Thursday, August 11, 2022

UPDATED: Anthropology professor fired after saying “Otto Warmbier got what he deserved”

NewsUPDATED: Anthropology professor fired after saying "Otto Warmbier got what he deserved"

Campus Pictures-Spring
Photographer’s Morgan Brownell/THE REVIEW
Adjunct anthropology professor Katherine Dettwyler received widespread criticism on Friday for her online posts regarding the death of Otto Warmbier.



UPDATE: As of Sunday, June 25 at approximately 5 p.m., the university has announced that Kathy Dettwyler will not be rehired to teach classes at the school in upcoming semesters. Dettwyler was an adjunct faculty member in the school’s department of anthropology. Her firing comes after widespread national coverage on regarding her Wednesday morning Facebook post in which she said that “Otto Warmbier got what he deserved.”

Appearing in coverage by networks such as Breitbart and Fox News, Katherine Dettwyler, an adjunct professor of anthropology, received national publicity on Friday, although not for research or teaching awards. Rather, Dettwyler’s fame arose from a controversial Facebook post about Otto Warmbier — a University of Virginia student who recently died following a return from captivity in North Korea.

Dettwyler’s post, published to Facebook on Wednesday, accused Warmbier of acting like a “spoiled, naive, arrogant, US college student,” claiming that the student got “exactly what he deserved.”

Warmbier, who died at age 22, arrived to North Korea during a 2015 trip, with the North Korean government thereafter accusing the student of attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel. North Korea then sentenced Warmbier to 15 years of labor, but released him earlier this month after suffering severe neurological injury. The student died following his return to America.

“I see him crying at his sentencing hearing and think ‘What did you expect?,’” the post stated.

Dettwyler reportedly made similar remarks in the comments section of a National Review article, which, along with the Facebook post, have been deleted.

Being a part-time, or “adjunct” faculty member, Dettwyler is not subject to the same contract privileges and protections as tenure-track faculty.

As a professor at the university, Dettwyler has earned a reputation for incorporating her political beliefs into her teaching. According to junior Nicolas Diclaudio, who took Dettwyler’s ANTH 205 and ANTH 101 courses, the professor would routinely go on political tangents, oftentimes making derogatory remarks about President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Diclaudio said that Dettwyler’s classroom activity became seriously unacceptable when she began to include her political beliefs in academic assessments, asking questions with intentional ideological bias.

Courtesy of Nicolas Diclaudio
An exam question from Dettwyler’s ANTH101 class in the fall of 2016.


“I would always pick the answer that I knew she wanted because I didn’t want it to affect my grade,” Diclaudio said. “Me and some of my friends would stop going to class and just read the textbook because her lectures got out of hand.”

The Facebook post did not surprise Diclaudio, who referred to it as “The most Kathy thing I’ve ever seen.”

Dettwyler stated in an email message to The Review that “the question is clearly true,” and that her students had discussed the material in class. However, she also stated that students were not penalized if they chose not to answer, or bubbled in any other choice on the Scantron sheet.

“A couple of students complained about my comments in class about Trump, when what I did was talk about statements he himself had made, and lead the students through and analysis of the underlying cultural beliefs they reflected.” Dettwyler stated. “This is part of my job as an anthropology professor.”

The Student Government Association (SGA) addressed the matter in a statement released on its social media accounts, labeling Dettwyler’s comments as “assumptive and offensive,” and offering condolences to the Warmbier family on behalf of the student body.

According to Mike Harrington Sr., the Delaware Republican Party’s chairman, Dettwyler’s comments represent a type of political extremism previously foreign to Delaware politics, warranting admonishment from the university, if not firing.

“A professor of any college should stick to the profession of educating and stay out of politics,” Harrington said.

Chuck Boyce, a member of the Delaware Republican Party and a 2018 U.S. Senate candidate representing the state of Delaware, condemned Dettwyler’s comments in an email statement, echoing Harrington’s perspective on the role of educators.

“It’s shameful to use white privilege as an excuse to make such an insensitive comment, especially while his family is grieving,” Boyce stated. “We treat our animals better than how Otto was treated in prison, or how North Koreans are treated on a regular basis. While it’s important to protect free speech, our educators should strive to inspire students to make strides as humanitarians, not encourage race based divisiveness.”

The university released a statement concerning Dettwyler’s comments, stressing that the comments do not represent the values of the university community.

“The University of Delaware values respect and civility and we are committed to global education and study abroad,” the statement said. “Therefore we find these comments particularly distressing and inconsistent with our values. Our sympathies are with the Warmbier family.”

Michael T. Henretty Jr.contributed reporting.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Otto Warmbier died at the age of 21. He died at the age of 22. The article has been corrected.

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