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So my best friend is sort of in a strange situation. We are in the same graduate program. Here's the story.

Last semester I was stuck in a class with a professor with an extremely weird way of running the class. We were not allowed to discuss the homework with anyone, study together for exams or collaborate in any way. We got a huge amount of homework per week, and he was a very harsh grader. Exams were incredibly difficult and we only were given 3 minutes to upload the file to be graded. Combined with the entire Covid-19 situation, this was getting too much on my mental health, but I was at the point where I could not drop the class due to my full time requirement.

I noticed other people in the class were getting very stressed out as well, one student (has straight A's in all other graduate courses) even told me that the class was making her suicidal. We consulted a few staff members in the department and some older graduate students and thought the best thing to do was to talk to the department chair.

Some of the older graduate students told us though that this particular professor is known for retaliating against students who criticize him or his teaching methods. Therefore we got my friend who was not in the class to talk about this to the department chair. He wanted to just voice a concern to him, and ask for any help or advice.

My friend did not say anything bad about the professor, period. He just said he is concerned for us and our mental health, and described the amount of work the professor was giving us and how he has previously encouraged his students to compromise their free time and even sleeping to do the work.

Instead of being helpful, the department chair yelled at my friend, and told him that he does not understand how prestigious the particular professor is and how he is a great asset to the department. He also told my friend how he did a very "childish and ridiculous" thing by approaching the department chair instead of directly talking to the professor about these concerns. We did not do this because he knew that the does not take criticism that well at all (he has advised my undergraduate research and told me how I should not pursue graduate school and how he did not see potential in me).

Well, nothing changed. Some people pulled through the course with a pass, most people ended up with a C or below though. Well, life goes on, but the department chair did not renew my friend's teaching assistantship for the spring semester, even though he got a straight 4.0 GPA and great teaching reviews. No reason was given to him when he emailed to the department. Everyone else who lost their assistantship were sent an email about this. He never was. Could these two instances be related? Is there anything we could do at this point?

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    I'm really sorry to hear this - I'm a student myself and I definitely hate this happening to anyone. Having faced inappropriate behaviors of professors (not as bad as your case: e.g., not reading summer research application from anyone he/she doesn't know, although the application is required to be open by the department), I have eventually decided that I'm not in the best position to solve this issue. All I can do is to be a better professor or chair myself, if I ever become one. Instead, talk to someone that you CAN TRUST in the department (not the chair) to feel better emotionally. – Wiza Feb 14 at 10:25
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    Your university or student's union should have an ombudsman to mediate this type of conflict. Which country are you in? – astronat Feb 14 at 10:49
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    This seems like speculation calling for more speculation. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 14 at 13:24
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    From what you've described, the situation sounds abusive. Whatever you decide to do, don't let anyone convince you that this is normal or okay. Best wishes. – academic Feb 14 at 14:57
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    There's not much that can be done about dept politics besides having someone on their side. Do they have a good relationship with an advisor that can mediate? – user133933 Feb 14 at 16:32