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Geoffrey Miller author photo. Random House Geoffrey Miller author photo. Random House  

Here’s the major punishment for prof who insulted fat students

Photo of Robby Soave
Robby Soave
Reporter

The psychology professor who tweeted an insult about fat Ph.D. candidates must design — and then undergo — obesity sensitivity training.

In early June, Geoffrey Miller, a psychology professor at the University of New Mexico, tweeted unsolicited and offensive advice to obese students.

“Dear obese Ph.D. applicants,” he wrote. “if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.”

Miller, who was a visiting psychology professor at New York University this summer, was roundly criticized by colleagues and administrators at both NYU and UNM.

Jane Ellen Smith, chair of the psychology department at UNM, investigated the tweet, and found no evidence to support Miller’s defense that the statement was part of social experiment to gauge public reaction to over-the-top comments.

UNM concluded the Miller broke at least three different ethics rules when he sent out the tweet.

To atone for his fat-shaming, Miller must design an obesity sensitivity training course — of which he will be the first participant, according to a UNM spokesperson. Miller’s course must first be approved by a faculty adviser.

The university has also banned him from ever again sitting on a PhD applicant review board. His systemic bias against obese applicants precludes him from evaluating them fairly.

But one expert said the punishment doesn’t go quite far enough. Miller shouldn’t have the power to assign grades, either, said Sondra Solovay, a law professor at San Francisco Law School and harassment prevention consultant.

“I would say that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to be evaluating the work of students while he had this unaddressed bias,” she said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed.

Miller must also apologize to students and colleagues.

While he has not been terminated the university, his punishment is rather severe considering that he is a tenured professor. Still, a recent study suggests that UNM is justified in making a big deal out of Miller’s actions. Researchers at Bowling Green University concluded that obese applicants do have a harder time gaining acceptance to graduate programs than their peers.

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