Laurentian says removing prof from class over foul language form about breaking rules

Laurentian University says a professor was removed from teaching a course after he asked students to sign off on his use of vulgar language because he was violating school policy, and the Sudbury, Ont., school's move had nothing to do with 'academic freedom.'

Faculty union says it will fight to restore Michael Persinger as professor for introductory psychology

Michael Persinger, a professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., says he was told he was being removed from the course because his form violated school policies on respectful workplaces. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC )
A Laurentian University spokesperson denies the removal of Dr. Michael Persinger as the teacher of a first year psychology class is about free speech. The CBC's Marina von Stackelberg joined us to talk about what students are saying about the removal. 11:39

Laurentian University administrators say the decision to remove a professor from a course after he asked students to sign off on his use of offensive language had nothing to do with free speech.

Robert Kerr, provost at the Sudbury, Ont., school, says the decision involving Michael Persinger wasn't over the colourful language used in the introductory psychology course.

"To be clear, this is not about academic freedom," he said. "A faculty member cannot ask a student to sign a document, a memorandum of understanding, as a condition to take his or her class."

Administrators said Persinger violated school policy by asking students in his first-year psychology class to sign a "Statement of Understanding" form on the first day of the course. The document included a list of potential profanities, including homophobic slurs and sexual slang, that the professor might use in class.

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

"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.

The decision to remove Persinger was made in December after a student complained.

Kerr said he wasn't previously aware of the form.

Persinger told CBC News he started using it more than a decade ago after it was suggested by the dean at the time.

He said he wouldn't have forced any student leave the class if he or she didn't want to sign it.

"I certainly would not have forced them to sign anything," Persinger told CBC News.

"What I did do however was to ensure that if they would feel uncomfortable about my style of teaching or about the content of the course, they would have the opportunity to go somewhere else...But no one is ever excluded from a class of mine."

Union says form wasn't a contract

Jim Ketchen, president of the Laurentian University Faculty Association, said even if Persinger wanted to remove a student from the course, the form didn't allow that.

"He simply doesn't have the authority to do that. He has no way to enforce that. What was he going to do? Physically remove a student from his classroom? It would have no legal standing," said Ketchen, adding that the form also didn't legally protect Persinger.

Ketchen said the union will continue to fight the administration's decision to remove Persinger from the course, whatever the school's reasoning.

First-year Laurentian student Aurora Buckley says Persinger's contract seemed fair, and she appreciated the heads-up about possible use of vulgar language in the class. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

First-year student Aurora Buckley said she transferred into the class after hearing great reviews from other students.

She said she had no problem signing the form, and thought Persinger was making a point in his use of language.

"What he says is true. The real world isn't always going to be safe and respectful. And it's important for people to learn how to react rationally and have an educated opinion on terms and words they're probably going to come across," she said.


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