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US professor suspended for bizarre, profanity-laden ‘welcome’ video to students

Barry Mehler says his video message calling students ‘vectors of disease’ was meant to be a humorous attempt ‘to get their juices flowing’

Ferris State University professor Barry Mehler wearing an astronaut helmet in a video he made for students. (Screenshot)
Ferris State University professor Barry Mehler wearing an astronaut helmet in a video he made for students. (Screenshot)

A Michigan university professor has been placed on leave after he told students in a profanity-laced video that he randomly assigns grades before the first day of class.

“I don’t even want to know your name,” said Barry Mehler of Ferris State University in Big Rapids. “I just look at the number and assign a grade. That is how predestination works… Take your complaints to God. He ordained this system, not me.”

In the 14-minute video, Mehler, 74, called students “vectors of disease” and said they didn’t need to attend class in person.

“I will not take questions in class because I’m wearing this… helmet in order to stay alive,” he said, a reference to an astronaut-style helmet with air filters displayed earlier in the video.

In response to the backlash, Mehler said that the video was a humorous attempt “to get their juices flowing.” He noted that his classroom was full on the first day of class this semester, proof that students were not offended by the video.

But he was placed on leave by the university last week. “I was shocked and appalled by this video. It is profane, offensive and disturbing and in no way reflects our university or its values,” President David Eisler said Thursday.

Mehler, who received his undergraduate degree at Yeshiva University, teaches the history of science and the “interface between science and racism,” according to his LinkedIn page.

He told students in the video “there’s absolutely nothing you can do” about grades but later said “everything you need to earn an A” is available on a class website.

“My grading system is based on the Calvinist doctrine of predestination,” he said. “I figure if it was good enough for America, it’s good enough for me. The Indians didn’t lose because they failed. They tried everything and nothing worked… You’re all predestined to lose just like the Indians.”

Later he told The Associated Press that much of the video was intended as a joke.

“If a professor comes in and he’s all high and mighty and using words they don’t understand — that doesn’t help them relax and think… it was a performance,” Mehler said.

“The president has never liked me,” he said in response to his suspension.

Ferris State University professor Barry Mehler in a video he made for students. (Screenshot)

Mehler, who is upset with the university over its refusal to require COVID-19 vaccinations, called students “vectors of disease” and said they didn’t need to attend in person. In the interview on Friday, Mehler, noting his age and risk for getting the virus, said his policy on classroom attendance was not a joke.

“The whole idea was to get their juices flowing,” Mehler said of the video overall. “But they also knew their grade was not based on predestination. That was simply humorous.”

Ferris State spokesman Sandy Gholston declined to comment.

Mehler said a lawyer and an academic freedom group, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, are helping him fight the ouster from the classroom.

“I’ve gotten lots of support since this happened by former students who said, ‘You were the funniest professor I ever had,’” said Mehler, who has been at Ferris State for decades. “People who have watched the video are writing to say, ‘It was hysterical. I laughed from beginning to end.’”

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