The University of Delaware has cut ties with an adjunct professor who suggested that Otto Warmbier, the American student whose death last week after being imprisoned in North Korea drew worldwide attention, was a “clueless white male” who “got exactly what he deserved.”
Katherine Dettwyler, who taught in the anthropology department as recently as spring semester, “will not be rehired to teach at the University in the future,” the university said in a statement on Sunday. Her comments were posted at a time when she was not employed with the university and “in no way reflect the values or position of the University of Delaware,” the statement read.
Warmbier, a 22-year-old student from the University of Virginia, was traveling in North Korea when he was arrested in early 2016 for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel. After a sham trial, he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korean prison for “hostile acts” against the state. Video broadcast around the world of his public confession showed him crying and pleading for forgiveness.
Warmbier died of unknown causes on June 19, a week after he was returned to the United States in a coma.
Days later, in a now-deleted post from her Facebook account, Dettwyler wrote that Warmbier was “typical of the mindset of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males who come into my classes,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Is it wrong of me to think that Otto Warmbier got exactly what he deserved?” she wrote. “I see him crying at his sentencing hearing and think, ‘What did you expect?’”
The post continued: “These are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade. His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted. Maybe in the US, where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea. And of course, it’s Otto’s parents who will pay the price for the rest of their lives.”
The 62-year-old professor made similar remarks, since deleted, in the comments section of a National Review article, Campus Reform reported. She said she loved her “hard-working, sincere, non-arrogant college students,” but added: “If you knew some of these kids, you’d be appalled. They think nothing of raping drunk girls at frat parties and snorting cocaine, cheating on exams, and threatening professors with physical violence.”
An article in the HuffPost, written under the name La Sha and entitled “North Korea Proves Your White Male Privilege is Not Universal,” attempted to make a similar point.
When the posts came to light, Dettwyler faced a flood of comments calling for her termination, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
As the backlash grew, the university tried to distance itself from Dettwyler.
“We condemn any and all messages that endorse hatred and convey insensitivity toward a tragic even such as the one that Otto Warmbier and his family suffered,” the university said in a statement last week. “We find these comments particularly distressing and inconsistent with our values. Our sympathies are with the Warmbier family.”
University of Delaware adjunct professors, and adjunct professors generally, work on contract and do not have the same protections as tenure or tenure-track faculty members. Most recently, Dettwyler taught a spring semester class, according to the university. An archived version of her curriculum vita says she has taught at the in previous years at the University of Delaware, as well as the University of Southern Mississippi, Texas A&M University, and Millersville University. She is known for her scholarship on breast-feeding in different cultures.
Dettwyler did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Sunday night.
The Review, the independent student newspaper at the university, reported that Dettwyler had a reputation on campus for being outspoken about her political beliefs. The newspaper quoted Nicolas Diclaudio, a junior at the university, saying she frequently criticized President Donald Trump and his supporters in the two anthropology courses he reportedly took with her. The student called Dettwyler’s Facebook post “the most Kathy thing I’ve ever seen.”
Warmbier was visiting North Korea on a five-day tourist trip on his way to a study-abroad trip to Hong Kong when he was detained in January of last year. In early June, after no contact with his family for 15 months, his parents got word that he had been in a coma for more than a year, as The Washington Post reported. After the Trump administration intervened, he was medically evacuated and flown to a Cincinnati hospital, where doctors said he had suffered extensive loss of brain tissue. His cause of death remains a mystery.