Oakland University student Joe Corlett says he’s considering legal action after he was kicked out of an English class for writing a "Hot for Teacher" essay.
The 56-year-old student from Lake Orion admits his writings during a fall 2011 "Advanced Critical Writing" class contain sexual fantasies about the instructor leading the class. And the handwriting in his book – which is now in the hands of a free speech activist group — uses the title "Hot for Teacher." The title references a song on the band Van Halen’s album "1984" about a student fantasizing about a racy teacher.
"Then there’s Miss (teacher), English 380," he wrote, explaining how he included thoughts that he should drop the class. "She walks in and I say to myself, ‘Drop, (expletive), drop. Kee-rist, I’ll never learn a thing. Tall, blonde, stacked, skirt, heels, fingernails, smart, articulate, smile. I’m toast but I’ll stay. I’ll (screw) up my whole Tuesday-Thursday class thing if I drop. I’ll search for something unattractive about her. No luck yet."
He even wrote an entry in the daybook designed to look like a note from the teacher, telling him his writing was "inappropriate."
Corlett said the entries were part of a diary-type assignment with no limitations.
"I’m like OK, I’ve had teachers who didn’t want to hear about our sex life, didn’t want to hear about grandmothers, and so I asked and she said, ‘No, no topical restrictions,’" Corlett said today from his home, where he’s taking two online classes during the dispute. "The ‘Hot for Teacher’ was never really an essay. It was in the daybook assignment."
Corlett said he asked about restrictions in front of his classmates and later in front of the instructor’s teaching assistant.
The first time Corlett heard the instructor had an issue with his submissions, he said, was when he got a call from the university’s dean of students, who Corlett claims agreed he was within his creative rights.
Corlett said university officials banned him from the campus for 2012’s spring, summer and fall semesters, although he was allowed to enroll in two online courses this semester. He’s waiting to hear whether he’ll be able to continue his education online, he said.
Oakland University spokesman Ted Montgomery said the school could not comment on the matter because it involves student conduct.
But the next time he went to class, two Oakland University police officers came to the door, and his teacher asked them to remove him, Corlett said. He called it a humiliating experience.
"She called the cops on me because apparently she had told the dean she didn’t want me back in the class ever, and he never told me," he said. "I did get an apology on behalf of Oakland University."
Now, he has an "incomplete" grade for that class, despite his pleas to allow him to finish online or with another instructor, Corlett said. He also was found guilty in January of sexual harassment and intimidation charges by an O-U student conduct committee after a hearing with four professors and two students. He wants that decision reversed.
Corlett has enlisted the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit education foundation based in Philadelphia that defends individual rights on campus. The group has posted his entire journal online at thefire.org.
"I want to be reinstated," Corlett said today. "I want my lawyer fees paid. I want to be made whole."
Corlett’s lawyer, Brian P. Vincent, a Lansing-based attorney with experience in handling higher education student disciplinary matters, said the situation comes down to the right to free speech.
"Obviously he’s got a wild sexual imagination in some instances, but it’s not harmful," Vincent said today. "His speech is absolutely protected by the First Amendment, and Oakland University has no authority to boot him off campus."
Corlett is waiting to hear the result of an appeal to the university’s vice president for student affairs, Mary Beth Snyder, who can decide anything from reinstating him to expelling him from the school.
Corlett said he plans to file a lawsuit in local or federal court if he’s not allowed to continue his education.
"There isn’t any gray here: it’s the first amendment," he said. "It’s a slam dunk. It isn’t even close. That’s why it’s so important. Now it’s my turn to step up. This is going to be difficult on my family, it’s probably going to cost me money and time. But I have to do it. I have no choice."
A woman who answered the phone at the teacher’s Rochester Hills home said she’d pass along a message to the instructor. The teacher, who is not named by the Free Press to protect her privacy, did not call back.
Scott Barns, executive director for Oakland University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said today that the teacher’s union does not represent this particular instructor, who is a part-time lecturer. He declined to comment about the situation or similar circumstances.