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Professor Tells Student With Stutter He’s Disruptive

Professor Tells Student With Stutter He’s Disruptive


Because of his stutter, 16-year-old Philip Garber was told by a professor at New Jersey’s County College of Morris that he was “disruptive.” Specifically, adjunct professor Elizabeth Snyder told Garber in an email that he should ask questions before or after her history class “so we do not infringe on other students’ time.” She also told Garber that, instead of asking questions in class,

“I believe it would be better for everyone if you kept a sheet of paper on your desk and wrote down the answers.”

Garber even once held up his hand for an entire 75-minute-class but Snyder, who had told him not to speak in class, did not call on him.

Garber spoke to one of the college’s deans who recommended that he transfer to another class; he indeed did and has been able to ask questions and talk with a different professor. Kathleen Brunet Eagan, the college’s communications director, did not say whether or not Snyder had been disciplined.

As a professor, and someone who has a close relative who stutters, I find Snyder’s response to Garber’s stuttering very disappointing, not to mention troubling. I have had some students who stutter and it’s no issue to give them the time they need to speak. I am probably extra-sensitive about stuttering, not only because of my relative but also because my 14-year-old son Charlie is autistic and has a severe speech disability. Charlie always needs extra time to say or communicate whatever is on his mind; the wait is always worth it.

Indeed, it is often difficult to get many, or even any, students to speak in class (that is why there are class participation requirements on my course syllabus). Often, despite one’s every efforts, one or two students end up doing most of the talking.

Garber has been primarily home-schooled or attended small charter schools. He hopes to be a photographer and attends Our Time Theater Company, an acting and writing group for people who stutter, in Manhattan once a week. He has had years of speech therapy and has plenty to say (he even has his own YouTube channel). Certainly he has been through many struggles though he says that, prior to attending the County College of Morris, he had “never experienced any kind of discrimination.”

About 5 percent of people stutter at some point in their lives and about 1 percent of adults stutter. Stuttering is not caused by language problems or by psychological problems such as trauma or stress, but is due to motor difficulties that make producing fluent speech challenging. The Oscar-winning movie The King’s Speech has certainly helped to bring more awareness and attention to stuttering, but many clearly have a long way to go. If anything, Garber should be praised for speaking up, rather than penalized and told — of all things — to keep quiet.


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6:50AM PDT on Oct 30, 2011

The StutterTalk podcast has covered this story extensively in a three part series. We interview New York Times reporter Richard Pérez-Peña and Philip Garber Jr. and offer commentary here:

11:23PM PDT on Oct 24, 2011

Shame on the teacher!!!!!!!!!! Garber should not be discouraged, because there are always mean, idiotic people who harm us.

1:03PM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

that professor is a moron.

9:17PM PDT on Oct 20, 2011

what an insensitive professor!!!!

12:26AM PDT on Oct 20, 2011


9:06PM PDT on Oct 19, 2011

Adjunct professor Elizabeth Snyder should be fired immediately.

6:50PM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

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6:47PM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

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3:32PM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

The professor would have done much better to think of another way for the student to pose his questions, such as a small white board or a small chalk board that he could have written the questions on and then held up for her to see.

8:04AM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

Sorry to go off topic, if we really want to talk about unacceptable, the US House of Representatives just passed a bill that would windup killing a lot of loving women who have health issues related to a pregnancy. While I acknowlege that a lot of women use abortion instead of birth control, and that IS irresponsible sex, and many have an abortion for a really stupid reason like "I just don't want it. I want to party" I find those reasons unacceptable. But, the bill that just passed proposes to pay hospitals extra federal money to turn away ANY WOMAN WHO WANTS AN ABORTION, EVEN IF SHE WILL DIE WITHOUT IT. That is just as unacceptable. If the woman dies, who is going to take care of the baby? It will die within minutes of her death, unless it is put on life support and believe me, nobody is going to foot the bill for life support until it can be adopted. WE HAVE 1 WEEK TO GET A TOTAL of 65 SENATORS to vote against this bill. Consider that a better one might be allowing abortions, ONLY IF THERE IS A CERTIFICATION FROM A DOCTOR OR LAW OFFICER THAT IT IS MEDICALLY OR RAPE NECESSARY. Please support the women who are responsible with their bodies.

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