Friday, April 27, 2001

Remarks on shooting assailed

Prof's comments cause uproar at NKU

By Kevin Aldridge and Karen Samples
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Northern Kentucky University professor is under fire for statements he made at a student forum, calling for the family of Timothy Thomas to stalk a Cincinnati police officer and “take him out.”

        Clinton Hewan, a tenured associate professor of political science and a native of Jamaica, said Thursday those remarks were hypothetical and taken out of context.

        NKU President Dr. James Votruba sent a strongly worded e-mail Thursday to all university employees objecting to Mr. Hewan's comments. He added he would be looking further into the matter.

        Wednesday's issue of the Northerner, NKU's weekly student newspaper, quotes Mr. Hewan as saying: “I do not advocate any violence as an (initiative). But in the case of willful murder, the family should go out and get that policeman.”

        He went on to say that, as an acceptable way to stand up for themselves, the Thomas family should “quietly stalk that S.O.B. and take him out.” He was referring to police officer Steve Roach, accused of shooting Mr. Thomas as the unarmed 19-year-old ran from police on April 7.

        Mr. Hewan was one of several speakers in a student forum discussing the shooting and events that followed.

        When the remarks were published Wednesday, Mr. Hewan's words created a buzz across the campus of 12,000 students, who are preparing this week for final exams.

        Mr. Votruba said the professor's statements are troubling and reflect poorly not only on Mr. Hewan, but the faculty and the university as a whole.

        “If reported accurately, I am appalled and deeply troubled by the statements made by professor Clinton Hewan,” he wrote in the e-mail.

        “These statements are contrary to the fundamental values of higher education and of this university. ... In no way do they represent the position of Northern Kentucky University or those who take seriously the education of students and the role of universities in public life.

        “The irresponsibility demonstrated by these remarks is indefensible.”

        Mr. Hewan defended himself Thursday morning, saying in an interview that his comments were taken out of context.

        “I was only making the point that it would have been interesting to see how society would have responded if this family had gone after that police officer,” he said. “I certainly don't advocate violence, and I wasn't saying the family should actually go after this officer.”

        When told of Dr. Votruba's e-mail, Mr. Hewan said he was shocked and disappointed that the president had made such a statement without talking to him first.

        “I am a person who will speak my mind as appropriate,” Mr. Hewan said. “Votruba knows that, and he knows me. This is why I'm so surprised to hear about that e-mail.”

        Dr. Votruba would not comment on what, if any, disciplinary action would be taken against the tenured professor. Generally, tenure means lifetime employment for a professor in a specialty and assures freedom of speech and research, with dismissal only for cause.

        “This is something we are going to look at very carefully, not quickly,” Dr. Votruba said. “Our Board of Regents is not pleased with his comments. Our provost is upset with his comments. And, well, my e-mail speaks for itself.”

No fan of NKU football

        Mr. Hewan is known on campus as outspoken. He frequently speaks at forums on race and often writes letters to the editor of the Northerner.

        Years ago, he was a vocal opponent of creating a football team at NKU, calling it “a day of infamy” when the school's Board of Regents voted for the program. He thought money for athletics would be better spent on educating students.

        Mr. Hewan recently was named to the Wall of Tolerance, a monument under construction in Atlanta, and in 1998, Dr. Votruba announced he had won NKU's “Strongest Influence Award” for faculty.

        Mr. Hewan said he encourages tolerance toward all people, regardless of skin color. But a colleague says Mr. Hewan sometimes goes too far in perceiving racism.

        Mr. Hewan has widely shared his perception, for instance, that prejudiced faculty members almost prevented him from obtaining tenure three years ago. Mr. Hewan hired a lawyer and ultimately did receive it.

        “He carries a grudge about (racism); he perceives some people as racist whether they are or aren't, without any proof,” said Bill Oliver, chairman of the chemistry department at NKU.

        In person, Mr. Hewan comes across as mild-mannered and nonviolent, Mr. Oliver said.

        “But obviously, he has very deep feelings about the injustice of racism and these sometimes carry him to make statements he should not make,” Mr. Oliver said.

        Mr. Hewan said he calls things as he sees them.

        “I have told several people on this campus that they are racist in terms of how they behave,” he said.

        “(Racism) is something I'm not afraid to talk about. Because we live it. We cannot deny that.”

        NKU student Adam Culbertson, 22, said he was deeply disturbed by Mr. Hewan's quotes in the Northerner. He read them on Thursday, then called several university administrators to complain.

        Mr. Hewan is a campus leader and shouldn't be making such inflammatory comments, he said.

        The NKU faculty “lost a lot of respect today,” said Mr. Culbertson, a nursing student.

        Northerner's editor, Forrest Berkshire, sees it differently. He has taken several classes with Mr.Hewan and said the professor advocates peaceful solutions to societal problems, not violent ones.

        His comments at the forum shouldn't be taken literally but rather as an “exclamation point” on the controversy in Cincinnati, Mr. Berkshire said.

        “It's a very emotional issue,” he said. “For someone who does not advocate violence to be that upset over it just shows the strong feelings.”

        Dr. Votruba said he understands Mr. Hewan's passion about this issue.

        “He's a good person. I know Clinton,” Dr. Votruba said. “I believe his heart was in the right place, but his comments, out of context or not, are inappropriate.”

       Enquirer contributor Chris Mayhew contributed to this report.

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