Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Word From Our Professor (via George Carlin)

Perry sent this quote to me in the mail. Seemed like something worth sharing, as I imagine it's very much on his mind these days, as should it be on your own.

Political Correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance, and it’s especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control peoples language with strict codes and rigid rules. I’m not sure that’s the way to fight discrimination. I’m not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech.

-George Carlin

Two P'd-Offs in a pod...

Blast from the Past

Apparently, we missed this article from 2 1/2 years ago. Pretty rudimentary stuff, but Mills' last line is the sort of thing that gives campaign volunteers the excited silly giggles, so...

Cause for suspension stated

By: Sarah Martin

Posted: 7/12/05

Nearly eight months after Western's theater arts department suspended associate theater professor Perry Mills, he received a statement of charges -- which included written complaints from students and faculty members -- from Provost Andrew Bodman in June.

According to the statement, the reason for the suspension was that Mills' conduct fell below the standards to which faculty should adhere. Mills, who has been on paid suspension since Oct. 18, 2004, said the ordeal is a witch hunt.

"You can't prove that Julius Caesar ever existed," Mills said. "It's all hearsay."

In the statement Bodman wrote that he, Carol Edwards, dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts, and theater department chair Mark Kuntz believe enough evidence exists to warrant a formal hearing.

The next step in the process is a hearing in October during which a panel of at least five members will review evidence and hear witnesses.

Mills, a faculty member at Western for 25 years, taught theater arts classes such as introduction to cinema and dramatic writing and said he misses his job. Some students have mixed feelings about Mills' teaching methods.

"If he could get an attitude change, he wouldn't be that bad," said Kerrie Thornton, Western senior and Mills' former student. "It's just too bad that he doesn't have very good people skills."

Thornton said that, while his classes are difficult, Mills listened and helped with playwriting.

The charges Mills faces are based on actions some faculty and staff believe violated Western's Faculty Handbook, which specifies the professional standards the university expects from its faculty. According to the handbook, the university may dismiss faculty members from their position for violating one or more of five obligations for behavior. Mills allegedly violated two of the five.

Edwards, Bodman and Kuntz are charging Mills with "a serious and persistent neglect of faculty duties" and "intentional and malicious interference with the scientific, scholarly and academic activities of others," according to the statement.

Attached to the statement of charges were three written statements from faculty and students concerning Mills' conduct.

In a statement dated Oct. 7, 2004, Western junior Shareen Faleafine wrote that Mills, who was her professor for Theater 201 during the prior spring quarter, harassed her in a faculty parking lot for having a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on her car.

"I have always felt comfortable and at home here at Western," she wrote. "Today I felt uncomfortable, put down, discouraged and scared for the first time."

Faleafine wrote that Mills said that if a problem arose in his class, he did not care and students should drop the class immediately. She wrote, however, that she could not afford to drop the class.

In an internal statement to Edwards dated Sept. 24, 2004, Kuntz said he witnessed a conversation between Mills and an administrative assistant of one of his courses. Kuntz said Mills' language included "You bitch, you screwed up," and "Is she retarded?"

Mills said he suspects his suspension could be partly a result of him carrying a pocketknife around campus. Kuntz received a report of a student seeing him with a pocketknife. Mills said he carried a pocketknife for years and needed it for repairing onstage equipment.

Kuntz said he told Mills on several occasions not to carry his knife on campus.

"I believe in protecting his privacy and his rights while protecting the rights of students," Kuntz said.

Mills also speculated that his suspension is due in large part to a $12 lab fee theater students paid until recently. He said Kuntz spent the money for items such as computers, which was not the purpose of the fee, and Kuntz was upset with him for whistle blowing.

Kuntz said the fee was not a factor in Mills' suspension and the department discontinued the fee because it was no longer needed.

In a written complaint Edward's office received on Oct. 12, 2004, a former student of Mills' wrote that she returned to Western after doctors diagnosed her with cancer, and Mills was aware of her situation.

During class, when Mills called on her to present an assignment in front of the class, she said she was nervous.

According to her complaint, Mills said, "If you can't even put up with your piece for class, then you should have just died of cancer."

Mills said he did not think he said anything wrong or should treat students with illnesses any differently from other students.

"I hope that it hurts someone enough to either go home or do their work," he said. "If she died I wouldn't have given her an 'A.'"

Mills said he does not want to handicap his students by avoiding the issues.

"I don't talk nice," he said. "I say 'I hate that idiot' instead of saying 'I hold you in imperfect esteem.'"

Mills is on paid suspension until the hearing.

"Your tax dollars are going into me as we speak," he said.


posted 7/15/05 @ 1:40 PM PST

I must applaud Perry Mills for actually having the guts to say whatever he wants to say. The University has no right to try to censor what their faculty say and do. Remember that First Amendment "Free Speech" Clause? Justice William J. Brennan, Jr put it best when he wrote:

"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable."

Bravo Mr. Mills, bravo...

Thomas Hintz

posted 7/18/05 @ 8:21 PM PST

No person who holds a position of respect and authority should treat his/her charges with such abuse and disrespect, if these assertions are true.

I am angry and appalled that this behavior and attitude is present at my alma mater.

Mark A. Hardie, 1953, Retired Educator
Puyallup School District

posted 7/23/05 @ 11:02 AM PST

Perry Mills was one of my favorite teachers at WWU. I learned the most from his classes. He was so funny and passionate and salty that it made his classes entertaining. I missed a lot of classes at Western- but never one of Perry's.

Madeline Chauvin, Videographer
Austin, TX

From the The Western Front Online, July 11, 2005
Photo Credit: Lauren Allain/The Western Front

Monday, January 14, 2008

Do You Miss Mark Kuntz? I do, too...

It's been awhile, hasn't it? Well, I know you've been as sick for both the presence of Professor Mark Kuntz--really, the man who started it all, an inspiration to educators and educatees alike--as well as the concision and attention to detail that defines the Western Washington student. So, here's a little treat for your attendant patience, unedited for "letter-order" and grammatic creativity:

From Rate My Professor (Mark Kuntz)

Ugh. Terrible class. I usually love theatre. I didn't with Mark. He was self-absorbed and, though he would ask student opinions in discussions he would usually just make what they said fit his own narrow-minded opinions. The tests were confusing and I thought his grading on papers was kind of harsh. Obnoxious guy, obnoxious class.

What a god awful teacher. I couldn't stand the full of himself, disorganized, unavaliable and he out and out lies about stuff. Huge ego way out of porportion to any talent I saw a director he sucks. Actors actually fell asleep on stage in the last play he did it was so boring.........


I was interested in theater prior to taking this class, but I really didn't learn much about it and I have completely lost interest. He grades papers too hard and the basis of the tests are several uninspiring articles written by people with large egos.

Mark is hilarious! He's such an awesome guy. Get to know him on a personal level... it helps!

Indeed! Truly awesome.

Note: I would have been happy to balance this post with some student musings on the criminal pirate himself, but--ah, helas--it's somewhat difficult for students to properly rate their professors when their professors aren't allowed to set foot on campus...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cries in the Dark: Two Opinions

From the Whatcom Independent Online Op-Ed Archives
Thursday, December 13th, 2007

Letters to the Editor
Thu, Dec 13, 9:54am -

Silence does not become us

Dear Editor,

And so we hear the last bleating call of the whistle blower. I’ve been keeping tabs on Western Washington University’s (WWU) attempts to silence and dismiss Perry Mills, as the man was a professor of mine during my time in Bellingham. It never ceases to astound me that a community like Bellingham could stand silently by while this sort of thing occurs.

I know Perry Mills; he’s an educator of the old school. He still believes in standards of learning and thought that were once held dear on university campuses. Standards that have now fallen out of favor, not because they are somehow less invaluable now, but because they are difficult. He is gruff, crass, often shocking, but this stems from the fact that he is driven, direct, and above all, honest.

Professor Mills’ film students were required to pay fees that ostensibly were used for films and equipment. Instead, the funds, in their entirety, were taken and utilized by the department head. For what, then, were his students paying? Trips to conferences, in all likelihood.

Now it’s true that Mills is known for his scathing commentary of his peers. Again, vitriolic though it may be, it is also honest. The mere fact that Mills is known for this should ring some warning bells with the courts and the public, however. Mills did not suddenly become the “neighborhood meany” that the school is making him out to be. He’s been Perry for his entire tenure at WWU, some decades now, and no action has ever been taken to censure him.

University guidelines dictate that offensive behavior be reported and cataloged. They further state that the offender be called to a meeting where the problem will be discussed and rectified before any punitive action is taken. None of this was done. No action was ever taken.

Until now. Now, suspiciously, after he’s attempted to rectify his problem through established means (reporting the missing money), he’s being thrown from his position in direct violation of university guidelines. No official complaints had been made prior to this final attack on Mills, no meeting was called, no discussions were had, no mediation considered. After blowing the whistle, what constituted normal behavior for years became grounds for immediate removal. Well, perhaps eccentric people should just remember their place in life, and keep silent when they’re stepped on. Perry’s plight will serve as a great example to us all.

Stephen Austin II

Dean’s view of Mills

Dear Editor,

I have just finished the Paul deArmond piece on Prof. Perry Mills. I am not fully acquainted with the details of the event, as it happened after I left the Deanship of the College of Fine and Performing Arts (CFPA). As the first dean of the new CFPA, I was of course a part of process when Mr. Mills joined the college. He was hired as an assistant to an associate professor. He advanced to his present rank by way of his excellent work in the Theater Department.

Prof. Mills has been with the theater for a good number of years. His record as a teacher is excellent. His student’s evaluations were, as I remember, very high. His production of student credit hours, a most important factor in any department, was exceptional. Professor Mills’s students were among the best in the college. His development of the student playwrighting project was remarkable.

It is true that his language in informal situations may have left something to be desired, but he was obviously revolting against the effete professor stereotype that is all too common in the collegiate world. I have known him for many years and his language has certainly not worsened. (I am aware that reactions to that statement ranged from “Thank God” to “It couldn’t.”) His command of the English language will put the average educated person to shame. He is certainly as well- or better-read than most of his colleagues. His sense of humor, which I suspect is at the bottom of a lot of the anger that has been generated, is one of the best I have ever encountered.

I strongly suspect that those who have been behind the move to get rid of Prof. Mills are among those who have felt insulted but were not sure how or why. I have seen him in formal situations where his language has always been on the highest level and been extremely effective. Those who have been intimidated by Prof. Mills must have an extremely thin skin.

Prof. Mills is an excellent teacher, one who always put the student first. Certainly that seems to be the case here when dealing with student funds.

W. A. Gregory

Friday, January 04, 2008

Administrative Code Violated; Suspension Upheld (aka Illegality Rewarded)

Okay, so I've re-read this article at least three times (listen, I attended Western, so I can't do objective math--just the new subjective kind, resembling the accounting WWU employs to determine the various sundry fees they collect from new batches of "students" every year). Anyhow, I've read the thing more than once and I still can't understand how this sentence works:

[Whatcom County Superior Court Judge] Mura said he upheld Mills’ suspension but found that Western’s refusal to hold open hearings in the case violated administrative code.

To quote other myriad on-line bafflees: A-wot?

Is this not like saying "[United States Supreme Court Judges] said they upheld Bush's claim to presidential victory but found that Florida's refusal to hold non-discriminatory elections violated constitutional code"?

Well, I guess we can turn to the brilliant thinker F. Scott Fitzgerald for a bit of perspective on this conundrum:

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

Or, to quote Western's Assistant Attorney General Wendy Bohlke: "We won, he lost."

Isn't it nice to know that WWU has such a time-saving reductionist on staff? With spin powers like that, it's a wonder she only works for a minor university and hasn't extended her step to a higher ground like, say, Legal Advisor to Vladimir Putin. I know, Russia is cold and snow is heavier than rain, but I think simplicity of the sort Bohlke has to offer would be more useful on the world stage than on the stagnant prosceniums of "Higher Education." At least she'd help give serious editorial cartoonists more work.

Or, how about this other choice statement by the same beast, quoted in the same article: "Universities hire intelligent, educated people. Personnel problems don't happen that often. We deal with them quietly and people move on."

Wow! Silence = progress! Once again, Western Washington's formulas for success are far more interesting than those that come with any amount of ethical integrity! Yep, no more surefire a way to solve intricate issues that affect large populations like nations or student bodies than with that proven vanquisher of time-squandering complexity: silence!

Anyway, enough about me: there are a few more words sandwiched between Bohlke's lardy emissions within the article itself, so read on if you run out of more interesting fiction in your own home's library. And here's some post-reading homework for you: Where did Krell's Facebook group "Perry F. Mills, Where Have You Gone?" go?...

Judge to uphold theater professor's suspension
by Steven Chea, Sarah Gordan and Shana Keen
Friday, December 07, 2007

The dispute regarding the fate of Western theater professor Perry Mills is one step closer to being resolved after Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Steven Mura issued an oral ruling on Mills’ case Nov. 21.

Mura said he upheld Mills’ suspension but found that Western’s refusal to hold open hearings in the case violated administrative code.

“We won, he lost,” said Western Assistant Attorney General Wendy Bohlke. “He was an … abuser of people. We will defend that. The decision was sound.”

Mills was put on paid suspension by the theater department in October 2004 while the university investigated complaints received from faculty and students, according to a review decision and final order released by Western’s Board of Trustees.

In one of the complaints, a female student, whose name was redacted from the document, wrote a letter to then theatre department chair Mark Kuntz stating Mills’ behavior in class toward her was offensive, according to the board’s document. The student, who had been diagnosed in the fall of 2003 with ovarian cancer, returned to Western after surgery and chemotherapy sessions and enrolled in Mills' dramatic writing class in the spring of 2004. The student volunteered to present her work in front of the class, but after she expressed reservations, Mills made a comment to her that she found offensive, according to the document.

The document states Mills testified that the comment he made to the student was along the lines of “If you don’t put up your work, it’s just as if you died of cancer and aren’t here at all.” The comment brought the student to tears, according to the document.

Mills justified his words as a way of motivating her. The board found that Mills’ actions toward the student were “entirely inappropriate,” according to the document.

The incident is one of several mentioned in the document, which include comments made by Mills to other students and faculty members they considered derogatory toward gender and sexual orientation.

The department presented its findings to a hearing panel in October 2005 while Mills defended his actions to the panel. The five-member panel held six meetings and voted unanimously to recommend that Mills be placed on a two-quarter suspension without pay, according to the document.

Theater professor Deborah Currier was one of the faculty members to whom Mills allegedly made comments that she deemed inappropriate, according to the document. Currier did not say her position on Mills’ suspension, but said she disapproved of his conduct.

Western senior Adam Krell took Theatre 201 with Mills, and said he didn't find Mills’ unusual style offensive.

“I just thought he was funny,” Krell said. “He cracked me up. He was abrasive, but I don’t think he was ever serious.”

Krell created the “Perry F. Mills, Where Have You Gone?” Facebook group, which originally protested the suspension.

Krell said he now feels he doesn’t know enough information to make a judgement about whether or not the suspension is justified.

“I think most of what he said was tongue-in-cheek, but I don’t think most of the students took it that way,” Krell said. “I interpreted him as sarcastic.”

Attorneys on both sides must type up Mura’s ruling and add suggestions they feel the judge needs to take into consideration. Mura said he will issue a formal finding after receiving reports from both sides but did not specify a deadline.

Bohlke said she believes Mura will sign the formal finding next week. She said Mills’ case was an unusual situation for Western.

“Universities hire intelligent, educated people,” Bohlke said. “Personnel problems don’t happen that often. We deal with them quietly and people move on.”

Mills’ attorney James Lobsenz was not available for comment by deadline.