I hope I don’t wait 10 years to bust loose

I’m 65. Barry Mehler is 75, and he’s still teaching. Well, he was. After he gave this introduction to one of his classes, his university fired him.

I agree with all that he said (except I don’t use a Calvinist predestination method to assign grades). I did chastise my students for not masking up this year, without the profanity. I guess I have an aspirational example to follow.

So they fired him. After a legal wrangle, he settled for $95,000, which is a nice retirement payout. Another aspiration to meet.

I guess the administration is going to have to keep a close eye on me over the next few years. I’ve already been called to the carpet once for expressing my contempt for the university’s cowardly COVID policy in public.


  1. hemidactylus says

    You don’t seem anywhere near as abrasive as this guy, PZ. If he or anyone wants to wear a HEPA laden space helmet around more power to them. I began the pandemic wearing a mask AND face shield. At this point the masking ship has done sailed.

    The Camel cig ad in the video gave me a thought. Ed Bernays put his PR skills to bad things: coopting feminism to get women smoking in public acceptable (“Torches of Freedom”), cheerleading for the CIA led coup of Arbenz in Guatemala, etc, but imagine what he could have done to make CDC COVID guidelines for public health more palatable to a broader audience. He had a knack.

    I should look into Mehler’s stuff on the history of eugenics. From the article you quoted: “A 1999 article in the Tampa Bay Times about another professor who believed Blacks are genetically inferior to whites, Mehler was quoted talking about academic freedom.

    That article calls him “Barry Mehler, director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism,” and said that he believed firing the professor in question would turn him into a martyr, but he said the professor could be rebuked.

    “Institutions can say while we respect his freedom of speech, he does not speak for this university. We do not agree with what he is saying. We believe what he is saying is wrong,” Mehler said to the newspaper.

    Is his Calvinist Elect grading system for real or just a bit of sarcasm or ironic distance? I mean it’s not much of a leap to Max Weber on the Protestant ethic or the Frankfurt School use of “instrumental reason” to criticize it.

    Calling students c—-suckers or disease vectors isn’t exactly going to endear yourself to them. It is kinda funny though in an over the top sort of way. I can see reaching well past the point of frustration causing one to act out in a rather harsh manner.

  2. hemidactylus says

    This is more subdued, less bombastic, and probably more to the point of how Mehler usually comports himself:

    He breaks USian history down into three periods of white supremacist systems: slavery, Jim Crow, and the post-Civil Rights era for which I was astonished he presents Michelle Alexander’s CRT adjacent The New Jim Crow. Mehler is very much the pessimist contra-Pinker’s rose colored glasses. I just subscribed to his channel.

    Alexander’s book details the current regime of mass incarceration and her more recent introduction calls out immigrant incarceration and deportation plus the digital panopticon that extends incarceration of African Americans outside the confines of prison itself. And she focuses on the caste aspect of felon stigmatization.

    The really weird thing is that in recently watching the PBS documentary Slavery By Another Name I was struck by how prevalent convict leasing to corporations was back in the Jim Crow era, which seems to parallel the more recent private prison set up. I was also shocked by the horrific practice of debt peonage!

  3. silvrhalide says

    From the link:
    “In the video, he repeatedly uses the “F” word, referring to students and administrators as “c**********.” He told students they would gain nothing by coming to class, said he decided their grades randomly before class started, and advised them not to get caught if they plagiarized.”

    Sounds like this guy should have retired a whole lot sooner.

    As much as I appreciate the snark, if this dude is pissed off at his university (for good reason it would seem), then screaming at his students is uncalled-for, rude and aimed at the wrong people. And I say this as someone who was an undergraduate TA for 3 years. Wait until one of them does something stupid (and chances are at least one or more of them will) before screaming at the stupid one(s), not at all of them.

    If you have nothing left to teach your students, do yourself and them a favor and retire.

  4. silvrhalide says

    Hmm. Does anyone know what the make and model of that helmet is? It looks a whole lot more comfortable than an N95 mask. I noticed that at no time did the faceplate fog up when Mehler was talking. Looks like a quality product. The HEPA filters in both directions would mean that I could wear it to work.

  5. says

    Looks like a 3m PAPR. A lot of woodturners and metalworkers wear them. There’s a filter system belt pack and it provides dry positive air pressure. You can find them on ebay cheap sometimes without the battery packs, which can be replaced with a USB battery pack and some jury rigging. Search for “PAPR mask” and you can complete a setup for between $500 and $1500 depending on what’s on.

    The one with the pressure unit on the face is cheaper but the motor is loud.

  6. says

    Early in the pandemic I wore my PAPR to the grocery store. Since it’s spattered with paint and dust and has wires hanging off (and whines) it was an attention-getter.

  7. Snarki, child of Loki says

    @7 “Early in the pandemic I wore my PAPR to the grocery store”

    Especially good to go to the service counter and state loudly:

  8. numerobis says

    PZ, my dad spent twenty years trying to get a retirement package by annoying the administration and never succeeded — every time he got close they would quit or get fired. It’s hard work with an uncertain payout!

  9. mineralfellow says

    @4: silvrhalide
    If you listen to the video, he has the brilliant soliloquy about the cocksucker administrators, but then he reveals that he basically plagiarized the speech from a TV show. He takes time to explain what plagiarism is, then explains how to avoid plagiarism by citing sources. It is honestly one of the most brilliant explanations I have ever heard. I will definitely be showing this to my colleagues at my university, and I will strongly consider showing that portion to my students next year (who always struggle with plagiarism).

  10. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    If I were a student going into life-sucking long-term debt in order to supposedly learn something useful, I would have bailed on this session, and said “good riddance” when I heard the news of his firing. He should have quit back when he could put together a coherent rant, not this hodge-podge.

  11. hemidactylus says

    @12- Just an Organic Regular Expression

    Maybe his bark is worse than his bite. I can’t quite take his whole Calvinistic grading system seriously, as he might have been using that to make some subtle point about our social system. At least my ox isn’t getting gored so I find the whole video as humorous spectacle. I wouldn’t reduce him to this one instance of expressed frustration with the dangers of COVID.

    His other output seems pretty interesting. Maybe if not a professor anymore that’s his new project. This video on the Windover dig in easy central Florida was ok once he got to the topic. He has some weird thing about Camel cigarettes, which I’m not sure are his actual views or just some subtle sarcastic point.

  12. says

    About the Calvinist grading: He does say later in the video that students can learn everything they need to get an “A” without coming to class. Even without that, it seems pretty clear what he was trying to get across: unlike what that idiot Calvin said, your actions do matter to how people or the god of your choice will judge you, and if you choose to be an unmasked disease vector I will judge you for it.

  13. jrkrideau says

    @ 11 mineralfellow

    I could have done with a little less swearing but otherwise it was a rather good class intro. Not something to do in person but on Zoom rather good.

    The plagiarism discussion and how to get an A were great parts of the rant.