DETROIT – A Michigan professor who was suspended after making a profanity-filled video for his students is threatening to file a lawsuit if Ferris State University doesn’t quickly lift the sanction.
An attorney for Barry Mehler warned the school in a letter Tuesday, saying the history teacher is protected by the First Amendment and a contract between Ferris State and its faculty.
“The university should be celebrating and defending Dr. Mehler, not summarily disciplining him,” attorney Matthew Hoffer wrote.
“Dr. Mehler has been inundated with letters of support from current students, former students, and university faculty as well as students, educators, and law professors from around the world,” Hoffer said.
Mehler's 14-minute YouTube video at the start of a new term was peppered with profanities and unusual remarks about grades, plagiarism and classroom attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic. He included commentary about an old Camel cigarette TV ad — “turning death into profit” — and a clip from the HBO series “Deadwood.”
Ferris State President David Eisler said he was “shocked and appalled” by the video, which has been viewed nearly 500,000 times. Mehler, 74, was placed on leave last week and barred from teaching classes while the matter is investigated.
But Mehler said the video was a humorous performance intended to get his students' "juices flowing.”
Indeed, Hoffer said in the letter to Ferris State that campus officials have been familiar with Mehler's style for years. He received a merit raise in 2014 and was nominated in 2017 for a distinguished teaching award.
Mehler got a hug from a dean in 2016 when she sat in class and watched his introductory lecture, which had many of the same elements from the controversial video, Hoffer said.
"She wished she had an instructor like him when she was in school,” the attorney said.
Ferris State declined to comment on Mehler's threat to go to court if he's not reinstated by Wednesday.
Mehler believes the president is upset over his mocking of the school's COVID-19 policies. Vaccinations aren't required at the Big Rapids school, 155 miles (250 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.
Mehler called students “vectors of disease” and said they didn't need to appear in person to take his class.
“I will not take questions in class because I’m wearing this ... helmet in order to stay alive,” he said in the video, a reference to a $300 astronaut-style helmet with air filters.