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10 Most Controversial College Professors

by Staff Writers

Students aren’t the only ones who can stir up a controversy on a college campus. Sometimes the faculty is the source of great speculation, public outcry and media controversy. These ten professors have been some of the most talked about, hated and controversial in the past few decades, sometimes spurred on by what they’ve said or taught and other times their own actions or associations. Read more to learn about some of the most contentious professors ever to teach in the United States.

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    William Ayers. More popularly known as Bill Ayers, this controversial figure was an elementary education theory professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, before recently retiring. That alone doesn’t sound particularly controversial– and it isn’t– it’s Ayers’ views on politics that have gotten him into hot water. Ayers was an outspoken anti-war activist during the Vietnam War, but is perhaps most controversial for his involvement with the Weather Underground, a violent communist revolutionary group responsible for bombings during the 60′s and 70′s. Ayers became a household name when connections between this so-called socialist revolutionary and Barack Obama were made by political pundits.
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    Alberto Gonzales. Alberto Gonzales was the 80th Attorney General of the United States under George W. Bush, but accusations of perjury forced him to resign. It is these allegations and his potential involvement in multiple illegal government activities that made him a controversial figure when he was chosen to teach a class in political science at Texas Tech. After it was announced that Gonzales would be taking on a role at Texas Tech, both as a professor and as a diversity recruiter, protests grew–even a number of other professors at the university signed a petition against the hire. Regardless of their feelings and others in the community, Gonzales has been working at the school since 2009.
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    John Yoo. American attorney, law professor and author, John Yoo became one of the most controversial professors in U.S. history during his time in the Justice Department under George W. Bush. It was revealed in 2003 that he took part in authoring what are now called the Torture Memos, developing the legal justification for the torture and imprisonment of accused terrorists, memos which most world governments saw in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Yoo may be longing for his days as a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law as in recent years he has been sued, brought up on a variety of charges and nearly lost his license to practice law.
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    Jonathan Katz. The devastating oil spill that left much of the Gulf of Mexico steeped in millions of gallons of sludge didn’t need any additional controversy added into the mix, but the appointment of Washington University physics professor Jonathan Katz did just that. While Katz was hired to assist in a team trying to cope with the environmental disaster, it was unclear why he was there, with no experience in the field–little assistance with a man-made disaster. Katz made his appointment to the group even more controversial by espousing his views on homosexuality, declaring himself a proud homophobe and blaming the AIDS epidemic on homosexuals. When his opinions were revealed, Katz was immediately relieved of his role on the team.
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    Peter Duesberg. This professor was much admired and respected at his University of California-Berkeley campus, and has completed some incredibly respectable work. But a recent article in Discover magazine brought to light some of Duesberg’s more controversial, perhaps even unsavory, beliefs to light. Since 1986, Duesberg has been an adamant AIDS denier, believing that the illness is caused by drug use rather than by the HIV virus. Despite a lack of evidence backing up his claims, as well as some concerns about ethics in regard to his published articles, Duesberg’s views have affected international AIDS policy, especially in South Africa. It is thought that the government’s refusal to provide anti-viral medications to AIDS patients, believing with Duesberg that their condition was not caused by a virus, led to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.
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    Nicholas De Genova. Articles have been written about this professor of Anthropology and Ethnic studies that refer to him as "the most hated professor in America" and they might not be far off. De Genova rose to notoriety in 2003 after making a statement about the war in Iraq that more than a few Americans took issue with. He is quoted with saying that he not only hoped that the U.S. soliders experienced horrible losses, but that "U.S. patriotism is inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy." Of course, once a controversial professor, always a controversial professor and De Genova has offended more than US veterans and their families, once also stating that, "The heritage of the Holocaust belongs to the Palestinian people. The State of Israel has no claim to the heritage of the Holocaust." De Genova has defended his statements and is currently writing a book in which he claims he will examine them in more detail.
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    Ward Churchill. Ward Churchill was a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder for close to two decades– until his controversial views got him into hot water. In 2005, Churchill’s views on 9-11 brought him into the media spotlight, with an article he called "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens." In this essay, Churchill claimed that the attacks were an inevitable result of unlawful U.S. policy, and compared the corporations working in the World Trade Center to Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. It is perhaps these views that spurred on an investigation of Churchill after which he was accused of research misconduct and fired. Some thought the termination was unjust and a violation of Churchill’s First Amendment rights, and he agreed–eventually suing the University and winning.
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    Peter Singer. Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton and is no stranger to the controversy caused by his remarks and writings. In 1975, Singer published a book called Animal Liberation, within which he argued that animals shouldn’t be treated with cruelty simply because we think we are superior to them. While these views aren’t radical today, they were at the time, and Singer continues to provoke with his attitudes towards human-animal relations. In 2001 he published an article stating that "sex with animals does not always involve cruelty" and that these actions can be mutually satisfying, a view that caused a big stir. While Signer holds a number of controversial views on issues like animal rights, abortion, and evolution, it should be noted that he is one of the most respected Australian philosophers in the world.
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    Bernardine Dohrn. Bill Ayers wasn’t alone in his involvement in the radical group Weather Underground — his wife also played a pivotal role. Bernardine Dohrn was the group’s leader, pushing it forward into violent attacks to protest the Vietnam War. Her actions with The Weathermen earned her a place on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, and Dohrn turned herself in in 1980 after she became concerned for her children’s safety and felt she could no longer remain a fugitive. After serving less than a year in jail, Dohrn was released on probation for her role in the group’s activities. While she could not get a job as a lawyer because she was denied by the Bar Association’s ethics committee, she did find work at Northwestern University teaching comparative law– a hire that’s still controversial today.
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    Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary may not be a controversial figure or a household name today, but during the 1960′s and 70′s he was an immensely polarizing figure due to his views on LSD. Leary believed that LSD had therapeutic, emotional and spiritual benefits and spurred on the psychedelic drugs movement that would shape much of the counterculture of the coming decades. At one point, this former professor of psychology would be called "the most dangerous man in America" by Richard Nixon.