We have yet another academic fired this week for statements made on social media. University of Delaware professor Kathy Dettwyler attracted national criticism over her statement that Otto Warmbier “deserved” to die after being arrested in North Korea. The professor of anthropology will now be denied rehire as an adjunct.
Dettwyler went on her Facebook page and said
“These are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade… His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted. Maybe in the US, where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea. And of course, it’s Ottos’ parents who will pay the price for the rest of their lives.”
Dettwyler extended the controversy to her own students by saying “typical of a mindset of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males who come into my classes.”
She asked “Is it wrong of me to think that Otto Warmbier got exactly what he deserved?”
Apparently the University of Delaware believes that the answer is clearly yes.
The school learned that Dettwyler made similar statements as a comment to an article published by the National Review.
The school issued a statement that
“The University of Delaware values respect and civility and we are committed to global education and study abroad; therefore we find these comments particularly distressing and inconsistent with our values. Our sympathies are with the Warmbier family.”
We have discussed similar cases this week (here and here). Dettwyler was clearly expressing her personal views and was not speaking as part of the university. Again, the university does not say where it draws the line for professors who want to participate in public debates. That leave an uncertain and chilling standard for academics to discuss contemporary political, religious, or social issues.
After the controversy, one student came forward to reveal the Dettwyler once asked on a test whether it was true that President Donald Trump and his supporters “have expressed… a variety of cultural beliefs that are diametrically opposed” to the morals of the U.S. The only answer option was “True.” Dettwyler insisted that no students were penalized for not answering the question.
In an interview with UD Review, Dettwyler defended her test question, saying she never penalized a student for not answering it.
The fact that Dettwyler is an adjunct clearly made it easier for the school. Adjuncts are generally employed year to year or even term to term. They are the ultimate at-will employees. The school can simply say that the entirety of a record is reviewed in hiring or re-hiring. However, it is still incumbent on the school to define its standards and address the free speech and academic freedom concerns raised by such actions.
Dettwylerhas a B.S. in Anthropology from the University of California, Davis and an M.A. and PhD in Anthropology from the Indiana University, Bloomington. She previously taught at the University of Southern Mississippi and Texas A&M.