Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

September 12, 2013

Phil Power: Contentious feeling on campuses

Last week marked moving-in day at college campuses all around Michigan. Normally, the start of term is a time of happy confusion: Excited kids going off to college, and anxious and proud parents wondering what the next few months will bring.

But campus suddenly felt much more contentious this season.

Last week a Michigan State University English professor, William Penn, was banned from teaching classes after an anti-Republican rant before a creative writing class was videotaped and brought to the attention of university authorities. Penn contended that Republicans “raped the country,” that America is “full of closet racists” and that “if you go to the Republican convention in Florida, you see all of the old Republicans with the dead skin cells washing off them.”

That may be creative writing in Penn’s mind, but it wouldn’t seem to have much to do with teaching or his subject. A videotape of his remarks were circulated to Republican officials and posted online by Campus Reform, a conservative group based in Virginia.

Responding, MSU officials said Penn had met with university officials to discuss the matter and that he “acknowledged some of his comments were inappropriate and offensive.” He has academic tenure, which means he won’t get fired, but he won’t be teaching for a while … which, on the face of it, seems appropriate.

And earlier last week, the University of Michigan announced receiving its largest-ever single gift, $200 million from real estate developer, philanthropist and U-M alumnus, Stephen M. Ross.

Half that money will go to the Ross School of Business (named after a previous gift of $100 million) and half to the Michigan Athletic Department. Ordinarily, such a remarkably generous act brings praise and delight, from Maize and Blue loyalists as well as most anybody else who cares about universities in this state.

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