Professor on paid leave after video showed him berating student

Professor who criticised hard-of-hearing student for not answering question is put on paid leave

‘We denounce discriminatory harassment of any kind,’ says Oxnard College president Luiz Sanchez

James Crump@thejamescrump
Wednesday 24 February 2021 18:34
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A community college professor in California has been put on paid administrative leave, while the institution investigates a widely shared video of him speaking critically to a hard-of-hearing student.

On Thursday evening, a video of Oxnard College professor Michael Abram criticising a student during a physiology class on Zoom was uploaded onto TikTok in three parts.

At the beginning of the two-minute video it is unclear whether Mr Abram is aware that the student has a translator to help her in class.

However, he then asks the student, who self-identifies as hard-of-hearing, why she has not been answering him, asking her: “You can hear me a little bit?” and adding: “Why didn’t you answer all the times I spoke to you then?”

As the professor talks over her the woman says “I’m hard-of-hearing” but Mr Abram replies: “Why don’t we talk sometime? Why don’t you email me? We’ll set up a live Zoom and we’re going to have some real communication at some point in time.”

He then adds: “Maybe you can have your counsellor join us, OK? Do you hear me? OK, wonderful, do that.”

Another female student tries to explain that the student will have a delay answering questions as she will wait until they are translated for her.

Mr Abram angrily responds: “She’s not paying attention, she’s not trying,” while the other female student says: “It’s slower on her end because she needs to get it translated and then it goes to her hearing piece.”

The professor then tells the student who is hard-of-hearing: “You’ve got too much distraction to even understand what is going on,” as she replies: “Yes, I do because my translator is next to me explaining me everything that you’re saying.”

After Mr Abram repeatedly asks the student to have her counsellor speak to him, she agrees but says that it feels like he is “attacking” her.

“I’m not attacking you, I’m not attacking you,” the professor says, adding: “I’m just significantly disappointed in you. That’s all, that’s all it is. I’m not attacking you.”

The video was recorded by Sarah Sand, one of the students in the Zoom class, and she told CNN that it was then posted to TikTok by a family friend.

Ms Sand said that she recorded the video to show administrators the professor’s behaviour, which she claimed other students had noticed during Mr Abram’s lessons this year.

In a statement on Oxnard College’s official Twitter page just a day after the video was uploaded to TikTok, the school’s president Luiz Sanchez confirmed that Mr Abram had been put on administrative leave while they investigate the footage.

“I am saddened and outraged beyond words that any of our students should either be or feel disrespected by any of our employees,” Mr Sanchez wrote.

“Oxnard College is wholeheartedly committed to treating all of our students with the utmost respect. We denounce discriminatory harassment of any kind,” he added.

The investigation could take up to 90 days to complete, and administrators confirmed during a press briefing on Monday that they are reaching out to the students in the class for help.

The National Association of the Deaf CEO Howard A Rosenblum released a statement following the announcement of the investigation, criticising the professor and explaining that the support hard-of-hearing students need varies between each person.

“The use of interpreters or captioning usually results in additional time for the deaf or hard of hearing student to receive all the information and then be able to respond,” Mr Rosenblum said.

He added: “Professors must therefore be patient and accommodate this additional time, instead of berating such students.”

The Independent has reached out to Oxnard College and Mr Abram for comment.

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