EAST LANSING -- A professor at Michigan State University admitted Monday that he sent an e-mail with statements reflecting prejudice against Muslims. He said he thought his missive would remain private.
Indrek Wichman, a professor of mechanical engineering, said he intended the letter as a critique of Muslim students’ protests at the university about the publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.
In the e-mail, after citing several international incidents of what he said was Muslim violence directed against others, Wichman wrote: “I counsul (sic) you dissatisfied, agressive (sic), brutal and uncivilized slave-trading Moslems to be very aware of this as you proceed with your infantile 'protests.’ If you do not like the values of the West -- see the 1st Ammendment (sic) -- you are free to leave.”
“I hope for God’s sake you choose that option,” Wichman wrote. “Please return to your ancestral homelands and build them up yourselves instead of troubling Americans. Cordially, I.S. Wichman, Professor of Mechanical Engineering.”
In an interview Monday, Wichman said he believes he has done nothing that requires an apology.
“Why should it?” Wichman said. “I am a private citizen, right? What am I doing wrong in my job? What did I do here?
“For the record, I thought it was a private communication and it was written in haste. I think a very minor thing has been blown completely out of proportion. I wrote it in 60 seconds. It was not like I sat and pondered over this thing for days. It was like you talking one night to your wife or your kids.”
The letter was written Feb. 28. Wichman said he sent it to an e-mail address that he believed belonged to a particular student who is active in the Muslim Students’ Association.
But students who lead the association said the e-mail address was part of the official Web site of the group, which assured distribution of the letter to more than the students and others who are active in Muslim affairs on the campus in East Lansing and elsewhere.
The Muslim Students’ Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations met with administrators at MSU three times over the past six weeks, said Dawud Walid, the executive director of the council in Michigan. The groups are seeking a reprimand for Wichman and the implementation of more diversity programs on campus.
“He does have academic freedom and freedom of speech,” Walid said. “But when his inflammatory speech is fostering apprehension and an unhealthy learning environment for students at the university at which he teaches, that is a problem.
“Furthermore, he is sending out this information on university property, a computer, and that is paid for by the taxpayers, by our tax dollars, during his working hours in his office.”
Wichman received a letter from MSU Provost Kim Wilcox informing him that the opinions he expressed were against the values of the university and that if he expresses similar views again, he must make clear that they are entirely his own, said Terry Denbow, the vice president for university relations.
“I can certainly see that as to the tone and the content of the e-mail why it was offensive,” Denbow said.