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Portland college says the video of the professor berating food service employee is 'painful to watch.'

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Reed College in Southeast Portland. Students at the private college are pressuring college administration to terminate a tenured professor who was filmed berating a food service employee and questioning the employee's immigration status.Reed College in Portland says it is investigating the behavior of one of its professors who was filmed berating a restaurant worker and questioning the employee's immigration status.

A video shared via social media app TikTok shows an exchange between a man in his vehicle and the employee of a fast food restaurant, in which the man mentions restaurant staff's "rude behavior" and "hiring illegal immigrants" then questions the employee's immigration status. The college didn't name the faculty member, but the driver in the video has been identified by students and other community members as Paul Currie, a psychology professor who's worked at the private Portland college since 2007. Currie's Reed College profile indicates he's been on sabbatical – extended leave that allows employees to step away without losing their position – since 2020.

"Are you born in the United States?" the driver asks.

"Yes" the employee responds.

"And was your rude colleague born in the United States?" the driver replies.

The short video clip also shows someone else talking to the driver from the passenger side window.

In a statement released last week by Reed College President Audrey Bilger and Kathy Oleson, dean of faculty and fellow psychology professor, the college leaders said they'd received public outreach and concern over "offensive and racist comments at a local business" made by a Reed faculty member. Bilger and Oleson expressed "support for the employees insulted in the video" and said the college has guidelines on addressing discriminatory speech.

"This matter has our full attention, both to ascertain the accuracy of the video, to engage a valued member of our community in conversation about what it appears to show, and to follow our guidelines for addressing discriminatory speech," the statement reads. "The college has developed practices and policies in order to support a diverse and inclusive community. We engage in this work collectively, and we hold the expectation that members of our community engage in this work in their daily lives."

On Monday, March 28, Oleson sent a follow-up letter to Reed students and staff, calling the video "painful to watch and in no way reflective of what we hope for our community."

Oleson said the college's Committee on Advancement and Tenure has been tasked with investigating the incident and deciding whether Currie should face suspension or "termination of academic tenure."

"Tomorrow, I will meet with CAT to determine whether an investigation of unprofessional conduct may be warranted," Oleson said, noting that the professor is on sabbatical and not teaching. She said she hopes the committee can make a determination before the fall semester.

The dean of faculty said Reed will support students who had been working directly with Currie, "to ensure they have a safe space to complete their studies."

Oleson said faculty from psychology and neuroscience will step in to support affected students and academic advisees who might be impacted by Currie's behavior.

In response to the incident, Reed College's Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapter released its own statement condemning the behavior depicted in the video, while calling for Currie's firing.

"Paul's actions uphold white supremacy and American chauvinism by insinuating that someone's immigration status determines their value as a worker and as a human being," the group's letter reads, calling the statement from Reed's administration "a weak response" that's too sympathetic to Currie and a "tacit assertion that all sides of the 'conversation' have neutral moral standing, which could not be further from the truth."

Oleson's letter on Monday promised the matter would be handled "as swiftly as possible."

The situation is the latest in a shifting culture around whether employers should intervene when an employee exhibits unsavory or racist behavior online or in public.

Last year, a Georgetown Law professor resigned and another was placed on administrative leave after a video recording surfaced, showing one of the professors referring to her Black students as lower performing.

Attorneys and employment experts say employers are within their rights to fire employees for their conduct outside of work.

A 2020 blog post by the Society for Human Resource Management notes, "employers usually may fire workers for posting racist content on social media, just as they can fire employees for making racist comments in the workplace."

Furthermore, Seattle-based Pivotal Law Group notes, "an employer has the right to terminate employees if they believe the employee exercised poor judgment, exposed themselves, and by proxy the company."

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