Monday, September 26, 2005

Witnesses to the "Knife"

Declaration of Michael Murphy

One day in October 2004, immediately after a class session, I discussed with another student, Nick McLeod, a play he was writing for the class. Mr. McLeod wanted me to play a part in the play for a scene to be performed in class. He told me that the character needed to use a knife onstage as a prop and asked me if I had a suitable knife. I did not, but I told him that Professor Mills had a folding knife we might be able to use, and I asked Professor Mills if he had the knife to show to Mr. McLeod. I knew that Professor Mills sometimes carried a pocket knife because I have seen him use a pocketknife in the past to cut holes in the ends of his cigars. Professor Mills said that he did have the knife, and he removed it from his pocket and opened it to show it to Mr. McLeod. Professor Mills said we could use the knife as a prop, and then he put it away. The knife was out of Professor Mills' pocket for less than 15 seconds, and at no time did Professor Mills brandish the knife in any remotely threatening manner. I was standing near Professor Mills and I was not at all frightened for my safety. There were other students in the area, but I saw no indication that any of them was afraid and certainly none were in any danger.

Declaration of Nicholas McLeod

One day in October 2004, immediately after a class session, I discussed a play I was writing for the class with Professor Mills and Mike Murphy, another student in the class. The play was called "Bagels and Balrogs," and included a discussion among the patrons of a bagel shop, who were debating the relative merits of the film and novel versions of the Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I had cast Mike Murphy to play one of the characters in the play. The character was intended to be reminiscent of a "Hell's Angel," and have a rough, surly persona. I had written a scene in the play which called for the character to slice a bagel while passionately arguing a point about the film version of the Lord of the Rings. For dramatic effect, and to deepen the development of the character, the script called for the character to use a knife to hack the bagel into several pieces. I believed that the knife would need to be fairly large in order to convey the dramatic intent and a smaller knife would not be appropriate for the scene.

I asked Mike Murphy if he had a suitable knife, and he said that he did not. Professor Mills then told us that he had a pocketknife that might be appropriate, and removed his knife from his belt. He opened it and showed it to us, asking if we thought it would serve as a prop for the scene. We agreed that it would be an appropriate prop, and asked Professor Mills if we could use it for the scene. Professor Mills said that we could use the pocketknife as a prop.

When Professor Mills took out and opened the pocketknife, Mr. Murphy and I were within approximately arm's length of Professor Mills. I did not feel at all threatened, and Mr. Murphy likewise gave no indication that he was made uncomfortable by Professor Mills' actions. Professor Mills did not brandish the knife, point it at anyone, or make any gestures with the knife of any kind. I considered the discussion to be related to my coursework.

During the discussion with Mr. Murphy and Professor Mills, there were several other students in the area, the class having not yet fully disbanded. None of the other students were as close to Professor Mills as I and Mr. Murphy, although other students were close enough to see that Professor Mills was showing us a pocketknife. No other students indicated any alarm or displeasure at the fact that Professor Mills showed us his pocketknife. I did not hear anyone say anything about the knife at all, and certainly no one seemed to be afraid.

Monday, September 12, 2005


I suspect the addition of a crate of PDF files on the side links will tempt only those familiar with Professor Mills, so here's some highlights:

The Syllabus

We will aspire rather than compromise, excell instead of settle-for and we will write the best piece of dramatic intensity the world has ever suffered through......and in doing, we will focus every ounce of intellectual and artistic energy we possess upon the work. If we do not, we are no better than a pack of animals and we deserve to die unread and unheard. Get busy.

Mills' Eval of Dept. Chair Mark Kuntz

(In which the Professor gives Kuntz a One-to-Five rating of Three for Scheduling; Zeros in most cases, and a Minus One in Handling Budget Resources. It could be that Professor Mills' unholy evaluation of Kuntz in April 2003 has something to do with Kuntz's unholy suspension of Mills presently.)

He will say ANYTHING in order to further his own selfish ends; I consider him a liar and worse (see section on the budget) and lament that such persons are deemed necessary to the running of an academic unit. He is flawlessly polite, oily to the point of extreme unction and untrustworthy in any situation....Fire this phony, now.

Kuntz' Memo After September 11th

Or: Mark Kuntz Implies That People Are Terrorists Who Aren't
Or: Mark McCarthy Knows a Good Angle When He Sees It

I am concerned about the safety of our students, staff, and faculty.

Last week our nation learned some tough lessons as we were aware of a potential terrorist threat, but were without the resolve to act on that threat. Our culture prefers to act after substantial damage has occurred, so that the removal of the threat is clearly defined and a call to action has substantial momentum.

Perry Mills represents that kind of threat on campus. The level of threat Perry represents is not clear, and a course of action is very difficult if not dangerous itself.

A Student Letter of Support for Mills

I'm writing this letter in order to recommend Perry Mills for whatever it is he wants to be recommended for....Getting along with Perry is often a chore. He is not easily impressed or easily endeared.

Another Student Letter of Support for Mills

To Whom It May Concern:

Dear Sir,

Perry Mills is of the old school, in the tradition of the Academy, Cambridge, and Gottingen. This means that he demands scholarship from self and students, and it is disheartening to see the majority (who are fools) attempt to wheedle out of the higher learning, or to see his administrative superiors discontinue his interdisciplinary studies program. He is the only force I have met at this university that insists that one engage the material. Among the priceless multitude of ideas introduced to me by Professor Mills, both in and out of class, are works by the following:

Paul Fussell, Richard Mitchell, Scott Buchanan, Ben Shahn, Friedrich Nietzsche, Aeschylus, Sophocles, H.L. Mencken, Arthur Koestler, Jean Anouilh, Jean Cocteau, J.P. Sartre, and Florence King.

If this list is recognized to be one composed of pessimistic and notorious nonconformists with anger management problems, so be it: this little note is not addressed to you. But if these names are friends, then consider this: Do you know how difficult it is now to free one's self from the mires of this technocratic disinformation age and get some real answers?...If it had not been for Professor Mills I would not have found these authors.

Let me make this little note perfectly clear: Professor Mills deserves a full professorship with all its attendant privileges and proper remunerations.

Thank you for your attention,

Max M. Strumia
Department of Mathematics

Mills' Tenure Eval

The strengths of the contributions that Mr. Mills makes to the Theatre Arts Department in the area of Teaching are as follows:

Generates large SCH numbers in GUR class
Is well read in 20th Century philosophy and theory
Often appeals to bright non-traditional students
Offers academically prepared and challenging classes
Promotes the importance of critical thinking and writing skills in theatre curriculum

The weaknesses of the contributions that Mr. Mills makes to the Theatre Arts Department in the area of Teaching are as follows:

Uses foul language with and, on occasion, toward students
Employs a combative style with students as a central part of methodology
Discusses other faculty members with students in a derogatory and demeaning manner
Enjoys his wit at the expense of students
Extremely high student complaint rate (formal and informal)
Berates and demeans students in the guise of humor

The Large Invisible Antique Screwdriver by Perry Mills, Auditioned by Dean Edwards

[In a meeting with Provost Bodman, Dean Edwards, and lawyers for Plaintiff and Defendant, Mills] indicated that he owned a large antique screwdriver with which he could easily kill someone by driving it into the victim's brain, and while he said this, he mimicked with his hands, while looking at his hands, how he would handle it, lifting his hand with the invisible screwdriver in it, and then hitting the table hard with his fist closed around the invisible screwdriver. He looked up at us from looking at his hand, and indicated he could probably kill anyone with anything that was available. His presentation was alarming....I personally felt fearful in his presence given what he said and how he behaved."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Interview with the Terribly Crazed and Dangerous Professor Perry Mills (Part 1)

When did you start teaching at Western?

I started teaching at Western in 1980, when I went back for a Masters degree after being crippled on my carpentry job. The Dean C.F.P.A. hired me on the spot to teach Interdisciplinary Arts, and from there I picked up theatre classes and became a "professor".

Why do you have a glass eye?

I do not have a glass eye. One sees; one does not, having an opaque lens due to an explosives mishap in the '70s. The glass eye syndrome comes from the insufficient tracking of the unseeing member—it "wanders" because it cannot focus. Tape up one eye and view the world as I do. Curbs become a great challenge, steps take on a whole new dimension, and then get on your motorcycle and follow me through some corners: you will notice that the world is one large two-dimensional postcard without any dimension or depth. Why be afraid of corners if they don't exist?

Our society generally considers art expendable, and often sees art culture as soft, indirect, impractical, and faggoty. However, you come at art more like a construction foreman than a theatre professor, with a ferocity foreign to many artists and instructors. You give the impression that art is as practical as a highway.

Art is not for sissies!

What are you trying to teach your students?

Just like "The Lost Tools of Learning" [by Dorothy Sayers] points out, they must learn to think for themselves; any energy disposed to any other purpose is effort wasted. On the way to this ideal, I twit the affected and expose the class system for its exploitation of the unprepared. As a previous hand-out noted, failure marks you: stating that it doesn't changes nothing and it eventually teaches the student that they cannot trust the teacher to do anything except play it safe. The young need stronger stuff, otherwise we are conditioning their failure.

What characterizes professors you've had run-ins with over the years?

You're [presently] documenting the sort of thing that professors "do" in the free exchange of diverse ideas in the academy. They lie, cheat, and back-stab in order to make sure that the corporate ponzi-scheme stays in their control. Hitler found the universities the first to capitulate to the new brutality: nothing has changed. Between the political correctness "movement" and the removal of constitutional guarantees via the "Faculty Handbuch", the Amerikan Proffessoriate has trussed and gelded itself as it awaits the advent of Hitler's avatar. Can you wait?

As one of your terrified students, I found that your stingy praise was meaningful(1), precisely because it was seldom dispensed(2). Is there some intent of manipulation in this(3), or do you call it as you see it every time(4)? In other words(5), if you see that praise will drive a particular student to better work(6), will you offer it despite the facts(7)? Comment on white lies(8).

1. Good. Your native intelligence is emerging.
2. Dispensation follows deserved action! Schmooziness is for the timid and the lost. Get tough!
3. Yes.
4. Yes. I have the strength of ten because I know something that the young do not. They don't need praise, they need strong opposition to test their ideas against. If an idea breaks in school-practice, imagine what it could do to you in life!
5. That's easy for you to say...
6. Has praise ever driven you to better work? Isn't praise a cue to "back off" and not show up the retarded? What drives you to better things?
7. No. There is some shit I will not eat.
8. What's "white" about lies? Is racism inexorably tied to our ethics? Tell the truth, it's a rare thing to do and will please those who know a lie when they are being bought-off with one. I can help students, but I can't do it by lying about what they have done. That would advocate idiocy.

Your contempt for students is legendary. Likewise for faculty and administrators. Yet I get the impression that you’re continually open to revising your judgments. What traits tend to salvage an individual from the onslaught of your black misanthropy?

My "contempt for students" reputation comes from the fact that I brook no phonys. My "Black Misanthropy" is derived from those students who have not yet learned that it is the swine who pass them year after year for little or no real work; they are lazy and it is easier to denounce me than to admit that we are all stupid and need good solid feedback on what we have just said, not another Gold Star for being inoffensive.

Your detractors say you’re mean and nasty or that you’re “not nice”. Pretend I’m one of those people, and that I’ll never in a million years change my opinion of you. Why do you torture me so?

In order that you may become a viable intellectual presence in your world. It does you no good at all to pet you for your cuteness and the beauty of youth when you are being denied the tools of learning. You are a fluke of creation, and whether you can hear it or not the universe is laughing at you behind your back. Get smart or die.

Reading the list of charges against you (such as that you called a fat guy “a 400-lb canary who warbles nothingness”, and that you apparently weren’t very sensitive concerning a cancer patient’s reluctance to show her art in her delicate condition, and that you lambast conservatives and liberals alike) gives the impression of lunacy, unpredictability, or rabble-rousing, but beneath it all I find the common thread that you’re quickly sizing up someone’s chosen social identity and ripping it apart to get to the individual inside. Why do you do this? What are the dangers of identity?

The "dangers of identity" are that you are responsible (read Scott Buchanan) for your future. No one can save you, save yourself (study that statement for ambiguity, I dare you...). Read Tom Wolfe's The Worship of Art for a second opinion: if you don't know what you think and feel, the experts will do it for you. This is a deeper-than-usual topic and is the subject of many of the books on my reading list. It's known as "The History of Ideas" and comprises my central curriculum. [John Taylor] Gatto's book ["Dumbing Us Down"] is a fine example.

Why cigars?

Cigars are a memory of past smokes and a building of future pleasure, they drive away the insipid and peurile, and insure that only friends remain. Since it takes two hours to smoke a handmade cigar of substance, cigar smokers are possessed of Leisure time and earthy taste, and command respect from the gentility and Loathing from Vermine. A cigar is a symbol of freedom, and a marque of nobility, and points up the difference between Churchill and Nixon.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Horrifying Tale of the Vile and Hideous Professor Mills Making Entirely Inappropriate Remarks

(Another letter of complaint from a student regarding Perry Mills.)

To whom [it] may concern,

Fall of 2003 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to leave Western for immediate treatment including surgery and chemotherapy. I returned to Western spring of 2004 excited and ready to work. Although my [health] was not at its prime and I still had not grown back any hair, it was something I wanted to do. As you can imagine I was very sensitive to the fact that I was bald and faced my insecurities everyday. During the fall quarter when I left school and the spring quarter when I cam back I was enrolled in Mr. Mill's dramatic writing coure, [a] requirement for my major. Mr. Mills was fully aware of my sickness and how I felt about it. One day in class I was preparing to put up a piece for [work-shopping] in front of the class. It was the first time that I had put something up so I was nervous. When Mr. Mills asked if anyone had something for class that day I put my hand up tentatively. Then when called upon I explained that I wasn't sure if I wanted to put it up...that I was nervous. And Mr. Mills responded "Caitlin, if you can't even put up your piece for class then you should have just died of cancer." As my eyes welled up with tears and the class stared on I cast my work and put it up for the class. Although he succeeded in getting me to put up my work (which was not a requirement of the course) it was entirely inappropriate.

Concerned Student



Professor Mills' account:

At the beginning of one class I asked, "Who has something to put up?" meaning, "Who has a piece they are ready to cast and perform?" [Caitlin] raised her hand. I called on her and told her to [go] ahead, cast it and perform it. She began to hand out scripts to other students, but then after a minute or two she said she was not sure she wanted to go ahead and do it.

In her complaint letter [Caitlin] wrote that I told her "Caitlin, if you can't even put your piece up for class then you should have just died of cancer." While that does not sound exactly right, I did say something to that effect. I did say something like, "If you don't put the play up, it's the same as if you had died." The point I was making was that while we live, we can create. When we are dead, we can no longer create. And if we stop creating while we are alive, it's the same as if we had never lived.

My remark had its desired effect. I succeeded in goading her into getting up the courage to cast and perform her piece. She went ahead and the piece was performed and critiqued. She acknowledges in her complaint letter that I succeeded in getting her to do her piece for the class.

I can see why other people might find my remark to [Caitlin] to be offensive or cruel. I disagree. I believe that [if] I had not said this, I would have been failing her as a teacher. The goals of any discipline, including theater arts, must be to produce an observable change of behavior in the person studying that discipline. A performance piece must be performed, even if it causes pain to do so. Artistic strength comes only through action. My statement to [Caitlin] was designed to induce that action, and it did so.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

An article regarding Perry Mills in the Whatcom Independent, 26 August 2005 issue:


WWU moves to fire tenured prof

Drama revolves around whistle-blowing
over lab fees


BELLINGHAM - Western Washington University (WWU) is pursuing legal action against one of its tenured faculty members, which may result in the loss of his job and pension. Perry Mills, a tenured professor in the Drama Department, has been charged with making remarks to students and other faculty members, which some listeners found offensive. Mills contends the charges are retaliation for his objection to student lab fees being spent inappropriately.

Mills has been suspended since October 2004. According to WWU administration, the suspension is due to complaints by faculty and staff concerning Mills' behavior. WWU delayed filing written charges until June 2005, even though the university's procedure specifies that charges should be filed before any suspension is imposed. During the intervening time, Mills has been on paid leave, but has not been allowed on campus nor allowed to teach any classes.

Mills contends the charges are trumped up, and brought about because he objected to student lab fees being spent inappropriately. The intended use of the lab fees, totaling over $20,000, was to purchase instructional videos. Instead, Drama Department Chair Mark Kuntz used the funds for general purposes, Mills stated in court documents.

Mills has been on the faculty since 1980 and tenured since 1994. The charges for his suspension are based on testimony involving three incidents in 2004, and others stem from incidents several years ago.

On August 12, the WWU Board of Trustees moved to indemnify Provost Andrew Bodman in his individual and official capacities in this lawsuit. A hearing in the case is set for September 9 before the U.S District Court in Seattle. The hearing will address Bodman's request for a dismissal of Mill's suit. Neither of the principals nor their attorneys could be reached for comment as of press time.