News & Politics

Professor Gets Cut After 30 Years for Singing Pharrell Williams Song

An adjunct professor at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) appears to have lost his job of 30-plus years after students reported him to the administration after he sung a Pharrell Williams song in class.

Eric Triffin has since 1986 served as an adjunct at SCSU, where he’s taught dozens of public health classes to thousands of students without complaint. The campus newspaper called him an “Unsung Hero” in 2015, and students call  him “kind hearted” and “lively.”

He’s known for his upbeat personality, and usually begins class by asking a student to pick and play a song. Oftentimes, Triffin sings along. This hadn’t been a problem for years, until one student picked “Best Friend” by Pharrell Williams this past February.

But that song features a line noting “I’m a happy n—–,” and Triffin, as usual, sung along. Immediately, a student called him out for using a racial slur. By the next day, the Black Student Union released a video demanding “nonviolent action and mediation.”

“Students of color should not be subjected to faculty and staff using racial slurs,” said Black Student Union president Eric Clinton in the video. “To the administration, please do not excuse the actions taken by professor Eric Triffin.”

The incident picked up so much steam that the school’s president, Joe Bertolino, emailed the entire campus to announce the school was “investigating the matter fully and will take appropriate action as a result of the findings.”

SCSU immediately placed Triffin on suspension. He continues to be barred from class.

SCSU has since declined to comment, but a review of the school’s course offerings for Fall 2018 show no mention of Triffin. All nine sections of PCH 201: Wellness — the course Triffin has taught for nearly 30 years — have been assigned to other professors.

Triffin, who only adjuncts at SCSU, appears to be without a job next Fall.

PJ Media reached out to department head Jean Breny, but she declined to comment, saying she’s not at liberty to discuss personnel matters. An SCSU spokesman claimed an investigation is still ongoing, but that Triffin is receiving paid leave, nearly four months after the initial incident occurred.

In an interview with PJ Media, Triffin expressed confusion at what happened. The Pharrell Williams song he sung along to seemed “positive and celebratory,” and Triffin said he otherwise would “never use that word myself, much less abusively.”

Further — as the father of a biracial child — Triffin said in February he is acutely aware of racism, and that he had “no ill intent towards anyone.”

“I just thought it was a positive song and that the connotation … was celebratory,” said Triffin. “And I was just singing along … and in the moment thought of it relating to me and my biracial family.”

Despite having taught at SCSU for more than 30 years, Triffin is an adjunct, and has no long-term contract with the school. Due to his adjunct status, he has no due process rights while under investigation, which a school spokesman confirmed to PJ Media.

Though SCSU has assigned Triffin’s class to a different professor for the Fall semester, there still remains a possibility he may be reinstated for Spring.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen