Monday, October 8, 2012

Michigan State professor apologizes to students. From

By Brandon Howell

EAST LANSING, MI -- Michigan State University math Professor John McCarthy has no recollection of his in-class breakdown last week.

In an email sent on his behalf to his Calculus I class' 31 students, McCarthy apologized for the episode and the problems he caused.

"The incident that occurred Monday was unfortunate," he writes. "Although I do no remember what happened, I have been told that I may have caused distress among my students during Monday's class. For this I am truly sorry."

McCarthy, 57, reportedly shouted about Steve Jobs, God, religion and other topics during his Monday afternoon class on Oct. 1, then stripped naked and continued screaming in the Engineering Building's hallway in what students called an apparent mental breakdown.

Witnesses took to social media, posting numerous first-hand accounts of the incident around the Internet, putting the incident in national headlines. One witness posted a picture of a naked McCarthy, handcuffed and sitting on the Engineering Building floor, to Reddit.



  1. It is has made me furious to read some folks online who are making sport of McCarthy and this incident.

    I'm even torn about Fab (or whoever sent the link in) reporting the story here.

    Mental health is a tricky and much misunderstood region, and just because it happens so wildly in public doesn't make it fodder for the blogs of the world.

    I send Prof. McCarthy my best wishes.

  2. I don't object to the reporting of the story, but that's partly because I don't think it necessarily reflects badly on McCarthy, any more than if it had been reported that he suddenly lost consciousness while teaching a class (though I admit that would have been far less likely, or at least less likely to go viral; I'm sure professors suffer heart attacks, strokes, epileptic episodes, etc., in the classroom on a fairly regular basis. We just don't hear about it). There's obviously a health issue involved (mental and/or physical; it's increasingly clear there isn't a bright line between the two), and it sounds like he's on medical leave while he and his doctors try to address it. That strikes me as appropriate, not because I'm worried about his students' welfare (though I think it's probably easier for all if someone else finishes up the classes), but for his own safety. Whatever happened took place in what was, in some ways, a relatively safe place (and public safety officers handled the situation appropriately); that might not be the case next time.

    I do, however, wonder whether colleges and universities should be beginning to think about codes which govern when it is and isn't appropriate for college students and professors (and other staff) to film each other, and to publish the results. Though there may have been some reasons for students to video what happened in the classroom, there was no legitimate reason for them to publish the results to the web, or anywhere else. The same is true, in my opinion, of the young woman who lost control of herself and her tongue in a class class spring in Florida (I think). I realize there are free speech issues involved, and there's not much to do if someone breaks down in a fully public space, and someone else decides to film it (except hope that person has the decency to share the film only with genuinely concerned parties -- i.e. medical or public safety personnel), but both of the events mentioned above took place inside university buildings. If we can have speech codes that govern such spaces (and I realize that, too, is controversial -- more legitimately so, in my opinion), can't we have behavior codes that govern the taking and publishing of photos/videos?

    Or, of course, we could just rely on human decency, but the age of youtube and reality TV seems to have seriously undermined that (or at least altered the rising generation's sense of what sorts of respect are due another human being simply because (s)he is a human being).

  3. Did you see the comment by Chung, a recent MSU grad? He NAILS it.

    1. Indeed. I suspect there was a bit more than student-induced stress involved, but it's always fun to see a student light into his undisciplined, unengaged peers. Maybe I'm being unfair, but I think it takes a certain attitude toward professors to respond to one's professor's breakdown by photographing it and posting it on reddit. In the student's mind, I suspect, McCarthy finally did something interesting. Again, maybe I'm being unfair, but I'm really having trouble understanding the attitude that led to taking and posting the picture. I'm reminded of the Biblical story of Ham, who laughed at his drunk father's (Noah's) nakedness, rather than covering it with averted eyes as his brothers did. Ham and his descendants were cursed for Ham's lack of proper filial respect (providing a supposed justification for slavery -- the curse is to serve his brothers -- even though Ham wasn't the forefather of Africans. Slaveowners weren't very good -- or, rather, were very self-serving, Biblical exegetes). Maybe a bit too strong a consequence, but still. . . .

  4. Ugh, that poor man. He should sue the people who shot and posted that video. Imagine if you lost bowel control, or choked on a piece of meat and vomited, or any number of indignities, and some jackass wanted it to go viral. Sorry, but I worry about this generation's sense of basic human decency.

  5. I think it's also along the lines of, "Hey, look what I videoed/photographed! And I'm the first to post it!"

    There have been missives in some places that warn about helping a person in trouble before Tweeting about it or taking pictures.

  6. Too often, professors are seen as the enemy. You know, though, I think this is LESS the case at Community Colleges, where we have many more older students and where a much higher percentage of students are truly grateful for the opportunity to go to college. I believe at my college, there would have been more students in the room to protect and help that proffie much more quickly than appears to have happened, and to have chewed out anyone who was taping it.

    I agree with CrayonEater, though, that this is a common modern phenomenon, this reaction to someone's break down or physical mishap by pulling out the camera rather than helping. It happens too often, and in many different kinds of situations in addition to colleges. When technology advances at such a rapid pace, people take some time for their moral and ethical sense to wrap around the technology and to understand the implications of it.

    Especially stupid people.

  7. The camera part is modern, the standing around observing-but-not-helping is not modern. From the fable of the Good Samaritan to modern awards and decorations for heroes who didn't stand by, we celebrate those who step in because they are unique.

    Snowflakes are many things, but they are not a new species. They are us, and however much one generation looks at another with complete lack of recognition, we change very slowly.


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