This past week Dr. Barry Mehler was suspended following a class introduction video that went viral, causing extreme reactions of both support and hate.
Mehler explained that numerous former students have reached out to him via email to offer their kindness and support.
“I’ve been brought to tears by how many of my former students have been so supportive,” Mehler said.
Brittany Gwisdala is a former student who graduated from Ferris’ History BA program in December of 2015. She explained that Mehler’s lectures were like nothing she had ever experienced before, and they kept her interested, regardless of the topic.
“The utter surprise—even shock—of this classroom etiquette kept me enthralled, and I found myself pondering his remarks. Approaching history has many different variations, and Dr. Mehler’s methods were certainly the most engaging,” Gwisdala said.
Gwisdala noted that while the video may have been shocking to some who were unfamiliar with Mehler’s teaching style, she was not shocked by the contents of the video.
Another Ferris alumni, Taylor Davis, had a vastly different experience in Mehler’s class. Davis graduated with a degree in elementary education, and she took Mehler’s Michigan history course in the spring of 2017.
Davis explained that after just one class she believed she was predestined to fail, and that Mehler talked about how everyone in the class had a predestined grade. She also added that Mehler spoke about smoking cigarettes and made it seem like everyone should smoke them.
“In college classes satirical content can be appropriate because of the age level at which you’re teaching. However, to use it to tell your students that they have a high chance of failing the class is inappropriate,” Davis said.
Davis noted that she remembers that Mehler was a loud and hectic man, but she does not remember one thing that she learned from him.
“In education you have to know your students and what works for them. Each student has a different learning style and [I] didn’t feel like he cared at all about the students, except the ones who sat right in front and got him on conversations about other topics not related to Michigan history,” Davis said.
In 2015, Paolo Di Raddo graduated from Ferris with a degree in history. He explained that Mehler invited him to observe his terrorism in the middle east course and American capitalism course.
Di Raddo noted that his first reaction to the viral video was to laugh; it was part of the show that he knew well. While Mehler has unique teaching methods that are out of the box, Di Raddo enjoyed sitting in on his lectures.
“Dr. Mehler’s teaching method may be unorthodox, even extreme, but without those methods how could we obtain the tools to push the boundry of history just a little more out of its comfort zone?” Di Raddo said.
Another student who took two classes with Mehler during her time at Ferris was Melayna Fellows who graduated with a degree in criminal justice in 2019.
Fellows explained that Mehler always immersed himself into the acting, regardless of the topic being discussed. Because of this, it was impossible to get bored or lose focus.
She also added that a lot of what she witnessed in the introduction video was like her experience in his class a couple of years ago.
“He always taught predestination and Calvinism just as he did in his viral video. Each time I took his class, he gave that same speech about your grades being predetermined. He never actually meant it, but how could you possibly forget something taught to you in a way that instantly instills fear?” Fellows said.
Another student who has taken Mehler’s classes through the years is Angela Cool, who graduated with a degree in art history. Her take on Mehler’s teaching is that he is incredibly passionate about the subject matter, and he challenges students to question everything and develop critical thinking skills.
“I feel the video is being taken out of context and is blown out of proportion. Dr. Mehler’s teaching methods have been similar throughout his tenure, so why is this an issue now? Is it because he plans to retire this year? Does the university not want to pay out the end of his contract? There is no way President Eisler did not know how these classes are taught. Furthermore, these are adults he is teaching. The media is creating a faux outrage,” Cool said.
Numerous students have come forward, sending letters of support to both President Eisler and to Mehler.
Mehler was quick to note that with his eccentric teaching methods, he knows it does not suit everyone. However, through student interviews as well as Twitter and Reddit comments, it appears that most students who’ve been in his classes support Mehler.
Brendan Sanders contributed to the reporting of this article.