UD has covered similar professor meltdowns, but usually they’re about alcohol or drug use. This one, a math professor at Michigan State who paced his classroom, slammed his head into the window, shouted obscenities at his students, shouted about there being no God, and then stripped naked – looks to have been a pretty classic psychotic break.

Students madly dialed 911; they claim police took too long (fifteen minutes) to arrive, but there seems to be some controversy about that. What’s not controversial is that these students were badly traumatized (some feared the professor might have a weapon).

It’s hellishly difficult to identify mad or dangerous or badly addicted people on campus. I’ve only had one student, in years of teaching, who was immediately identifiable as mentally ill by her class behavior and comments (I told someone in administration about it; the student later withdrew to get treatment). Privacy rights; a tolerance for oddness; denial; fear — lots of factors play into our tendency to avoid doing anything about unsettling behavior. And things are often mixed: Amy Bishop’s students report that she taught quite normally only hours before the faculty meeting during which she murdered three of her colleagues.

Given this difficulty, response time is key.

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6 Responses to “It Happens.”

  1. Sean O Says:

    Campus police have so little to do other than monitoring drinking on the weekends. What could possibly delay them during school hours?

  2. Mr Punch Says:

    Faculty insanity is difficult for administration too – there’s an episode, involving a well-known scholar, described in Henry Rosovsky’s book.

  3. econprof Says:

    With mathematicians, the difference between normal and crazy state is hard to detect for an outsider – so I understand the reluctance of the campus police! (Hat tip: Volokh Conspiracy: http://www.lomont.org/Math/Talks/Mathematics%20and%20Insanity.pdf)

    (I know – I spent a lot of years in math departments…)

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    econprof: Yes, Mr UD and I spent some time, in light of this event, talking about math professors in general…


  5. MattF Says:

    For what it’s worth, my academic great-great-grandadvisor was Ludwig Boltzmann, whose problems earned a slide in presentation that econprof links to. And Boltzmann’s student, Paul Ehrenfest, who proved the famous-among-quantum-mechanics “Eherenfest’s Theorem” also committed suicide.

  6. University Diaries » “[I]f I wanted to see elderly men get naked before I’ve had my morning coffee… Says:

    […] always possible, of course, that Emlyn Hughes is having a mental breakdown in front of his class.  Plenty of precedent for that too, […]

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