| Ventura County Star
An Oxnard College professor who berated a hard-of-hearing student during an online class has been placed on paid administrative leave, officials with the Ventura Community College District said Friday morning.
A video clip of the professor, Michael Abram, interacting with a student during the online session exploded on social media, prompting district officials to call a news briefing Friday morning.
Abram, who teaches anatomy and physiology, is a full-time tenured faculty member who has been with the district about 20 years, officials said.
“We are taking this incident very seriously,” said district Chancellor Greg Gillespie during the online briefing. “We are currently investigating the situation and following our protocols to address it.”
A clip of the class lasting about 2 minutes and 20 seconds was posted to TikTok, Twitter and other social media platforms. Some mislabeled the professor as working at Ventura College.
District officials said they believe the class took place Thursday afternoon, although details will be confirmed during the investigation.
The video clip opens with the professor audibly frustrated as he addresses the female student.
“Miss S—?” Abram says in the video. “I’ve been talking to you, Miss S—.”
The student responds that she can hear him “a little bit.”
“You can hear me a little bit?” Abram says. “Why didn’t you answer all the times I spoke to you, then?”
He tells the student to email him, adding: “We’re going to set up a live Zoom and we’re going to have some real communication at some point in time. OK? Maybe you can have your counselor join us. OK? Do you hear me?”
Another student jumps in: “Professor? She’s actually hard of hearing,” the second student explains, saying the first student’s translator goes at a slower speed. “She can’t respond, like, right away.”
Abram replies: “She is not paying attention. She’s not trying. Are you her translator, A—?” he says to the second student.
Shortly after, Abram tells the first student to have her counselor speak with him, “because you’ve got too much distraction to even understand what’s going on.”
The hard-of-hearing student tells Abram her translator is next to her, “explaining everything that you’re saying.”
“OK,” Abram responds. “So maybe, just have them teach you. The whole class. That makes sense to me….I don’t understand it. But I see you laughing and smiling and giggling with somebody else…”
Toward the end of the clip, Abram sarcastically says “whatever,” pointing out to the students he is using their terms with the usage, repeating: “Whatever!” He tells the first student: “Have your counselor speak with me, period.”
The young woman asks why he is arguing with her. “I’m not disrespecting you, and you’re just like, attacking me,” she tells him.
“OK. OK. I’m not attacking you,” Abram says as the clip concludes. “I’m just significantly disappointed in you.”
During the online class, the current speaker’s video image takes up the largest space on the computer screen, while video of other participants can be seen in smaller tiles along the top. A student recorded the excerpt using a phone camera pointed at a laptop.
Laura Lizaola Barroso, the district’s vice chancellor of human resources, said officials were in the process of placing Abram on paid administrative leave Friday morning as they prepared to launch the investigation. Barroso said she had spoken to Bea Herrera, president of the union for faculty members, AFT Local 1828, informing her of the action.
A message left on Abram’s office number Friday morning was not immediately returned. Herrera could not immediately be reached at the union office Friday.
As of about 10:30 a.m., Abram had not yet received the letter placing him on leave, Barroso said, but officials hoped to complete the process before noon.
The district will compile a witness list and move forward with its investigation, which must be concluded within 90 days. The process protects the rights of the faculty member as well as the student, Barroso said. An outside investigator might be brought in if needed.
“I woke up this morning to a flood of email,” said Oxnard College President Luis Sanchez during the online briefing.
Sanchez said he had watched the tape, which he called “alarming,” and that the district would take all the necessary steps as authorities looked into the matter.
Art Sandford, the district’s vice president of academic affairs, said if a student receives services through the Educational Assistance Center, the center reaches out to instructors to explain any needed accommodations. Sandford did not yet have information Friday concerning the affected student as to whether she had utilized the center.
District officials also told reporters they couldn’t comment on whether there had been any prior disciplinary action concerning Abram, saying it was a personnel issue.
Gillespie, the chancellor, said officials will continue to communicate with employees, students and the public as the investigation progresses.
“We understand the concerns and are taking the situation extremely seriously,” Gillespie said.
Barroso said because the matter involved a personnel issue, the district needed to be “very careful about what information is released.”
“Our faculty member has privacy rights as well as the student,” she said. “If we refrain from providing information it is to protect all parties involved.”
The district includes the campuses of Oxnard, Ventura and Moorpark colleges.
Gretchen Wenner covers breaking news for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at [email protected] or 805-437-0270.
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