Professor's E-mail Sparks Controversy at MSU

By: Tony Tagliavia
By: Tony Tagliavia

An e-mail from a Michigan State University professor to a Muslim student group on campus has some students calling for disciplinary action against the professor.

"Shocked, appalled, disgusted, upset."

That's how Muslim Students Association President Farhan Azeez says he reacted after his group got an email from Professor Indrek Wichman.

Wichman's e-mail references the controversy over cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. In the note, the Mechanical Engineering professor says he's not offended by cartoons, but rather, by terrorist actions. It lists several terrorist acts believed to be committed by Muslim extremists.

Wichman goes on to address Muslims as "dissatisfied, agressive, brutal and uncivilized." He says if Muslim students don't like the right to free speech -- meaning the right to publish cartoons that might be offensive -- the students should return to their ancestral homelands instead of "troubling Americans."

When his group received the e-mail in late February, Azeez went to the university.

University spokesman Terry Denbow says the school has told the faculty member he must not identify his remarks as "anything other than his own personal views."

The school has met with the Muslim Students Association several times on the matter, but Azeez says the school should do more.

"We're asking that he receives a public letter of condemnation, disciplining him," he said.

Azeez says he also wants the school to do more to foster a positive environment for Muslim students on campus.

Denbow says the school has already done what's needed: A university investigation determined Wichman's comments did not affect students' education.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Wichman says he does not bear any ill will toward Muslims. He said his favorite student is Muslim.

As far as the email, Wichman says he thought he was writing a quick response to students who had written an editorial on the subject, and that he intended the e-mail as a private communication.

MSU doesn't intend to censor Wichman, Denbow says, but the professor has been warned to pay closer attention to his remarks.

"Any continuation of expression such as this could be seen as a threat to the learning environment," Denbow said.

Denbow says further action could be taken if a student contends he or she feels threatened by the professor.

That could lead to termination, even though Wichman is tenured.

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