Barry Mehler, the Ferris State University professor of history who was suspended for his profanity-laced course introduction video, is threatening to sue Ferris State if he’s not reinstated. “The university’s knee-jerk suspension and investigation of Dr. Mehler fails to comprehend the scripted provocation and satire in the video,” Mehler’s lawyer, Matthew Hoffer, wrote in a letter to the university this week. The letter set a deadline of yesterday for reinstatement, saying Ferris State was violating Mehler’s First Amendment rights.
Mehler reportedly told MLive.com that the university has long been aware of, and even praised, his unconventional teaching style. “College students come into a class … and when their caffeine runs out, they just buzz out. Nobody passes out in my class,” he said. “They don’t go to sleep in my class. And they remember the things that I present, because it is so [expletive] funny and outrageous and bizarre. They know when they come into my class and they sit down, they know they’re going to be transported to another planet.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also sent Ferris State a letter urging Mehler’s reinstatement. Aaron Terr, a FIRE program officer, said in a separate statement that suspending Mehler without due process “for using cutting humor to help make the dry, administrative points of attendance, masking, grading, and plagiarism on his class’s syllabus day stick in their memories, violates academic freedom and is unconstitutional. Faculty are entitled to autonomy in deciding how to teach pedagogically relevant material, but rather than protecting Mehler’s academic freedom, the university punished him.”
Ferris State is reportedly investigating Mehler for possible violations of its dignity policy, which says that the university “expects all students and employees to conduct themselves with dignity and respect for students, employees and others. It is each individual's responsibility to behave in a civil manner and to make responsible choices about the manner in which they conduct themselves.”