Michigan State University Professor Under Fire After Student Posted Video Of Anti-Republican Rave

Penn_WSThe video below of Michigan State University Professor William Penn on the first day of his creative writing class has triggered an investigation by the university into a diatribe against Republicans. A student filmed the comments (and it was released by a conservative group) where Penn is heard attacking Republicans for “raping” America and refusing to pay taxes. The case will pit values of academic freedom against the need for an open and welcoming environment for students at universities.

In the video, Penn states “If you go to the Republican convention in Florida, you see all of the old Republicans with the dead skin cells washing off them . . . They are cheap. They don’t want to pay taxes because they have already raped this country and gotten everything out of it they possibly could. . . . They don’t want to pay for your tuition because who are you? Well, to me you are somebody.” He then turns on any racists in the class: “I’m a college professor, if I find out you are a closet racist I am coming after you.” He adds that this country is “still full of closet racists.”

Penn then turns to voting suppression: “What do you think is going on in South Carolina and North Carolina. Voter suppression. Its about getting black people not to vote. Why? Because black people tend to vote Democratic. Why would would Republicans want to do it? Because Republicans are not a majority in this country anymore. They are a bunch of dead white people.” Even Ann Romney is on the hit list: “Ann Romney a first lady? And remember this if you are just going to be a greedy bastard all your life and just try to get things (unintelligible) In order to be rich like Mitt Romney and hide all your income offshore, in the Cayman Islands, you have to be — think about it — Mitt Romney. Anybody here want to be Mitt Romney? Him? I mean (sigh) married to her?”

Penn is an accomplished writer who explores stereotypes and issues of identity. In that sense, the discussion of racism falls closest to his academic writings. We also need to give a professor some room to explore difficult subjects and spark debate or thought in his classroom. This however appears less of a dialogue than a diatribe. He certainly could have been trying to spark debate and get students engaged. Creative writing is about passion and uninhibited expression. For that reason, the presumption should rest in favor of the academic. However, it is hard to see the academic purpose here or how such a diatribe would in any way advance the academic mission. We have not heard from Penn who may argue that the tape is edited or that he was clearly making the comments to try to prompt a debate over such issues. However, it comes across as more of a rave.

Penn is part Nez Perce and often writes of his mixed background: “I write to amuse and entertain, but I write from a center I take seriously, a center given to me by my grandfather, encouraged by my sisters, and nurtured by my wife and by my daughter and son with whom I tell stories. Indeed, All My Sins Are Relatives is dedicated ‘For Grandfather, who knows / And Rachel and Willy, so they may.’ Thus, I would say that much of my work is so they—the children, not just my own—may know my attempt to bridge the gap between the urban mixblood and Euramerican worlds to which I belong.”

Here is his school bio and class listing:

W.S. Penn teaches in the Creative Writing Program and is one of the founding members of the Native American Writer’ ‘ s Circle (initially the Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers).

He is the author of seven books, including The Absence of Angels (novel), Killing Time with Strangers (novel), This is the World (stories), All My Sins Are Relatives (essays), and Feathering Custer (essays). He has won the Stephen Crane Prize for Fiction (twice), an American Book Award (fiction), A North American Indian Prose Award (essays), and a Distinguished Faculty Award. Presently, he is shopping a new novel, Hazing: A Novel in Ten Satires completing a new novel, The Revenge of King George working on a collection of essays and revising two film scripts.

Penn is also a contributor to the Houghton Mifflin Anthology of Literature (fiction and essay), a new anthology by writers teaching non-fiction, and a continuing advisor to the Native Writers Circle and American Indian Studies Program at MSU.

ENG 223 Introduction to Creative Non-Fiction Writing

ENG 228 Introduction to Fiction Writing

ENG 391 Special Topics in English

ENG 423 Advanced Non-Fiction Writing

ENG 428 Advanced Fiction Writing

I would not support a termination of Penn who has made impressive contributions to his field and there is no allegation of retaliation against students or bias in grading. Yet, there remains different forms of discipline that could be imposed from a reprimand to a required apology to suspension from teaching. What do you thing should be done in such a case?

81 thoughts on “Michigan State University Professor Under Fire After Student Posted Video Of Anti-Republican Rave”

  1. Give me impassioned truth over polite lies; on which basis whole faculties and universities could be censured or terminated.

  2. Opinion is opinion. The student who had the cell phone out and operating in class is obviously too immature to be in a college classroom. Let us have a discussion about the students inappropriate behavior also!

  3. Note: I don’t agree with everything the professor said or where he said it at.

    IE: He shouldn’t have only blame Republican party as the Demo Party is every bit as responsible.

    And when it comes to voting rigging the Demo Party are right in there with the Repubs doing it. //California…

    IE: //California…,Greg Palast, Look at Ron Paul being ripped off of his Victory last year in Iowa, elsewhere.

  4. Where in the He’ll is the public Outrage about this American Hating Trash/Criminals & others that are still walking around Free????????????

    GWH Bush, Ollie, Poindexter, Mitt Romney, etc…

    Oh see, just beat up the messenger, the professor. 🙂

    I hope he takes this opportunity & uses this National Soap Box for all it’s worth.

  5. Oh Gee, let me think of any reasons a Nez Perce might have for going Sam Kinison & be a lil pissy over that American Hating murdering piece Trash Mitt Romney, hands still Bloody from the the money he (Rumored, wink, wink) got to start Bain Cap. from Reagan/ GWH Bush, Ollie, Poindexter from killing Native Americans in Central America……

    All the Radiological pollution from the Hanford Nuke rez going the Columbia River…. Salmon nearly wiped out….

    Oh let’s not forget Mitt Romney is a key player in the Mafia Cult, the Morons, that are political in charge of much of the former/current Nez Perce lands & directly responsible for much of the destruction/Rape there.

    Oh much time do we have to write on this topic?


  6. DavidM,

    Now you’re into comedy….that was the funniest post I’ve seen you write to date…..

  7. Full disclosure: I was married to a law professor for many years and we have a child. He was also on his university’s board of trustees for several years and has been acting dean of his law school twice. My social life for over a decade was centered around academe, and I have many good friends who are professors.

  8. Tony C.: Ah! Now I understand your bias. Classroom time should be for the students, not for a bully pulpit for professors. The rest of what you discussed is about professorial career progression and university funding, neither of which justifies talking to students in the way the subject of the story did.

  9. This is not education. This is propaganda and indoctrination by this professor. As a writing class, there is no doubt in my mind that students who parrot his ideology will receive better grades than those who think a different ideology makes better sense. This professor argues from emotion, stereotype, and bigotry rather than reason and rational common sense. He represents the exact opposite of what universities should look for in a good professor. He is incapable of teaching students how to think.

  10. Juliet: Actually I don’t think the university is there for ONLY the students. I am a research professor at a university, I don’t teach students (except to sub for friends out of town on occasion), and I don’t advise graduate students.

    I am paid to invent new stuff and new tools, and then prove to the world’s best in my field that my invention is worth using (better than the state of the art, faster, more accurate, and/or solves problems one could not solve previously).

    Which I do, I have a talent for revisiting problems from scratch and finding new angles of attack. (Sometimes it is fruitless, sometimes it pays off).

    To me the ideal University is a center of knowledge and expertise; the purpose of the university is to both disseminate knowledge and understanding, and to advance knowledge and understanding for the betterment of humanity.

    Only half of that mission is teaching, and that is both the farm team and the way we can fund our operation (via tuition). But that is not all we exist for; if that were true we certainly do not need PhDs. Undergraduate and Master’s classes are typically rote performance classes; the student does not really do anything “new” in the field (they may in a Master’s Thesis, as I did, but those are typically elective and most Master’s students take the “just classes” route instead).

    The only salient difference between a PhD and a Master’s is that the PhD has demonstrated an ability to contribute original and valuable work to their field; that is the purpose of their dissertation. (Only the minimum threshold of proficiency and expertise in the general field are shown by qualifiers.)

    We do not need PhDs to teach students (and in many instances we use Master’s students or doctoral candidates to do the teaching). We need PhDs to advance their field. I think all under-graduate classes could be taught by Master’s students, and most Master’s classes could be taught by Master’s students trained for that specialty (and before any readers object that Masters should not teach and grant Masters, please recognize that PhDs do indeed teach and grant PhDs; the difference is in specialization).

    To me it is as much of a mistake to think that Universities exist to teach students as it is to think that Farms exist to grow plants. In neither case is the primary activity the end in and of itself; in both cases the primary activity feeds another, larger purpose.

    The farm is going to harvest the plants and eat them or sell them, either way a return (calories or money) greater than the input is achieved. For the University, teaching does promote knowledge and understanding, but it does not create new knowledge and understanding, it does not automatically advance the field to teach a student the basics of Calculus or Chemistry or the operation of the ribosome. Teaching is only half the mission, and the easy half. The harder half is solving problems that nobody has ever been able to solve before you, developing new insights, understanding new relationships and solving mysteries of causation. The hard part is chipping away at the unknown.

    So to me, my focus is on a professor’s ability to do the hard part of their job, not the easy part; and I am willing to put up with some “personality issues” as long as they do not break a law and do no more harm to students than they are likely to encounter in life anyway, among dumb coworkers, dumb uncles and dumb bosses. A professor is the equivalent of a “boss” to students. A boss can berate Republicans and racists, and being a Republican or a racist is not a “protected class” to my knowledge (lawyers please correct me if I am wrong), nor do I think they should be.

    I do not think this is the best way for this professor to teach; but his proven ability in his field is much more important to me than his teaching; and I would not have suspended him. He didn’t say anything I would be surprised to hear at my family barbecue, and I don’t think the students were harmed (I, and the law, do not consider insult or disapproval or being angered a “harm”).

    The way I see it this guy is a published novelist several times over. There are students that very much want to be published novelists. Whatever mindset it takes to become a published novelist, direct exposure to it for 50 hours or so by a published novelist willing to teach, review your amateurish work and provide insight would be very valuable, and if in his entire career he can turn even a handful of like-minded students into published novelists he will have changed their lives for the better by helping them achieve their dream, and entertained tens of thousands or even many millions with a good new story. The rest of the students are helped too, I think they learn something about the mechanics of writing, or perhaps they learn they aren’t so great at creative writing, at least as judged by one creative author with a lot of experience in getting published.

  11. Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter
    1, September 5, 2013 at 6:42 pm
    Hi Slarti:

    I don’t think the professor in Michigan is a “straw” person. I think he is real. I also think that he suffers from the above Democrat Moral Superiority Complex syndrome.

    The professor is real, the straw man is your caricature of him.

    I also think that you do not really understand what a “straw man” argument really is. Here is what Wiki says:

    Well, at least this gave Blouise a belly laugh. A “straw man” is a misrepresentation of someone’s position. You’ve been doing a lot of that of late. For instance, the fantasy you concocted whereby Trayvon Martin is responsible for his own death and George Zimmerman is an innocent victim (your depictions of both Martin and Zimmerman are unmistakable straw men).

    Now read the editorial carefully. You will notice that the author is complaining that Democrats tend to avoid actual arguments and instead arrive at a conclusion by what amounts to a “prejudice.”

    Which is a straw man used to imply that there is no merit to Democratic (or liberal) arguments since they are based on prejudice rather than reasoning.

    That in no way attacks the Democrats’ actual arguments, but instead actually calls for argumentation as opposed to mere personal bias.

    Actually, attacking the Democrats actual arguments on the substance would be fine, but they are saying that all Democratic arguments lack substance because they are just a reflection of bias rather than a reasoned position—something that is patently untrue.

    The video of the Professor shows him doing just that, bullying his students with his personal prejudices, as opposed to making logical arguments.

    The guy was an ass and will end up paying for it (probably more than he actually deserves). I would also note that the video left some stuff out:

    In his remarks in the class, he said: “If you’re a Republican, forgive me. If your parents are Republican, forgive me. They won’t and I don’t care.”
    The class then chuckles.
    “I absolutely don’t mean to offend you,” the professor added. “Even if you’re a Republican, I don’t mean to offend you in this class.”


    They seem to be following in the dishonest footsteps of James O’Keefe…

    For some reason, labeling that as the Democrat Moral Superiority Complex, seems to make you uncomfortable.

    You don’t make me uncomfortable Squeeky, you disappoint me. Your closed-minded anti-intellectualism and the dishonesty of your arguments saddens me.

    As far as how the author labeled his post, I submit that you find it “petty and juvenile” because of a Democrat Moral Superiority Complex.

    Sorry Squeeky, but that just doesn’t fly. I think that calling it the “ReTHUGlican” party is petty and juvenile as well. It’s just another way to demonize your opponent—something that has become a staple of right-wing politics in this country (far more so than on the left, but I oppose its use by them as well). I prefer that arguments be based on facts and reasoning rather than propaganda and demagoguery.

    Someone without the Complex would tend to find it simply more of a grammatical boo-boo.

    I’m not an idiot—names are important. Just read Gene’s series on propaganda to see where tactics like this come from and what their purpose is. It isn’t just a boo-boo or it wouldn’t have been intentionally pushed by the likes of Hannity and Limbaugh to the point where most people use it without realizing that it is intended as a slur.

    But, for some reason you just have to show how “superior” you are, and work in some little unnecessary digs: See how stupid those Republicans are! They just can’t use English good like us smart Democrats!

    I want people to look at my ideas and reasoning and compare them to yours—they can decide for themselves who’s arguments are superior—in general, though, I just ignore simple grammatical errors for the most part and try to avoid them myself as much as possible. I’m much more interested in the merits of arguments than I am in the style of the rhetoric.

    If you actually read the editorial with an open mind, you might come away with more appreciation for what the author is trying to tell you. IMO.

    You’re entitled to your own opinion, however stupid I believe it is, but, had I read more than your excerpt, it is unlikely that I would gain any more respect for the author’s thesis. More likely I would just become aware of more logical fallacies and dishonest tactics used by the author.

  12. There are many ways to involve students in serious debate over serious issues. That is what good professors do. That is not what was done in this instance. Prof. Penn’s outburst places him firmly in the Limbaugh, Malkin, et al. school of debate, where insult and invective dominate and reason is trampled in the verbal stampede. As for punishment, a reprimand should be a sufficiently embarrassing reminder that academic freedom can only thrive within an atmosphere of academic values.

  13. well from what i see certain factions are going to be upset because the profesorr spoke THE TRUTH!!!! only issue i have is he has yet to figure it out that the demorats and repukes are one in the same. they are all owwned by the same 1% you dont get into a high office without being ownned

    ps again pls exxcuse spell chk the chemo blurs my sight aat times

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