Michigan Professor's Intro Video Stunt Leads to Suspension (content: language)Historians in the News
tags: academic freedom, academic labor, colleges and universities, COVID-19
This article contains explicit and potentially offensive terms that are essential to reporting on this situation. – IHE
Ferris State University in Michigan has suspended a professor for a posting a provocative, often-profane video for students ahead of the new semester this week.
Barry Mehler says in the video that he’s fearful of teaching in person during COVID-19 because he’s already 74 years old, and that he’s retiring at the end of the semester. So while it’s possible that being put on administrative leave isn’t the worst of outcomes for him, Mehler’s faculty union says the suspension is an attack on academic freedom generally.
‘Back to the Show’
“Back to the show,” Mehler says in the YouTube video, in which he first appears wearing an astronaut-style helmet. “I want to introduce myself before we actually meet F to F, as we say these days, which everybody knows means fuck to fuck—which really means that we’re all fucked.”
Mehler, a tenured historian of science and racism, tells students that when they see him in person in class, he’ll be wearing the $300 helmet because it has high-efficiency particulate air filters to protect “both me and you from this deadly virus that’s going around.”
Mehler then delivers a profanity-laden soliloquy about how no “cocksucker of an administrator is going to tell me how to teach my classes because I’m a fucking tenured professor. So if you want to go complain to your dean, fuck you. Go ahead. I’m retiring at the end of this year, and I couldn’t give a flying fuck any longer.”
He adds, “You people are just vectors of disease to me, and I don’t want to be anywhere near you. So keep your fucking distance. If you want to talk to me, come to my Zoom.”
Mehler later explains that his speech was inspired by a similarly vulgar soliloquy from the HBO television show Deadwood, about life in a gold-mining town, and he uses the opportunity to address the concept of plagiarism.
Things get stranger from here, with Mehler citing Calvinism and predestination as the reasons he’ll assign students’ grades randomly, regardless of individual effort (he later says students can earn an A, but he doesn’t explicitly say he’s joking about random grades). He also says that if students want to protect their grandparents from COVID-19, they should protect him, too, as he’s old enough to be their grandfather.
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