresponsible and distasteful actions. 

·      You are responsible for monitoring your appointees and ensuring that each campus has principled, competent leadership. Are you aware that Keon has been in hiding all semester? He failed to appear at three scheduled meetings with Faculty Senate leadership, and he missed all three of our Senate meetings. Furthermore, the Senior Leadership Team which he appointed has failed to address this international incident or to explain why he has gone missing. 

·      The Purdue Northwest campus is experiencing ongoing enrollment decline and requires action plans regarding hiring, program reorganization, and budget adjustments. Currently these decisions are being made piecemeal by administrators in a leaderless atmosphere of no accountability and without faculty input. Dismissing Keon now will allow us to begin to search for a new chancellor who can build a consensus, recruit the appropriate staff, and reorganize the campus around new initiatives that meet our evolving needs.  

·      Keon demonstrated his inability to lead the institution before the incident at graduation. When Faculty Senate leadership asked him to step down in 2022, the executive committee of the Senate cited an excessive number of unexplained hirings and firings, the divisive handling of the unification process, student protests over proposed changes to the diploma, the waste of resources on an unrealized SRA process, loss of full summer school pay for faculty, and the lack of a comprehensive plan for reorganizing Purdue Northwest as a smaller campus. 

For those of us closest to the problem, the event at graduation was not an isolated incident. It is one of many lapses in judgement in an atmosphere of laissez faire leadership headed by an unseasoned and indifferent administrator. If you are still unpersuaded to take further action, then I request that you attend our next Faculty Senate meeting so we can hear an explanation of your position. I am also willing to meet with you in West Lafayette.


Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D.

Purdue University Northwest

Faculty Senate Chair

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