Professor David Weale called it a "January clearance" -- and clear out they did. Dismayed by his crowded classroom, the history teacher at the University of Prince Edward Island offered his students a deal some couldn't resist: Drop this Christianity class and you'll get a B minus.
The offer, also dubbed the "Weale deal" worked. The next week, about 20 of the 95 students were gone. So too is Prof. Weale after shocked administrators caught wind of the unorthodox academic transaction.
This week, the university suspended the popular professor, who taught history for 30 years before retiring last summer. He returned this semester to teach one last class, a third-year History of Christianity course. The three-hour class, taught Thursday evenings, was standing room only on the first night.
Prof. Weale acknowledged his offer was "goofy" but said he wanted to shave class numbers to make the course more enriching. And he wanted to drive home a point about crowded classes at the university.
"There were people I couldn't see on the first day," he said from Charlottetown, where he is a well-known author and stage performer. "There were people sitting in benches at the back with nothing to write on. Even people who don't like what I did admit there were unpleasant circumstances in the class."
When word leaked out, colleagues, administrators and some students were mortified.
The University of Prince Edward Island Faculty Association called Prof. Weale's actions "unacceptable," saying he compromised the university's reputation.
Vice-president Gary Bradshaw said the school had no choice but to suspend Prof. Weale while a disciplinary probe begins. Offering students a credit without doing the work "strikes at the very heart of the academic principles," Mr. Bradshaw said.
"There's no way the university could sit idly and not deal with the very serious matter that it is."
At last night's class, all students who took the offer were instructed to return if they wanted a credit. The "Weale deal" was off.
Prof. Weale said he tried to encourage students to leave on the first night of class earlier this month. He pleaded, even joked, saying he didn't want to see so many faces. But no one left.
The next week, he sweetened the offer, saying he'd give students who left a mark of 68. Students mulled it over during the break and negotiated the deal up to 70, which is a B minus. Departing students were required to send Prof. Weale an e-mail and pay the $450 for the course.
While the university reacted swiftly to discipline the professor, there were mixed reactions on campus to his ignominious departure.
A born performer, Prof. Weale's classes were among the most popular on campus, students said. The fact that he was teaching his last class made it even more attractive, said Ryan Gallant, a history major and president of the student union.
A professor of religion has been asked to step in and teach the class, but Mr. Gallant said some students planned a pro-Weale demonstration outside the class last night.
A self-described rabble-rouser, who admits that he likes to "mix it up," Prof. Weale appeared genuinely mystified by the widespread condemnation of his offer. He said the university and faculty association statements smelled of hypocrisy.
"It's optics," he said. "They just want to send out this message about how strict they are about standards, when, goddammit, I was the one who was fighting in that class for standards."
When asked whether what he did was wrong, he grew impatient, launching into a critique of "our so-called merit-based society," adding it rewards the privileged.
"I was saying to the students: 'This is an act of grace and it's a good thing in life to accept grace.' It's not a good thing to think that you have to earn everything, because that's an illusion."
Luck -- not effort -- plays the largest role in who succeeds in our society, he said.
"It's often because of good luck, the family they were born into, the genes they were born with. So when you establish a society totally of merit and credit, it just suits the privileged. And it always works against the underprivileged."
Was it fair to offer students a credit for no work? "Fair always depends on your perspective," he said. "Is it fair for students to do nothing in a class and get a credit? No, it is not fair. I'll admit that. Now, is it fair for students who have paid $450 and who want to learn about the content of the course to be jammed into a classroom that is greatly compromising the learning situation? Is that fair to them?"