"You people are just vectors of disease to me."
January 16, 2022 11:29 PM   Subscribe

Professor puts hilarious Deadwood-ish rant video up at the start of his class, drama ensues. "Barry Mehler is a Ferris State University professor in Michigan who was suspended after posting an expletive-filled video for his class in which he told students they were “vectors of disease” who should “stay the f*** away from me” due to COVID-19."

He's 74, presumably he does NOT want to be forced back into the classroom to teach, but it's happening anyway, and Ferris State doesn't require vaccination. So he's got himself a fancy helmet, an N95, and cocksucking rage, y'all.

So he posted this introductory class video and this is complete wackadoodle scripted audacious brilliance. He switches back and forth between teaching moments about plagiarism, being super pissed off about the pandemic and what he's forced to do, and saying audacious shit. And of course, showing some videos of smoking and Deadwood.
He tells students NOT to come to class, he doesn't want to know their names, and he's already assigned their grades randomly anyway.
“When you see me next week, I’ll be wearing this helmet,” he said, adding that the helmet cost him $300 and contains filters so “it protects both me and you from this deadly virus that’s going around… Now, uh, I may have f***** up my life.. but I stand before you today beholden to no human c********* and working a paying f****** union job.”
He then said that “no limber d***ed c********* 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 to complain to your dean, f*** you go ahead, I’m retiring at the end of this year and I don’t give a flying f**k any longer. You people are just vectors of disease to me, and I don’t want to be anywhere near you so keep your f****** distance; if you want to talk to me come to my zoom.”

"I’m going to be 75 years old in March, and Covid has already killed 1 of every 100 Americans over the age of 60. In other words, whatever you think of the risk of Covid, I live in a very different world. My risk is much greater than yours.”
He said the students’ first assignment would be to describe how the last two years were for them. He said in the past students said they missed their grandparents at Christmas because they didn’t want to “expose grandma and grandpa to a disease that could kill them.”
He continued: “Listen up folks, I’m old enough to be your grandpa and you people are vectors of disease to me, so when I look out at a classroom filled with 50 students, I see 50 selfish… kids who don’t give a sh** whether grandpa lives or dies, and if you wouldn’t expose your grandpa to a possible infection with Covid, then stay the f*** away from me. If you don’t give a sh** about whether grandpa lives or dies, by all means come to class.”

“My classes are all designed to be taught remotely. And everything you need to earn an A is available is available to you on our Canvas page,” Mehler said. ‘There is no benefit whatsoever from coming to class. I will not take questions in class because I’m wearing this f***ing helmet in order to stay alive. So please come to class, enjoy the show.”
He noted, “I will be there regularly because I have no choice. You on the other hand have a choice.”
(I've quoted a lot from the heavy.com original article, but if you're able to watch the video, then please do so and draw your own opinions.)

Mehler has (of course) been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, which I doubt he gives a shit about one way or the other.

Are students offended at this? Do they care? Well, it sounds like he kind of has a reputation for being interesting anyway and his classes (NYT link) "are very popular, in particular because he challenges students’ assumptions and makes the class extremely interesting.”

Mehler's response to the whole thing:
"it was simply a humorous attempt “to get their juices flowing.” “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,” Barry Mehler told The Associated Press....On Tuesday, after his video was sent to students, his classroom was full — proof, he said, that most weren't offended by his stream of expletives... “But they also knew their grade was not based on predestination. That was simply humorous.” And also, “I've gotten lots of support since this happened by former students who said, ‘You were the funniest professor I ever had. "People who have watched the video are writing to say, ‘It was hysterical. I laughed from beginning to end.’”
So what is this, exactly? An informative and entertaining class video? Giant cocksucking rage at being forced to risk his life to do his job? Actual "fuck all y'all students" messaging or an in-joke that his intended class audience gets and understands? All of the above? (And yet clearly, it didn't deter people from coming in person as intended.)

I presume either way Barry will be out of a job soon, but he's probably fine with that. If you gotta go, then what a way to go!
posted by jenfullmoon (95 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
I presume either way Barry will be out of a job soon

There’s no way to sack a tenured professor quickly enough to make a difference. Worst/best case is he doesn’t teach the course this quarter.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:48 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]


Ferris President David Eisler provided the following statement, “I was shocked and appalled by this video. It is profane, offensive and disturbing and in no way reflects our University or its values.”
He went on to explain that the University reserves the right to kill off as many of its old professors as it deems expedient and requires them all to meet their deaths quietly and without fuss. "It's difficult enough to keep being paid more than any of these people without needing to meet their accusing eyes in the staffroom as well", Eisler said.
posted by flabdablet at 12:40 AM on January 17 [158 favorites]


Man, the random headline blurb I scrolled past just mentioned professor, Covid, rant, suspended, and I figured why bother, but this, this is solid framing. Thanks for bringing this (back) to my attention, jenfullmoon!
posted by Ghidorah at 1:44 AM on January 17 [11 favorites]


I realy liked this. Thanks for posting!
posted by Kosmob0t at 1:45 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Not just tenured but a member, probably, of the Ferris Faculty Association union. Join a union now brothers and sisters.
posted by rdr at 2:09 AM on January 17 [23 favorites]


Some of my colleagues need to see this. Really.

Also, if I could produce an introduction to class half that good, I would be over the moon, or Rigel. Still got twenty years to work on it.
posted by Gotanda at 2:21 AM on January 17 [12 favorites]


I feel like opening the video by claiming that you've just gotten back from Rigel 7, and boy are they all concerned about the Earth air these days, sets the satirical tone appropriately. I appreciate that the "free speech on campus" movement is complete culture war horseshit from people whose terrible ideas can't hack it on campus, but if you wanted an actual example...
posted by Merus at 2:48 AM on January 17 [15 favorites]


I am just a living preexisting condition, about as disabled as one can be and still be alive, and I have to make the decision as to whether to go back to the classroom or withdraw within the next couple of weeks. I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I probably wouldn't survive a stay in a collapsing hospital, and it would be disastrous if any of my caregivers were to get sick either. On the other hand, I have so much riding on this.

And when will it ever be safe for me again? When? Now that the powers that be have decided to let 'er rip, and my university won't offer hybrid options for disabled students, I can either risk my life to finish my education or never go back.

I'm just an undergrad without any influence, but I sure wish I could deliver a profanity-laden diatribe of my own.
posted by Soliloquy at 3:00 AM on January 17 [89 favorites]


This professor has spoken for every single one of his colleagues worldwide. The race to put students back in classrooms is the single fucking dumbest thing that administrators are forcing on academic staff. There are literally no plans for how to deal with outbreaks in the classroom. Academics already have ludicrous rates of presenteeism - shit, I was pressured to teach while suffering from fucking pneumonia, "because we can't reschedule".

I hear you, Professor Mehler, and I stand in solidarity.
posted by prismatic7 at 3:17 AM on January 17 [55 favorites]


I just came from giving my module intro for the term and it was considerably less exciting than this. We don't really have tenure here. Also, we don't really have competent AV support, which took the wind out of the first 15 minutes of my sails.
posted by biffa at 3:21 AM on January 17 [10 favorites]


Just a small complaint: if you're going to write an article about someone swearing profusely and want to quote him, just print all the bad words so the reader doesn't have to slow down and play "what's the cuss word?" in their head. It's ok, we're all adults; the youngsters we want to shield from the bad man words would be bored silly and won't read it in a million years so enough of the couch fainting.
posted by zardoz at 4:31 AM on January 17 [61 favorites]


I can't imagine the administration was pleased with his Deadwood-inspired satire, but I suspect that they were just as motivated by the terror of social media backlash. (I often wonder what would have happened if my own department's much more serious national-news-making scandal had happened now, instead of nearly twenty years ago--the tenured faculty member responsible was fired eventually, but he wasn't suspended and I don't recall much in the way of placatory PR administrative soundbites.) He's correct, however, that there's not much they can to do him in this time frame--by the time you'd done the appropriate investigation to revoke his tenure, he would have retired anyway.

And yes, this is precisely the sort of thing the free speech crowd claims to support--it's "challenging"! Might make some people "uncomfortable"! FIRE has shown up, at least.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:34 AM on January 17 [13 favorites]


This professor seems to have provided all the material in an online way that is accessible, but I do wonder how many universities have staff that are glad to go back to in-person rather than update their teaching style. My experience, in a European university, is that zero percent of the staff with permanent contracts altered their style of teaching, and 100% of the outside staff used new online tools like collaborative whiteboard webpages. I would dread explaining the concept of active learning to some of the dry sticks occupying chairs at my university.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:43 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]


All the staff at my UK uni were required to change to online for 2020-21, and we are all required to go back to f2f for 2021-22. That pretty inevitably meant style changes all round and a lot of work. Plus a general get on with being in the classroom attitude to staff. Somehow, we are officially working from home, but also teaching in person as the official position.
posted by biffa at 4:52 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


It's clearly a joke. (Or half of one.) Why bother to explain policies and attendance if he really did assign grades at random? OTOH, I'm sure he's legitimately pissed at the administration and this was simply a way to get a few jabs in.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:22 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


[His classes]"are very popular, in particular because he challenges students’ assumptions and makes the class extremely interesting.”

Rate My Professor suggests he is not exactly vaut le voyage material.

This is precisely the sort of thing the free speech crowd claims to support....

Speaking as a life member of that crowd, I submit you may be confusing method with content. "I disagree with what you say but defend your right to say it" sort of thing. Theatrics in the classroom are fine with me; insulting the customers, not so much. As a matter of aesthetics and effective rhetoric, I can live without f-bombs.
posted by BWA at 5:27 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Pretty certain "the sort of thing" referred to by that quoted comment is unpopular or controversial speech, not this one dude's f-bombs.
posted by Nothing at 6:00 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Theatrics in the classroom are fine with me; insulting the customers, not so much. As a matter of aesthetics and effective rhetoric, I can live without f-bombs.

I guess we're just going to have to agree to fucking differ on that one.
posted by howfar at 6:06 AM on January 17 [71 favorites]


President David Eisler provided the following statement, "...in no way reflects our University or its values.”

Every time a bureaucrat emits these words I want to gag myself with a shovel. All it means is, 'Yikes lemme outta here! I had nothin' to do with it!' Here are some examples.

Portland Police Association President Sgt. Aaron Schmautz said in a statement that the slide doesn't "reflect the values of our hard working and devoted members, or our values as police union."

“This is not who we are at the University of Kentucky, and this employee’s actions did not reflect our values as a member of this community,” the email said.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill in 2019, agreeing with state Democrats that “for-profit prisons do not reflect our values.”

Austin Chief of Police: "Let’s be clear. Hate and bigotry have absolutely no place in our community and certainly are not welcome in our police department. Views shared by demonstrators during a protest action over the weekend were abhorrent and do not reflect our values."
posted by mono blanco at 6:19 AM on January 17 [12 favorites]


One vile faculty meeting after another
posted by thelonius at 6:20 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I watched the entire video, and it's very different from what I expected from just reading the headlines - which made it sound like he'd become unglued and started ranting. The first part is clearly set up as a discussion of plagiarism that's meant to be entertaining. He's laying out class requirements. His humor is not going to be for everyone, but I bet some of the students love him.

I mean I am not personally impressed with the "say fuck a lot and win students over" school of college teaching, but there are students who absolutely love it when it's accompanied by genuinely caring about them.
posted by FencingGal at 6:35 AM on January 17 [15 favorites]


This professor has spoken for every single one of his colleagues worldwide. The race to put students back in classrooms is the single fucking dumbest thing that administrators are forcing on academic staff. There are literally no plans for how to deal with outbreaks in the classroom. .

Universities are (understandably) terrified of the implications of the major decline in student enrollments in the last couple of years. I think freshmen enrollments are down something like 9 percent, if I remember correctly. For the majority of places that rely on tuition to pay the bills, that is devastating.

Therefore, the "solution" is to return to normalcy, from the students' perspective, as quickly as possible. In person classes, living in the dorms, having parties, etc., so that they feel good about paying their tuition. The at-risk faculty and staff are just plain expendable in this situation. If they want to resign or retire, that is fine, there are thousands and thousands of un- and under-employed academics who want those jobs.

We currently know a bunch of academics who are personally very high risk but who are being pressured or required to teach in person; it's one thing when you are a year away from retirement, or maybe you are in a situation with a high-paid spouse that gives you freedom, but for your average early- or mid-career professor, probably with student loans, a mortgage, the need for health insurance, and all the other life responsibilities, quitting is not a realistic option. Morale is terrible, as you might expect.

There was a recent FPP about this with a number of comments from current academics, including this great comment from DrMew.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:42 AM on January 17 [18 favorites]


As a matter of aesthetics and effective rhetoric, I can live without f-bombs.

The entire speech references a pre-existing work, complete with direct quotations, as he immediately demonstrates for his students. The right to quote and/or reference (with implicit quotation marks) offensive material has been front and center over current debates over academic free speech as of late, so it does fall under that remit.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:55 AM on January 17 [16 favorites]


He then segued back to his grading policy, saying, “It doesn’t f****** matter whether you go to church or give charity, your actions don’t count. That’s the way it is in my class. None of you c********** are good enough to earn an A in my class. So I randomly assign grades before the first day of class. I don’t want to know sh** about you. I don’t even want to know your name. I just look at the number, and I assign the grade.”

I was with him until this part. I was a scholarship student in undergraduate and grad school, and the grades I had determined whether I got to continue my education. And while I appreciate any and all homages to Al Swearengen, he is taking his rage out on the one set of people who have even less power than him in that situation. On the one hand, I think this had potential to be a fascinating, challenging class (delivered entirely over Zoom), but the financial risk would have been too high for me to take it, and I suspect there is a non-zero set of students who would have faced the same situation.
posted by Alison at 7:02 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]


I was with him until this part. I was a scholarship student in undergraduate and grad school, and the grades I had determined whether I got to continue my education.

As quoted at the beginning of this thread, he's very clear that he meant the part about grading by predestination as a joke:

On Tuesday, after his video was sent to students, his classroom was full — proof, he said, that most weren't offended by his stream of expletives... “But they also knew their grade was not based on predestination. That was simply humorous.”

It is not a joke I would risk with college students, since there would definitely be some who would assume he was serious.
posted by FencingGal at 7:13 AM on January 17 [22 favorites]


From the Heavy article, the snippet of Mehler's faculty page that remains reads “I am a historian of science and Director of two Institutes here at Ferris, ISAR (Institute for the Study of Academic Racism) and the Shoah Institute."

The ISAR page has, "Dr. Barry Mehler speaks of the parallels he has witnessed between the far-right network of intellectuals and the rapid, devastating way in which eugenics research had been used in Nazi Germany, terrifying him with the possibility that the brutal atrocities of the past could happen once more."

Many of the negative Rate My Professor reviews mention rambling, confusing, seemingly off-topic lectures. Other students think those lectures are clever and wry examinations of the way history is interwoven, instead of a list of facts and figures. But that's a teaching style issue. I'm sympathetic to students who don't mesh with lecture-only classes, or who find his in particular baffling, or who have trouble distinguishing between acerbic commentary veiled with absurdity and what they're supposed to take at face value. Many of the "bits" in this video are long standing features in Mehler's classes, e.g., the Calvinist grading, and have been throwing his students off balance for at least a decade.


Many other negative reviews complain that Mehler mentions his "culture" or religion too much and in doing so makes the lecture all about himself. IOW he's bringing Jews and Jewish perspectives, including his own, into their history classes in Big Rapids, Michigan and they don't like it.
posted by to wound the autumnal city at 7:16 AM on January 17 [35 favorites]


If vax is not mandatory, on-prem teaching should be voluntary. Couldn’t make it too far into the video though, so I personally wouldn’t have gotten his point that way. Good luck to him and the students.
posted by drowsy at 7:29 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I was with him until this part. I was a scholarship student in undergraduate and grad school, and the grades I had determined whether I got to continue my education.

He talks about his grading standards elsewhere in the video. In the context of a performance that starts with him in a space helmet and contains an homage to Al Swearingen, it's clear this is a joke.

Theatrics in the classroom are fine with me; insulting the customers, not so much.

Free speech unless you're insulting the customers are you fucking kidding me.
posted by Mavri at 7:49 AM on January 17 [42 favorites]


I'm kinda surprised at how OK everyone is with the casual use of "cocksucker" as a term of abuse.
posted by LMGM at 7:54 AM on January 17 [15 favorites]


"it was simply a humorous attempt “to get their juices flowing.”

I cannot fault his approach in jarring students out of their complacency. In my first year of secondary school, a rumour had been circulating among students that if a teacher was ten minutes late in turning up to class, then the students all had a free period.

My business teacher, one Mr. Guest, addressed this in class one day and dispelled the rumour by saying, “I don’t know where you heard that, but that is bullshit.” The effect of dropping a single profanity was such that despite it being about forty years ago, I could walk into that classroom today and show you where my desk was — this is how clearly I recall it. Some other classes from the same year, I could not even tell you if I took the course or not. (Indeed, I’m not sure I could tell you anything else I learned in Business 151 that year... maybe how to endorse a cheque?)

Mr. Guest is long retired now, and in his eighties. His daughter is a friend of mine, and I have more than once told her how much impression her dad made on me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:57 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Free speech unless you're insulting the customers are you fucking kidding me.

Free or not, all speech has consequences.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:03 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


What a nice surprise. I had seen the headline and not bothered to click, but seeing it here, I watched the whole video. It was very well done. Ferris are idiots for suspending him.

Thanks to those who opened the dreadful Rate My Professor. I hate that site because it reminds me that students can be idiots too. I like to rest in my romantic assumption that young people are always smart and open-minded and hungry for knowledge. That said, I have learnt through bitter experience that there is a significant group of students in any given class who are too literal-minded for something like this, often because they are scared. And jokes are not funny when you have to explain them.

Personally, I would have found a less profane text to quote/paraphrase for a first lecture (and I may steal this brilliant idea soon). It is so overwhelming, I'd be afraid some students wouldn't get the point, and those would be the students who needed to get it the most. I don't want to edit history into something cleansed of problematic issues, but I do try to provide context when I present material that would not be acceptable today.
posted by mumimor at 8:05 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]


Free or not, all speech has consequences.

YMMV according to your current tenure and projected funding value to your university.
posted by howfar at 8:11 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I appreciated the article and the video and found them both highly amusing. I'm not sure if I would have been so entertained if I were a stressed-out student worried about my grade, though.

That said, Rate My Professor is more or less up there with Goodreads in terms of credible assessment. People show up there if they have a bone to pick. The fact that his classes are full shows that he is doing a decent job engaging many students, and it's a shame that the university is not able to value that.
posted by rpfields at 8:14 AM on January 17 [14 favorites]


Ferris Uni's Off Day
posted by chavenet at 8:20 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


I thought the random grade assignment policy joke was a bit mean because students are nervous and credulous, but the rest came across as intended as endearing grandpa. And not mean as in Chapelle mean and heartless, just mean as in finish with a little reassurance plz.

I didn't read this as "relating to you because I swear fellow children" but "hey this is vulnerable shit here, I am making it clear these are my boundaries but here is how I am accomodating".
posted by Phalene at 8:25 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


He should be the next president of the university of michigan.
He seems to understand that learning only occurs when you got skin
in the game.
posted by JohnR at 8:35 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


So, in summary: not genuinely mad as hell; quite possibly can't take it anymore.
posted by everdred at 8:41 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I didn't hear anything the slightest bit shocking or offensive in that. Sounds like a pretty normal professor as I've known them.

Do Kids These Days actually have problems with that sort of thing? Back In My Day, that's what we expected professors to be like. If you couldn't deal with that, you didn't go to college.
posted by Xiphias Gladius at 9:05 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


you know, maybe 100% of the words used by this prof aren't ideal and perhaps fewer than 100% of the people who attended the lecture are okay with all the profanity, but fuck it.. given the situation, I am glad someone got to do that. we all keep our own ledgers of what is great, good, blah, fucking terrible, etc. this one is solidly in the win column for me. I am willing to bet the majority of students who attended that lecture will take something of value from it. you know what is obscene? the countless terrible choices we've all had to make the past two years, and that's just pandemic related bullshit. I kind of think it's missing the point to dwell on word choice here.
posted by elkevelvet at 9:07 AM on January 17 [12 favorites]


I was going to try to write something akin to the comment DrMew made that Dip Flash linked to above... but obviously I don't have to!

All I have to add is that it's not only administrators -- some students are perfectly clear that they don't care who gets sick or dies. When I made a comment to the effect of "it's not okay to write off people at greater risk" on the local uni subreddit, within three minutes there were several replies to the effect of "WATCH ME write 'em off."

I keep telling myself those entitled asswipes are a tiny minority, but some days I fear it's only telling myself. I get why this prof went off. I wouldn't do the way he did either (for one thing, I'm a long way from retirement and I'm not tenurable), but I sure do understand the temptation.
posted by humbug at 9:49 AM on January 17 [13 favorites]


I'd call it half a professor who actually cares about his students and is trying everything he can to get them to pay attention/half the same professor expressing some justifiable outrage at his university's idiotic covid policy.

The only thing offensive about any of this is the administrator who is shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in here. That guy can fuck off.
posted by surlyben at 9:54 AM on January 17 [13 favorites]


Hey you know what else is randomly determined and unchangeable? Dying of COVID!
posted by kaibutsu at 10:04 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


This was hilarious. I like this guy.

And honestly, anyone who is more appalled by the use of profanity than by the fact that one in five Americans have been infected by covid -- and that risk of death after infection is NOT randomly determined; it's pretty clearly determined along age, occupation, and social determinants of health -- anyway, that person really really needs to rethink their priorities.
posted by basalganglia at 10:33 AM on January 17 [24 favorites]


The swearing (incuding c***s****r) is from Deadwood - he plays the clip during the video while he's explaining plagiarism. The "randomly assigned grades" joke is making fun of Calvinism, also explained during the video. He's sarcastically poking holes in the founding myths of the United States.

He does seem a bit off and I'm not sure how he'd be as a professor, but I thought this was pretty entertaining.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:38 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]


I apologize for not hand writing out all of the swear words, especially cocksucker. It was easier to copy and paste what others transcribed already than doing it all myself. Why heavy.com censored that stuff, hell if I know.

I concur that at least some students would take the predestination thing as a fact rather than a joke and lose their minds about it. The fact that he did actually try to teach and said things about policies and whatnot were at least indicators that this was, to some degree, intended as an instructional video instead of the professor's "I snapped and I quit" video. Well, perhaps it's both.

Do Kids These Days actually have problems with that sort of thing? Back In My Day, that's what we expected professors to be like. If you couldn't deal with that, you didn't go to college.

I think that's what places like Liberty University are for.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:40 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


"now the question that i want to pose to you is this: is the above soliloquy plagiarism?" was a masterful turn following that quite-convincing portrayal of last-nerve rage.

i will not be spoken to (happily) with such language from management representatives or colleagues in the workplace but have no problem, philosophically, with insulting the customer (i think i wouldn't as a matter of course, reserving, of course, the possibility of deserved insults) or using it for pedagogical or artistic purpose. some of his fucks and cocksuckers seem a little forced and i infer they are part of the performance.

i don't think i'd want to have a beer with that guy, but i might take his class. it wasn't entirely clear to me what the class is. literature, film, introduction to academic research?
posted by 20 year lurk at 10:42 AM on January 17


I thought that in the context of the over-the-top use of expletives, the censoring was actually pretty funny.
posted by biogeo at 10:42 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


And honestly, anyone who is more appalled by the use of profanity than by the fact that one in five Americans have been infected by covid -- and that risk of death after infection is NOT randomly determined; it's pretty clearly determined along age, occupation, and social determinants of health -- anyway, that person really really needs to rethink their priorities.

This isn't an either/or. You can be appalled by both COVID and profanity, and using profanity does nothing against COVID. In any given college classroom, you are likely to have at least a few students who are offended by profanity. Use of profanity makes the classroom feel hostile to them. I swear a lot in my personal life, but I tried to avoid it in the classroom.
posted by FencingGal at 10:52 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Some small math pedantry:

Death by COVID is most certainly random. It is not *equally* random across the population: We each get a weighted coin, where the weighting is dependent on lots of factors. Prof Mehler's coin - per his video - will come up tails at a rate of 1 in 100. But it is still, in the end, a weighted coin toss, not a deterministic outcome.

We can /change/ the weighting of our coin by getting vaccinated, changing behavior, and instituting public health policies, but it is still a random process: It's random whether COVID is present in your classroom, it's random whether it gets through your mask(s), it's random whether it takes hold and turns into an infection, it's random whether that infection sends you to the hospital, and it's random whether you die. Every step of that chain of events is a different weighted coin flip, with different factors, and all the weights multiply together to give you your probability of dying from going to class today.

(See also: Gravity's Rainbow.)
posted by kaibutsu at 10:53 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


Pretty certain "the sort of thing" referred to by that quoted comment is unpopular or controversial speech, not this one dude's f-bombs.

Ferris State is a public university, so disciplining a professor for their speech does indeed have First Amendment implications. And one of the seminal cases of modern free speech jurisprudence involves the f-bomb.
posted by praemunire at 10:58 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]


We can /change/ the weighting of our coin by getting vaccinated, changing behavior, and instituting public health policies, but it is still a random process: It's random whether COVID is present in your classroom, it's random whether it gets through your mask(s), it's random whether it takes hold and turns into an infection, it's random whether that infection sends you to the hospital, and it's random whether you die. Every step of that chain of events is a different weighted coin flip, with different factors, and all the weights multiply together to give you your probability of dying from going to class today.

But that weighting at each flip is all-important, and also something research institutions can actually handle.
Where I teach, the infection rate has consistently (since March 2020) been a lot higher than the general national infection rate, so obviously with omicron it is now insane. I think I know why -- we have a large proportion of students who are immigrants or second generation, which is great, but their families tend to be suspicious of health care mandates, for good reasons, and to live in smaller apartments because they have a lower income.
I am teaching in class, because this semester I have first semester students, and online teaching is really rough on them. Also, those students who live in small, cramped apartments need a space to work. We have found an empty hall where everyone can sit in "bubbles" at safe distances. We are all (students and staff) vaccinated and boosted by mandate, but there are still lots of break-through cases. At this point, I have resigned to the fact that I will probably get it, but before the vaccines I isolated 500 km away from the university and stuck to online because I have other respiratory issues. If I were 70+ I would still be there in isolation and my workplace would support my decision. And obviously, my students can choose online tutorials if they are not comfortable with coming to class.

It is really difficult to understand why a university, a place of research and education, would not do all that is needed to protect its students and staff.
posted by mumimor at 11:41 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Really interesting how the word "customer" is being thrown around here for students with no comment. I get that administration often sees students that way, but are we just OK with that now? For me, administration seeing students as customers was a way of telling faculty, "Just so you know, we don't have your back." I've been out of higher ed for a very long time now, and it wouldn't surprise if that aspect has gotten worse.
posted by FencingGal at 12:02 PM on January 17 [31 favorites]


Well, it's not like we can STOP the whole "students are customers" thing if we objected to it. "I paid a million dollars for this degree and I expect SERVICE!" is definitely a popular attitude. I've seen it tossed around a lot particularly with regards to grad students--they aren't the main customers compared to undergrad, so who gives a shit if they are paid peanuts, etc. There are a lot of schools that don't have people's backs right now in general.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:10 PM on January 17


Every time a bureaucrat emits these words I want to gag myself with a shovel. All it means is, 'Yikes lemme outta here! I had nothin' to do with it!'

mono blanco, you may enjoy/hate read the subreddit r/thisisntwhoweare.
posted by Stoof at 12:11 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I remember a professor whose grading system depended not on how well you did on tests but by how much your test scores improved, according to a formula encoded in a Fortran program that nobody understood. I vaguely remember it causing consternation. (A fellow who would, through unforeseeable events, one day become my step-brother was a TA who worked on that program.)
posted by sjswitzer at 12:13 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


What an absolute fucking legend. I would like to subscribe to his newsletter.
posted by gnutron at 12:13 PM on January 17 [6 favorites]


Oooof. I watched it, and on the one hand, I thought it was pretty clear that he was joking. I didn't actually get the sense that he was expressing contempt for his students, and I have seen a fair amount of (mostly misdirected) contempt for students coming from burnt-out faculty recently. On the other hand, it seemed desperately out of touch, both with the culture of current traditionally-aged undergrads and with the realities facing people who work at public universities right now.

I don't think that students are especially likely to be impressed by old people (which is to say anyone over about 28) doing things for shock value. And there's no reason at all to use that Deadwood soliloquy except because it's shocking to hear your professor say "cocksucker." I think that for previous generations, that might have come across like showing that you were a cool iconoclast, but now it just seems pointless and performative. I don't think it's good teaching, if your point is to connect with your students.

But where he really went wrong was in baiting students about how they could go ahead and report him, because he has tenure and can do whatever he wants. That should be how things work, but it's not. Public university administrators are terrified of right-wing harassment campaigns. They're terrified of right-wing legislators who can rally their supporters by going after those effete coastal elites who run our formerly-God-fearing institutions of higher learning. It is really not a good idea to bet that your bosses will choose academic freedom over their fear of right-wingers, especially when there's plausible deniability about academic freedom really being the issue. And honestly, we're in for some incredibly nasty fights in the coming years, and we probably need to choose our fucking battles. It is worth losing your job over your right to teach Critical Race Theory (or "Critical Race Theory"). It is not worth losing your job over your right to quote Al Swearingen or go on some pointless rant about Calvinism to make some kind of joke about grading.

Having said that, are the FIRE assholes defending this guy? Because you know they would if he'd said the n-word rather than used profanity.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:33 PM on January 17 [6 favorites]


Well, it's not like we can STOP the whole "students are customers" thing if we objected to it.

No, but my comment wasn't about trying to object to it - just that people were falling into that usage seemingly automatically. You don't have to think you can stop something to believe that the words you use matter.
posted by FencingGal at 1:09 PM on January 17 [8 favorites]


...your probability of dying from going to class today

Right. But that's not what "random" means. (At least, I don't think that's what it means.) Random, to me, means, like, you assign everyone a number using a random number generator, and then you shoot the people holding prime numbers. Isn't that what Calvinism is all about?

The whole point is that one's odds of both getting covid and then dying of covid are non-random, due to factors both within one's control (e.g. physical distancing, masks, vaccines, space helmets) and factors outside one's control (e.g. neighborhood density, occupational exposures, high-risk medical conditions, being old or male or both).

Also, this many comments into a thread about a professor at Ferris University telling students not to come to class, and not one "Bueller? Bueller?" joke? I'm getting old.
posted by basalganglia at 1:23 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


It is not a joke I would risk with college students, since there would definitely be some who would assume he was serious.

Back in the 80s, when I was an undergrad at a major research university, I took an upper-level course with a nationally-known expert in my major discipline. He began by telling us that he did not want to be teaching, that he was only there because it was a contractual obligation, that he did not want to know us, would not learn our names, would not answer questions in class, that he would lecture and we would listen, and then we would regurgitate his wisdom on blue-book exams. And that is exactly how he taught.

The next year, I was being recruited for grad school, and almost the first thing one of the profs I met there said to me, "So, you worked with Dr. So-and-so. What was that like?" I had no idea what to say.

Years later, a friend of mine with a PhD in a different discipline taught at my undergrad alma mater in a non-tenure-track role. I was astonished to learn from her that tenured faculty could "buy out" their teaching requirement through some mechanism I don't quite remember, and the department would hire people like her to teach the courses, paying them at a rate that was a net gain for the department.

Anyway, when I saw this story making the rounds, except for the Deadwood references (a show I did not stick with in part because of the unpleasant, gratuitous profanity and crudity), it didn't seem all that different from Dr. So-and-so all those years ago. But of course Dr. So-and-so was not captured on video or shared on social media, which did not exist at that time.
posted by Well I never at 1:27 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


The only thing offensive about any of this is the administrator who is shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in here. That guy can fuck off.

Several people have said something like this, but "cocksucker" is a really harsh homophobic term, and even though he was riffing on a TV show—that premiered 18 years ago; have current students even seen it?—I would have been angry and offended if a prof used it in class. My field is literature, and I would not necessarily shy away from language we have come to understand as racist, homophobic, or sexist in a text we were studying, this was not a lesson that was essential to the course he was teaching, or an opportunity to teach students how to deal maturely with offensive materials.
posted by Well I never at 1:37 PM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I concur that at least some students would take the predestination thing as a fact rather than a joke and lose their minds about it.

Especially, perhaps, because western lower Michigan is literally a Dutch Calvinist milieu. Maybe Big Rapids is on the fringe of it, but it's still there.
posted by Well I never at 1:40 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


But where he really went wrong was in baiting students about how they could go ahead and report him, because he has tenure and can do whatever he wants.

Yeah, I empathize with him, but that part of the video really smacked of old white male tenured energy. Especially the part where he admits that students complain about him every semester, but nothing changes. I teach in higher ed, and I do not think the customer is always right, but often when the customer regularly complains something is amiss or needs tweaking. I've known some professors like this, and while they work for some students but many find them intimidating and that's not...great.

But, he clearly doesn't care, and if I was 75 and about to retire I sure as hell wouldn't give a fuck this shitshow of a semester either.
posted by coffeecat at 1:44 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]


It's quite a performance, props, swearing, satire, and all.

Re: propriety of swearing, it's not just Liberty University. Remember that about 1/3rd of American higher ed is, unlike Ferris State, private colleges and universities. Some of those have various levels of religious identity and affiliation, which can lead to sanctions or just grumpiness about swearing.

Anecdotally, I once gave a talk at a major Southern university. The organizer approached me minutes before the presentation to tell me not to swear. I don't typically do so in keynotes, so I went over my notes. Nothing in slides or notes. I think the organizer has heard me utter the occasional "damn" and was worried.

Another anecdote: a colleague once introduced Second Life to her (private, Lutheran, not in the south) college president. Said president was fascinated until he looked at the list of most popular destinations, many of which we sexy in nature. He closed the laptop and announced their campus would *not* be doing anything with Second Life.
posted by doctornemo at 1:56 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I'm wondering why a 74-year-old was forced to teach face to face. Based on experiences I will not share here, I'm guessing they wanted him to retire a long time ago.
posted by mecran01 at 1:57 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


But that's not what "random" means. (At least, I don't think that's what it means.) Random, to me, means, like, you assign everyone a number using a random number generator, and then you shoot the people holding prime numbers. Isn't that what Calvinism is all about?

Death by COVID is a conditional random variable: We can write down p(outcome=death | age, vaxx status, the local government's favorite color, ...). The outcome is a random variable, and all of the other bits (age, vaxx status, ...) are the conditions, some of which we have control over as individuals, some of which we have control of as a society, and some of which we have no control over whatsoever. And yes we should try to influence the conditions for the better, wherever possible. But putting all the factors together, the outcome still isn't deterministic: It's quite random.

One way to look at randomness is as the total effect of all of the conditions we don't understand. So, add more conditions and understanding, and you squeeze the randomness out of the system - we have a better guess about the outcome if we know a person's vaccination status. But our knowledge will never be perfect, so there's still going to be some indeterminacy left, whether it's unknown pre-existing conditions, or the precise amenability of a specific person's snot as a COVID breeding ground at 10:15AM on January 18th in the dairy aisle at whole foods.

Another way to see it: If you take all of the conditions you know about, and collect up lots of people who are the same in all those aspects - age, vaccination, healthiness, local public policy - you'll still see some live and some die. That ratio (deaths divided by size of the group) is an approximation of the conditional probability, and the outcome for each individual is what we'd call an observation of the conditional random variable.

(and just to be really clear, I am including this as some side math discussion only; I'm a thousand percent in agreement that the university being OK with killing its professors is reprehensible. Throw enough 74 year olds in classrooms and you're going to - with high probability! - have a death on your hands.)
posted by kaibutsu at 2:07 PM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I'm wondering why a 74-year-old was forced to teach face to face.

Sadly, American colleges and universities have plenty of incentives to make face to face teaching mandatory.

Residential campuses make a significant amount of money on room and board fees, so the cold finances are there. (Not all campuses are residential!) And we can talk about the economic fragility of most of higher ed.

Some chunk of the professoriate prefers to teach in person instead of online. Depending on the campus, tenure-track faculty have some governance powers. They can also pressure administrations informally.

Enrollment: as Dip Flash noted way up thread, total enrollment in US higher ed has been declining for nearly a decade. From 2013-2019 numbers dipped down about 1% per year; during COVID, closer to 3% per year. Since the supermajority of colleges and universities depend heavily on tuition for income, enrollment is key. Which means anything that suggests fewer students is to be avoided. And many leaders think a shift from in-person to online is that kind of thing.

"why a 74-year-old was forced to teach face to face" - most faculty are not over 70, too. This prof is caught in a general policy.
Now that policy should have exceptions, yes! And some campuses have done that. But other do not, either because leaders are power tripping or they suspect profs of not wanting to be on campus for bad reasons.

NB: I'm not defending these decisions. Just explaining what I've seen of them.
posted by doctornemo at 2:17 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


If students are customers, shouldn't teachers be paid as if they are service providers? They aren't, and the justification I always heard was that the student/teacher relationship is special and not to be sullied by such commercial concerns or legal protections or overtime pay.
posted by surlyben at 2:18 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


As has already been mentioned, not shocking that a 74-year-old would be forced into the classroom. To quote from this article about the University of Michigan back in the fall:

"One [professor] has lost four organs to cancer. Another one is still undergoing chemotherapy; her vaccination failed to give her any protection. A professor in his 70s, with long-term and serious health complications, checks his email. All of them tell us they got the same message: Their request to either teach remotely or to go on medical leave has been denied by “Work Connections.”
posted by coffeecat at 2:24 PM on January 17 [8 favorites]


Several people have said something like this, but "cocksucker" is a really harsh homophobic term, and even though he was riffing on a TV show—that premiered 18 years ago; have current students even seen it?—I would have been angry and offended if a prof used it in class.

Part of me wants to be like "well actually I thought it was [other interpretaion]" but I know that's me being asinine and defensive. The other interpretations of the word I can think of are similarly awful. In any case that's a fair point.
posted by surlyben at 2:36 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Missed opportunity to tie discussion of random variables to Calvinism. Just sayin.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:25 PM on January 17 [7 favorites]


Monads or nothin’.
posted by clew at 3:41 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Therefore, the "solution" is to return to normalcy, from the students' perspective, as quickly as possible. In person classes, living in the dorms, having parties, etc., so that they feel good about paying their tuition. The at-risk faculty and staff are just plain expendable in this situation. If they want to resign or retire, that is fine, there are thousands and thousands of un- and under-employed academics who want those jobs.

Some colleges also seem to want to have a guarantee of security along with (or in place of) this "back to normal" movement.

An acquaintance has a son in college and the complexity of the requirements placed on him is extraordinary - vaccines and/or boosters (for an ultra-low-risk demographic), requirements of staying in the dorm room (even for vaxed/boosted students), no parties, no going off campus, etc.

The restrictions at many colleges seem far stricter than any other place I've seen - e.g. compared to workplaces, K12 schools, healthcare facilities. Certainly far stricter than any public buildings, stores, churches. Unlike many other institutions and situations, the college has a great amount of power over the students, since they hold the power to grant or withhold grades, degrees, etc. I wonder how many students are going to begin to question the value of "in-person" education that is crippled and restricted by so many extra constraints and rules.
posted by theorique at 3:48 PM on January 17


Something I haven't seen mentioned on here yet is that he founded the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism, and has a history of being a little crazy in a good way. Apparently he spent a fair amount of time undercover among white supremacists. This guy might deserve a real, actual post, where this particular circus act is just a coda and not the main story.
posted by nushustu at 4:13 PM on January 17 [21 favorites]


The restrictions at many colleges seem far stricter than any other place I've seen

That's great. At all the 26 campuses in the University System of Georgia, there is no mask requirement, no vaccine requirement, and faculty can't choose to switch their classes to online. There are also no accommodations being offered for immunocompromised people like me or faculty who are otherwise at risk, including those over 70.

And it doesn't matter if cases go up or down even in the community where the campus is, even on the campus itself--we wouldn't know anyway because Georgia Tech is the only of the 26 universities with anything resembling surveillance testing, and that's only because the faculty and their lab staff are running it themselves in their own labs and the university is eating the cost itself, which it can because it has a gigantic endowment. But in any case, even if Tech detects a huge outbreak on campus, they still can't change their policies.

I can't tell you how exasperating it is to see people worrying about some colleges being too restrictive (oh no! anything but actually caring about the safety of faculty, staff and students!) when I may well die as a result of teaching in person tomorrow morning.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:36 PM on January 17 [29 favorites]


And UGA also has the equipment, staff, and budget to run their own surveillance testing, but they never will, because it would reveal just how incredibly dangerous their sporting events are.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:38 PM on January 17 [13 favorites]


I wonder how many students are going to begin to question the value of "in-person" education that is crippled and restricted by so many extra constraints and rules.
I mean, I guess there's a natural experiment going on, because if students like your acquaintance's son are chafing at all the restrictions, they can certainly transfer to institutions like the one I work at, where there are no restrictions at all. Students don't need to get vaccinated. They don't need to mask, unless they're on a bus or in an on-campus healthcare facility. They aren't ever required to take a COVID test. If they do test positive, they aren't required to tell the University. We would certainly like it if they would self-isolate if they test positive or have symptoms, but that's a matter of individual choice and personal freedom. There is no formal rule that says that you can't go to your 300-person Chemistry lecture the day you test positive for COVID. They can go to parties, bars, sporting events, you name it. I don't think we're actually seeing a massive influx of students from more-COVID-conscious institutions, but maybe it will happen next year.

For what it's worth, the students who I've talked to in the past week or so have been nervous about Omicron and have said they wished we had more COVID-mitigation strategies in place. That doesn't necessarily mean anything: I think most students are aware that faculty and staff tend to be concerned about COVID, and they probably only bring it up if they agree. But it's just not true that all students want a paradise of personal freedom. (And they don't necessarily experience it as freedom, because there are consequences if you skip your Chemistry lecture, and not everyone wants to go to a tightly-packed 300-person lecture in which there may be unmasked people with hacking coughs. A lot of students actually want the freedom not to have to be in situations that feel unsafe to them.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:50 PM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I find this video pretty upsetting actually, and if I were a student I'd be pretty unhappy. Someone who is 'unconventional' and 'provocative' enough to swear like he does might very well be unpredictable enough to assign random grades. I wouldn't want that kind of anxiety in my life.

I do not share the consensus opinion that 'it's clearly a joke' -- people in powerful positions need to be mindful of that power and not make abusive jokes at the expense of the powerless. I suppose I'd be one of the 'literal-minded' students alluded to above.

And as Well I never says, Deadwood went off the air 16 years ago, in 2006. Why try to relate to today's 18-year-olds with a show they likely haven't seen and may never have heard of?
posted by crazy with stars at 6:02 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]


16 years old, 60 years old, 6000 years old - no matter how old an idea is, you might meet it in college.
posted by clew at 7:06 PM on January 17 [6 favorites]


Deadwood went off the air 16 years ago, in 2006. Why try to relate to today's 18-year-olds with a show they likely haven't seen and may never have heard of?

While I've heard of Deadwood, I never saw it, and I don't need to. The context seems completely clear from his speech. You hear what he says, them hear it (a variant) again on the video, then he explains why you footnote or else it's plagiarism.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:26 PM on January 17 [9 favorites]


Based on the examples described above it really does look like the variability between colleges' levels of covid protocols is pretty broad. Even within nominally "opened up" colleges there seem to be some people wearing masks - e.g. I flipped through a few of the pictures from UGa and they do seem to show non-zero mask wearing (maybe 10 percent of the football fans?).

The anecdotes I had heard were from places in the Northeast US like Berklee and Emerson in Boston, and Connecticut College in New London CT.

The challenge with a lot of colleges is that they really aren't interchangeable - for example, if you're admitted to Berklee to study in a specific area of music, going to a random university in Texas or Florida to dodge covid restrictions is not going to deliver the same education in your area of focus. And the same thing is true in the reverse direction - if a student wants a specific program at a university that lacks the level of precautions that he or she desires, it's not like that student can just pick a college at random in Boston or New York. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months and years ahead.
posted by theorique at 6:38 AM on January 18


An acquaintance has a son in college and the complexity of the requirements placed on him is extraordinary - vaccines and/or boosters (for an ultra-low-risk demographic)

not sure why you led with that.. double vaxxed and boostered is kind of a baseline at this point, if we're hoping to get out of this mess. what do you mean by "ultra-low-risk demographic" given transmissibility anyhow? as to harsh restrictions in dorms etc, maybe so.. maybe not so much? I'm seeing all kinds of ways the harshest restrictions amount to so much theatre, it's all about compliance. And the "ultra-low-risk demographic" of 19-23 year olds is not known for their willingness to curtail their social lives, in my experience.

getting back to TFA, I'm glad nushutu mentioned the Study of Academic Racism bit, I did notice that.. in fact, how many of us have any direct experience with the situation described in the article? a lot of aspersions cast on Mehler for being out of touch.. not caring.. his privilege.. Given the context in the entire article, I'm inclined to cut him some slack. the tone of some comments skates pretty close to ageism, imho.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:56 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


He's the mirror image of this guy.
posted by bluefly at 8:35 AM on January 18


i don't think i'd want to have a beer with that guy, but i might take his class.

I'd go the other way. He reminded me of some of the professors that was great to audit the classes of, because they could be brilliant and inspirational but also sometimes genuinely chaotic or spiteful enough in their grading that you wouldn't want to risk your GPA actually taking it.
posted by Candleman at 8:44 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]


I would hope all the students at Berklee are aware of the impact on their musical career if they suffer permanent lung damage from COVID (I know they have e.g., piano and guitar majors, too, but I would wager the majority of their students need well functioning lungs to perform their art). That seems like a great reason for that school in particular to be more careful than your average grocery store.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:59 AM on January 18


Man, university administrators are at the bottom of the list with the NYPD and sewer rats in terms of earned good will.

And out of those, sewer rats get a bad rap.
posted by klanawa at 9:56 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


not sure why you led with that.. double vaxxed and boostered is kind of a baseline at this point, if we're hoping to get out of this mess. what do you mean by "ultra-low-risk demographic" given transmissibility anyhow? as to harsh restrictions in dorms etc, maybe so.. maybe not so much? I'm seeing all kinds of ways the harshest restrictions amount to so much theatre, it's all about compliance. And the "ultra-low-risk demographic" of 19-23 year olds is not known for their willingness to curtail their social lives, in my experience.

There seems to be some questioning of boosters for (e.g.) young males in particular. I saw a quote around this from vaccine researcher and educator Paul Offit in an a recent Atlantic article.
Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that getting boosted would not be worth the risk for the average healthy 17-year-old boy. Offit advised his own son, who is in his 20s, not to get a third dose. Even with Omicron’s ability to sidestep some of the protection vaccines provide, Offit said, he believes that his son is well protected against serious illness with two shots, so a third just isn’t necessary.
Even in the case of older-than-college people like myself, we've seen the protection from the boosters roll off so rapidly and/or not be very effective against omicron. As such, I'm also not yet convinced of the value of injection 3, let alone more than that, for myself.

The overall risks for the average college aged person who is vaccinated seem so low that major restrictions on social life and mobility might be overkill. Probably the biggest issue, as addressed by the OP and throughout this discussion, is the risks for aged or otherwise higher risk members of the university (faculty, staff, etc). Unfortunately, I'm not sure there's a perfect compromise to be had there.

One thing that I think colleges could focus on would be to make sure that symptomatic students do quarantine rather than wander around infecting others. Sort of a message of "go have your college fun, but if/when you get sick, we're serious about you staying at home."
posted by theorique at 10:34 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


theorique, I am gobsmacked that Paul Offit would say something like that. I've met him a couple times, and it seems out of character for the guy who freaking invented RotaTeq.

I did find this op-ed he wrote where he seems not so much to say boosters are unnecessary, but rather that they are worsening inequity in who's gotten how many shots. This is essentially the same argument the WHO has made, but is different from the framing in the Atlantic article, which goes much more in the direction "but myocarditis!!!!!" (while conveniently ignoring the fact that myocarditis is more common after covid infection than after any of the vaccines.)

If low-risk people could live on their own special low-risk island, that'd be one thing. But there are plenty of people in a college community (housekeepers, dining hall chefs and cleaning crew, faculty, staff, and yes, other students) who are higher-risk and deserve protection too. Given how quickly any infection spreads in a dorm environment (hello, meningitis!) it's very appropriate IMO for colleges to require their students be vaxxed in order to participate in campus life.
posted by basalganglia at 11:26 AM on January 18 [9 favorites]


We will just need to do classrooms with the professors in a sealed hermetic capsule to protect from the plague ridden students, as in The Girl With All the Gifts.
posted by mephisjo at 11:31 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


I am gobsmacked that Paul Offit would say something like that.

Dr. Offit not only invented the RotaTeq vaccine, he spent significant time in a polio ward as a child and wrote a (excellent) book about The Cutter Incident in which an improperly manufactured polio vaccine caused 40,000 cases of polio and paralyzed 200 children.

I am sure he has a more informed perspective on the nuances of vaccine policy and risk/benefit analysis than I do.
posted by bq at 6:05 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I am gobsmacked that Paul Offit would say something like that.

I heard a discussion about this on the radio on my way home from work. I am in a country with a very high vaccination rate and a very high booster rate, and the anti-vaxxers are a tiny minority that are ridiculed even by the right-wing media. So there is probably not the same political intensity about this here as in the US. Basically, the expert who was invited to explain this said that since the current vaccine is not as efficient when it comes to the omicron variant, and since there seems to be evidence that omicron is less dangerous for the fully vaxxed, it might be better to focus on the vulnerable and the unvaxxed from now on. And the unvaxxed might include entire nations with which we have close relations with and thus many travelers to and from.
posted by mumimor at 10:35 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]


A followup video from Barry Mehler: Hello Internet.
posted by russilwvong at 12:03 AM on January 20 [7 favorites]


Recapping: he says he puts on (most of, I'm guessing) this show every year, but it sounds like the covid stuff is new. It's a much chiller video.

On a related note: Suspended professor threatens to sue if he's not reinstated
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:04 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Yup, he's suing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:26 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


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