OU student, 56, needs a lesson

February 16, 2012

‘D r. S. has dark hair and eyes and occasionally rests her hand across her pregnant belly. Wiping the sweat from her brow, Dr. S. would teach until she dropped were it not for the requisite breaks. …"

These are the dangerous musings of Joseph Corlett, an undergraduate student at Oakland University appealing his suspension and official "persona non grata" status from the university.

Corlett is 56, not 20. You would think he’d know better than to comment on one professor’s pregnancy and dark eyes or on his writing teacher’s breasts in his writing journal.

Surprise, Mr. Corlett: Using "Hot for Teacher" as a title isn’t endearing to your teacher; it’s infuriating.

That teacher had urged her students to be creative. She emphasized the point with exclamation points. ("Be the creator; not the critic!") She promised to review the journal three times but, he says, she reviewed it only once.

On Nov. 29, she wrote to administrators describing his support of concealed weapons, saying, "Either Mr. Corlett leaves campus or I do." The administration got involved, letters were exchanged, and, eventually, the university threw Corlett’s bookbag at him: three semesters of suspension, enforced sensitivity training and campus banishment in the meantime.

The teacher must have felt strongly — but she’s not commenting right now.

Even Corlett admits that he can be seen as annoying, particularly at a university where certain conventions apply. He is also an intellectually curious and engaged man, a diligent reader and writer, who has been getting mostly A’s in his classes and quotes from his studies.

Asked why he decided to buck the system, he explained that Stephen King’s book "On Writing" that he read in class "inspired me."

He also says: "I’ve been married for 30 years to a woman who started out as an electrician. I know what it’s like for a woman you love to face real sexual harassment."

A builder who couldn’t build in the midst of a depression, he decided to get a college degree. Think of it as a midlife crisis, with a bachelor’s degree as his Corvette.

Corlett’s journal is squirmy. "Hot for Teacher" — one offensive entry — is disrespectful and sophomoric, but would hardly rate in the annals of sexual harassment literature. He points out the irony of being kicked out of a class where one of the stories he was assigned was a Donald Barthelme story about a student’s affair with his teacher.

"I am an outspoken, libertarian and constitutional kind of guy," admits Corlett. He asks uncomfortable questions, pushes conventional buttons and can — like many schoolchildren — be annoying and excessively literal at times.

In his journal, he prides himself on his political incorrectness, pointing out that a drama professor blanches at reading aloud ethnic slurs but cheerfully assigns "Oedipus Rex," a classic whose protagonist is romantically involved with his mother.

If his teacher put no restrictions on his writing and failed to flag the entries early on as inappropriate, it’s easy to understand why the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education would champion his case, as it has.

A three-semester suspension for a guy who describes himself as "$25,000 away from graduation" is severe punishment.

Sure, Joseph Corlett needs to grow up. That’s why he’s in school.

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