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California professor under investigation after TikTok video appears to show him severely criticizing hard of hearing student

1 month 2 weeks 3 days ago Wednesday, February 24 2021 Feb 24, 2021 February 24, 2021 5:32 AM February 24, 2021 in News
Source: CNN

OXNARD, Ca- A tenure-track professor at Oxnard College in California is under investigation and on paid administrative leave after a TikTok video appeared to reveal the professor speaking critically to a hard-of-hearing student during an online class, CNN reports.

The two-minute video began making the rounds on social media last Thursday (Feb. 18). It showed a Zoom recording from a physiology class, believed to have taken place earlier that day and apparently taught by a professor named Michael Abram.

CNN reports that as the posted video begins, it's not clear whether the professor is aware the student, who later self identifies in the video as hard of hearing, needs assistance with her hearing.

He then asks the student, who says she can hear him a little bit, why she hasn't been answering.

"You can hear me a little bit? Abram asks. "Why didn't you answer all the times I spoke to you then?" 

The student attempts to respond, but Abram continues to talk over her.

"I'm hard of hearing," she 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 says. "Maybe you can have your counselor join us, OK? Do you hear me? OK, wonderful, do that," he says.

After that interaction, another student participating in the Zoom class speaks up and says the student is hard of hearing and cannot respond right away.

This appears to have no impact on Abram's opinion of the student or the situation.

"She's not paying attention, she's not trying," Abram is heard saying.

The other student again, comes to her peer's defense, explaining, "It's slower on her end because she needs to get it translated and then it goes to her hearing piece."

Abram tells the student who is hard of hearing to, "have your counselor speak with me because you've got too much distraction to even understand what is going on."

"Yes, I do because my translator is next to me explaining me everything that you're saying," she replies.

Abram suggests the student's translator teach her moving forward.

"Just have them teach you, the whole class, that makes sense to me," he says. "I don't know, I don't understand it," adding he saw the student who is hard of hearing "laughing" and "giggling" with someone else and is not paying attention. She replies that she's in a good mood.

Abram continues to repeatedly ask her to have her "counselor" talk to him, to which she agrees, but says she feels like he is "attacking" her.

"I'm not attacking you, I'm not attacking you," he says. "I'm just significantly disappointed in you. That's all, that's all it is. I'm not attacking you."

In a statement, the college stated that the professor in question is now on administrative leave.

"I am saddened and outraged beyond words that any of our students should either be or feel disrespected by any of our employees," acting President Luiz Sanchez said in a statement posted to Twitter.

The investigation into Professor Abrams' actions may take up to 90 days to complete, Greg Gillespie, chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District, said at press briefing Monday.

"The instructor is entitled to due process under the law so it's his constitutional right as a permanent public employee and so he will be on a paid leave until the investigation is complete and we're able to determine what the findings bring us," said Laura Lizaola Barroso, vice chancellor of human resources at Ventura County Community College District.

The National Association of the Deaf explained that Deaf and hard-of-hearing students vary in what they need in class, including interpreters, captioning and devices to assist them.

"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," CEO Howard A. Rosenblum said in a statement. "Professors must therefore be patient and accommodate this additional time, instead of berating such students."

The original TikTok video was taken by a student named Sarah Rand and then posted by someone else who Rand described as a family friend.

Rand told CNN she took the video with the intention of sending it to administrators to show the behavior and commentary she said she and other students have seen during Abram's classes this semester.

Rand said at first she was worried that sharing the video with administrators may risk her graduation and her grades, but says without it, they wouldn't know what's happening with a faculty member.

"It's our hope that we've created an environment where people are comfortable in coming forward so that these can be addressed, Gillespie said. "This incident is an example of where unacceptable behavior is seen occurring in a video and we're going to investigate it and take that seriously."

The administration said it also is proud of the other female student who spoke up on behalf of the student who is hard of hearing.

Rand said she never thought the video would be received on social media in the way that it has.

"No matter what this person did, I don't think his reputation should be buried, like millions of people are hating him. That wasn't my intention," she said."I did this for other people to show that when you see something wrong, don't just stay quiet, because this is abuse that's happening that needs to stop," said Rand. "Don't be afraid. Speak up for the truth."

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