When Samuel Button walked into his discrete math course one autumn day in 2016, he was expecting a math lesson. Instead, he recalls, his instructor Timothy Farage opened the lecture of the day with a spiel about Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Black boy who had been shot and killed by White officers in Cleveland in 2014.
“He started the class by saying that, ‘Just asking questions, maybe if you’re a parent of a child who’s been killed by the police, you should go to jail for not raising your child properly,’” Button, a 2020 computer science graduate, said “That one has never left my memory and I think it was despicable, and we argued that one at length.”
Farage came under fire after a July 15 tweet in which he called for researchers to “try and find a cure for homosexuality.” But The Mercury spoke with six students and alumni who say that Farage’s tweet is just the most recent example of the professor’s long history of inflammatory comments, both in his personal and professional capacity dating to at least 2015. Either through his “Tech Updates” segment of class meetings or in the form of mid-lecture tangents, Farage has consistently brought up controversial current events, political matters—such as race relations and abortion—and other sensitive topics such as sex and sexuality during any given lecture. Mia Benedek, a 2021 computer science graduate, said she remembers being thrown off by one such topic at the beginning of a lecture in 2018.
“He asked the whole class about when should abortion be legal, like up to what point,” Benedek said. “And he wanted us to specify like six weeks or a month. And I thought the question was very weird. And a lot of people who responded were pro-life people. I didn’t respond; I’m personally pro-choice. I just didn’t want to put a target on my back.”
Farage’s comments would commonly line up with the issue of the day, with the instructor opining on the effectiveness of vaccines during CS senior Erik Rodriguez’s class in Spring 2021. Rodriguez said that Farage would regularly go on tangents unprompted, making it difficult to learn the subject matter.
“He was talking about the vaccine status and all that stuff, like how he didn’t buy it or believe in it, “Rodriguez said. “The thing is it was not consistent … he would constantly get stopped throughout the lecture. I don’t think anyone really asked him to stop. He would just stop and talk about something else. So it was really distracting.”
A prominent part in Farage’s history of controversial comments, students and alumni say, is his Quora account. Quora is a high-traffic question and answer site on which Farage is highly active, with over 4,600 answers. Current and former students said Farage promotes his account at the beginning of every semester in each section. He also displays it prominently on his faculty profile webpage. He answers questions varying from “What is a tautology?” to “What are the sensitive sexual areas of a woman?”, with answers bordering on graphic. Benedek remembers Farage’s bringing up his Quora account in every class, which once included one of Farage’s more risqué answers.
“I remember none of them pertaining to any of the class topics we talked about,” Benedek said. “Only one that kind of stuck out to me was, ‘[For whom] is it more pleasurable in sex, the woman or the man?’ And I thought that was strange.”
Although current and former students say Farage’s controversial comments were disconcerting and off-putting, student evaluations of Farage’s courses tend to be positive. Both current and former students recalled that his course wasn’t difficult. A current student who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that his grade could be negatively impacted, said that the proofs on the course’s tests were, “easier than my high school geometry proofs.”
ATEC 2020 graduate Tristyn Linde said that the ease of the courses stemmed from the limited amount of material covered in the classes, a hefty portion of which was devoted to Farage’s forays into controversial topics. Linde said that they enrolled in the course expecting Farage to not teach much material. “That’s a part of Farage’s reputation,” Linde said.
“The students all knew. If you take Farage, you have a certain expectation of how the class is gonna go,” they said. “People would specifically take him for an easy A, or they would take him because they just didn’t want to do discrete mathematics at all.“
Students who don’t want to take Farage’s courses in the fall can opt to take one of the alternative sections that the School of Engineering and Computer Science made available. Students that remain in Farage’s sections as Linde attests, can expect class content to cover more than just logic laws and truth tables.
“It was a lot of stuff like that where it’s like, great. I now know your opinions on all of these things that have nothing to do with discrete mathematics,” Linde said.