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UCSD administrators apologize for lecturer’s ‘disrespectful and racist’ remarks captured on video in class

Many UC San Diego students are angry about remarks made by a lecturer in a chemistry class.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Students are ‘split’ over whether the instructor, Robert Ternansky, should be fired, according to the Associated Students president.

UC San Diego administrators have publicly apologized to students for “disrespectful and racist remarks” that a lecturer recently made during an undergraduate class in chemistry.

The incident occurred last week and involved Robert Ternansky, a veteran lecturer who was bothered by noise that appeared to come from a hallway outside his classroom.

A roughly 60-second video of the class, which UCSD was recording for future use by students, showed Ternansky walking into the hallway and saying, “Sí, sí señor. Ándale, ándale. Arriba, arriba.”

It isn’t clear to whom he was speaking.

Ternansky then turned to students and asked, “How do you say ‘quiet’ in Mexican?” An unidentified student replied, giving an answer that can’t be heard clearly in the video.

Ternansky then said, “‘Caliente’? Huh? Help me. All I knew how to say was 'Ándale, ándale, arriba, arriba.’ I don’t think that was ‘to be quiet’? That’s like ‘hurry up’? Did I insult them?”

After a pause, Ternansky added, “Someone tell me if they start running in here with their weapons.”

During some of the video, some students could be heard laughing.

The video clip was posted on social media, where it generated angry comments.

The incident was first reported by the UCSD Guardian, a campus newspaper. A digital apology was made by Vicki Grassian, chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, and Stacey Brydges, the department’s vice chair of equity, diversity, inclusion and climate.

“We are appalled by the disrespectful and racist remarks made by a chemistry instructor ... in one of our undergraduate classes and are deeply sorry for the impact on our employees to whom these comments were directed, our students and our LatinX/ChicanX communities in particular,” according to the statement. “It is clear that we still have much work to do to eliminate structural and systemic racism and discrimination.”

The university issued a formal statement, saying, in part: “UC San Diego officials were recently made aware of offensive and hurtful comments that a professor made in a chemistry class when video of the comments was posted to social media. At that time, the professor was engaged about his comments, and it was made clear to him that they do not reflect our community values of inclusivity and respect.”

Ternansky, 67, did not respond to requests for comment from The San Diego Union-Tribune.

He did post an online apology to students that says: “I am writing to acknowledge my inappropriate comments in lecture and to sincerely apologize to all of you for my behavior. These comments do not align with our campus values. I will follow up with a more formal apology shortly and will also apologize personally during Tuesday’s lecture time.”

He appeared to be referring to a plan to make the apology during an Oct. 18 class.

“Everyone agrees that what the professor did was racist,” said Sky Yang, president of Associated Students at UCSD. “There is a split among students over whether he should be fired or whether he should stay and be re-educated. It seems that some want to give him a second chance because he apologized quickly.” ◆