University of Delaware prof fired, gets death threats over Warmbier, student remarks

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 The University of Delaware has severed ties with adjunct professor Katherine Dettwyler over her harsh remarks about Otto Warmbier and her students. (University of Delaware)

The University of Delaware has severed ties with adjunct professor Katherine Dettwyler over her harsh remarks about Otto Warmbier and her students. (University of Delaware)

Caustic comments by a University of Delaware adjunct professor last week about Otto Warmbier and how the late former North Korean captive reminds her of the “white, rich, clueless males” in her classes led the school first to condemn her remarks and then to fire her.

Katherine Dettwyler, whose resume says she has taught anthropology classes at UD since 2001, ignited the firestorm with a Facebook post on Wednesday.

“Is it wrong of me to think that Otto Warmbier got exactly what he deserved? He went to North Korea,” she wrote, punctuating her remark with an expletive.

Her post came two days after Warmbier died after being returned in a coma from North Korea, where he had been imprisoned since January 2016 for stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel. Warmbier, 22, was a University of Virginia student when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Dettwyler’s post had also criticized Warmbier for “crying” at his sentencing, writing that he “acted like a spoiled, naïve, arrogant US college student who had never had to face the consequences of his actions … What did you expect?”

The 62-year-old professor, who is white and known mostly for her writings on breastfeeding, wrote that Warmbier “is typical of the mindset” of students she has taught at UD who “cry about their grades” when they didn’t do their work or “bluster and threaten their female professors.” 

She also remarked that privileged white college students “routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea.”

Dettwyler has since either taken down her Facebook page or made it private. 

In response to a request from WHYY today for an interview, Dettwyler wrote that “because of all the death threats directed at me and members of my extended family, I have made the decision not to speak to anyone in the media.”

She added that she “could tell stories about student behavior at UD that would curl your toes, but I’ve learned my lesson – I got what I deserved and I’m taking it like a man [attempt at humor].”

The controversy involving Dettwyler almost instantly went viral, with social media blowing up over her remarks and news organizations across the country, including the Washington Post and New York Times, writing stories.

UD’s Facebook page was inundated with Dettwyler critics. “Dump this hateful professor of yours,” commented someone from Warmbier’s native Ohio.

On Twitter, the hashtag #fireKathyDettwyler was created.

Tweeted one UD alumnus: “I find this disgusting. As long as you employ and give her access to students, SHE DOES REPRESENT YOU!” 

Another person tweeted: “Why would you ever write such garbage? I hope she’s canned.”

Dettwyler attempted to soften the impact of her remarks in a comment on the National Review website, writing that she enjoys teaching “hard-working, sincere, n on-arrogant college students.”

But she also doubled down on her remarks about spoiled students, writing that they “think nothing of raping drunk girls at frat parties and snorting cocaine, cheating on exams and threatening professors with physical violence.”

As the controversy swirled, UD first commented Friday, in a news release posted on its web site.

Dettwyler’s remarks “do not reflect the values or position of the University of Delaware. We condemn any and all messages that endorse hatred and convey insensitivity toward a tragic event such as the one that Otto Warmbier and his family suffered,” the school wrote.

UD “values respect and civility and we are committed to global education and study abroad; therefore we find these comments particularly distressing and inconsistent with our values. Our sympathies are with the Warmbier family.”

By Sunday, with call to fire Dettwyler reaching a fever pitch on social and traditional media, UD announced that it was severing ties with her and clarifying her tenure there.

Dettwyler, the school noted, last taught in the spring semester, which ended last month. She is not teaching this summer, so her online comments about Warmbier and UD student behavior came “at a time when she was not employed by the university.”

The bottom line, the news release said, was that Dettwyler “will not be rehired to teach at the university in the future.”

UD spokesman Peter Bothum said today that university records show that Dettwyler started at UD in 2005 – not 2001 as listed in her resume.

UD denied WHYY’s request this morning to interview a top school official such as George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Anthropology Department.

“We won’t be able to provide any sources for your story,” Bothum said.

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