Controversial Commerce School Prof Resigns Mid-Semester

Jeffrey Leopold

Jeffrey Leopold, a McIntire School of Commerce assistant professor who was subjected to a Twitter firestorm two-and-a-half years ago, has resigned from his post mid-semester. No explanation has been given.

The Jefferson Council was first alerted to Leopold’s departure last week by the parent of a student in one of his classes. University of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy confirmed that Leopold resigned Friday.

Coy said he could not comment on the nature of the professor’s decision to resign other than to say that it was “in no way related” to the 2020 controversy stirred by his telling of a joke in class that was widely portrayed as a racial insult.

Leopold used the joke to illustrate stereotypes held of peoples around the world. It went like this:

The United Nations conducted a survey worldwide. The only question asked was: “Would you please give us your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?” The survey was a complete failure…

In Africa they did not know what “food” meant.

In China they did not know what “honest” meant.

In Europe they did not know what “shortage” meant.

In Russia they did not know what “opinion” meant.

In the Middle East they did not know what “solution” meant.

In South America they did not know what “please” meant.

And in the USA they did not know what “the rest of the world” meant.

Outrage at the reference to Africans went viral. Student Council passed a resolution for a crackdown on professors using racially offensive language. But more than 1,200 students, former students and others signed a petition backing Leopold, and the controversy eventually settled down without any public reprimand or punishment. (See the Jefferson Council’s coverage of the controversy here.)

Leopold’s resignation does not appear to have been triggered by any new public protest. But it is highly unusual for a professor to leave mid-semester. It leaves Commerce school officials scrambling to find a substitute and creates teaching-continuity issues for students.

It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Leopold and the McIntire School parted on good terms. While his decision may not be tied to the Africans-don’t-know-what-food-is controversy, the Jefferson Council is concerned that it might have stemmed from some other affront to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion sensibilities. We have no evidence that such was the case, but we would like to rule out the possibility.

If anyone has knowledge of the reasons for Leopold’s untimely resignation, please contact Jim Bacon at [email protected]

— JAB

Update: One of Leopold’s students sent the following information:

What I find weird about the whole situation is that Leopold had … told us that he had gotten the opportunity to teach semester at sea next year and had requested a year of unpaid leave. The McIntire school denied this request, and so Leopold decided to stop teaching at UVA after this semester so that he could pursue that opportunity. 

I find it extremely hard to believe that he would have resigned mid-semester with only three weeks left. In class last Wednesday he was discussing assignments that we had due the following week and it seemed as though he had every intent on being in class the following week. Later that day, students in his Thursday class got an email from the [associate] dean of students saying his class on Thursday was canceled. Then, on Friday, we got an email from the dean saying that he would no longer be teaching the class and we would be getting a new professor.

Update: Here is what Associate Dean Danny Steeper told Leopold’s students:

Dear COMM 3200 Students,

My name is Danny Steeper and I serve as the Associate Dean of Student Services at McIntire. We wanted to reach out with an update on Professor Leopold and plans for the remainder of your COMM 3200 course.

Professor Leopold is on temporary leave and another McIntire faculty member will cover the remaining sessions of your Project Management course this semester. Please know that all of your academic progress (i.e. grades and assignments) to date in the course has been documented and shared with us and we plan to continue with the course plan as set forth in the syllabus. We are working on specific arrangements now and will share more details as soon as we have them.

Have a good weekend and take care.

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John Hunt, MD
John Hunt, MD
10 months ago

UVA doesn’t need safe spaces. It sounds like the whole place is a giant safe space. Perhaps the food shortages could be alleviated if we recognized that those who complained about that joke are themselves a waste of food.