Muse and Artist, Victim and Harasser, or Censor and Victim?
Joseph Corlett’s essay, though I have not found the full text of it, is undoubtedly creepy.
In fall 2011, the 56-year-old countertop refinisher was taking a writing course at the Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. His teacher, Pamela Mitzelfeld, gave the class an open writing assignment for their journals, and, Corlett says, assured them that any topic was acceptable, with no-holds barred. She said, Corlett’s lawsuit now asserts, that she wanted “the raw stuff.”
That’s just what she got. Corlett wrote an essay called “Hot for Teacher,’ inspired by a Van Halen song by the same name, describing how his sexual attraction to Mitzelfield was irresistible. “Tall, blonde, stacked, smart and articulate…” he described her in his daybook. “Are you kidding me? I should drop right now. There is no way I’ll concentrate in class especially with that sexy little mole on her upper lip beckoning with every accented word. And that smile.”
Mitzelfield alerted university officials, saying that Corlett’s essay frightened and upset her, and that she refused to teach him any further. Moreover, she insisted that either he be ejected from the campus, or she would quit herself. He was escorted out of Mitzelfeld’s class a few days later by the Oakland University Police. A sexual harassment charge was dropped, but a hearing by university officials found Corlett guilty of intimidation and he was expelled for the rest of the semester. University officials allegedly told him that he would be arrested if he returned to the campus. His suspension lasts for three semesters, and he must go through sensitivity counseling before he can reapply.
Aided by The Fire, Corlett is now suing for over two million dollars in damages, maintaining that his First Amendment rights have been infringed. “The university has essentially issued a straightjacket to every writing student to protect the delicate sensibilities of faculty and staff,” says Greg Lukianoff, FIRE advocate. The legal issues look pretty clear: Oakland University has a terrible case. “Write anything” means write anything, and certainly cannot mean “write anything except something the instructor will freak out over, in which case we’ll fix you good.” If it is true, as Corlett alleges in his lawsuit, that Mitzelfield made no objection to other sexually themed compositions by him that referred to her, his treatment by the school is indefensible. That’s not the ethical question, however. That question is your Ethics Alarms Quiz for the day, and goes like this: Conceding that Oakland University mishandled the episode…
Was Corlett’s essay ethical and blameless? Continue reading