Court Battles

Professor who called students ‘vectors of diseases’ sues to be reinstated

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A Michigan professor who mocked COVID-19 policies at Ferris State University is suing to get reinstated after the college suspended him for profanity-laced comments and calling students “vectors of diseases” in a viral YouTube video.

Barry Mehler, a 74-year-old history professor at Ferris State, on Tuesday filed to be immediately reinstated, according to the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

The professor said he was not only suspended but had his faculty bio page removed and was banned from campus, which he called “trampling his fundamental First and Fourteenth Amendment rights” because it was in retaliation for the viral YouTube video.

”The right to criticize the government, or in this case, FSU and its administrators, is a clearly established right,” the complaint reads.

The court filing comes just two weeks after Mehler released the 14-minute video on YouTube and the class website page for his students, which was intended as an introduction for the class at the start of a new term.

In it, the professor spoke to his students about topics ranging from plagiarism to even Star Trek and the HBO show “Deadwood,” but he drew criticism for his discussion of an attendance policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m old enough to be your grandpa, and you people are vectors of diseases,” Mehler said in the video. “When I look out at a classroom filled with 50 students, I see 50 selfish kids who don’t give a shit whether grandpa lives or dies. And if you won’t expose your grandpa to a possible infection with COVID, then stay the f— away from me. If you don’t give a shit about whether grandpa lives or dies, then by all means come to class.”

The video drew condemnation from university officials, and Mehler was placed on leave within days, according to the Detroit Free Press. FSU President David Eisler said he was “shocked and appalled by this video. It is profane, offensive and disturbing and in no way reflects our University or its values.”

In the court filings, Mehler says he began his tenure at FSU in 1988 and became a full-fledged professor in 1999. Mehler added he is known for a “unique pedagogy where his courses are designed as a TV variety show” that includes profanity and which university officials are aware of.

“The idea is to present the course material in an unusual way which takes the students out of the normal classroom environment and transports them onto the set of a TV show, where the rules of the game are all new and strange,” he claims in the lawsuit.

A hearing on the case is set for March 7.

Tags Barry Mehler COVID-19 Detroit Ferris State University Michigan Professor

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