By Colleen Jenkins
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) - A Duke University professor under fire for online comments comparing African-Americans to Asians stood by his statement on Monday and said more honest debate is needed to achieve full racial integration in the United States.
Responding to a New York Times editorial about how racism had "doomed" the African-American community in Baltimore long before recent riots, political science professor Jerry Hough argued that Asians "didn’t feel sorry for themselves but worked doubly hard" to overcome similar discrimination they had faced.
"Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration," he wrote after the May 9 editorial. "Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration."
Criticism of his remarks was swift, with another Duke professor comparing them to "micro-nooses" and university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld quoted as calling them "noxious" and "offensive" in local media reports.
Hough, who has taught at Duke for 40 years and was on academic leave while making his recent comments on the Times' website, said he had not expected to spark such debate, but appeared to welcome it.
He said he was a "disciple" of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and was disappointed by what he deemed a lack of progress for African Americans achieved in the decades since.
"On the racism charge, it is just a way to try to end debate through intimidation," he said in an email to Reuters. "Asians and Poles were treated terribly, and they on the average have advanced much further than blacks. There must be a reason."
Schoenfeld said Hough's status as a professor would not change in light of the controversy, noting that faculty members have a right to speak out on issues without facing discipline.
However, Schoenfeld said, "Duke University has a deeply-held commitment to inclusiveness grounded in respect for all, and we encourage our community to speak out when they feel that those ideals are challenged or undermined."
Concerns about racial sensitivity also flared at Duke last month, when a student admitted to hanging a noose in a tree on its campus in Durham, North Carolina. The student apologized and will be eligible to return to the school in the fall.
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Eric Walsh)