Professor put on leave after allegedly mocking U of G student with 'severe anxiety'

A professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario has been put on a leave of absence following allegations he referred to a student's aid worker as his "handler" who "needed to control" the student in a class Monday night.

University investigating after students say prof told aid worker to 'control' the student

The University of Guelph is investigating claims by students about a professor who allegedly made controversial comments to a student and his aid worker in a class Monday night. (University of Guelph)

A professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario has been put on a leave of absence following allegations he referred to a student's aid worker as his "handler" who "needed to control" the student in a class Monday night.

The substitute teacher is the subject of allegations by other students.

"The university learned about this incident this morning via social media and emails," a university representative said in an email Tuesday morning.

"The incident is under investigation and the professor involved is on leave while we look into the situation and take the appropriate actions."

'Overshocked and Overthanked'

The alleged incident, during a University of Guelph anthropology class, was posted on Facebook, in an unofficial university group called Overheard at Guelph, shortly after it happened.

Students said a professor, Edward Hedican, who was filling in for their usual professor, made disrespectful comments to the student, who has "severe anxiety," while an aid worker was at his side.

The University of Guelph, however, would not confirm the identity of the professor or say if he had tenure.

An incident involving the professor allegedly making rude comments to a student and his aid worker have garnered hundreds of online comments. (Facebook)

"Overshocked and Overthanked: THANK YOU to the girl in ANTH 1150 who stood up to Ed Hedican for disrespecting a boy in our class, who has severe anxiety, and the boy's aid," Regan Devlin said in a Facebook post that has more than 100 comments and nearly 2,000 likes.

"Hedican referred to the boy's aid as his 'handler' who 'needed to control' the student and attempted to ridicule him and questioned if he was even enrolled in the class in front of hundreds of students."

Devlin also said Hedican called the boy "annoying" when he commented on a topic in class and shut him down from discussing the subject further.

​"He was completely insensitive, unprofessional and rude," she said in the post.

Student called a distraction

​Courtney Orser, a third-year University of Guelph student, was also in the class.

In an interview with CBC News, Orser said Hedican singled out the student in front of the class of nearly 600 people multiple times.

In one instance, the student was playing with gum, and Hedican stopped the class and told the student to stop and told him he was a distraction, Orser said.

She said this is when the student finally responded and told the professor about his anxiety, which is why he was playing with his gum.

Hedican ignored the student's admission and instead told the student his actions were annoying, she said.

She said the aid worker attempted to step in and control the situation, and that's when Hedican made the "handler" comments. 

Couldn't stand to be in class

"The student and aid worker left and the student was visibly upset," she said. "Then another student walked out in tears because it clearly hit close to home."

She said the comments made her "furious" and she couldn't stand to be in the class.

Orser said she was so angry that she left the class in the middle of Hedican's lecture.

She said that before she went out the door, though, she stood up to Hedican for what she said was unfair and disrespectful treatment of the student and his aid worker.

Round of applause

"He asked, 'Is the class over?' when I stood up and I told him it was for me," Orser told CBC News.

In a video taken of Orser's defence of her fellow student, she said, "I don't like to stay in classes where people who pay just as much tuition as I do get treated like that."

People can be heard clapping in the video, and Orser said many of the students walked out of class, including the usual professor's teaching assistant.

Orser said she sent emails to "anyone who would listen" about the professor's comments, including the current professor for the class, the dean and the vice president of student affairs.

"I love my university, and I am very proud of my university and on a typical day it definitely represents a very kind and accepting environment," said Orser. "Unfortunately last night was not an example of that."

Taking the matter seriously

University of Guelph provost and vice president Charolette Yates nearly echoed Orser's sentiment in a statement 

Yates said she finds this situation troubling and is taking the matter seriously.

"The University of Guelph is a community whose members respect and care about one another," the statement said. "We are committed to civility and diversity. I appreciate the care and concern demonstrated by students who have reached out to me and to other U of G administrators and faculty about this situation.

​"Although I believe this was an isolated incident, we will remain vigilant to ensure openness, respect and inclusion at U of G."

'Far from an isolated incident'

CBC News has reached out to Hedican, but he did not respond. It is unclear if he has access to his work accounts while on the leave of absence.

His Tuesday classes at the university have been cancelled.

Many students have rebutted Yates's belief that this is an isolated incident, alleging Hedican has been rude to students for years.

"This is far from an isolated incident," said Casandra Audet in a post on Facebook. "I had one class with this prof and he always belittled people who offered opinions ... I felt so uncomfortable in his class and he made us all feel so small."

Another student said she had a panic attack after class in the fall semester after she said Hedican yelled at her for asking a question after class.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.