Macomb Community College: Censorship of Professor’s Classroom Speech


Macomb Community College

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Case Overview


In 1998, Macomb Community College suspended English professor John Bonnell after a student complained about Bonnell’s use of racy and profane language when discussing literature that dealt with controversial and sex-related topics. Although MCC determined that Bonnell’s discussion was not sexual harassment, it suspended Bonnell under the college’s sexual harassment policy. Bonnell sued MCC for violating his rights. FIRE submitted an amicus brief arguing that MCC’s suspension of Bonnell violated his academic freedom. In August 1999, a Michigan district court determined that MCC violated Bonnell’s First Amendment rights, and required the college to reinstate him immediately. On appeal, however, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s order, stating that because Bonnell’s comments were not related to the topic of his course, the “legitimate interests of the employer far outweigh those of the employee.”