Most of us up here in East Lansing would give anything right about now for something we could label “offensive,” but we’d be talking about the Spartan football team, and not the professors who teach at Michigan State.
Unfortunately, on the gridiron, our best offense is our defense, and instead, it’s an MSU English professor named William Penn who has so far produced the strongest offensive performance of the 2013 season.
But it turns out Mr. Penn, an award-winning author and teacher of creative writing, may have delivered the most compelling and instructive lecture of his career at the opening session of his Literatures, Cultures, and Identities course on Aug. 29. Hopefully, he and other biased college professors will take a lesson.
Unbeknownst to him, a student in Mr. Penn’s class videotaped a portion of his opening remarks and posted it to YouTube. What was revealed — much to the chagrin of MSU alums like me — was a biased and offensive tirade against Republicans, and by inference, against anyone with a conservative worldview.
The video went viral, thanks to CampusReform.org, a conservative group that monitors and fights against liberal bias on college campuses. Spewing disdain for “cheap” Republicans who Mr. Penn claimed had already “raped” the country to make their riches, Mr. Penn asserted that Republicans don’t want to foot the bill and provide a free college education to everyone because “Who are you to them? Well to me, you’re somebody.” The full, unedited, eight-minute version of the video included other hate filled gems, such as insults against Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, and a not-so-veiled threat that he would “come after you” if you were a student he determined was a “closet racist.”
To its immense credit, Michigan State’s administration did not defend this buffoonery on the grounds of “academic freedom,” but instead, acknowledged that Mr. Penn’s rant poisoned the atmosphere for the free exchange of ideas and essentially created a hostile learning environment for anyone who disagrees with him. MSU President Lou Anna Simon said that his comments in the classroom were “out of bounds,” and therefore, Mr. Penn was relieved of his teaching duties for the term (though not officially suspended). He continues to receive his $146,510 salary.
As a Spartan alumna, I’m embarrassed that this story put my university in the spotlight. No graduate wants her institution to be known for rude and obnoxious teachers.
As a Republican taxpayer in the state of Michigan, I’m incensed that this ingrate stood in front of a lecture hall full of college students and sneered at my family’s contributions to the state’s education coffers — which, by the way, pay his generous salary.
But it’s not in these roles that my ire about Mr. Penn comes out.
I watched that video as the mother of college students who identify themselves as conservatives and whose social, political and religious views have been routinely dismissed, insulted, ignored, and belittled by professors at several of our nation’s finest institutions of higher learning.
Mr. Penn is not unique. In fact, he’s a cliche. He’s the self-described “child of the ‘60s” who believes his forum in a university classroom allows him to teach his leftist politics as “truth,” even if he has to intimidate his students to do it. It’s time he and his fellow liberals within the academy noticed that many of the students before them are engaged, well-informed and unmoved by the leftist indoctrination that passes for course content.
You have to wonder what Mr. Penn said prior to the start of the anonymous student’s taping that made the student pull out his or her phone in the first place. If the nervous laughter on the recording is any indication, heads were shaking when those students left the room.
You also have to wonder if Mr. Penn and others like him will take note: Your students aren’t the cookie-cutter college liberals you believe them to be, and they may not appreciate you insulting their parents, their politics and their intelligence with your narrow-minded pronouncements.