Academic Freedom

Professor at a Public University Suspended for Profanity-Laden Video Sues for Free Speech Violations

Update: On January 26th, Professor Mehler sued Ferris State University for violating his First Amendment rights. In a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Western Michigan, it says that over the past two decades Mehler has developed “‘The Show,’ a performance that includes strong themes, colorful language, and modern cultural references, to capture student’s attention and challenge them to think critically.”

The complaint argues that Mehler’s colorful teaching style is well known, and that his statements in the video criticizing the university’s Covid-19 protocols—the school doesn’t require students to be vaccinated—aren’t grounds for suspension.

The lawsuit is seeking to have the suspension lifted and allow Mehler to immediately resume teaching for the Spring 2022 semester.

Complaint 

January 19th: Professor at a Public Univeristy is Suspended for Expletive-Laced Video

A professor at a public university in Michigan was suspended with pay after posting a profanity-laced video to his incoming students.

Professor Barry Mehler, a history professor at Ferris State University, posted the 14-minute long video that begins with him wearing an astronaut helmet over a face mask, and tells his students they are “vectors of disease,” and that “it is dangerous to breathe the air.”  

Mehler also tells students that he is going to be 75 in March, and that COVID has killed 1 out of 100 Americans over 60, and that his “risk is greater than yours,” and to “stay the f*** away from me.”  The video has been viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube since it was posted on January 9th.

The university suspended Mehler, and the president of the university said in a statement that he was “shocked and appalled,” and that the “profane, offensive, and disturbing” video does not reflect the university’s values.

The president of the Ferris Faculty Association, Charles Bacon, derided the university’s response, saying that its response was “intimidation and coercion directed at all faculty, not just Dr. Mehler.” Bacon also said that the association considered Mehler’s suspension to be “an attack on academic freedom.”

Public universities, which receive government funding, are bound by the First Amendment. As a result, no matter how offensive or controversial a professor’s statements are, his or her speech is protected. 

In an interview with the AP on January 14th, Mehler says that his video was a humorous attempt to get “students juices flowing.”  “If a professor comes in and he’s all high and mighty and using words they don’t understand — that doesn’t help them relax and think. … It was a performance,” Mehler said. 

 

AP             NY Times


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