Professor Barry Mehler at Ferris State University in Michigan clearly does not want to return to in-person classes. Appearing in a video with a space helmet, Mehler went full Howard Beale in a video in which he called his students “vectors of disease” and tells them to “stay the f**k away from me.” While many have declared Mehler completely insane, his video may be as clever as a covid-phobic fox. Let me explain.
Mehler teaches the history of science and is the founder and director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism.
In the video below, Mehler lashes out at the requirement that he return to in-person classes despite the risk to his health as an older person. He is profane, insulting, and taunting.
He is also being clearly sarcastic and waggish at points. For example, he tells the students that he randomly assigns grades at the start of the course because he does not care who they are or what they do in this class: “None of you c**ksuckers are good enough to earn an A in my class. So I randomly assign grades before the first day of class.” However, he later explains how they can earn an A without coming to class if they do the other work.
He uses the pre-written speech (you can see the script when he shares the screen) to attack religion, Western Civilization, America’s legacy, and both the students and the university.
Mehler may set a record for the purely profane in his diatribe:
“I may have f***ed up my life flatter than hammered s***, but I stand before you today beholding to no human c*ksucker,” Mehler says. “I’m working in a paid f***ing union job and no limber-d*ck c*ksucker of an administrator is going to tell me how to teach my classes. Because I’m a f****** tenured professor. So, if you want to go complain to your dean, f*** you, go ahead. I’m retiring at the end of this year and I couldn’t give a flying f*** any longer.”
At one point he declares “[w]hen I look out at a classroom filled with fifty students, I see fifty selfish kids who don’t give a sh*t whether grandpa lives or dies. And if you won’t expose your grandpa to a possible infection with COVID, then stay the f*** away from me.”
It is Howard Beale with a doctorate.
So is this just madness? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Three clues can be derived from the video. First, there is the fact that this was a pre-written “soliloquy.” It sounds like a spontaneous diatribe but It is a calculated and intentionally worded address. It could be more Machiavellian than Bealean in that sense. While Mehler does call his students “vectors of disease,” he then shows how he took that language loosely from a movie as a teachable moment on plagiarism.
Second, Mehler reveals that he does not want to teach in person. To that end, he encourages students not to come to class and assures them that their grades will not be impacted. Indeed, he strongly suggests that he will look with disfavor on those who appear in this class.
Third, Mehler says that this is his last year before retiring and he has tenure (and union) protections. He encourages the students to complain to the university. Indeed, he almost begs them to do so. They did and the university expressed the predictable shock as it placed him on leave.
So what does that all mean? It could mean that Mehler was trying to get himself put on leave. (Hopefully, he can still return the $300 space helmet). Before the university could fire him, they must investigate him and follow grievance procedures. He will claim that this was an effort of being edgy and humorous. That process could likely take the year and Mehler would simply retire. In the meantime, he and his space helmet can stay at home.
Or he may be crazy.