University Professor Removed After Asking Students To Agree To Use Of Profanity In Class

220px-Michael_PersingerLaurentian University Professor Dr. Michael Persinger has been removed from his class for confirming that students understand that profane language is used and discussed as part of his class. That would seem a basic exercise of academic freedom since Persinger was seeking to use the language as part of his introductory psychology course. Yet, the university declared him in violation of workplace policies.

Persinger is a cognitive neuroscience researcher and university professor with an extensive list of publications, particularly in experimental work in the field of neurotheology.

Persinger has students sign a “Statement of Understanding” during the first lecture that lists a sample of words that might be used during class, and includes the F-word, homophobic slurs and offensive slang for genitalia. He explains that “One of my techniques is to expose people to all types of different words. Silly words, complex words, emotional words, profane words. Because they influence how you make decisions and how you think.” The words were used to show students how such words affect the brain’s rational processes. The use of the words would seem to serve an obvious purpose of warning students and gaining their consent in dealing with material or words that could be disturbing. More importantly, the language has a clear pedagogical purpose. You can read the whole “Statement of Understanding” here.

The Statement of Understanding (which appears under a “R” rating warning) includes the following statement:


Statement of Understanding
I understand that the Professor in this course, Dr. M. A. Persinger, employs techniques intended to challenge my beliefs and to develop my skills as an independent thinker who employs data and methods rather than social consensus or verbal emotionality for decision• making. I realize that the methods are not intended to embarrass or to demean but to encourage development of strategies so I will be minimally influenced by unpleasant experiences. If I require special needs I will not approach the professor in order to maintain my anonymity but instead arrange a convenient meeting with the professor and the Special Needs Office.
I understand that the language ( examples attached) employed within this course and the examinations (examples attached) will contain frank expressions and creative metaphors that reflect everyday life. This course will focus upon the practical and most important principles of human behavior. I realize that I can ask any question in this classroom and employ creative metaphors regardless if they are or are not “politically correct”. The course professor promises to teach me the most advanced methods of problem solving so I will not be duped by social-political agendas. The professor has informed me that if the course content might be offensive to me I. can transfer to another section as early as possible.

What follows is list of words that will be referenced in the course for the purposes of full disclosure.

None of that mattered in the end. Two months into the course, Persinger was called into the office of the university provost and told he would no longer be teaching the class. This action was done without any complaint for years of his using this practice. Moreover, students were given the option of changing to a different section of the course if they didn’t like the practice.

The university issued a statement that “It was recently brought to the Dean’s attention that a Statement of Understanding issued to students by Dr. Persinger was not in compliance with Laurentian University policies. Dr. Persinger was removed from teaching this course pending an investigation.”

I fail to see how this action does not violate core academic freedom principles, which are stated clearly in the Canadian Association of University Teachers:

CAUT actively defends academic freedom as the the right to teach, learn, study and publish free of orthodoxy or threat of reprisal and discrimination. Academic freedom includes the right to criticize the university and the right to participate in its governance. Tenure provides a foundation for academic freedom by ensuring that academic staff cannot be dismissed without just cause and rigorous due process.

The faculty appears to have rallied behind Persinger as it should. It should not stop with contesting this action but look closely at who took this action in the first place. If universities are going to micromanage such courses to sanitize material or teaching techniques, there is little hope for academic freedom. What is particularly chilling is that this action is occurring at a time when free speech is under attack on college and university campuses. From the growing free speech regulations on campuses to the demands for the expansion of hate crimes, we are seeing the early signs of the taste for censorship as well as double standards. The intrusion into the classroom takes these concerns to an even greater level.

Source: CBC

62 thoughts on “University Professor Removed After Asking Students To Agree To Use Of Profanity In Class”

  1. I disagree with the university. This is a psychology class specifically dealing with how our brains process stimulus, such as offensive words. It’s a science class. And it sounds like the professor made an effort to give students the ability to opt out.

    And I agree with Karen’s disagreement as well. It sound like a perfectly legitimate area of study for a psychology class and a topic that anyone who plans to enter that field and deal with actual living breathing people should be able to deal with.

    If you are such a special snowflake that you can’t hear “rough” language without fainting, how in the world do you expect to be able to deal with the realities of life outside of your special insulated bubble?

    Life is FULL of unpleasantness…….deal with it.

  2. Isaac; ” Overall, the US is not doing so well in this department, much better than most but not as good as some….” We’ve dropped I think 13 places in the press freedom index. Not as good as some and progressively worse than others. ….speaking of Progressives.

  3. This just proves that we are losing our rights. We’ve lost the democracy, we’ve lost the republic, we’ve lost the 1st amendment, we’re losing the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th… Oh wait, I must be a terrorist for thinking such unapproved thoughts.

    Why F*ck became the most important word in the English language: Over 3,000,000 views. Don’t miss it.

  4. Nick

    You are the guy who screams out, “I got my rights, there’s no law against what I did, etc.” as they slam you to the ground. There are laws and then there are actions. Words and Laws don’t help much when you’re taking a bullet by mistake, or cuz the cop has finally flipped, or cuz a citizen ‘felt’ threatened, or cuz someone could so he did, etc. You can rant and rave all you want about the laws that protect and the sacred words that eclipse any and every other society but in the end it all comes down to actions. Overall, the US is not doing so well in this department, much better than most but not as good as some. It doesn’t much matter how an innocent person gets put in jail or how a toker goes away for decades, or how the color of the skin equates to decades in jail for the same offense a ‘white boy’ skates on. The statistics and facts are there, along with the laws.

  5. Karen, Interesting comment. The problem is the Education Industry is trying to erase all unpleasantries from campus. The special snowflakes cannot handle the harsh realities of the world. The flick, Demolition Man comes to mind.

  6. I think that Anthony Weiner should apply for a job at this so called University. They won’t know that the name means he hails from Wein as in Vienna.

  7. I disagree with the university. This is a psychology class specifically dealing with how our brains process stimulus, such as offensive words. It’s a science class. And it sounds like the professor made an effort to give students the ability to opt out.

    If the university had a professional conduct code that precluded the use of profanity in the classroom, then there should be some means to gain an exception if it is for scientific purposes.

    In a similar vein, I recall reading a study on psychopaths compared to other violent offenders in prison. They measured the blink reflex, I believe, while the subject viewed images of either pleasant family events like picnics and Thanksgiving, or kids playing, or bloody and macabre images, like torture or dead bodies. They did not share with the subject what they were measuring. It’s quite difficult to change your innate blink reflex. When you are relaxed, your blink reflex is slower. When you are agitated, it’s faster. Psychopaths were agitated when they viewed serene family pictures, and relaxed when they viewed blood and gore. Other violent offenders had a normal response, which was the complete reverse.

    Measuring or understanding how the brain reacts to emotional stimulus is just another scientific study. Could it be done without using profanity? Probably. But there should be some way for the professor to have a shot at approval. Everyone is supposed to be an adult at college, who shouldn’t get offended at every little thing.

    Come to think of it, I recall quite a few of my professors using the odd curse word here and there. For instance, when my physics professor accidentally gave himself a heck of a shock in lab.

  8. This professor should just get a doctor’s note that says he has Tourette’s.

  9. It’s definitely too many hockey pucks to the head if one can’t understand the BASIC differences between stupid school rules, stupid cops, and CRIMINAL STATUTES ON THE BOOKS that can TAKE AWAY YOUR FREEDOM AND PUT YOU IN PRISON!! Blasphemy laws are antithetical to basic freedom of speech. Canada follows it’s former parents, Europe, like the sad little puppy it is.

  10. Clog in the Drain @12:37 pm

    Your perception of my opinions and views are of no value or significance to me. I am completely unconcerned with your take on what you consider to be rants. I am not beholden to you–you are not my employer, you do not pay my bills and, thank God, I am in no way related to you. You can find my opinions or beliefs as appalling as you wish–my life will not be impacted one iota. This professor, however, has to play by a different set of rules. While academics are given a long leash and a great deal of latitude, neither is infinite. Those in the teaching profession, whether at the elementary level or college level, must abide by whatever rules and regulations their respective employers dish out or they risk losing their positions. It’s as simple as that. Play by the rules or suffer the consequences.

    This professor is an employee. The university is the employer. The students, I would argue, are clients or customers of the university–the employer–not those of the professor–the employee. The employer has certain policies in effect for a multitude of reasons, and it is the employer–the university–which will assume the astronomical legal costs to defend against any possible lawsuits brought by clients–students–who claim that this professor created a hostile and intimidating atmosphere in his classroom. It is not up to a mere employee, without the express permission and consent of his employer, to give clients warnings about the services being offered at the employer’s university, advising them to opt out of a class if they didn’t approve of the content. That wasn’t a call for him to make, unilaterally. Teach using profanity, obscene photos, or even teach naked–just as long as the university is fully aware of the employee’s intention to bend the rules and has no objection to such antics. Given that this professor studies the brain, one would assume that he could grasp the notion that this bizarre contract, of sorts, that he passed out did not shield his employer from possible lawsuits directly attributable to his actions.

    1. bam bam, It is good to see that you at least acknowledge that we live under a draconian form of authoritarian rule propagated and controlled by our fascist oligarchy.

  11. If I read this correctly, this is not the first time this course has been offered or having the students sign a statement acknowledging the content of the course. I seriously doubt any student registered for this class with this professor without having any idea of what was on the syllabus. I see this professor *secretly* cursing out this administration while openly doing the Chevy Chase rant:

  12. Let’s see, we have a society where those who provide the actual service and those that pay for the actual service have less say than those of political and/or economic positions of power. What kind of system could this possibly be?

  13. bam bam-

    It is most unfortunate that you fail to realize that your anti-Muslim rants are more profane than the language which which this professor would have used in his class.

  14. This is consistent w/intellectuals lacking common sense. I presume this guy thought he was above having to read his employer’s policies.

    Management of all or most large government institutions are required to take classes wherein they lean their employer’s policies. Employees sign roll sheets which employers keep on file, sign documents agreeing to said policies, etc.

    I’m not thinking this guy goes very far with a defense of his actions.

    This would be like some anti-holocaust instructor displaying lamp shades allegedly made from human skin.

    1. Joseph Jones – there would be nothing wrong with instructor displaying lamp shades made from human skin. It would make for a great discussion.

  15. I remember that Rice University bigwigs (I taught at Rice) once admonished the faculty to refrain from using profanities because the students might learn from us. Soon a student joke made the rounds according to which our students knew far more profanities (especially newer ones) than us. They were probably correct.

  16. Hell’s Bells (which comes right after Hell’s Angels in the dictionary). The administration at this university is $&@”#! up. I hope the professor teaches a new course designed to study the irrational fears held by college administrators when professors offer courses to study the real world effect of the use of profanity.

    Barkindog, you forgot to tell Dick Van Dyke that he has to change his name, too.

  17. Let’s see, kids arrested and suspended for bringing science projects to school, bringing an Oak Leaf to school, pointing a finger, etc.

    Nick, you take refuge in semantics. Laws are laws when they are applied. There are many laws in many countries that are discriminately applied, somehow ignored, and saved for special situations. The circus that is the US political system is a perfect example of how something intended to be so common sensical turned out to be a sewer controlled by money and special interests. Find yourself criminally charged because your adversary had the money, connections, and impetus and you find yourself reading the US papers. Canada may be a country without these sacred words most Americans revere, but in actuality the essence of these words is more revered in Canada through action and deed than in the US. Read the papers of both countries.

    This instance of perverse administration in Laurentian University is nothing compared to what goes on in the US education system from pre school all the way through a doctorate degree.

  18. The course should not be taught at the college level but in grade school.(OK parents would object, but still….) My highly educated MD dad cussed like a dock worker. It was because he was an immigrant and couldn’t think of the English word when angry or frustrated about something. He cussed in German and in English. As a child I was offended that he was doing that, but as an adult realized that cussing is not evil. It just reflects an inability to express oneself more articulately.

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