Sunday, June 16, 2024

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.




  1. While I tend to agree with the side that is presented (i.e. her comments are shameful, she should keep politics out of her courses, etc.), ethical journalism requires both sides of a story. Did you reach out to the professor for comment?

    • Why bother? Her facebook statement is clear and unambiguous. It’s not in dispute that she made it. There isn’t another side to this story.

      • Kathy Dettwyler is the typical entitled lefty nutjob that thinks can get away with hateful attacks on anyone that disagrees with her ideology. she got “exactly what she deserves” …

    • Emma: Ethical journalism most certainly does *not* require both sides to speak congruently within an article. The only ethical codes that apply to journalism are that be 1.) accurate, 2.) fair, and 3.) thorough. This article certainly meets those standards on all three articles with ease. Dettwyler’s commentary and actions are what they are, no more, and no less, and are reported factually. There is absolutely nothing unethical about the journalism in this case.

    • The article indicates, or at least hints, that the authors communicated with the professor. “Dettwyler stated in an email message to The Review…”

  2. Perhaps Nicolas Diclaudio should spend a bit of time learning how to speak and write English properly before she makes remarks that will appear in the public press. To quote, “Me and some of my friends would stop going to class and just read the textbook because her lectures got out of hand.” If this is the English standard for someone taking first and second year Anthropology courses at a university, i wonder how low educational standards have fallen… Given the fact that this incident is being reported by Breitbart, and Fox news, I am not at all convinced that they picked a good or reliable student to interview…

    • Oops, “he”, not “she”. The professor in question should have been more professional, and not made her private opinions public, either in the classroom, or about the death of a student, especially when a family is grieving. This professor is not a good role model for students. The family deserves a full apology, and there should certainly be some sort of chastisement for the offender.

      • The sole problem with his sentence was that “me” should have been “I”. Then, as if to make your own comment more hilarious, you used the wrong word as well. I guess we should disregard everything you said, as obviously, after making that mistake, you have nothing worthwhile to contribute. Or is this one of those cases where you should be held to a different standard than the people you criticise?

        Also, I, when used as a pronoun, should always be capitilised. It should have been “I wonder”, not “i wonder”. Wow nancy, maybe you should spend a bit of time learning how to speak and write English properly.

      • Oh the irony in the rush to judgement. Do you realize that your “offense” of “gender mis-identification” is now punishable in Canada? That is the world we are finding ourselves in at present.
        You missed the more important part of this incident: the fact that this “professor” actually posed her poilitically biased beliefs as questions on a gradable test! That is way beyond her pay grade and her cloaking of it as being part of her job, oops, former job.

      • Oh the irony in the rush to judgement. Do you realize that your “offense” of “gender mis-identification” is now punishable in Canada? That is the world we are finding ourselves in at present.
        You missed the more important part of this incident. It is the fact that this “professor” actually posed her politically biased beliefs as questions on a gradable test! That is way beyond her pay grade and her cloaking of it as being part of her job, oops, former job.

      • Nancy, you caught one of your errors, but you also forgot to capitalize “I.” You misuse ellipses and erroneously place a space after them. You incorrectly have a comma after Breitbart. The first part of your second comment is a sentence fragment, and misuses quotation marks. In American English, commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks. There should also be no comma after classroom.

      • I do not believe she said anything untrue. Now what she said hurts, it is very very hurtful, but nonetheless it is the truth.

    • Don’t pick on the student, Nancy, it is unbecoming. This racist, hateful “professor” belongs in a zoo, among the hyenas. Shame on her and on her racist supporters.

      Best wishes to the Warmbier family – nobody should go through what they are going through.

      • Right, because what idiot doesn’t know in 2015 that North Korea is a terrible place to be for everyone involved. Anyone ignorant enough to go to North Korea maybe doesn’t deserve what they get, but fully invites it simply by being there. I’d go so far as to say that by traveling there as an White American one would be voicing some desire for a death wish, and shouldn’t be surprised when it happens.

    • In addition to beginning a sentence with the vacuous and annoying phrase, “Given the fact that,” you have managed to pack your passive-voice critique with adverbs, dummy subjects, and sentence fragments.

    • Texting has hurt good english. However the point the student made is more important than your concerns over how it was conveyed.

    • Of course there is! There is clearly no problem treating animals well but there is most certainly a problem with how NK treats their people. It is horrible that there are people treated so badly that animals recieve better treatment!

  3. I would certainly expect an anthrology professor would have some background in human development Professor Dettwyler? It is widely accepted among your peers that the human brain is not fully “wired” for truly rationale thinking until at least the mid twenties-and many of us would argue later…let alone your unforgiving disregard for a significant number of developmental variables in which a person’s unique inborn temperament, testosterone levels and tendency toward risky behavior (digit finger ratio, etc.) that we find in peer-reviewed literature and NOT your elementary/very narrow, spoiled kid “affluenza” argument in which you have alluded to in your biased and outrageous FB comments (and “affluenza” is not recognized as a valid disorder– with an extreme paucity of studies and references to unique developmental problems of those brought up in privileged families, as recent studies “suggest that most affluent parents do not indiscriminately bail their children out of all problem situations (although a small subset, apparently, do)” (Luthar & Barkin, 2012). The fact remains that if Otto Warmbier did pull a poster off of the wall, a grainy video does NOT prove anything other than additional evidence that North Korea is a barbaric regime for sentencing him to 15 years of hard labor in some kangaroo court, and nobody should die for this supposed “crime”, let alone a young man only a few years away from his minor/teenage years –and that is what the real “lesson” is here and not your apparent emphasis on jaded “rich kid “bias. I send my condolences to Mr. Warmbier’s family and loved ones, and also do feel sympathy for the impressionable young minds (you have likely poisoned some of them) and very good to hear that you “got what you deserved” even though I never did take one of your classes–although I did have a political science teacher that literally ranted for about 40 out of 50 class minutes in every class of his I attended during that semester against a particular past president ad nauseam ,and needless to say I never learned a thing about political science in his class, as well as a Master’s level nursing instructor who stated very loudly on more than one occasion “that spinsters were the ABSOLUTE WORST patients you can have, rant rant rant rant rant rant…”. Mind you, at the time in the mid-2000s I was an unmarried forty-something “spinster”. BTW, both of these previously-mentioned professors were NOT professors at the UD. Again, my deepest condolences to the Warmbier family and their loved ones.

    • I needed to read that post , Brenda

      I had volumes to say about that professor… paradigm comment ….and then I was going to go into descriptions of her face for kind of entertainment….immature me at 64……

      But thanks to Some fine Lady poster nam ed Brenda I don’t have to……you nailed with no expounsion needed, am I right everybody??!

    • LOL, Brenda I absolutely love what you had to say. This young man did not have to die, or be sentenced to 15 years for taking a poster. Young Black children in america should not be killed during routine traffic stops either but it happens. Who is to say we are not as barbaric as the North Koreans. I wonder if everyone here is just as pissed when a cop is acquitted for killing a young black American kid. Is the US as Barbaric as North Korea? 34 percent of the unarmed people killed in 2016 were black males, which is quite disproportionate since black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. U.S. police killed at least 258 black people in 2016, according to a project by The Guardian that tracks police killings in America. Thirty-nine of these people were unarmed. Is this Barbaric? is this savagely cruel? Is this exceedingly brutal? I Do not like North Korea, but this young man knew exactly where he was, and I am sure he had understanding of what could happen. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones. As a white American male in the US, I wonder if we can really call anyone barbaric, when people in the land of the free are being gunned down by cops with not no justice in these Kangaroo courts. We Americans are so quick to judge other countries, but are always failing to lead by example. That is classic white privilege, and it may work in the US, but understand that in North Korea whether you are Black Blue or White you are an American and you will be punished.

      • Keo, the difference between the US and NK (in which I still do maintain is a barbaric regime) is that we are a democratic society under the Constitution of the US – the law of the land. If you are putting the US on the level of NK and other similar regimes then this conversation is at best moot and more likely pointless.

      • ***Disclaimer, this post will contain grammatical and speeling errors. English teachers beware :). Keo, are you saying that and individual being shot (armed or unarmed) is the same as torture? An unarmed man being shot is not okay to me but it pales in comparison to torture. If you truly believe the U.S. is a barbaric place, I feel very sorry for your limited view ( this is not meant as a personal attack, I really am sorry that all you can see is the bad). I hope you get to experience the “good” of America someday. Blessing and Peace to you my friend.

  4. “Dettwyler’s comments represent a type of political extremism previously foreign to Delaware politics…” What absolute nonsense. UD had a famous incident about ten years ago where residence halls were turned into some weird Stasi “narc on your neighbor” thoughtcrime scene. It managed to fly below the radar at the time because social media wasn’t as prevalent and Internet pitchfork mobs weren’t yet a thing. But it proves UD knows how to be as radically ridiculous as any school out there, when it wants to be.

    • firing her is not enough. They need to get all the young minds she poisoned in a room to be deprogrammed. Maybe take a leaf out of NOKO’s book and try a “Re-Education Through Labor” camp. For shame, UD.

  5. I question the video that they claimed to be Otto. The picture is very grainy and could be anybody. Some say the trial was a sham. I see no credible evidence besides what many consider a forced confession which was probably made out of fear.

  6. Dettwyler´s comments regarding Mr. Warmbier´s race and gender were hateful and shameful. It is surprising that such a person is allowed to teach at an University in the US. Kathy Detwyler is the professor of racism, sexism, hate and ignorance. Good to know she was fired.

  7. sounds like a liberal nut, but then again so do the commenters here.

    regardless, the lady does have a point. this boy was looking for trouble and he found it.

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

    Seriously? The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America grants due process. When one is accused, one has a right to due process.

    A full-time professor standing accused of wrongdoing would have the support of his college/university and the faculty union.

    Where was the faculty union in the case of Professor Dettwyler?

      • @Gwolf Make sure you put the hyphen in “at will [sic].” “At-will” is a compound adjective.

        It’s a shame the tenured faculty have the right of free speech and the majority of faculty who teach in this country don’t. We know full-time faculty commit ethical misdeeds all the time (conflicts of interest with management, colluding with textbook companies, sexual relationships with students, etc.), but thanks to the unions’ only supporting tenured faculty, they get a free pass.

        I am not saying Professor Dettwyler exercised prudence in her remarks nor agreeing with the manner in which she made them, I am stating a full-time professor would have had due process thanks to the labor union, and had Dettwyler been tenured, she would have had “counseling,” issued an apology (or even one tendered for her by her union and its attorneys) and given a slap on the wrist. She most certainly would not have lost her job.

        That is the truth in the two-tier system of adjunct abuse in higher education.

        • “An adjunct professor”–based on your argument wouldn’t it make sense not to grant such full-time, tenure-track/iron-clad job security to new faculty if (according to your post) there are many abuses of this tenure-track system? An adjunct instructor ifposition is a very necessary proving ground if one wants to earn tenure in academia–and in just about every job out there outside of academia, one has to prove himself/herself to achieve desired formal or informal rank/status to earn such privileges, including job security. Sorry but I will not cry tears for Professor Dettwyler as I don’t think adjuncts deserve the job security of tenure, and as I understand she has a pension from a position she retired from–nor will I cry any tears for adjuncts
          who are terminated without due process(nor any tenure-track professors that abuse their power).

          • typo – should read “An adjunct instructor position”, not “An adjunct instructor ifposition”,

          • I actually agree with Everything you have said, up until this point. And honestly? As usual, this is a thread that should have been simple, kept to One particular subject (the subject of NKs actions and its effect on an individual and his family and country). But it as so many things do, became a broader conversation. And my disagreement is, that yes, many people are protected, whether it be by race, sex, Union, or otherwise. And there are quite a few who do not deserve to be, even when the “union” says they have enough time in. And it does not bother me to say, I am an intelligent, 47 year old white male, who makes 65k a year, saying that.

          • Precisely! You are quite correct in questioning the iron-clad security of the tenured ranks which assures job security in the face of wrongdoing. You are, however, incorrect in assuming that serving in the adjunct pool is a “proving ground’ in higher education. The wholesale abuse of adjunct faculty (and teaching assistants and grad students, as well) is simply a means of teaching as many students as possible while paying out the least amount in wages. Simply Google those categories and you will see the amount of disaffection over the abuses in college and universities; up to 75% of all college classes taught are taught by adjuncts. For more information, please read, “Academic Apartheid.” It’s an eye-opening look at the hidden abuse of adjunct faculty. The term “academic apartheid” was coined by Dr. Robert Fuller, a former president of Oberlin College and social reformer. Dr. Fuller is interested in human dignity, including dignity in the workplace. Also, if Professor Dettwyler is indeed a retired professor drawing a retirement and now adjuncting for pocket change, it’s no small wonder that she spoke out with such candor. Nonetheless, due process should be everyone’s right.

        • No “Adjunct Professor”, the shame is that tenured professors have rights that the average Delawarean does not have. Most workers in this state can be fired without cause, no due process whatsoever. Futhermore, if things like counseling and apologies are acceptable for the ivory tower, why not everyone, political candidates of either party, police officers, Joe Twelvepack, etc.? If it’s okay for some people to be a-holes and get away with it, we all should be able to. Or not.

    • The “Due process” only applies to criminal cases not employment law. Delaware is an ‘at will’ state; she could’ve been fired for any reason at any time. And the union is nothing more than your typical thug group. They should be driven off campus so some sanity can make its way back in.

  9. I am deeply impressed with this University for taking action in this situation. This professor demonstrates an astonishing lack of critical thinking. How in the heck does anyone know, except for Otto, what happened in North Korea? I am an attorney, and am very thankful that in real life, we are not tried and convicted based on the media’s take on accusations and a grainy video presented by a dictatorship government. Does anyone honestly think that there is authenticated evidence that Otto actually did this? Has anyone listened to his roommate in N. Korea, a business man in his 40’s, who says that he doesn’t believe that Otto even did what the N. Korea government claimed he did? I am unconvinced that Otto took a poster. Yet, if verified evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt, otherwise, then his sentencing was cruel and disconnected from his act. Katherine Dettwyler, I would never allow someone who has demonstrated such shallow thinking, low-level intellectual thought, as you have demonstrated, to remain on a jury if it were my case. In fact, you frighten me, Katherine Dettwyler with your inability to think. The students in your course should get a refund. Sadly, I think that you mean well, but you need some help. You obviously a bias which has overtaken your ability to process information accurately. Because you have an agenda against certain students, you have decided to heap negative traits on this young man that he did not possess, and then you try to poison the minds of other students who are your captive audience cause they are stuck in a class with you. You know nothing about Otto Warmbier, you know nothing about what really happened.

    • Bravo BRAVO Lee. Also, I wonder where is the poster now? Was there any mention of security confiscating it from Otto’s luggage and where is that evidence? We just do not know much about this tragedy at all. RIP Otto.

    • Great points. And what does this have to do with Delaware or Anthropology anyway. Experts should stick to commenting on their fields.

  10. There are two reasons that Katherine Dettwyler’s firing was richly deserved, beyond the legal basis wherein she was an at-large employee without tenure (not unlike Joy Karega or Joel Kovel, if campus analogies are sought) and therefore fully eligible to be sacked based on how sickening and idiotic her statements regarding Otto Warmbier were:
    1. She gave North Korea credit and praise for being an inhuman regime that beat a civilian to death, not to mention thinking 15 years in prison for TEARING DOWN A POSTER is a legitimate criminal law sentence.
    2. She was fine with a Caucasian person being persecuted and would never have been OK with any non-white person being treated this way (nor should anyone, but she made a race a point of this discussion, and it highlighted her hypocrisy and why she completely earned her pink slip from UD).

  11. Mrs Kathy Dettwyler, as a studied anthropologist, with knowledge about human sociology (ab)used the case of Otto Warmbier, for her own sociologic intentions to influence the society her way, concerning the social role of “to confident young white males”, who believe all in life is waiting for themselves, to be used and taken for granted. She thus suspected to recognize this kind of pattern in Otto Warmbier, yet Otto Warmbier was according to trustworthy records, a very socially caring and responsible young man, towards his neighbours and people around him, yet maybe of course not totally void of youthful recklessness, as none of us were.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Check out our other content

Check out other tags:

Most Popular Articles