BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan university professor has been placed on leave for a profanity-laced class introduction that included his warning that he randomly assigns grades before the first day of class.
“I don’t even want to know your name,” said Barry Mehler of Ferris State University. “I just look at the number and assign a grade. That is how predestination works. … Take your complaints to God.”
In the 14-minute video that was posted Sunday on YouTube, Mehler, 74, called students “vectors of disease” and said they shouldn’t attend class in person because “I don’t want to be anywhere near you.”
“I will not take questions in class because I’m wearing this … helmet in order to stay alive,” he said, a reference to an astronaut-style helmet with air filters he wore briefly in the video.
He also rails against the administration, saying that “no [expletive] … is going to tell me how to teach my classes because I’m a [expletive] tenured professor. So if you want to go complain to your dean, [expletive] you. Go ahead. I’m retiring at the end of this year, and I couldn’t give a flying [expletive] any longer.”
Ferris State said Mehler has been placed on leave while his conduct is investigated. The professor has not responded to an email seeking comment.
“I was shocked and appalled by this video. It is profane, offensive and disturbing and in no way reflects our university or its values,” President David Eisler said Thursday.
Charles Bacon, a physics and chemistry professor who is president of Ferris State’s faculty union, told the publication Inside Higher Ed that the union considers Mehler’s suspension an “attack on academic freedom and a part of the continued attempt nationally to enforce uniformity on faculty and intimidate higher education faculty by suppressing intellectual discourse.”
Responding to comments that questioned Mehler’s mental stability, he said, “I assure you, Barry did not have a breakdown. In fact, his style, which he developed over the last decade, is to be controversial in order to challenge students’ inherent mental models and biases. It is something that we all strive to do.”
Mehler’s LinkedIn page says he teaches the history of science and the “interface between science and racism.” His undated bio page, which has been removed from the university’s website, says he has taught at Ferris State “for over 27 years.”
His name is not listed on the online course schedule for Spring 2022. The university — in Big Rapids, north of Grand Rapids — has an enrollment of about 14,000 students, almost all of them undergraduates.
Warning: The video contains language that may be offensive.