Oakland University denies appeals by student who wrote ‘Hot for Teacher’

March 14, 2012

An Oakland University student who was banned from school for a "Hot For Teacher" essay penned about one of his professors has had his appeal denied, according to a letter sent from the university to an organization that represents the man.

Joseph Corlett, 56, of Orion Township, has been banned from campus since a Jan. 3 disciplinary hearing. He was found guilty of unlawful individual activities during that hearing and was suspended for three semesters and banned from campus, according to a press release from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which represents Corlett.

Those charges came from a journal entry Corlett wrote in his advanced critical writing class, in which he described his professor, Pamela Mitzelfeld, as tall, blonde and stacked, and compared her to Ginger from "Gilligan’s Island."

Corlett, who learned his appeal was denied Tuesday, said he plans to sue the university.

 "I just wish some common sense would overtake Oakland University," Corlett said.

"They’re punishing the taxpayers and the students, and that’s too bad."

The lawsuit is necessary, Corlett said.

"Sometimes in your life you have to take on a fight that you don’t really want, that’s very inconvenient, and costs you money, but it’s just the right thing to do," he said.

During the appeals process, Corlett said university officials did not allow a letter from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which outlines what behavior can be constituted as sexual harassment or intimidation, to be submitted.

"The chair said, ‘No, I’m not letting you admit that letter, I’m only interested in what Oakland University’s policy is,’" Corlett said.

"He must be interested in what the Department of Education says. If Oakland policy is not in compliance with the Department of Education, they’re in violation of Title IX and can’t take no student loans. With no student loans, they’re out of business."

Corlett maintains that he asked Mitzelfeld multiple times if any writing topic was off limits.

"I was told there were no restrictions – in fact, I was told several times," Corlett said.

"In fact, (the professor) told the dean of students that she wishes she could take that back. He testified to that at my student hearing."

In an email sent by Mitzelfeld to school officials shortly after the incident, 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, 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."

The case has made national headlines. Corlett said he accepted an offer to appear on the Dr. Phil show along with Mitzelfeld, but the appearance was canceled about three weeks ago after Mitzelfeld hired high-profile attorney Gloria Allred.

Corlett said Allred did not want Corlett and Mitzelfeld to appear together on the show, so the producers canceled.

FIRE President Greg Lukainoff also made a statement about the appeal.

"Oakland University made up its own definition of the ‘law’ in order to punish a student for his creative writing," the statement reads.

"The special irony here is that Joseph asked several times if it was really okay to write anything, and several times he was told it was. Now, because he took that instruction seriously, he is being kicked out of school and facing mandatory counseling. Having taken many, many writing classes myself, I know that essays often have racy topics, from drugs, to sex, to violence, but apparently a riff on a Van Halen song that seemed to be everywhere when I was a kid is a capital offense."

Oakland University officials were unavailable for comment.

Corlett said the campus will change drastically if he ultimately loses his case.

"There’s going to be a huge chilling effect on students at OU," he said.

"You’re gonna see the feminization of that campus if free speech is not allowed to prevail."

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