Professor Retires After Comparing Black Students to Slaves

But Murray State's Mark Wattier says he was misunderstood.

By Thoai Lu Feb 25, 2011

If you’re a tenured professor at a university, there are just certain things you probably shouldn’t do. Comparing your black students to slaves is one of them. Unfortunately, longtime professor Mark Wattier didn’t get that message in time. 

According to the Washington Post, Mark Wattier, who’s white and taught political science at Murray State University, is on his way toward an early retirement after making a remark to two black students that related their tardiness to slavery last semester. One of the students, freshman Arlene Johnson, said in a phone interview with Ledger & Times that she and another student showed up to Wattier’s class on time on August 25 and he was already playing a film. After class, Johnson and the other student asked Wattier why he had begun the film before class started.

"And then he said, ‘Well, it’s OK, I expect it of you guys anyway,’ Johnson said. We asked him, ‘What did that mean?’ And he said the slaves never showed up on time, so their owners often lashed them for it. He just didn’t have the right."

Although Wattier’s career has spanned 30 years at the school in Kentucky, he will be suspended from January through May of 2011 without pay and benefits, due to a complaint Johnson filed with the MSU Office of Equal Opportunity.

Wattier appealed the suspension, and later filed an application with the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System and his effective date would be March 1. Catherine Sivills, MSU’s assistant vice president for communications, said she doesn’t know how the retirement application would affect his appeal.

In an email to The Associated Press titled "My Side of the Story," Waittier admitted to making a mistake and tried to clarify his intentions. He said in the e-mail, "’I did say, ‘Do you know why you were late? There’s a theory that a way to protest their master’s treatment was for slaves to be late.’"

Despite Wattier’s public statement, Johnson is still waiting for an apology.