A recent altercation between a professor and a student during class has left students wondering where disciplinary lines in the classroom are drawn.
During a lecture on Nov. 22, UW professor Robert Danisch yelled at and berated a student for reading a book in his class, calling them a “lazy piece of shit” and saying they would be “terrible at life.” According to other students in the class, Danisch threatened to physically remove the student from the room and after the student’s departure said that he had wanted to hit him.
John Doe (name was changed at the request of the student) was not enrolled in the class and attended the Tuesday morning lecture with a friend. When the course wasn’t what they expected, Doe said he decided to read a book “instead of walking out.” Several students reported that Danisch noticed Doe reading and told him to leave if he didn’t want to be in the class. At this point, the situation began to escalate.
In recordings obtained by Imprint, Danisch can be heard saying, “Get out! Get the fuck out” multiple times, followed by, “Fuckin’ lazy ass piece of shit! You’re going to be terrible at life, by the way. You’re taking, now, 150 people’s time.” To which Doe responds, “That is crazy.” And Danisch retorts, “Yes, I’m crazy. Insult me on the way out, dipshit.”
After Doe left the room, Danisch addressed Doe’s friend, demanding to know his name and threatened to kick them out too. Danisch then asked the class if “it’s normal to roll into class and read books in front of someone” and called the altercation a “pissing contest.”
“That was a pissing contest, and I have to win,” Danisch said. “I’m not going to lose a pissing contest to a child … It wasn’t a mental health situation. He started a pissing contest.”
A few hours after the incident, Doe said they contacted Danisch to clear the air. In the email exchange obtained by Imprint, Doe writes, “Hello, Professor Robert Danisch. You kicked me out of your SPCOM lecture this afternoon. I heard you asking for my name as I closed the door on my way out. Rather than wait for you to find and contact me, I am reaching out because I would like to clear the air with you over the phone. I believe we both owe each other an apology.”
Danisch responded the same day, saying, “Thanks for confirming your name [John]. Please stay out of my class.”
Doe says they also contacted the dean’s office to file a grievance.
During the following lecture, Danisch held a town hall-style meeting so students could express their concerns about his behaviour. One student said, “In my personal opinion, I think this is a him-having-a bad-day kinda situation, where one little thing set him off the rails.”
In a recording of the lecture obtained by Imprint, one student can be heard saying they are not upset about Danisch asking Doe to leave but didn’t like how Danisch handled the situation, with respect to the language, disparaging remarks, and yelling.
Danisch tells the class that never, in any of his previous employment or education experience, would the incident “have even registered as a thing.” He goes on to cite the pandemic as the reason for increased sensitivity among students in their cohort. “I understand you are a sensitive lot — a very very sensitive lot,” then reaffirms his behaviour as typical and justified. “If you are gonna be openly insulting someone, expect them to get pissed about it … I’m still pissed at that kid, and I’m not sorry about anything that happened … that was maybe a one, maybe two, on a scale of 10 for me.”
Another student says, “I know people are kinda scared to come to class.” Danisch responds, “That’s the first time I’m hearing that information … I understood there were three to five people that were deeply bothered … but three to five in a class of 160 doesn’t really constitute a significant number.”
Danisch fielded comments from students for approximately 40 minutes, and by the end of the discussion, said he could see where they were coming from. In reference to the town-hall-style meeting, Danisch said, “In a couple of weeks, I’ll have a better sense of the temperature, and I might look back and say yes, that was useful, or it wasn’t.” Danisch does not renounce his treatment of Doe at any point in the recorded meeting.
On Nov. 30, Danisch sent out a memo to his students cancelling the remaining classes for the term and apologizing for the incident with Doe. “I apologize to any students that felt adversely or negatively affected by what happened in class. I regret that interaction, and I regret any harmful impact caused to any student in the class.”
Danisch also implemented a new grading scheme so students could opt out of final assignments.
Doe says he was hoping to get an apology from Danisch “with a renunciation of the way he handled the situation and publicly promoted it afterwards.” Without this apology, Doe believes that “Robert Danisch should not be holding a post at UW.” That said, he really does want to resolve this issue and move on.
Doe said he had not received one at the time of publication.
Imprint reached out to Danisch, but he declined to comment, citing family issues. Interim Director of Media Relations Rebecca Elming said the university was aware of the incident. “We do not normally comment on individual employment matters. In situations such as this, we have processes in place to review the incident and will take appropriate actions, including offering a range of wellness and academic supports to individuals affected.”