Ted Pawlicki, the professor whose Facebook posts on Thursday prompted student outrage, stepped down from his position as undergraduate program director of the Department of Computer Science on Friday.
In an email that day to computer science students, Pawlicki apologized for a post he made on the event page for “Not My America,” a peaceful protest on Friday against the rhetoric of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
In his original post, he offered to pay for the bus fare to Canada of anyone who felt that this was not their America, as long as they promised “never to come back.”
That post was eventually deleted, but students recorded it—as well as the hundreds of comments it attracted—and posted screenshots on subsequent posts Pawlicki made on the page.
“These remarks were ill-considered,” Pawlicki wrote in his email, “and I deeply regret any and all hurt they occasioned.”
“After reflecting on the impact my remarks have had on students, and following consultation with Dr. Wendi Heinzelman, Dean of Hajim School, and Dr. Sandhya Dwarkadas, Chair of Computer Science, I have decided to step down from the position of Undergraduate Program Director for Computer Science,” he said.
Student response to the apology was mixed.
“Whether or not it was a joke, his comment was insensitive and crass,” senior Som Liengtiraphan, president of the UR chapter of Women in Computing, said in an interview with the Campus Times. “As a professor, your duty is to promote a welcoming learning environment and tolerance of difference between all your students. His comment only caused polarization and disparity.”
“Though I believe his apology is sincere, I believe in actions over words, and his step down is a professional response to his words,” she added. “Words have consequences and here is someone who supported his claims with action.”
Students’ Association Vice President and senior Lance Floto, who is a computer science major, thought that it was right for Pawlicki to step down, but was otherwise unimpressed.
“As far as his apology, I don’t find it genuine,” Floto said in an interview. “It appears to be a reaction to the backlash he has received from his recent post.”
Senior Charlie Norvell, another computer science major, said Pawlicki’s letter didn’t seem like an apology, adding that “stepping down was probably the smartest move he’s made.”
Some students said previous remarks Pawlicki had made online made them feel unwelcome in the department.
“To be honest, his Facebook posts about Trump have been really concerning for a long time, but the moment he posted outside of his personal Facebook, he crossed a line,” Norvell said. “Especially when the CS department is trying hard to be more diverse and inclusive, it’s really disheartening to see one of the intro CS professors publicly and proudly display such exclusionary opinions.”
“His recent Facebook post was unprofessional and upset many students, but what it also did was prompt students to share similar instances in which Pawlicki has shown bias against women,” Floto said. “Female students have told me they do not feel comfortable in his class or visiting his office hours.”
Some students have claimed they dropped his classes in the past because of his online remarks.
Pawlicki said in an email to the Campus Times that he was unaware of any students who had dropped his classes for that reason.
Dwarkadas, the department chair, sent an email to all department students later Friday afternoon addressing the incident.
“In light of recent social media exchanges, I am sending this message out to make clear that the computer science department remains committed to being a place that welcomes all views, where everyone is able to study, work, engage, and contribute, regardless of gender, race, religion, political outlook, country of origin, or other identity or status,” she wrote.
“This political season has been disquieting for many, regardless of which side of the political fence they might be on,” she continued. “We have worked hard to create a department that is welcoming and that fosters a respectful culture, which the recent social media exchanges have threatened to undermine. I hope all of us can come together to ensure that this is a department we all wish to be a part of.”
In addition to his department-wide email, Pawlicki sent a separate apology to students enrolled in CSC 172, a course he is teaching this semester, in which he said he realized that “a trusting relationship is necessary” for “effective and passionate learning” to take place—and that he would deeply regret breaking that trust.
“I understand that some of you may want to drop CSC 172 because of this incident,” he wrote. “I would ask you to stick with the class and give me a chance to make things right in our community. I can and always try to learn from my mistakes.”
Despite no longer holding the director title, Pawlicki said he would “continue to be devoted to undergraduate education in the department.”