A Canadian professor has been forced to quit teaching an introductory psychology course, because he gave students a waiver where they had to sign off on him saying “fag,” “pussy,” “shitface,” and other vulgar terms.
“This course is rated ‘R’ for coarse language and explicit content,” begins the waiver that Michael Persinger handed out to every student in his introductory course at Laurentian University in Ontario.
The waiver then rattles off a list of words, offensive (“fuck”) and not so offensive (“pugnacious”), that they may hear in the class, and offers a series of sample exam questions that are unusual to say the least. One reads as follows:
2. According to Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, the statement “I ain’t nothing but a hound dog” by Elvis Presley would be an example of:
a. The cumulative effects of Fetal Alcoholic Syndrome (FAS)
b. bad Kentucky brew
c. the same problem that struck Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, when he thought he was a pig after he pissed off Daniel
d. a strange mand
e. a strange intraverbal
f. a trange tact.
g. a strange autoclitic
h. none of the above.
Persinger said the handout isn’t intended to simply let him be rude in class. Instead, he said he uses intense language to help make a broader point that powerful, emotionally-charged words can affect how people think. He also said his waiver was a tremendous recruitment tool.
But officials at Laurentian University were not impressed by Persinger’s pedagogy. They told him the waiver violated both the school’s human rights code and its respectful workplace policy, and forced Persinger to stop teaching just two months into the year-long course. Another professor has been tasked with finishing the course.
Persinger described himself as a victim of oversensitivity in the academy. He also claimed he has used the waiver for years without any complaints from students.
“We’ve spent so much time talking about developing skills of assessment, critical thinking, being ready for the 21st century, dealing with complex issues of social agendas,” Persinger said Tuesday, according to the National Post.
Students and faculty at Laurentian have rallied to Persinger’s defense. Laurentian’s faculty association has filed a complaint saying Persinger’s academic freedom was violated, while several students have described Persinger as one of the best professors they ever had.
“I think what he’s doing is great and preparing us for the real world, which is what university is supposed to do,” student Aurora Buckley told The Star. Another student, Autumn Daggett, recounted how Persinger opened his first lecture in 2014 by directing the class to say, “Fuck you, Dr. Persinger!”
In response to the backlash, Laurentian administrators have claimed that Persinger’s rhetoric isn’t a problem, only the fact that he gave students a waiver to sign. Only the school can compel students to sign waivers, not a professor, school officials told the CBC. But Persinger has never barred students who refused to sign the waiver from attending his class, and it’s not clear why Persinger’s improper use of a waiver would force the school to yank him from the classroom midway through a course.
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