COMMENTARY | At Oakland University, a professor seems to have overreacted, and the university has gone overboard as well.
According to ABC News, a man in Michigan has been suspended from Oakland University for writing a sexually suggestive journal entry about his creative writing prof.
Professor Pamela Mitzelfeld initiated a university review of Joseph Corlett's conduct after receiving the journal entry, prompting the man to be banned from campus for three semesters and to seek psychological counseling before he could re-enroll. Corlett has planned to file suit against the school if it does not drop its disciplinary actions against him.
According to Corlett, his previous journal entries with sexual undertones had received A's and Mitzelfeld had told him, on multiple occasions, that there were no topic restrictions.
Though the man committed a boneheaded error in writing suggestively about Mitzelfeld, a three-semester suspension and ban from setting foot on campus seems far over the line given the fact that similar writings had been accepted without reservation. Corlett may have been trying to push the envelope, may have been fishing for a date, or may have legitimately been writing his thoughts in his "daybook" journal as suggested. He deserved reprimand, not expulsion.
As a high school teacher, I've learned quickly that if you give students an inch, they'll take a mile. Things have to be explained explicitly and possible contingencies cannot be ignored. I have many students who relish the thought of being able to push the envelope and say "well, he never said I couldn't ____________." By failing to warn Mr. Corlett that his sexually suggestive writings were inappropriate for the course or assignment, Professor Mitzelfeld set herself up for increasingly sexual prose. Giving an "A" to such suggestive writings was like pouring gasoline on smoldering embers.
Both sides did wrong, though Professor Mitzelfeld and Oakland University should use this as a learning experience. If you say or suggest that anything goes in a creative writing course, you can't overreact when the envelope gets pushed. If you don't really want the envelope pushed, outline your expectations at the beginning. Though one might assume that adults would be better than my current batch of high school sophomores at using discretion and common sense, we all know what happens when you assume.
Oakland University: Allow Mr. Corlett back on campus. Professor Mitzelfeld: Adjust your syllabus.
- Oakland University