Laurentian University professor removed for asking students to agree to profane language

Laurentian officials in Sudbury, Ont., say professor's methods violate policies

Michael Persinger

Known worldwide for his research on the human brain, Michael Persinger also won the TVO Best Lecturer Award in 2007. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)



Laurentian prof removed from teaching first year psychology course 9:21

A Laurentian University professor in Sudbury, Ont. says he has been stopped from teaching a first-year psychology class after asking students to sign off on his use of vulgar language.

Dr. Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist, said he asked students in his introductory psychology course to sign a "Statement of Understanding" during the first lecture. The statement lists a sample of words that might be used during class, and includes the F-word, homophobic slurs and offensive slang for genitalia.

"One of my techniques is to expose people to all types of different words," Persinger told CBC News. "Silly words, complex words, emotional words, profane words. Because they influence how you make decisions and how you think."

By using words in lectures that cause emotion, Persinger said he can teach students about how that affects the brain's rational processes.

But in December, two months into the course, Persinger said he was called into the office of the university provost and told he would no longer be teaching the class.

"[I was told my] statement of understanding interfered with the senior administration's idea of the workplace policies, specifically the respectful workplace policies. When I asked for details, I didn't get any."

Restricted course


Methods were a 'tremendous recruitment tool'

Persinger said he has asked students to sign the form for years and never received a complaint. In fact, he said, it encouraged some to sign up.

"It's also a tremendous recruitment tool. Students enjoy the fact that it says 'restricted' on the top. What they like about the class is they can ask any question they want, no matter how politically incorrect," he said.

"And we will discuss it in a rational way, using data more than emotional argument, more than political correctness and more that just social agendas."

Persinger said he gave students the option to change to a different section of the course if they didn't like his methods.

Classes continue with new professor

No one from Laurentian University was available for an interview.

In a statement, the school said it's committed to providing a safe and respectful workplace and learning environment.

"It was recently brought to the Dean's attention that a Statement of Understanding issued to students by Dr. Persinger was not in compliance with Laurentian University policies," the statement reads.

"Dr. Persinger was removed from teaching this course pending an investigation," the statement continues, adding the chair of the psychology department has taken over teaching the year-long course.

Union says prof's academic freedom 'violated'

Meanwhile, the Laurentian University Faculty Association said it has filed a grievance against the school for violating Persinger's academic freedom.

"[That] includes freedom of teaching, research and discussion, no matter how controversial, without reprisal or censorship," union president Anis Farah wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"The discussion of controversial matters is important to help foster independent thinking and expression."

'The discussion of controversial matters is important to help foster independent thinking and expression.' - Laurentian University Faculty Association

For Persinger's part, he said, the university hasn't told him whether he will be able to teach the course again.

He said he's trying to change the nature of university lectures, "from a boring prof blathering away in front of students, to making it an integrative classroom where questions are encouraged, and critical thinking is developed."

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