An Ontario university says it has suspended a professor who, students allege, insulted one of their classmates who suffers from severe anxiety.
University of Guelph students who witnessed the exchange on Monday say the professor chastised the student for disrupting the class, asking whether he was registered for the course and saying he needed to be controlled.
Charlotte Yates, provost and vice-president at the school, said in a statement that the professor had been put on leave.
Yates declined to name the professor, but multiple students who were present during the incident identified the professor as Edward Hedican, who was substituting for the regular instructor of the first-year anthropology class.
"At one point the student ... was just commenting on one of the topics the professor was talking about and opposed (Hedican's) idea," said Alyssa Campbell, a student in the class.
Hedican was "upset" at being challenged by the student, and later singled the student out in front of the class for playing with a piece of gum, Campbell said.
"(Hedican) said, 'Can you please stop that? It's distracting me,' and the student said that it was his way of dealing with anxiety," Campbell added.
The student was accompanied to class by his personal educational assistant, witnesses said.
"The professor said to (the educational assistant), 'Are you his handler? Can you control him?'" Campbell said.
Hedican also asked the student if he was even registered in the class, Campbell added.
Hedican declined to comment on the specifics of the incident.
"My union has cautioned me not to make any statement to the press at this time," he told The Canadian Press.
"There's two sides to every story," Hedican added. "There was no physical contact here, there's no sexual interaction, there's a verbal altercation that happened in class. And I'll just leave it at that."
A video posted to Twitter appears to show a student standing up during the class and confronting Hedican about what he said.
Campbell and several other students — over half the class by Campbell's estimate — walked out of the class after that.
"This generation is trying to so hard to be open about mental health and to be accepting about mental health because it hasn't been that way in past generations," Campbell said. "And to see someone be so dismissive of somebody's coping mechanism is so upsetting and I think that's how everyone felt. It's not right and that's something we don't really stand for."
The University of Guelph committed to addressing mental health last academic year, after a string of at least four student suicides prompted widespread demands for improved access and quality of mental health care on campus.