BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — As the views on his controversial video soar, many are sending Ferris State professor Barry Mehler their support while he remains on administrative leave.
And not just online, but in one case, in the form of legal aid.
"We made a determination that yeah, this is protected speech," says Aaron Terr, program officer for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "At public universities, faculty have First Amendment rights, they have academic freedom."
That's why FIRE got in touch with Mehler. The nationwide non-profit heard of Mehler when his video went viral this week, and jumped to defend his rights as a professor.
"They have wide latitude to decide how to teach their courses, how to deliver course content," explains Terr. "Even if some people might find their speech offensive or distasteful."
FIRE is even providing Mehler with an attorney for free through its legal defense fund in the hopes of getting him back into the classroom.
"What we would ask of Ferris State is to immediately drop the investigation of Professor Mehler and restore him to the classroom immediately because there's really nothing to investigate here," says Terr.
Dr. William Thompson, a public health official who has known Mehler for 30 years, agrees.
"I don't see why the university couldn't allow him to go back to teaching online for the last semester of his long successful career," says Thompson.
Thompson has been cited in dozens of peer reviewed publications, including a few on COVID-19. He says Mehler's points on feeling unsafe are valid.
"If I were in his shoes, and I was 74 years old, I would retire right now," says Thompson. "Because, you know, what do you want to do? You want to die the last semester you're teaching?"
In another trending portion of the video, Mehler says his grades are decided through "predestination" and students have no say in how they turn out.
Thompson believes Mehler was not being serious about that, but drawing attention to the rest of his complaints.
"I think his bigger point that he was making, attempting to make there is, this is a life threatening situation that the university is asking me to go into," says Thompson.
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