- Professor of film studies, media studies, and political science at the University of Rhode Island
Michael Vocino was born on April 15, 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts. He earned a BS degree in Political Science from Boston University in 1968, an MS in Information & Library Science from the University of Rhode Island (URI) in 1974, and an MA in Political Science from URI in 1981. Vocino has taught classes in Film and Media Studies, Library Science, and Political Science at URI since 1979. In addition to his professorial duties, from 1996-2000 he also served as URI's Director of Libraries. And from 1998-2001 he took doctorate-level classes in Cultural Studies and Film Studies at the University of Amsterdam, where he earned a “certificate” but not a PhD. An enthusiast of the off-color cable television series South Park, Vocino made that cartoon show the subject of his uncompleted doctoral dissertation, which was entitled “They've Killed Kenny! Popular Culture, Public Ethics and the Televisual.”
Over the course of his career in academia, Vocino has produced very little scholarly work. Aside from a short book on ethics for public administrators (1996), he has practically no original work to his name. Most of his publications are simply descriptive bibliographies of journals and newspapers. His work in Film Studies consists only of a 1998 conference paper on the film The Titanic.
Vocino, who is homosexual, is a militant gay activist who describes himself as “firmly on the deep left politically,” and who often gives voice to his politics in the classroom. His “Film Theory” course is billed as “an introduction to the basics of film theory and film criticism,” but in practice it indulges Vocino’s preferences for “Queer Theory” as well as “Gay and Lesbian Criticism.” The course also includes a section called “Marxism and Film,” for which students are required to watch the cinematic adaptation of the Motorcycle Diaries of Che Guevara.
Vocino became the center of controversy in 2003 when Nathaniel Nelson, a student in Vocino’s class titled “Political Philosophy: Plato to Machiavelli,” went public with a report about the professor’s egregious disregard for professional standards of conduct. According to Nelson, Vocino entered the classroom on the first day of the semester and announced: “My name is Michael Vocino and I like dick.” During that same class session, said Nelson, Vocino asked Nelson if he was “queer,” and announced that he himself had not engaged in sexual relations for quite some time because he was waiting for “true love.” “In speaking to other students after this opening class,” said Nelson, “I learned that Professor Vocino's actions that day were not extraordinary, but typical of his teaching style.”
Nelson also reported that Vocino: (a) spent a significant amount of class time discussing the subject of sex, which the professor commonly referred to as “fu**ing”; (b) had once devoted an entire class period of his Political Philosophy course to a discussion of masturbation; (c) had once told him that he thought Nelson “hot”; (d) occasionally urged male students to try “making out” with other males and to then describe their experiences for the class; (e) had expressed his wish to see men wear tighter pants because he liked “bums”; and (f) would sometimes ask members of the class for hugs. According to one RIU faculty member, Vocino had also been known to use the university email system to inform his colleagues of his acquisition of new pornographic material for the school library.
On another occasion, said Nelson, Vocino's class session centered on whether President George W. Bush’s decision to deploy troops in Iraq made him a “serial killer.” Nelson also reported that Vocino routinely characterized fundamentalist Christians as “crazy” “idiots” and “nuts” who “hate[d] fags” and wanted homosexuals to be “ston[ed] … to death.”
When Nelson eventually reported Vocino's behavior to the Chair of RIU's Political Science Department, the latter expressed revulsion and assured the student that Professor Vocino would be spoken to and perhaps even suspended.
In a June 2004 posting on URI’s academic list serve, Vocino praised left-wing provocateur Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, a documentary film alleging that the Bush Administration had exploited the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a pretext for launching unjust, unnecessary, greed-driven wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Moore deserved to win the coveted Cannes best film award for this production,” said Vocino.
When the former Weather Underground Organization terrorist Bill Ayers came under media scrutiny in 2008 because of his longstanding ties to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, Vocino was one of numerous college professors, students, and academic staffers who signed a statement voicing “support” for Ayers and condemning “the demonization” to which he was allegedly being subjected.
In 2014 Vocino edited the book Befriending Death, a collection of short essays by more than 100 different writers addressing the question: “In the face of death, how do you find meaning and fulfillment in life?”