On January 9, 2022, Ferris State Professor Barry Mehler sent his students an introductory video welcoming them to class in which he discusses plagiarism by adapting a profanity-laced monologue from the television show “Deadwood,” jokes that students’ grades are predetermined by God, and encourages students to attend lectures virtually because of COVID-19. The video quickly went viral, and on January 11, Mehler was placed on leave pending an investigation for violating university policy. On January 17, FIRE wrote to Ferris State, explaining that faculty have the autonomy to determine how they convey pedagogically relevant material in the classroom — even by using humor and profanity. FIRE also provided Mehler with an attorney, Matthew Hoffer, through our Faculty Legal Defense Fund, to try to resolve the matter with the school.
On January 25, Mehler sued Ferris State for violating his First Amendment rights; however, a federal district court denied Mehler’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have returned him to the classroom during the pendency of his lawsuit. In March, Mehler and the university settled for $95,000.