A Tulane University Police Department administrator shocked colleagues Sunday when he referred to an African-American lieutenant on the force as a “gorilla” in front of visiting accreditation officials, according to a witness.

Joseph Goodrow, who is white and serves as the professional standards manager for Tulane’s police force, told the visitors, “I’d like to introduce you to my gorilla,” referring to a black officer who has served on the force for more than a decade, according to the source, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.

The term is an age-old racial slur for African-Americans, with echoes of long-debunked evolutionary theories about white superiority. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have been depicted as apes and subjected to similar racist remarks.

The comment happened during a tour of accreditation commissioners, which was led by Tulane Police Superintendent Jon Barnwell and Tulane Chief of Police Richard Potts, who also are white. Tulane is trying to become the only campus police force in the state to meet the standards of the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Reached by phone in his office on Wednesday, Goodrow would not confirm or deny the statement. He said the incident is “under investigation” and referred all questions to a university spokesman.

Michael Strecker, head of public relations for Tulane, emailed a short statement saying it is university policy not to comment on personnel matters.

“Tulane University is an equal-opportunity employer and takes allegations of workplace discrimination seriously,” Strecker wrote. “We are thoroughly investigating this matter.”

The Tulane force is 50 percent black, he said.

Racism scholar Noel Cazenave, who received his doctorate from Tulane and is now a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, said university investigators should look into whether this is more than just an isolated incident.

“It looks like one of the systems that needs to change is Tulane, because a high-level police official at a university thinks it’s appropriate to refer to his colleague this way,” he said.