Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Anti-Muslim Email, 1st Amendment Issue?-- Or A Bigger Problem?


In the latest flareup over the now old news, but apparently not forgotten, controversial cartoons published by a Danish newspaper, the headline in the Detroit Free Press, MSU prof's e-mail outrages Muslims, sets the stage. Mechanical Engineering professor Indrek Wichman, sent an email to a Muslim student group while it hosted a public awareness event about controversial cartoons that depicted Islam's founder as a terrorist.

According to the story [among other things] Professor Wichman wrote:
I am offended not by cartoons, but by more mundane things like beheadings of civilians, cowardly attacks on public buildings, suicide murders.
He went on to say: "I counsul [sic] you dissatisfied, agressive [sic], brutal, and uncivilized slave-trading Moslems to be very aware of this as you proceed with your infantile 'protests.'
Professor Wichman does not appear to be a shrinking violet, given his views on teaching set out on his faculty page on the University website:
Good teaching involves rigor, precision and intellectual honesty, and the unrelenting application of consistently high standards analogous (but not identical) to the ideals of athletic contests. ... Higher education, like high-level athletics, or high-level anything, is not for everyone. Thus, education is also an elitist enterprise. This is hard to defend in an egalitarian and pluralistic society, but the principles of absolute democracy ("...we are all equals here...") can no better be expected to hold sway in a classroom than in a football locker room at halftime, or a boxing ring between rounds. ... Failing students in my classes causes me no "moral dilemma" and is something I can do without compunction ...
The University has disagreed with the sentiment contained in his email, warned Wichman to be careful not to go further, but basically viewed it as a private communication protected by the 1st Amendment.

No comment on the University's view of the image of higher education at Michigan State his email sends to those who value spelling, made even more ironic when read in light of the Professor's own dedication to precision and unrelenting application of consistently high standards.

A hat tip to my colleague Rose Jennings for alerting me to the story which has the full text of Professor Wichman's email.


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