I would, left to my own instincts, categorize this as a “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring” episode. But Legal Insurrection, a conservative commentary blog that I find to be usually reasonable, feels otherwise, so I’ll frame this as an ethics quiz.
Robert Ternansky, a lecturer at UC-San Diego, was interrupted by loud speaking from the hallway outside his classroom. Ternansky walked into the hallway and seeing students he took to be Hispanic, immediately quoted the signature catch phrases of now politically incorrect Warner Bros. cartoon character Speedy Gonzalez, “The Fastest Mouse in All of Mexico”: “Sí, sí señor! Ándale, ándale! Arriba, arriba!”The video of the class also catches Ternansky asking his students, “How do you say ‘quiet’ in Mexican?” One replies, it seems, “Caliente,” and the lecturer says, “Caliente, huh? Help me. All I knew how to say was ‘Ándale, ándale, arriba, arriba.’ I don’t think that was — to be quiet? That’s like hurry up? Did I insult them?”
Apparently! Students complained, and the school responded with this statement:
UC San Diego officials were recently made aware of offensive and hurtful comments that a professor made in a chemistry class when video of the comments was posted to social media. At that time, the professor was engaged about his comments, and it was made clear to him that they do not reflect our community values of inclusivity and respect. The professor has since apologized to the students and will be doing so to others involved.
As a reminder to our community, and as was shared with media outlets who inquired, UC San Diego is committed to the highest standards of civility and decency toward all. We are committed to promoting and supporting a community where all people can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of abusive or demeaning treatment.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is, in the words of Legal Insurrection writer Mike LaChance…
“Does this strike anyone as a bit of an overreaction?”
Here is why I don’t think it is, though we would live in a healthier society if it were.
Ternansky’s reaction was, and I am understating here, idiotic. It is like telling Asian-American students to pipe down by shouting, “No tickee, no laun’ry!” Life competence requires paying attention, and Speedy Gonzalez has been a sore point of Hispanic-American sensitivities for decades now. Yes, yes, I know: he’s a cartoon mouse and intended as satire. Speedy was harmless (he was the protagonist of the cartoons), but the Chuck Jones character also hails from the period in American popular culture when gross stereotypes of Mexicans were comic staples, from Mel Blanc’s monosyllabic “Cy” the sleepy Mexican who answered every question with “Si!,” whose sister was “Sue” and who when challenged would reply, “So?”on “The Jack Benny Show” (Mel, of course, was also the voice of Speedy); Bill Dana’s “José Jiménez” ( “My name…José Jiménez”); and the Frito Bandito. I find it astounding that any adult in a responsible position today, especially in a university, could be so unaware of the cultural tides that he would shout quotes from “Speedy Gonzalez” cartoons at Hispanic students. Of course they found that kind of stereotyping demeaning, and coming from a teacher, the school had to address it.
No? Tell me why you think otherwise. It is a quiz, after all.