University of Michigan defends decision to suspend professor after student rant

GREAT RAPIDS, Mich. – A University of Michigan has defended its decision to suspend a teacher on a profanity-filled video, saying the unusual welcome message for his history students is not protected by the First Amendment.

Ferris State University attorneys said some students dropped out of Barry Mehler’s classes because of his remarks.

Immediately sending him back to class “would only further disrupt the operations of Ferris State University and could create widespread discontent among parents and students,” the school said in a court filing Monday.

Previously: Ferris State University professor suspended for crude rant video

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Mehler, 74, was suspended with pay on Jan. 11 and said he was being investigated for violating the faculty contract and the university’s employee dignity policy. He answered with a lawsuit to try to get back to class. A hearing is scheduled for March 7.

During his 14-minute video to announce the new term, Mehler frequently used profanity and told students — he called them COVID-19 “disease vectors” — they could skip in-person classes and still get a good grade by completing the course requirements posted online.

Mehler later said he was playing when he used provocative language in the video, which has had more than 500,000 views on YouTube. He said he was joking when he told the students he didn’t want to know their names and would distribute the grades randomly.

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Mehler said he wanted to “get their juices flowing.”

Ferris State said offensive speech is not protected by the First Amendment when the audience is a captive group of students.

“Use of such profanity and discriminatory terms against students and administrators subjects the university to potential Title IX sexual harassment allegations,” Ferris State attorneys said, referring to federal law. “Besides, that’s just plain wrong!”

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