February 12, 2020

The University of Oklahoma president said recent comments by a journalism professor who compared the phrase “OK boomer” to a racial slur were “fundamentally offensive and wrong.”

“Today a professor stated in his senior journalism class that there is an equivalence between the offensiveness of ‘OK, Boomer’ and the use of the ‘N-word,’ using the actual word itself. While the professor’s comments are protected by the First Amendment and academic freedom, his comment and word choice are fundamentally offensive and wrong,” University of Oklahoma Interim President Joseph Harroz Jr., said in a statement Tuesday.

“The use of the most offensive word, by a person in a position of authority, hurt and minimized those in the classroom and beyond. Our University must serve as an example to our society of both freedom of expression and understanding and tolerance. His words today failed to meet this standard.”

Peter Gade, director of graduate studies for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication who has taught at the university since 1998, made the comment during a discussion about how technology and social media have changed journalism, according to the student newspaper OU Daily, which noted that “multiple” staffers were in the class. When one student said journalists should keep up with younger generations, Gade reportedly compared the remark to the “OK boomer” retort that has become popular on social media as a dismissive response to Baby Boomer condescension.

“Calling someone a boomer is like calling someone a n—–,” Gade said, according to the OU Daily.

Students on social media said they reported the incident to university leaders and some have said they won’t attend class while Gade is the professor, the OU Daily reported.

Gade did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment. But a reporter for the student-run OU Nightly broadcast news shared an apology email he says Gade sent to his class Tuesday night.

“I made an inexcusable mistake this morning in class with my choice of a word. I was wrong. I am sorry,” his email reportedly said. “I realize the word is hurtful and infuses the racial divisions of our country, past and present. Use of this word is inappropriate in any — especially educational — settings.”

The University of Oklahoma has faced scrutiny for other recent incidents of racism, including a video posted last year in which a student wore black face and used a racial slur. In 2015, two students and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members were expelled for leading a racist chant.

Since the New York Times first reported on the rise of “OK Boomer,” the phrase has appeared in New Zealand’s Parliament, where a 25-year-old member used it in response to an older colleague heckling her about climate change, and in the U.S. Supreme Court, where Chief Justice John Roberts asked last month if the phrase was ageist.

Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com.

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