DETROIT -- A Michigan professor who was suspended after making a profanity-filled introductory video for his students said Friday it was simply a humorous attempt “to get their 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,” Barry Mehler told The Associated Press.
Mehler, who teaches history, was placed on leave this week at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, 155 miles (250 kilometers) northwest of Detroit, after school President David Eisler said he was “shocked and appalled" by the video.
“The president has never liked me,” Mehler, 74, said.
In a 14-minute video at the start of a new term, he covered a range of topics, including grades, attendance, plagiarism, COVID-19 and the HBO series “Deadwood.”
He said he randomly assigns grades before the first day of class.
“That is how predestination works. ... Take your complaints to God. He ordained this system, not me,” Mehler said.
But later in the video he also said that ”everything you need to earn an A” is available on a class website.
Mehler, who is upset with the university over its refusal to require COVID-19 vaccinations, called students “vectors of disease” and said they didn’t need to attend in person.
“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.
In the interview Friday, Mehler, noting his age and risk for getting the virus, said his policy on classroom attendance was not a joke. On Tuesday, after his video was sent to students, his classroom was full — proof, he said, that most weren't offended by his stream of expletives.
“The whole idea was to get their juices flowing,” Mehler said. “But they also knew their grade was not based on predestination. That was simply humorous.”
Ferris State spokesman Sandy Gholston declined to comment.
Mehler said a lawyer and an academic freedom group, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, are helping him fight the ouster from the classroom.
“I've gotten lots of support since this happened by former students who said, ‘You were the funniest professor I ever had,’” said Mehler, who has been at Ferris State for decades. “People who have watched the video are writing to say, ‘It was hysterical. I laughed from beginning to end.’”
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