Michael Persinger taught psychology and conducted research into the brain and behaviour at Laurentian University, in Sudbury, from 1971 until his death last August. He also practiced psychology clinically. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Michael earned his doctorate from the University of Manitoba the same year he was hired by Laurentian.
Michael became internationally known for his research attempting to establish correlations between electromagnetic fields, plate-tectonic action, and other physical phenomena and human and animal consciousness and behaviour, and for the theories he developed to explain these correlations.
The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship first intervened on Michael’s behalf in 2006, when Laurentian denied a film crew for the Discovery Channel permission to interview Michael on campus. The plan had been to videotape student volunteers in a demonstration of one of Michael’s experiments. Although the original experiment had been approved by the university’s research ethics board and the results of it published, Laurentian said the proposed demonstration also needed board approval. SAFS contended that Laurentian’s actions violated Michael’s academic freedom to disseminate his work. (The letter SAFS sent is available in our 2006 cases folder. https://www.safs.ca/issuescases/case.php?case=laurentian)
A little later, in 2007, SAFS president Clive Seligman spoke in Michael’s defense both when Michael’s lecture content and provocative teaching style drew complaints and in connection with a charge of clinical malpractice, of which Michael was acquitted.
Not only did Michael join SAFS at that time, but he bought memberships for ten of his students.
In January 2016, SAFS again intervened on Michael’s behalf, when Laurentian removed Michael as teacher of a year-long introduction to psychology course. For a number of years when teaching this course, Michael had asked the students to sign a form indicating that they understood that Michael, in his role as teacher, would occasionally swear, shout, make an outrageous claim, or otherwise violate assumed norms of comportment. Michael explained on the form his various pedagogical reasons for violating these norms, one of which was to encourage students to think calmly even in charged situations. Readers of the SAFS Newsletter were made aware of these reasons in Michael’s article defending Teresa Buchanan, a Louisiana State University professor who came to grief because of her use of profanity (https://www.safs.ca/newsletters/article.php?article=882). The article appeared just a few months before Michael’s own troubles.
Laurentian originally claimed that it suspended Michael for requiring students to sign the form as a condition of entry into the course. Michael denied that signing was in fact a requirement and noted that he lacked the power to deny qualified students a seat. (The letter SAFS sent is available in our 2016 cases folder. https://www.safs.ca/issuescases/case.php?case=persinger Michael contributed to the SAFS Newsletter a short discussion of what was at stake in his case. https://www.safs.ca/newsletters/article.php?article=926)
Because of the importance the matter has to academic freedom in teaching, Michael’s faculty association and the Canadian Association of University Teachers are continuing to pursue against Laurentian University the case of Michael’s removal from his course.