A professor at Fordham University, a private Jesuit college in New York City, abruptly lost his job after an incident in which he accidentally called two black students by the wrong name.
While teaching his Composition II class on Sept. 24, Christopher Trogan, a now-former English lecturer at the school, accidentally called two students by the wrong name. The Fordham Observer characterized the incident as a “name mix-up” in which Trogan became briefly “confused.”
The students responded to the incident by emailing Trogan after class, telling him they were offended that he confused their names, and alleging that he did so because they are black.
Trogan, however, did not hide from his mistake. He sent his entire Composition II class an email apologizing for the “innocent mistake.” He said had suffered a “confused brain” because the two students whose names he confused walked into his class late at the same time he was reading the work of another student.
“The offended student assumed my mistake was because I confused that student with another Black student,” Trogan’s email said. “I have done my best to validate and reassure the offended student that I made a simple, human, error. It has nothing to do with race.”
The professor, as any professor would do in a situation like this, encouraged his students to relay any concerns with him to the dean of the school, his department chairperson, and other administrators who have jurisdiction over matters between professors and students.
In defending himself from accusations of racism, Trogan also told his students that he had dedicated his life to fighting for justice and equity and said he designed his Composition II course “specifically and explicitly around issues of justice, equality, and inclusion.”
How did the students respond?
Chantel Sims, one of the students whose name was mixed up, told the Observer that she and her classmate were not upset about the mix-up. But it was Trogan’s defense against their accusations of racism that upset them.
“It seemed a little excessive, like all you needed to do was say sorry and it would have been fine,” she told the Observer. “We were not actually that upset about him mixing up our names. It was more so the random things he would throw into the response.”
In fact, both students whose names were confused accused Trogan of demonstrating a “white savior complex,” according to the Observer.
How did administrators respond?
Two days after the innocent mix-up, Trogan was placed under investigation and suspended. On Oct. 5, he was summoned to a meeting with Eva Badowska, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which he attended via Zoom with a union representative.
By Oct. 25, Badowska informed Trogan that he had been terminated.
In an email to his students on Oct. 29, Trogan alleged that he was never informed of the charges against him.
“I was never informed of the charges against me, nor of the nature of the investigation of which I was the subject,” Trogan said in that email, the Observer reported. “I was kept completely in the dark.”
However, a termination letter written by Badowska explained he was fired because of his class-wide email, not the name mix-up.
What is the school saying now?
The university is refusing to comment on Trogan’s case despite students being disappointed over Trogan’s termination, especially how the school carried it out.
“The University takes personnel matters very seriously, reviews decisions on multiple levels, and addresses such matters confidentially in accord with University policies,” Bob Howe, assistant vice president of communications, said.