A professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario has been placed on leave after students alleged a lecturer was "extremely demeaning" to a student with special needs during a class.
Some students walked out of an anthropology class on Monday night to protest the behaviour of Edward Hedican. The lecturer, an author and professor at the school's College of Social and Applied Human Sciences, was filling in as a substitute.
Kiernyn Campbell, a 20-year-old, first-year student at the university, told HuffPost Canada that the incident began when the student challenged the professor on one of the lecture's topics.
The professor "claimed that the student was being disruptive and asked if the student carries on like that in his other lectures," Campbell said.
"The student was defending himself stating that he has a severe anxiety disorder and in no way meant to be offensive or disruptive."
Alyssa Campbell (no relation to Kiernyn), a second-year student who was also at the lecture, told HuffPost that the professor had "no patience" for her classmate with anxiety.
Hedican "essentially told him that his opinion was not welcome and that he did not want to have his ideas 'challenged,'" she said.
The two students and other classmates on social media claim the professor referred to the student's educational assistant as his "handler" and noted that he "needs to be controlled."
Prof. 'belittled' student: classmate
Campbell said Hedican later asked the student about his "abilities to be in the classroom" and why he was fiddling with gum. The student, she noted, explained that this was his way to cope with his anxiety.
The lecturer reportedly said the gum was "distracting."
"He asked the student if he was even enrolled in this course and when his learning assistant tried to intervene the professor kept interrupting," she said.
"The professor used his position of power not only to belittle a student, but to also repeatedly talk over the learning assistant."
I find this situation troubling.Charlotte Yates, University of Guelph
Hedican told HuffPost in an email he has been advised not to comment on the issue.
The school has opened an investigation into the matter, but did not confirm that the professor placed on leave is Hedican.
"This morning, I learned about an incident involving a professor making inappropriate comments to a student and an educational assistant during a night class Jan. 15," the school's provost and vice-president Charlotte Yates said in a statement sent to HuffPost Canada.
"I find this situation troubling."
Yates said this was an "isolated incident" and added that she appreciates the "care and concern demonstrated by students" who reached out to her and to the administration.
After the student and his assistant left the room, the professor told the class he liked to single out "disruptive people" as a lesson to others, she said.
Kiernyn and others started packing up their bags at this point, leading the professor to ask if the class was over.
At this point, a student named Courtney Orser stood up and said "it is for me," Kiernyn said. Footage of her speaking out against the professor was shared on Twitter:
"I don't like to stay in classes where people who pay just as much tuition as I do, get treated like that and words like 'handler' and 'can you make him stop' are said to someone who clearly is not as typically developing..." Orser said, as her voice was drowned out by raucous applause.
Campbell said the lecture "emptied in minutes" after Orser's comments to the professor.
The professor said "thanks for the support" after Orser's remarks, according to Alyssa.
Regan Devlin, a third-year student who was also in the class, told HuffPost the professor then packed up his belongings and left. Teaching assistants took over the lecture and put on a video that was scheduled to be played.
She said the course's regular lecturer, Thomas McIlwraith, was reaching out to "all parties that were involved."
Other students took to Facebook after the lecture to complain about Hedican's "extremely demeaning" behaviour.
On RateMyProfessors.com, a site used by students to share comments about instructors and lecturers at their schools, recent reviews for Hedican are anything but flattering. One user referred to him as "extremely rude and disrespectful."
With the professor now on leave, Campbell said she wants to make sure that something like this never happens again.
"I hope that student knows he is completely supported by all of his classmates and we are doing everything we can to ensure no student is put in that situation again," Campbell said.