Isn’t There More to the Story at Oakland University? Not Really. (Part 1)

By on February 13, 2012

In my previous post about FIRE’s free speech case at Oakland University, I explained that being insensitive, seeming creepy, and being the subject of subjective complaints about feeling "intimidated" do not equate to true threats, intimidation, or harassment. Student Joseph Corlett’s writing journal, in which he wrote about his attraction to his professors, is far from meeting the legal standards for such conduct.

But considering the reaction, surely there’s more to the story at Oakland, right? Not really.

On December 7, 2011, Oakland University Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Mary Beth Snyder sent Corlett a letter explaining a set of "complaints that your behavior was perceived by female members of the campus community as intimidating and/or threatening," giving four examples. According to Snyder’s letter, only the fourth example—the writing journal in English 380—was what "resulted in student-conduct charges."

Nevertheless, I will discuss each one in turn, quoting Snyder, followed by Corlett’s explanation and some analysis from me. Here’s the first one:

"An incident with student journalists … involving your insistence they print your article on the subject of the Michigan Open Carry debate"

Corlett: "I wrote the story as an assignment in Journalism class and would be given extra credit if published. The newspaper agreed, but when [Representative Gabrielle] Giffords was shot the paper reneged. There was no hostility whatsoever, just normal give-and-take. They published a subsequent letter-to-the-editor from me on the subject as well as one from another student."

Me: This is completely unrelated to any charge that Oakland University might manufacture out of Corlett’s writing journal. Also, it occurred most of a year before Corlett appeared in Professor Pamela Mitzelfeld’s English 380 class. Most of all, it appears that this letter to the editor is what was the source of Mitzelfeld’s concern with Corlett’s alleged "gun obsession." In an email on November 29, 2011, she wrote:

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 [see Part 2 of this series], 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.

FIRE takes no position on Second Amendment rights except that everyone has a First Amendment right to debate them. For more examples of overreaction to mere speech about guns, see FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s article in The Huffington Post, "What Can The Virginia Tech Tragedy Do For Me?"

Stay tuned for more in this series on Oakland. The other examples in Snyder’s letter are equally minor, blown far out of proportion, and—most importantly—protected by the First Amendment, which Oakland University, a public university, is legally and morally bound to uphold.

Schools: Oakland University Cases: Oakland University: Student Suspended over His Writing Journal