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. Here is a link to some fun reviews of this professor, like this little bon mot (which is French for a “good mot”):

    This man is an *SS. He is an arrogant, judgmental, bitter, pessimistic *ss. The worst thing about it is he takes grading to heart and will not grade you solely on merit, improvement and hardwork but grade you based on how much you kiss his fat *ss,


    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  2. I find it interesting that a guy so interested in “exploring stereotypes” would be so enthusiastic to engage in them like that in front of his class like that. That hypocrisy really stood out to me.

    I dont see how his rant could be germane to anything he’s trying to teach in class. I’m not a Republican, but I’m not blinded enough by partisanship to think that saying such offensive and stupid things like that is acceptable classroom behavior for a teacher. If he were ranting about Obama and Pelosi or MSNBC… well… I wonder how consistent people’s opinions would be. Students pay for college… there’s no need to have to deal with profs on soapboxes like that. It’s quite a bit beyond sparking classroom discussion, imho…

    There’s a time, place and method to express your political viewpoints….I dont see how this is it. He deserves to be suspended, reprimanded… something… A second instance should certainly be solid grounds for dismissal.

  3. “Although Penn will not teach again this year, the school will continue to pay his salary, which is $146,510 according to MSU’s official website, a spokesman for the university told Campus Reform on Thursday evening.”


    WTF? This guy is raping college students who mortgage their future to get a piece of paper that says they’re smart. But this guy ain’t so smart. Mitt Romney makes a lot more for not doing anything.

  4. Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter to Slarti:

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

    ROFLMAO!… stop, take a breath … ROFLMAO! … stop, answer the phone … ROFLMAO! … top, make a latte … ROFLMAO! … give up, can’t stop … ROFLMAO!

  5. I have no problem with this erudite professor talking about the lying scumbag Republican warmongering fascists in the way he did, but I think he is giving his students an incomplete picture of the political landscape by leaving out comments on the lying scumbag Democrat warmongering fascists. Then again, perhaps he belongs to that cult of hypocrites and sees them through a lens that makes them appear vastly different than the other branch of the Republicrat cult system – the one that the kid who “exposed” this belongs to.

  6. Slartibartfast,

    Speaking of Joel…. Reid has got him is a little trouble I hear…. Want about 1k shares of that enterprise…. Not even trading anymore….

    As far a elected vs appointed…. I think Lke Superior State…. A friend of mine was appointed…. So it could be that way at CMU as well…..I know some folks pony to get on the ballot for UofM and MSU…

  7. AY,

    Some are elected and some are appointed. Joel Ferguson (a long-time MSU trustee) regularly runs for re-election and I know a former CMU trustee who was appointed (by the governor, I believe).

  8. Jullet,

    In this case and for the state of Michigan… They are party nominated…. And they are just as political as any politician can be…. I am not sure if all trustees are elected in the State of Michigan ….

  9. I heard from a very credible source that he professor was reassigned…. At present his teaching assignments have been suspended… He is still at this time employed by MSU………

  10. Juliet: I am no stranger to overloading; I completed 24 hours my first semester. But overloading was our choice, and it is always the student’s choice to sit and listen, speak up, or get up and walk out.

    We both had the right to drop down to fewer classes, we chose not to exercise that right because it was inconvenient and would screw up our other plans. I don’t think “convenience” is a right. We would not have been killed or bankrupted or punished for dropping a douche, so we had the luxury.

    >>> She said the academic freedom in the classroom belongs, primarily, to the students.

    That is one professor’s style. I don’t like this professor’s style, but I am loathe to mandate that professors have to be subservient, refrain from commenting on their personal likes and dislikes, or mandate that they have to be friendly or nice to students.

    1. You might be loathe, but university boards are not. They realize the university is there for the students, not the other way around.

  11. 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.

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

    Person 1 has position X.
    Person 2 disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y. The position Y is a distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:
    Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position.
    Quoting an opponent’s words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s actual intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).[4]
    Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then refuting that person’s arguments—thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.[3]
    Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
    Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
    Person 2 attacks position Y, concluding that X is false/incorrect/flawed.

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

    The video of the Professor shows him doing just that, bullying his students with his personal prejudices, as opposed to making logical arguments. For some reason, labeling that as the Democrat Moral Superiority Complex, seems to make you uncomfortable.

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

    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.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  12. Squeeky,

    Are you trying to corner the market on straw man arguments? There are a whole lot of liberals who comment on this blog and I don’t think any of them fit the caricature in your excerpt (or your own rants here and elsewhere). You seem to be the one who wants to paint the political divide as between the “good” common-sense conservatives (like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin) and the “evil” elitist, intellectual liberals who are destroying the country with their faux moral superiority. Are you afraid of addressing the real arguments of people who disagree with you or are you just a dishonest troll?

    By the way, the use of the term “Democrat” where “DemocratIC is appropriate is petty and juvenile. Which, I suppose, is a pretty apt description of American Thinker…

  13. Well, I am glad that he got suspended. Normally, I don’t want to see people lose their jobs, but he just crossed way over the line between having an opinion and trying to browbeat people over whom he has the power of grades. He is a real good example of something I read about in an editorial yesterday, The Democrat Moral Superiority Complex. Here are a few excerpts:

    A liberal friend solemnly warned me not to tell anyone I support the Tea Party. They’re all racists, wacko survivalists and birthers, she told me, impervious to anything I said about my pride in the Tea Party, and our mainstream issues: fiscal responsibility and constitutional, limited government. She knew we were racist because there were only white people at our rallies. No matter there’s not a black face at the anti-global warming groups she goes to, or in her neighborhood or church. It’s only conservatives who are judged guilty of racism before proven innocent.

    Democrats believe that good and evil in this country is divided along party lines, with all the caring people in their party, and all the greedy, mean people in the other. They also believe that intelligence is doled out along party lines. Conservatives are morons while liberals are the most brilliant people ever seen.

    It gets worse. Enclosed in their liberal bubble of superiority, Democrats can’t picture an intelligent person sincerely and rationally disagreeing. So they jump to the conclusion that conservatives don’t believe in their own ideas!

    It’s true: Democrats can’t imagine anyone taking conservative ideas seriously, not even conservatives. They logically infer that Republicans are malevolent liars. We are just pretending to have our own ideas for how to set the country on the right track. When Republicans say they hate socialized medicine, they really mean they hate blacks. When Republicans say they want to respect and strengthen families, it means they hate gays. When they say people should pay for their own birth control, it means they hate women. When they say the right to bear arms is in our Constitution, it means they want school massacres. When they say we need to make Social Security solvent, it means they hate old people.

    Republicans can’t really believe that individual responsibility is the only path to a free, good and prosperous life. We don’t mean it when we say a fiscally responsible government is necessary for a functioning economy and social safety net. The Democrats can see through all ridiculous ideas. It’s obvious that Republicans want the old to die, the poor to starve, the young to have no sex, homosexuals to be humiliated and women to have no rights. Above all, we are racist.


    It’s a really good editorial and I recommend it to people who can’t figure out where guys like this professor are really coming from. Because I guarantee you he is sitting at home right now, in a state of intellectual tizzy, trying to figure out why he got suspended for just stating what should be obvious to the meanest intelligence. He has no clue that it is just his OPINION, and not one based on any reality.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    United States of ALEC: A Follow-Up

    Aired: 06/21/2013

    “Moyers & Company follows up on a breakthrough 2012 report about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership.” But behind that mantra lies a network of lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge”

    The UNITED STATES OF ALEC: followup;

  15. Josiah Ryan is the editor-in-chief of CampusReform.org and the director of communications for LI’s Campus Leadership Program.

    Previously Josiah reported on the U.S. Senate for The Hill newspaper in Washington D.C. and was the cofounder of The Floor Action blog, a live-stream on policy, politics, and procedure in the upper chamber.

    SUSPENDED: Michigan State removes prof who went on anti-Republican tirade

    By Josiah Ryanon Sep 05, 2013

  16. SUSPENDED: Michigan State removes prof who went on anti-Republican tirade

    By Josiah Ryanon Sep 05, 2013
    “Administrators took the action in the face of mounting pressure.

    By Thursday morning the video had surpassed 70k views on YouTube and received coverage from major national news outlets. For example, the video was briefly played on the O’Reilly Factor on Wednesday evening.

    On Wednesday, a member of the MSU Board of Trustees, also told Campus Reform he found the lecture to be “disturbing” and “offensive” and suggested he planned to take it up in a meeting of the trustees scheduled for next month. On Thursday another trustee also condemned the professor’s speech.

    The eight minute video, released by Campus Reform early this week, showed Penn expressing his political views in the literature class. In the video he claimed Republicans were “cheap” and “raped” the country.

    Campus Reform obtained the video from a student of Penn’s who asked to remain anonymous because she/he feared retribution.”

  17. Slartibartfast,

    You know what…. You’re absolutely correct…. You are absolutely right…. I hadn’t had my first cup of morning joe…..

    Hey is paramount coffee still stinking the air pretty bad…. Speaking of morning joe….

    With respect to his highness Snyder…. And we thought Engler was bad…. Huh… There are lesser of two evil in that one….

  18. TWO posts were rejected (censored for whatever excuse) and may appear later after review & consideration. All the material comes from these two links that explain the relationship between The Young Republicans, Morton Blackwell and his leadership-institute. Please review these and decide for yourself. (Apparently non-partisan “leadership” is exclusively Republican and Conservative) But the direct and intentional attack on the University System to propagate its political agenda is not free speech or free thought; it is factional and highly partisan propagation aka fascism.
    and the essential link is that CampusReform.org is a project of the non-profit Leadership Institute.

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