Monday, August 29, 2005

The Strange Case of the George Bush Sticker in the Faculty Parking Lot

(A letter of complaint to Provost Bodman by one of Professor Mills' students)

Dear Vice President Bodman,

I am writing to you in hopes that I may have some influence in a change that I believe needs to occur here at Western Washington University. My incident today has pushed me to further my complaint on to you.

Today at approximately 12:15pm I drove into the Faculty Lot in order to park and purchase a manual from the University Bookstore on Campus. Little did I know that as soon as I stepped out of my car I would be harassed about a Bush Cheney sticker on my bumper. To my surprise though, I was not being talked to by a fellow student but by a professor, Mr. Perry Mills, who I have this quarter as the professor of my Theatre 201 class. He told the students surrounding him that by voting for Bush I wanted to the world to die and that I probably wanted to put him to death. He even stated as I was walking away that he might get arrested for starting something. I tried to ignore these comments that seemed to by flying out of his mouth without thought but he had gotten the students to stare and laugh while he stood there judging me.

I understand that this may seem like a small incident in this chaotic world but I was embarrassed, appalled and very offended by Professor Mills. With his position and
stature it is hard to believe he could say these things. I am a very quiet and non-confrontational person and I usually would 'consider the source' and not worry about what people say, nor have I ever complained about anything like this to such an extent as to write a letter to you. After hearing Professor Mill's remarks of geographic areas of 'white trash' during lectures and his shouting 'shut up girl!' to another student in class and finally after having him ridicule me in front of others in order to force his opinion upon them, while downgrading me in the process, has brought me to the conclusion that enough is enough.

I believe that you should be encouraged to have your beliefs and opinions but also believe that there is an appropriate time and place to speak your mind, especially in the manner Professor Mills has. I have always felt comfortable and at home here at Western, I love it here, but today I felt uncomfortable, put-down, discouraged and scared for the first time. I should never have to feel this way because of a professor who is suppose to act with a certain degree of respect just as we students are expected to act towards them. Professor Mill's has stated that if we have a problem with what he says in his lectures he does not care, we should drop the class immediately. I can not afford to drop this class.

There must be some ethical code of conduct that Western Washington University has in regards to professors and students. I do believe President Karen Morse quotes in her Fall 2002 State of the University Address that "whatever our place of origin, it is clear that our fundamental attitudes and perspectives come from different places in time, and have been formed by different events. Our students will bring perspectives and backgrounds different from ours and those need to be considered and respected as well". I respect Professor Mill's view and so should he respect mine. This presidential election has been a close one and has been the cause of many arguments but it is not right when it has to come down to belittling a student who works so hard and looks up to the faculty so much. I could not quote all of what he said since I was trying hard to ignore it and walk away with my head high but he degraded me and I will never forget the feelings caused by Professor Mills.

I believe no one other than God should pass judgment on people and so I will not pass judgment on him nor am I wishing for an apology for myself. I am writing, as I stated in the beginning, in hopes for some kind of change, any kind of change, so that no other student may be subjected to what I had to go through today. I thought that this university is supposed to be a place of diversity and equal opportunities. I thought that Western is a place to learn and grow. Professor Mills is a man with power and the influence to help others but I feel that he has used it to amuse himself. Although incidents like this occur all the time, I would hope that it would not be because of a man who is expected to be somewhat of a role model to us all.

Thank you so much for your time and your concern. I truly appreciate it.


Shareen Julieta Faleafine
[Student at Western Washington University]


Professor Mills' account:

Student Shareen Julieta Faleafine complained to defendant Bodman that on October 7, 2004 I made some remark to other students about the Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on her car. She claims that I told them that by voting for Bush she wanted the world to die and that she probably wanted to put me to death.

My recollection of the incident is somewhat different. I recall that I was on the porch of the Performing Arts Center discussing a play that I had been acting with some of my students, when a woman drove up and parked in the faculty parking lot. There was a man in the car with her. They both got out of the car. The car had a Bush political bumper sticker on it.

I did not recognize her. I did not think that she was a faculty member. This is partly because I did not recognize her, and partly because she did not display a faculty parking sticker when she left her car parked illegally.

I recall that I make some kind of a joking remark to her to the effect that her Bush sticker would not protect her from a parking ticket. I do not recall her making any reply. My recollection is that she never spoke at all.

I did recognize the man that got out of the car with her, because we both patronize the same cigar shop. I had some brief conversation with him about the cigar shop we both go to. Then the man and the woman simply walked off. At no time did the woman ever say or do anything to indicate that she was upset, embarrassed, flummoxed, or alarmed.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Student remarks about Professor Mark Kuntz, from

"Mark rocks..."

"...his classroom presentation is really engaging. I also appreciate the exploration of issues around what defines art and about gender & ethnic issues in contemporary theatre."

"Really funny and SUPER sarcastic..."

"Talked about himself most of the time."

"His lectures were interesting and he tells some funny stories."

"All he does is talk about his personal life and how wonderful theatre is and that film is satan."

"he is good overall..."

"Class is very easy."

"Condescending...Inflated ego."

"...thinks he's god."

"...a shameless self-promoter, when he actually shows up to class, he likes to spend class bashing organized labour and going on and on about how much he has contributed to modern theatre."

"looses papers, Man hater, Makes False Accusations."
The Gender-Safe, Non-Offensive, Yet Somehow Free-Speech World of Theatre Department Chair Mark Kuntz (Part 1)

Upon learning of the fate of old ratty suspended Professor Mills (whom I'd hoped was long since dead so I could merely say nice things about him without suffering some terrible retaliation), I was immediately struck with curiosity concerning the key players in Mills' suspension.

Though the Provost and the Dean, having risen in the ranks, are well-fortified in their administrative bunkers, with only eight people in the world knowing what they do or why they do it, and with defensive websites repelling invaders with lists of the vicious activities of the "Capital Budget Advisory Committee" and other unspeakable horrors, their lackey professor, Theatre Department Chair Mark Kuntz, is more exposed.

He's the member of the team on the ground, doing the dirty work. He has to field the complaints, fire them up to his masters, listen to the whining, take the shots, all the while holding office hours, teaching classes, and maintaining an inviting website for students and alums that opens him to satire and ridicule, all while Provost Bodman and Dean Edwards recognize how useful is a turkey once given a title.

Having a looksy through Professor Kuntz's website, I was struck by the design, and how well it goes with his ambiguous memo quotes about "reasonable standards for and by reasonable people" and "ethical violations" and "a learning environment that embraces tolerance, safety, and freedom of speech".

I sent the site to Sean Tejaratchi, an accomplished typographer, asking him for a review of Professor Kuntz's choice of typeface, and he responded thus:

[It] is a common Art Nouveau face. I've seen it under many names, but I knew it first as Arnold Boecklin.

It's the long-term favorite of hippie designers and anyone with a feminine designer locked inside their heart. It's a nice face, but it's painfully overused in certain circles. It suggests a free-thinking soul with vague, feel-good spiritual leanings, and ESPECIALLY someone who's familiar with art school, in the Biblical sense. Just look at Kuntz' site and you'll see how well the font goes next to the unimpeachable serenity of a watercolored sunset.

It's a non-statement masquerading as a statement. It's a very, very safe typeface with no negative connotations. It's hippie-ish, but without the druggy smoke connection of later fonts. It's not the kind of font which would ever be suspended for say...wielding a knife in an irresponsible, stabby manner.
Student remarks about Professor Perry Mills, from

"This guy was a joke. I have learned more from listening to bums rant on the bus than when he would get going in class."

"God bless this man. If there were more people like Perry Mills in the world, it'd be a whole lot crazier, but also a little more sane in some weird way."

"...talked poorly about jesus, very anti sematic. Ate his own boogers."

"Perry F. Mills, the F stands for 'F*** off, you gucci bag toting hipsters!' He's a pirate, a rebel, a campus legend, and has the biting cynical outlook in life of Lars Von Trier."

"He hates students and his only joy in life appears to be making people feel horrible."

"He knows what he's talking about and won't accept crap from students he knows can do better."

"...a masoginistic pig..."

"Almost everything he says, cruel as it is, is freaking hilarious. People say he's insane, but really, he just has a cynical view of our generation. And why wouldn't he? We're a bunch of careless mass-consuming capitalist pigs."

"hard, i don't like his teaching style!!! Not very nice."

"Perry's awesome, you just can't show fear - I think he smells it."

"This old bitter man simply could not help himself from insulting everyone that doesn't look like an old ugly pirate. He made several students cry in my class."

"This guy is funny. I wouldn't recommend asking stupid questions. Just sit back and laugh at the people who do."

"Man, sexiest pirate teacher I've ever seen. I still get giddy when I see him smoking his cigars every morning. And that comment about wanting to get a tank and run over people on campus? Beautiful."

"'Lil girls play with barbies to prepare them for a life of servitude and 2nd class citizenship.' Be open-minded."

"Called us sheep and threatened to bring a gun and shoot us all."

"He's probably one of the few honest professors out there. Has no patience for spoiled children..."

"...a bad human being."

" of the best profs on campus."
The Weapon (Or: The Pocketknife)

As discussed in "The Statement of Charges", the suspension of Professor Mills hinges, overtly, on some kind of incident regarding Professor Mills and his pocketknife.

Here are statements on the matter, beginning with that from the lawsuit (pdf) of Professor Mills:

In October of the year 2000, one of my students was performing part of a play written by Tim Boyd called 'The Hitchhiker'. In the play, one of the characters removes a knife from his pocket and pursues another character off stage with the knife drawn. We were acting out this play on the stage. While acting out the scene, I took out my knife and used it to show how I thought that part of the play should be acted. I was on stage when I did this. The students present were in the audience at the time, and none of them were on the stage. There was no one within 15 feet of me when I did this. Nevertheless one of the students in the audience apparently complained to Professor Kuntz.

Now the memo (pdf) from Professor Kuntz to Professor Mills:

A student reported (and you confirmed) that you took out of your pocket a 5 inch spring action knife and displayed it in class as a means of making a point. A student received this gesture as a threatening gesture, and your actions were reported to myself and to campus police.

Your actions were in direct violation of both the faculty handbook and laws concerning the possession and display of such weapons in public education institutions.

Your bringing weapons of any kind (concealed or openly displayed), considering recent instances of violence in academic settings, invites a very strong response from your students and colleagues. I cannot think of any reason how your carrying weapons will better serve the students or the university or how these weapons might assist you in the execution of your responsibilities here.

The student also reported you continue to make off color remarks concerning your colleagues, women, gay students, and minority populations on campus.

And now the post from someone who claims to have been there during the incident in question, posted on the Western Front website:


I happen to have been a witness to the "knife incident" in question, and am disgusted that

A) It was a member of my class that considered Mills's behavior with the knife to be dangerous in any way, and reported him for it,

B) A well-respected, tenured university professor apparently can't be considered responsible enough to handle a knife intelligently,

C) Mark Kuntz has the gall to pretend this is all about a knife, when the real reason was Mills making fun of Kuntz's name, and

D) Suspending Mills for the remainder of the quarter wasn't enough to satisfy Kuntz's vendetta, it had to be for Winter quarter as well. What does that come out to, one month per blade inch?


Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Statement of Charges (In Which the Professor is Accused of Unspeakable Things)

In October 2004, Western Washington University administrators suspended Professor Perry Mills from teaching. The Western Front, WWU's student paper, broke the story.

Department chair and professor Mark Kuntz said he would not reveal the reasons for Mills' suspension because the matter concerns department personnel.

"This is to honor and protect Perry's privacy," Kuntz said. Mills tells a much different story.

"I was suspended and told to leave the campus because the department chair got a report of a student seeing (me) with a pocketknife," he said.

Mills was thereafter exiled from campus, to which he could return for his office possessions only by permission of Theatre Department Chair Mark Kuntz who, on such occasions, arranged a police escort.

Now with plenty of time on his hands, Professor Mills consulted local law enforcement officers who, upon inspecting Mills' pocketknife, determined that the tool was legal to possess under Washington State law.

However, the legality of Mills' pocketknife will later in our story be overlooked by Mr. Kuntz and other university administrators, in favor of placing the pocketknife center-stage, a nice sharp focal point around which to build evidence of Professor Mills' character, once merely gruff and unfriendly, but now allegedly dangerous and violent, a threat to the security of students, and a liability to the goals of higher education.

For eight months, the administrators responded to questions regarding Mills' suspension evasively, cherishing the pristine and easy ethical considerations of teacher and student "privacy" over the dirty and difficult ethical considerations of telling anyone why they had suspended a professor for eight months without cause.

Finally, on June 6, 2005, the crusty office of the Provost and Vice President, Andrew R. Bodman, issued Mills a Statement of Charges, available here. (pdf)

As we have already learned, the Statement of Charges would lean heavily on the pocketknife (about which we will hear testimony later), thus charging the Good Provost's Statement with an electrifying appeal, a tangible excitement in prose that Provosts are seldom allowed to express, not for their lack of interest in the literary craft, but for the lack of exciting material that presents itself to them at insignificant backwater state colleges of sparse acclaim. So that when a non-mediocre figure comes along, calling students funny names, and carrying a pocketknife to boot, it allows the administrator, who once was young and still remembers the thrill of colorful life since turned gray, to rise to the occasion, at once expressing the power of his position (that he has spent so long in attaining), while also allowing him to write memos that don't simply make him tired after lunch.

The Provost's Statement of Charges against Professor Mills kicks off with clear direction and no sass, stating that Provost Andrew R. Bodman, Dean Carol Edwards, and Theatre Chair Mark Kuntz collectively hold the view that Professor Mills' "behavior and conduct towards students and fellow faculty falls substantially below the standards to which faculty should be held."

From here, however, the memo moves into nebulous realms. There were complaints "lodged". These complaints were forwarded from Professor Kuntz to Dean Edwards to Provost Bodman. Professor Mills had "waved a knife around". This was "threatening, inappropriate and concerning." Provost Bodman reported that Dean Edwards reported that Professor Kuntz reported that "library staff had reported to him that they were very uncomfortable in having to work with Professor Mills" who was "menacing and threatening".

As if brutalizing the frail psyches of librarians weren't enough, we next learn that Professor Mills did not exempt faculty of the weaker sex from his abusive, derogatory, and hostile words. According to the report, Mills called a fellow professor a "bimbo", "slut", and "once even 'cunt'". This professor reported to Dean Edwards that she's heard Mills call his students "shit-for-brains", "blondies", "faggot", and one overweight student "a 400 pound canary who warbles nothingness".

Having now determined that, in his reckless manner of offending everyone, he has also been discovered offending frail and helpless women, mentally-challenged students, gays, and fat people, Provost Bodman closes the memo with direct official pluck, having trotted out a cast of victims so sanctified that to now put in a word for Professor Mills might be like bringing a boxcutter to the airport.

It took eight questionably unlawful months for Provost Bodman to state the charges against Professor Mills, but it appears his time was well-spent in calculation.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Headsman's Tale

A strange and terrible account of sloth, indifference, greed and revenge.

By Jack Ketch

Act I – The Unblinking Eye

In which the inexorable march of technology runs afoul of cloistered bureaucracy in the medieval dungeons of Mabel Zoe Wilson.

On or about the penultimate decade of the Old Millennium in a small cottage near the northern shores of Lake Whatcom, a humble lecturer dwelt in penury. His name was Perry Mills and he labored among the ivy-covered halls and moss-covered scholars of the University of Western Washington, a vast edifice of scholarship that still towers at the summit of Sehome Hill looking over the now-abandoned slag heaps, toxic sludge ponds and decaying pulp factory of the little town of Bellingham which itself was widely known as a nice liberal town with the highest population of serial killers per capita in the continental United States of America.

Mills was a large, shambling, irascible hulk of a man who limped about in a fog of malevolent cigar smoke. He had a piratical beard, hands the size of Easter hams, a metal brace on his leg, a head whose size was the despair of haberdashers and one terrible eye that was rumored to see around corners.

He also possessed a great fondness for his companion, Linda, the many cats who shared their home with him, home-brewed beer of ferocious power, the literature written in beams of light across the silver screen, largecaliber handguns, dramatic irony, good food, sharp knives and extremely fast motorcycles, though not necessarily always in that particular order.

At the University, he abided amongst the denizens of the Theatre Department and at first lectured and later professed film studies, functional literacy (a great rarity in those parts), play writing, interdisciplinary liberal arts, and popular culture, as well as a great loathing for dogs, timidity, self-promotion, arrogant clerks, most of the white race, all politicians, and any technology more complex and arcane than fire or a sharp stick.

To further witness the gruesome horrors of this strange account of madness and treachery, continue here...(pdf, 157K)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Introduction to the Good Professor Mills (as Pertains to the Interest of a Student)

In a sleepy little Northwest village called Bellingham, in the almost-forgotten state of Washington, lies a mediocre, middle-sized, almost wholly unremarkable educational factory called Western Washington University.

It was here that I fled for refuge after graduating from high-school, where my inquisitive nature and passion for higher education soon saw my class attendance drop to the bare minimum while I got stoned with the poets that lurked in the woods, and ate acid by the ream.

Despite never writing a single paper during my two years there, I maintained B grades. WWU and I apparently had a decent, wink-wink, win-win sort of relationship in which I paid the administration, did almost no work, and got decent grades from the faculty, about whom I remember almost nothing. There were some characters, like the Holly Hobby-dress-wearing anthropology teacher who would only talk about Brunei, or the literature professor who wore smart gloves, had a little moustache, and carried himself like a Frenchman, but I don't remember learning much from them and I certainly offered little in return. My university career at Western followed this pattern, until I took Theatre Arts 201.

Like other students, I took the film studies class as an elective, so I could get university credit for watching movies. The class was infamous for being easy, and it was in this spirit of apathy that I wandered into class in my Guatemalan sweater with my beads and my ponytail and my patchouli a few times a week to watch Battleship Potemkin, Chinatown, and Siesta.

The professor, Perry Mills, was a brute with a glass eye and a platform shoe
assisting one mutant leg, and he wore the same smelly paisley shirt each class. His extreme ugliness was matched only by his extreme passion for film. It was obvious by his playful monologues that he cared about these films deeply, or at least cared about some aspect of these films deeply, and he became excited when students became excited about these movies.

But as the course progressed, it became obvious that the loose grades were not without cost. (Perry used almost exactly the same test every year, and would pass out last year's test a few days beforehand.) Raising one's hand in response to one of Mills' questions, saying something, and thus participating in the Pavlovian call-and-response that passes for intellectual dialogue at American universities, did not fly with Professor Mills.

"That's the stupidest thing I've heard this year," Mills would say in response to a student's normally-useful rhetoric.

On other occasions, Mills would call us "a bunch of baseball-cap-wearing yuppie maggots from the I-5 corridor" and describe in extended fantastic monologues the terrible things our parents had done to get the money so that we could go to college and watch films that we would never understand because we were just going to get jobs and make babies anyway.

I had never seen such a teacher. I had never seen a teacher gleefully describe how he would ride his bicycle across campus, veering toward clusters of students to make them scatter like the pigeons they were. I had never seen a teacher openly describe to a class of students the bullshit he was involved in with an administration who simply didn't like his style. I had never seen a teacher treat me as an equal, and then go for my jugular when I proved by my pretensions that I wasn't.

Mills never seemed to hold a grudge, probably because he could hardly discern one idiot from the next, and his verbal lunges had the quality of sport rather than personal attack. Each new class was a fresh match, with previous animosities forgotten. This was intellectual dialogue at its best.

I took a Playwriting class from him later, and not only did he teach his subject well and with passion, but he laid bare the machinations of my "education" that I was too ignorant to ferret out on my lonesome. In retrospect, Mills surely had some influence in my immediate delight upon later discovering Mark Twain, Florence King, Jonathan Swift, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, J.P. Donleavy, Ayn Rand, Hunter Thompson, and H.L. Mencken. Curmudgeons the lot of them, I may have never sought them were it not for Professor Mills, and may have remained satisfied with Jack Kerouac, Herman Hesse, Jim Morrison, and other literary sedatives I was engaged by at the time.

Perry Mills frightened me, and is without question the best professor I've ever had.

Now on to the bloody meat of the story:

For years the administration of Western Washington University has tried to tame Professor Perry Mills, to threaten him with inconveniences and minor penalties for his unorthodox methods, and to dangle treats and promises of a nice soft life should he abandon these methods. Mills delights in this game, and has kept it up since the last time I saw him, almost 15 years ago. But something changed after the 11th of September in 2001, in which the subsequent lockdown tactics of Homeland Security and the resulting ripples of social paranoia have found Mills suspended for carrying a pocketknife. Not a machete in one hand and a student's head in the other. A pocketknife.

This is not, after all, simply a nostalgic story about my fondness for a professor, but an illustrative tale about how a national social doctrine can be used for effective housekeeping, sweeping out the nooks and crannies typically troublesome to get to. In the new milieu, it's suddenly easy to get rid of a pesky professor on campus. And this is a story about how those players assisting the sweeping maintain only the noblest motives.

This blog specifically chronicles a university's bureaucratic process of booting a tenured professor from his post, as well as the old dog's attempts to dig in his heels and stay put, but is more generally a fansite for an obscure professor very influential to a handful of students each year.