Professor suspended after student burns self to death
Published: Jan 07, 2020 01:55 AM

Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications Photo: Weibo

A university in East China's Jiangsu Province suspended a professor after one of her graduate students committed suicide due to her alleged insults and long-term abuse. 

The student, surnamed Tan, was on his third year in the master's program at the School of Materials, Science & Engineering at Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications. Tan's body was discovered in his laboratory on December 26, where he had died from self-inflicted burns.

The university disqualified the professor, surnamed Zhang, on Sunday amid "problems exposed during the investigation into Tan's death." Zhang's graduate students will be assigned to different professors. 

Follow-up investigations are ongoing, said an official school statement on Weibo. 

The school announcement was made 10 days after the tragedy, a move that sparked online criticism from netizens who felt it was issued too late.

Netizens suspected the university would have remained silent were it not for the heated discussions and public pressure that emerged after Tan's suicide. 

Netizens have called for Zhang to receive harsher punishments that include her immediate termination and revoking her teaching credentials due to how much Tan had suffered. 

According to text messages between Tan and someone who claimed to be his roommate, Tan committed suicide because he could no longer endure Zhang's verbal insults. Tan also suffered from severe depression. 

Zhang did not approve Tan to take the CET-6, and refused to review his thesis. Zhang forced Tan to sign a letter of commitment to postpone his graduation, according to text messages from Tan's phone that are trending online. 

An inside source said Tan had endured Zhang's verbal abuse for four hours on December 25. Tan went to his dormitory to pick up a lighter and then returned to the lab. 

After his graduate classmates left for the day, Tan set the lab on fire with flammable liquid, Beijing-based news magazine China Newsweek reported.

Zhang secretly used the lab to store combustibles for her company and would later sell them as reagents or lab equipment. She often asked her students to deliver the goods to her clients and do the bookkeeping, the magazine reported. 

One student shared with China Newsweek a school notice that ordered campus laboratories to cease conducting experiments and check and rectify hidden dangers for three days during the end of December.