BIG RAPIDS, Mich. – A Michigan university has defended its decision to suspend a professor over a profanity-filled video, saying the unusual welcome message for his history students isn’t protected by the First Amendment.
Attorneys for Ferris State University said some students dropped Barry Mehler's classes because of his remarks.
Immediately returning him to the classroom would “only further disrupt Ferris State University’s operations and has the potential to create widespread parent and student dissatisfaction,” the school said in a court filing Monday.
Mehler, 74, was suspended with pay on Jan. 11 and told that he was being investigated for violating the faculty contract and the university’s employee dignity policy. He responded with a lawsuit to try to get back to class. A hearing is scheduled for March 7.
During his 14-minute video to herald the new term, Mehler frequently used profanities and told students — he called them COVID-19 “vectors of disease” — they could skip in-person classes and still get a good grade by following course requirements posted online.
Mehler later said he was performing when he used provocative language in the video, which has been seen more than 500,000 times on YouTube. He said he was joking when he told students he didn’t want to know their names and would hand out grades in a random manner.
Mehler said he wanted to “get their juices flowing.”
Ferris State said offensive speech is not protected by the First Amendment when the audience is a captive group of students.
“The use of such profanity and discriminatory terms directed toward students and administrators subject the university to possible Title IX claims of sexual harassment,” Ferris State’s attorneys said, referring to federal law. “Moreover, it is simply wrong!”