A Michigan college student has been suspended from studies on campus after writing a 'sexually suggestive' journal entry about his teacher for a classroom assignment.
Joe Corlett, 56, an Oakland University student, is considering legal action after being suspended for three semesters and banned from campus after writing the essay about his teacher, and his attraction for her.
Pursuing a degree in writing and rhetoric at the university, Corlett wrote the essay as part of a creative writing journal assignment on his course. The entry in full can be viewed here.
Inspired by the 1984 Van Halen hit "Hot for Teacher," he wrote about his first impressions of his tutor, describing her as "tall, blonde, stacked, smart, articulate". The student says that he was unaware of any restrictions on the assignment, and felt that the teacher would not be offended as many of his other submitted assignments were related to his attraction for women.
"She made it clear she didn't want us to edit," Corlett says. "She wanted the raw stuff."
Corlett wants the suspension to be lifted in order to be able to complete the course, with another professor if need be. The university has stated it is unable to comment on the case, citing student conduct and privacy concerns.
"The real issue is the First Amendment," Corlett said. "It's about academic freedom and about due process. These are the real issues of the case, and the sooner we can get past the titillation of it and see those issues, the better."
However, an email sent by the lecturer and subsequently released to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free speech advocacy group after a Freedom of Information Act request was sent to the university due to Corlett's bid for help, suggests may have been other motives. Some of the documented emails suggest other factors that may have contributed to the student's suspension, and the journal entry was merely the catalyst.
The lecturer wrote in one email:
"Due to our recent discovery that Joseph Corlett has made his gun obsession obvious to other colleagues and has managed to make himself known in negative ways to so many other females on campus, I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable and unsafe.
As he has written letters to our school newspaper defending the right to carry concealed weapons on campus, I cannot feel safe knowing that he might have a weapon with him at any time."
After the lecturer reportedly said she felt 'unsafe', and after writing a separate email stating 'Mr. Corlett goes, or I go', the student was held under scrutiny as the assignment drew criticism from university staff. A month later, Corlett was charged with 'unlawful individual activities' based on the journal entry alone. This has advanced to an appeal.
If he wishes to enroll in 2013 courses, according to the university, he must show 'evidence of counselling [..] to work on sensitivity issues'.
"Oakland University is treating Corlett like a student with a mental disability who needs counseling for insensitivity," said FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel. "I can hardly imagine what kind of counseling Oakland would have required for Quentin Tarantino, Vladimir Nabokov, or Stephen King."
Corlett is currently barred from campus but remains enrolled in online classes in ethics and religion until the the outcome of his appeal is settled. The student is allowed to finish his online classes, but will be arrested for trespassing if he sets foot on campus.
If the student truly makes those on campus feel 'unsafe' and Corlett can be arrested for criminal trespassing -- therefore implying he may be a threat to safety -- why does the university still maintain a connection by allowing his enrollment in two online classes?
Online tuition is often used to expand accessibility to educational resources and courses. However, in this case arguably it could be seen as a means to ensure continued revenue provided by a student that an academic institution may not want on campus grounds.
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