November 05, 2003

Academic Freedom versus Professional Standards

Erin O'Connor posts an update on a case she blogged about at length several months ago. The case is that of John Bonnell, an English professor at Macomb Community College (if you visit the college website, by the way, the first thing you'll see on the front page is a banner proclaiming an "Adjunct Faculty Job Fair") who has been suspended without pay five times since 1998. At issue is his use of profanity in the classroom -- "occasional use" in Erin O'Connor's reading, habitual use in the eyes of the administrators who have acted on student complaints to punish Bonnell for creating a "hostile environment." The case raises interesting and perplexing questions about the purpose and scope of academic freedom.

I won't rehearse all of the details of the case, which can be found in the five previous blog entries to which O'Connor links in her latest entry. Instead, I want to quote from two documents which represent the views of Bonnell and those of the college administration respectively.

The first is a press release issued by Bonnell in June 2003, in which he defines the case as a classic case of censorhip and violation of academic freedom:

On June 16, 2003, Macomb Community College suspended me, John Bonnell, without pay until August 16, 2003. I am a professor of language and literature at this institution, and had flourished for thirty years without incident, until the College took it upon itself five years ago to initiate what can best be described as a witch hunt. The College took this action to strengthen its program of censorship, a program it believes finds support from a federal judiciary that, like the College, denies the relevance of the First Amendment to American campuses. The specific trigger for this assault was the complaint of a single student who objected primarily to discussion of the sexual content in a story by a famous author. (I am not at liberty to divulge specific elements of the complaint because the College claims that students who wish to censor professors have the right to do so in virtual anonymity and in guaranteed secrecy. This is a most effective way to encourage complainants who want to modify or silence teachers whose ideas or words they find irritating.) The College and the Faculty 'Union,' apparently independently, telephoned a dozen or so students from the same class in an effort to find support for the complainant's charges. However, no substantive support was forthcoming. In fact, some of these students found the College's invasive, scurrilous, and defamatory inquisition itself very upsetting...

...As a result of this fifth betrayal in a row, I must now endure another suspension without pay. The principles of academic freedom, of due process in the face of allegations, and of union solidarity are finished at Macomb College. Free speech itself, along with the very idea of 'higher' education and, indeed, of democracy, are on the brink of perishing altogether.

Now, one reason why I am impatient with and sceptical of accusations of "indoctrination" in the classroom is that I think students today exercise a good deal of power (most notably through the mechanism of the student evaluation, which topic really deserves a separate entry). And there is obviously something profoundly disturbing in the idea that a single student complaint could result in such a heavy-handed disciplinary action.

On the other hand, when I read that a faculty union refuses to defend one of its members, this does raise my suspicions. The usual complaint against unions is that they'll stubbornly stand by their own regardless of the merits of the case, and though this charge generally comes from an anti-union perspective that I don't happen to share, I do think there's something to this. If the union declines to take up the cause, at the very least I want to know more about the worthiness (or lack thereof) of the case in question.

Where Bonnell frames the case around the principles of academic freedom and due process, the administration rather relies on the principle of professional standards. Well, of course they would, and we should ask why and to what end whenever they do so. Still, this letter from Provost Rosa Bellanca does give me pause before signing on in defense of Bonnell:

Numerous students have reported that you regularly use profane, vulgar or obscene words in class such as 'bullshit,' 'cunt,' 'cock,' 'dick,' 'pussy,' 'tits,' 'balls,' 'asshole,' 'ass,' 'shit,' 'damn,' 'cocksucking,' 'hell,' 'buttfucking' and 'blowjob.' Students report that you do not use these words in an effort to explain a concept being portrayed in an assigned text, but as part of your general vocabulary regardless of whether the language relates in any meaningful way to an assigned text, even to the point of saying in class that Smuckers Jelly was given its name because 'Smuckers' rhymes with 'fuckers' and that the 'Busch' in Busch Beer refers to a vagina. One student has complained that you repeated the word 'fuck' in class over and over in succession, raising your voice as you did so, to the point where you were yelling. Other students report that you use the word 'fuck' so frequently in classroom discussions that it appears that you simply like to use the word....

...Examples of these non-germane digressions include reports that:

* You told your students in class about how your wife once expressed a desire to perform oral sex on her infant son, whose diaper she was changing;

* You told your students in class about how, while performing volunteer work at a hospital, you developed an erection while giving an elderly man a bath and that you dealt with this situation by 'mounting' the man;

* You told your class that you used to masturbate to Playboy-style magazines;

* You told your class a story about how you once threw away your Playboy-style magazines due to something a priest told you during confession and that you began using Biblical passages as your substitute masturbatory stimulus;

* You told your class a story about how you once tried to become an 'urban legend' by putting Vaseline inside a toilet paper roll and attempting to masturbate by placing your 'cock' in the lubricated toilet paper roll, which you tried to connect somehow to a washing machine, but that you failed to accomplish this feat because your 'cock' lost interest;

* You described an incident where your wife 'held your balls' as you were laying naked in bed;...

Well. My initial response is to ask, How much of this is true? Because if even half of this can be substantiated, I guess I have some problems with Bonnell's reliance on the principle of "academic freedom" to cover such speech acts. At the very least, it looks like there is a real tension here between the principle of academic freedom and the expectation of "professional standards."

One problem with the "hostile environment" charge that has been levelled against Bonner is that there is really no limit to what might be deemed offensive. Different students have different sensibilities, and some students do not want to be challenged in any way whatsoever. As an instructor, if you're not provoking some sort of response, you're probably not doing much by way of teaching. Still, there's provocative and there's provocative. And I don't think it's necessary to play the part of "delicate feminine flower," as Erin puts it, in order to wonder whether some of the above is appropriate for the classroom.

One solution to the problem of students' complaints to insist that academic freedom is pretty much absolute: if you're at the front of the classroom, your statements are covered by this principle. But that's not how the AAUP sees it. With respect to teaching, the AAUP defines academic freedom as follows:

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.

Are Bonner's accounts of his own sexual practices and predilections relevant to the subject matter that he teaches? I guess that's the real question with respect to academic freedom. But since "controversial matter" and "relation to their subject" are open to competing and conflicting interpretations, in any given case, the answer to this question is by no means obvious.

Again, given the tendency to view the student as a consumer, I'm very troubled by the idea that instructors could be disciplined or fired for failing to provide adequate consumer satisfaction. On the other hand, while "professional standards" is obviously open to abuse by administrators seeking to rid themselves of someone they don't like, this case makes me wonder whether "academic freedom" isn't also available for misuse. The issue of limitations on speech makes me very nervous, and in any sort of conflict between "academic freedom" and "professional standards," my impulse is to tip the balance in favor of academic freedom. Still, based on what I've read of this case, I have some real reservations about the merits of Bonner's case. As usual, I welcome reader comments.


This page contains a lengthy list of documents relating to the Bonnell case. It should be noted that some students vigorously dispute the charges against Bonnell and characterize him in terms such as "an excellent teacher," and "one of the most dynamic, thought-provoking teachers that I ever had and probably ever will have." Which of course raises the question: Do the accusations against Bonnell represent trumped-up charges made on the basis of a handful of complaints by hypersensitive or hostile students?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at November 5, 2003 10:49 AM

I'm sorry, this guy's antics have no place in a college classroom. We're not talking about someone being offended by his illumination of the sexual innuendo in a Joyce novel; we're talking about being offended by this guy's graphic depiction of his own sexual fetishes. I think that would offend most people. Not for one minute would this conduct be tolerated in a corporate context; at any place I've worked, such talk would probably mean immediate termination, not three days suspension without pay. This is a case where "academic freedom" means "freedom from any accountability," which is a crock of...well, just sit in the professor's class and you're bound to hear the missing word eventually.

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at November 5, 2003 12:36 PM

I know an academic in Britain who often goes off into musings about naked ladies. Nobody minds a bit.

Posted by: Claire at November 5, 2003 12:38 PM

My dear departed grandmother told me that during her undergraduate years (she completed a B.A. in English at Pomona College, which her own grandfather helped to found) she dropped a class because the professor was a bit too fond of profanity. `I went there to learn,' she said, `not to listen to him being so proud of his ability to use foul language.' `Nuff said.

Also, neither Bonnell's protestations of lily-white innocence nor the incredible pile of accusations really ring true. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Actually, the thing that bothers me is that this guy is a five-time loser. For stuff like this, he should have been fired, not suspended. Anyone know why this jerk still has a job at Macomb College?

Posted by: Luis at November 5, 2003 12:55 PM

I admit to using the occasionally well-timed 'fuck' or 'bull shit' for some emphasis and effect, but if the reports on this guy are true, then he has gone a long way past the line. Cocksucker? Blow job? Stories about jerking off? These are way past inappropriate.

Once, though, while teaching a book by Patrick McCabe (Breakfast on Pluto) in which the main character is a transvestite named Pussy Braden, I began the day by saing 'the problem with Pussy is that he/she is ...' and a student said back to me "you'd better hope no one was walking past the open door when you just said 'the problem with pussy is' ..." I and the entire class broke out in laughter, except for one student who came to me later and said she was offended. I apologized to her, adn then apologized to the class the next time we met. But I admit that I felt like I had been squashed by someone who could stand to lighten up a bit.

Still, there's a line between what I said, and its context, and what this guy is saying.

Posted by: Chris at November 5, 2003 01:19 PM

As far as whether this kind of thing would be tolerated in a corporate context, why is that relevant? Corporations have no brief whatsoever for tolerating dissent or free enquiry. Looking to corporations as a guide is tantamount to saying let's throw out this whole idea of Academic Freedom.

The thing that strikes me as suspicious is (assuming that it's true) that Bonnell is forbidden from discussing the details of the cases, even in general terms, and even to defend himself from the Provost's accusations while the administration is evidentally allowing its representatives to say whatever they please. That sort of one-way secrecy smells of bad faith and bad acting on the part of the administration.

Posted by: Joshua at November 5, 2003 01:33 PM

The version given by the professor makes it seem that these charges are absurd, and that he is a victim of hypersensitive students and a witch-hunting administration. The administration's story provides a different view; the professor seems like a jerk, who should not be in front of students. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. It is suspicious that the union will not defend him.

To echo the comments of most here, there is nothing wrong using salty language in the appropriate context, nor should anyone care if the occasional "f-ck", "sh-t" or "d-mn" slips out. Graphic details of an instructor's sex life are another story. No one needs to be subject to this.

Posted by: DM at November 5, 2003 01:43 PM

The reason the example of corporations is relevant is that the idea of "academic freedom" is often used as a blanket license to do whatever one wants, even if it's outrageous. "I'll talk about my sexual fetishes in the classroom, and dammit, if you call me on it, you're trampling my academic freedom, you censor!" (Apparently he is unable to find any Internet sex chat rooms to undertake this kind of conversation.) Tell me: exactly *what* part of academic freedom is compromised by asking this guy not to discuss how he likes to masturbate in public bathroom stalls? The classroom context does not appear to support any need for this kind of discussion, as far as I can tell. In fact, it's arguable that he's violating his students' academic freedom by diverting attention away from the text under discussion to his own fetishes. I can scarcely imagine a student saying in a course evaluation, "The professor's discussion of his masturbation habits in public bathroom stalls provided special illumination of difficult passages in the text. I am very grateful to him for going the extra mile to assist in our understanding in this way."

Tenured faculty are accountable to no one, and this guy is a classic example of that. Only in academe would the question of whether this verbal sexual exhibitionist should be tossed out on his rear even be open to debate.

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at November 5, 2003 02:08 PM

I must admit when I first read about the case, mostly just Bonnell's own statements, I was thinking, "Uh-oh," because I've been known in class occasionally to characterize particular arguments or views as bullshit, or occasionally drop a damn or a fuck into class discussion.

Once you read the full story, things get more complicated. If all those allegations are true, yeah, he's way way way past the line, unambiguously engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional conduct. But then it becomes imperative to determine whether the allegations are in fact true. As long as the story is just "a student objected to the use of the word fuck in class", the debate is really just about oversensitive administrations and students and how oversensitivity has become a powerful restraint on pedagogy.

When the story becomes about that range of other statements, then the only question is, "Did that really happen" and "What kind of due process procedures does an institution have to transparently verify or prove that this happened". Here Bonnell is right to protest that if that has to happen secretly, behind closed doors, without any kind of transparency, we have a big problem--because a single person or two or three people with a grudge (or a delusion) could make up these stories, and it's not good enough to have an administration say, "Trust us, we believe these witnesses". On the other hand, it's also entirely possible that most students wouldn't want to get anyone, even their most hated professor, in trouble--it's actually striking how few students use anonymous evaluations to punish professors, rather than how many do so; it's equally true that someone in a real "hostile environment" may feel genuinely reluctant and frightened about testifying to that effect, and would be deterred if they knew their identity would be public and their testimony subject to cross-examination.

I don't know how you work through this all exactly, but I think we need some systematic rethinking of the way things are done now. Academic insitutions presently handle a lot of these kinds of allegations through the worst possible combination of judicial and non-judicial procedures. Even in a judicial setting with lots of safeguards, resolving complaints where two sets of witnesses report diametrically opposed events is very difficult. Either he said these things or he didn't, but there's no way for us as outsiders (and maybe even for the insiders) to know whom to trust. If he said them, there's no possible defense or justification for it. If he didn't, he's the victim of a conspiracy. Either is possible.

I wonder frankly if this is where, once receiving such a complaint, an administration might be justified in hiring a monitor whose identity would not be known to the students who would sit in a course for semester, and who would tape-record lectures and discussions. If Bonnell was so habitually addicted to the kind of language and description that the allegations describe, I suspect he'd have a tough time preventing himself from doing so over the course of a semester even if he knew he was being monitored. Businesses use such procedures for QA now and again--"mystery shoppers" and so forth. You wouldn't want administrations doing it routinely in academic communities, but it might be a better response than a quasi-judicial secret hearing.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at November 5, 2003 02:14 PM

"Here Bonnell is right to protest that if that has to happen secretly, behind closed doors, without any kind of transparency, we have a big problem--because a single person or two or three people with a grudge (or a delusion) could make up these stories, and it's not good enough to have an administration say, 'Trust us, we believe these witnesses'."

Agreed. The secrecy is very troubling. As is the prohibition against Bonnell's publicly discussing the case, which obviously prevents him from refuting the charges.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 5, 2003 02:33 PM

This is a fascinating case. I have to admit that my initial reaction as I read the descriptions of the alleged incidents was to laugh heartily; I work with a guy who has similar taste in outrage, and I enjoy it unless I'm trying to concentrate on some actual work. Furthermore, having been a college student in the late '60s-early '70s, I often feel like a superannuated Regency buck, peering around at all the prim young Victorians and trying to remember not to say "leg." (My Russian professor used to show naked pictures of himself enjoying a Finnish sauna, and nobody gave a damn.) But I recognize that tolerance for this sort of thing varies widely, and certainly students who find it offensive enough to distract them from the subject at hand have a right to a less difficult environment... up to a point. What exactly is that point? There's the rub. I agree with Joshua that corporate analogies are irrelevant and with Timothy Burke (and IA) that the most troubling aspect is the secrecy. Whatever the truth of the matter, it should be hashed out in public. As Louis Brandeis used to say, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

Posted by: language hat at November 5, 2003 03:25 PM

Hi. I think it would be interesting to know what kind of post-tenure (or even pre-tenure) review is/was done in this professor's department. In my (well-run, I think) institution, even tenured profs are regularly reviewed, including a review of their teaching that includes classroom observation. Earlier peer reviews of this prof's teahching might have given some warnings that his "style" was outside the departmental norm while at the same time providing support for his teaching style, or might have indicated that the prof needed a medical consultation to ensure that there isn't a medical (physical or mental) cause for his behavior!

Posted by: sappho at November 5, 2003 03:38 PM

After reading Bonnell's satirical "apology" (available at, I think he's most probably

1) a very bright and funny verbal gymnast, and
2) guilty as charged

As a student, though, I don't know as I would have been aggrieved enough by his behavior to complain, let alone file charges. Probably I would have just rolled my eyes and put him in the same category as the emotionally underdeveloped profs who pander to entertainment-hungry students in other ways (hinting about their "cool" drug use, tossing around simplistic political slogans).

For what it's worth, a Joycean--and Eirophile(?)--professor of some renown on my campus is quite firm in his interpretation of the word "screw" in the line, "She knew he had a good screw for one thing and she suspected he had a bit of stuff put by" (from Joyce's "The Boarding House"; it's one of Bonnell's contested teachings). In early 20C Dublin, this scholar says, a screw would have referred to the gentleman's salary and not his schtupping prowess. Certainly the line scans better when read that way.

Posted by: rose at November 5, 2003 03:57 PM

It's for lines like the following that I have comments enabled on this weblog:

I often feel like a superannuated Regency buck, peering around at all the prim young Victorians and trying to remember not to say 'leg.'


Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 5, 2003 04:14 PM

Luis, above, asks why the guy hasn't been fired. My assumption is he hasn't been because in that case he would sue. Which may cast some doubt on the college's claims.

Posted by: jam at November 5, 2003 04:26 PM

Twice I've been called to task by a superior for making comments that some found offensive, and I learned to measure my speech on the job (both times at a university). It is collosally stupid for this man to repeatly engage in behavior that his students, coworkers, and/or administrators find offensive. If he doesn't want to conform to standards the violation of which he's been suspended for FOUR TIMES ALREADY, he should find a job environment he finds more agreeable.

This has nothing to do with academic freedom, rather it has to do with showing respect for others. Whether he is guilty or not of all the allegations, the man needs some lessons in courtesy. One of the smartest things I've ever heard is that freedom of speech also entitles one not to say something. It also in no way separates the act of speech from its consequences. If he can't respect his employer's wishes, he should not be working there.

Posted by: Aramis Martinez at November 5, 2003 06:39 PM

Yeah, I'm in agreement with the majority of the comments here. I have a world of respect for Erin O'Connor, and I think she regularly calls our attention to important issues, but I am at a loss to understand why she so uncritically accepts Bonnell's account. She wrote in a post when she was first covering this story, "If Bonnell initiates off-topic sexual discussions or reminisces, then students and MCC may have reason to complain," but then went on to say that the "bulk of the evidence" doesn't support that claim. What I want to know is, why doesn't she take that long, long list of obviously "off-topic sexual discussions or reminisces" as significant evidence? On the face of it, all this is rather damning, isn't it? Not that it's necessarily true--but does she have some reason to dismiss those claims as implausible or impossible? If so, what is that reason? And if it is true that Bonnell told stories about humping an old man he was bathing, or inserting his dick in a Rube-Goldbergish contraption involving Vaseline, toilet paper, and a washing machine, then can't we go a little further than saying that people may have cause to complain? I just don't get it.

Posted by: Ayjay at November 5, 2003 06:53 PM

freedom of speech also entitles one not to say something

Disingenuous remark of the year. Yeah, and freedom means we also have the freedom to do whatever the government wants. Ignorance is knowledge. War is peace.

Freedom of speech doesn't mean, "the freedom of people to say things I like." Freedom of speech means "the freedom of people to say things I don't like."

Posted by: language hat at November 5, 2003 08:20 PM
If he doesn't want to conform to standards the violation of which he's been suspended for FOUR TIMES ALREADY, he should find a job environment he finds more agreeable.
I suspect that this would be viewed as a victory for the administration, and that this would be intolerable for Bonnell. I know that if I were in this situation I would force them to fire me in order to bring suit against them and drag all of this into an open courtroom, with sworn testimony etc. I also suspect that this is why the administration hasn't fired Bonnell, because they know that's what will happen; instead, they're trying to intimidate him into leaving "voluntarily" so that he can't retaliate. Posted by: Eric at November 6, 2003 09:13 AM

We don't have absolute freedom of speech in the classroom; we have the absolute freedom to speak unpopular ideas. Joseph Ellis' academic freedom did not include the right to lie to his students, any more than my academic freedom includes the right to spend an hour talking about my cats instead of Pater. (OK, some of my students might prefer the cats. But still.) Similarly, Bonnell's academic freedom includes the right to ask students to translate "Pedicabo ego uos et irrumabo" (Catullus 16) but not the right to discourse on his own private sexual proclivities--unless he can argue that his obscenities are intended to provoke a specifically intellectual response related to the material at hand. Otherwise, where's the "academic" in "academic freedom" here?

Posted by: Miriam at November 6, 2003 11:39 AM

As a student, whom is currently taking professor bonnell's world lit class, I have to say this is all very interesting. Yes, professor Bonnell brings some personal anecdotes to the table, but usually within the context of a discussion. He is not bashful about his personal experiences, he is quite honest and genuine. Our society is uncomfortable about sex and he isn't. I could see him saying something to the effect of "having a boner while washing a patient",
and then joking about mounting him, but not that he actually did (I will have to question that one). He has quite the sense of humor.
I do not find him offensive, but then again I am a female that has worked in a predominantly male
field for the past 20 yrs, and have heard and seen it all. He has not conducted himself in a manner that would not illicit my support, but the class still has a couple months to go!

Posted by: at November 6, 2003 01:00 PM

Good for you, Anonymous Student Person. Your attitude is admirable. So I'm not going to give you grief about your usage errors (but I hope your professors do if you make them on papers...).

Posted by: language hat at November 6, 2003 01:42 PM

"Joseph Ellis' academic freedom did not include the right to lie to his students, any more than my academic freedom includes the right to spend an hour talking about my cats instead of Pater."

Well said, Miriam. Some people get a thrill out of transgression for its own sake. This seems especially common in the arts, where "good" work is thought to be recognizable by its ability to make people squirm--"the shock of the new" and all that.

Anonymous student person: Can you give examples of contexts for some of the prof's personal anecdotes? I'm curious how stories about the popping of professorial boners past might help clarify difficult passages in literary works. As a hopeful future professor myself, I'm interested in the pedagogical uses to which my own crotchy chronicles might be put. If they're viable teaching tools, I'll start building my collection today.

Posted by: rose at November 6, 2003 03:10 PM


I guess the question is, to what extent do you have to teach to the sensibilities of the most easily disturbed person in the room? I would say, not very much. But maybe you do have to teach to the lowest common denominator of the "reasonable person", which some hostile-environment standards propose. I know full well that's an impossible thing to define, that "reasonable person", and yet we all recognize that there's a phase transition between the person whose feeling of being offended or distracted is unreasonable and idiosyncratic and the person whose reactions are fair enough even if we ourselves don't share them.

I was talking about this a bit the other day with a colleague in reference to some of her colleagues who insisted in talking at an academic dinner where students were in attendance about the sexual misadventures of some faculty at their institution (including their own escapades)--who had slept with whom and so on.

Personally, I'm uneasy about that kind of talk, because it falls under the heading of things I don't want to know about other people. I wouldn't care to make my objection public, because I think that's a personal preference. If I was in a classroom trying to learn something, I suppose might object more--but then shouldn't I object equally to anything that goes "off-topic"? I opened my world history class today with two or three minutes of informal talking about The Matrix Revolutions, after all.

To make it more complicated still, if I was teaching a class on cyberculture, obviously, the exact same loose conversation about the movie would be relevant, even if I didn't conduct in a particularly academic manner. If I were teaching about Joyce's Ulysses, talking about masturbation would obviously be germane. And yet even there I know I'd be both uncomfortable and irritated in a class about that if the professor started going off into long stories about how he tried to fuck his own anus with a paper towel tube or whatever. I might recognize him as an authentic character and fearlessly honest, and admire that, but I think I'd also think it was self-indulgent and annoying behavior in the classroom setting.

It's not a simple set of distinctions or questions, but however I work it through, I end up feeling that there's a line somewhere and that it's possible Bonnell crossed it and that he ought not to have.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at November 6, 2003 03:13 PM

This guy seems unprofessional, but somehow I like having him out there (just not in my department). Maybe it's the hangover from my first TA orientation in which I was told that I must not wear my wedding ring while teaching so as not to create a "hetero-coercive environment." The very words, uttered with a deeply self-righteous tone that brooked no refusal.

Posted by: THB at November 6, 2003 05:51 PM

Several commenters (and the redoubtable Erin O'Connor herself, whose blog and opinions I value highly) have opined that the students who are offended by Bonnell are being *unduly* squeamish about sex--that their complaints are due to their socially constructed prudishness. Now, before I say anything else, I want to affirm that I find campus speech codes loathsome, that I think academic freedom is a foundational principle worth fighting for, and that I realize I know squat about the real merits or demerits of Bonnell's case--especially whether he's actually done the things he's accused of having done.

So everything I'm about to say doesn't *necessarily* apply to Bonnell, who has earned enough respect from some students that they have come to his defense.

Why is sexual speech sometimes different from other kinds of speech, such as Miriam's hypothetical cat lecture? One of the things that creeps out some recipients of graphically sexual speech is the gut sense that the speaker is getting sexually aroused by his or her own speech, and by the reaction it's eliciting. It's not far-fetched, I don't think, to imagine that someone who habitually regales a captive audience with explicit tales is playing a little pocket pool during the show. It's like getting an obscene phone call, or being flashed--the recipient is corralled into being part of the actor's sex act. While I have a hard time imagining someone being "traumatized" by such acts (I'd rather reserve terms like "trauma" for more, well, traumatic events), I can certainly understand that someone would get uncomfortable to the point of disgust, even great anger, especially when it happens again and again.

Just because there are students who get the vapors about sex (how on earth do they survive popular culture?), I don't think it should be assumed that every student who complains about sexual talk in the classroom is "fragile" or a "prim Victorian." We wouldn't tell them to just put up with obscene phone calls or peenie peep shows from their professors.

Posted by: rose at November 6, 2003 06:46 PM

"I opened my world history class today with two or three minutes of informal talking about The Matrix Revolutions, after all."

Again, among the issues this case raises is where to draw the line. If you can't open with three minutes on the Matrix and Miriam can't break the ice with an anecdote about her cats, then we might as well have robots at the front of the classroom.

"Maybe it's the hangover from my first TA orientation in which I was told that I must not wear my wedding ring while teaching so as not to create a 'hetero-coercive environment.'"

A fine example of the coercion of anti-coercion.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 6, 2003 06:52 PM

The star chamber aspect of the anonymous accusations (wholly trusted by the Authorities), and the unattributed shock quotes, cancel all the earnest quibbling above about 'unprofessional' or 'academic freedom'. Those are not evidence, they're hearsay at best, and slander at worst. Does the Constitution somewhere not say that the accused has a right to face and question his accusers?

The only credible evidence has been given by the unskulking public accusers or supporters of the Professor - we know what their names are. How is it that the favorible testimony must be rejected utterly in favor of secret cavils behind closed doors?

It's the Administration that's acting unprofessionally - in fact, more like a politburo than a democratically governing body. Fire the lot of them.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at November 6, 2003 09:53 PM

I scoff at the ridiculous allegations. C'mon now, he didn't say that stuff. That's just a bunch of over-hyped nonsense. Grow up.

I'm currently enrolled in one of Professor Bonnell's classes, fall of 2003. This is the first English course I've attended in a long time that's actually made me excited to go to class. His class has opened my eyes to recognize different sides and hidden meanings in every aspect of life and his mind is simply fascinating to watch operate. The man truly is a genius.

"Do the accusations against Bonnell represent trumped-up charges made on the basis of a handful of complaints by hypersensitive or hostile students?"

As far as I can tell from my current semester, absolutely. Yes, he does branch off and talk about his personal life and some of it might be a little more risky than your typical noun-verb-adjective english prof, but I feel it's very relevant to the particularly difficult subject matter he's addressing and it really helps clarify some of the points he's beating on. The average age of students at Macomb Community College is 26 for christ sakes. Grow up, people. We're all adults and it's all part of our language. He doesn't over-use any foul language and, as long as I have known him, is very tastfully selecting what to say and what not to say. I haven't heard the word "pussy" or "blow-job" nor "corpse-fucker" or "anal-rapist". This is just amazing to me how blown up this crap has gotten.

Was I around in 1998 when some of the previous fires were lit? No, unfortunately I was not. But I will stick up for my Professor at this time and say that, while he might be a little controversial, I feel he's doing a hell of a job teaching a very difficult subject matter and I hope I get to take another of his courses in the future. If my path doesn't let us cross again, you're damn sure I'll take him out for a drink and thank him for the knowledge seed he's planted in my head.

ALSO, what the hell's with this imposed gag order? There must be something else going on. I'd really like to get to the bottom of it, but I fear I only have a little over a month left in the semester. Sigh. Damn the administration.

Feel free to email me with any questions. I'd be glad to talk with any of you. My instant messanger name is saksafon and my email address is

"Don't let the bastards grind you down, don't let 'em grind you down!" -- The Toasters

Posted by: Rick at November 7, 2003 02:07 AM

1. THB is my hero: "hetero-coercive environment." This really happened? And no one laughed?

2. "I scoff at the ridiculous allegations. C'mon now, he didn't say that stuff. That's just a bunch of over-hyped nonsense. Grow up."

Due process yes, confirmation of allegations yes, but...but...the allegations aren't that he says these things *during every single class* and taking your word, o anonymous blogposter, and taking the administration's word are not so very different.

Anyway, I think it's important to keep in mind that the right scale is a sliding one. The degree of offense tolerable during germane discussion and the degree of offense tolerable during irrelevant indulgences are different. I don't pay to hear about some guy buggering his Maytag.

Posted by: fontana labs at November 7, 2003 01:10 PM

This guy seems unprofessional, but somehow I like having him out there

My feelings exactly.

taking your word, o anonymous blogposter, and taking the administration's word are not so very different

Oh yes they are. Rick (no more anonymous than thou, "fontana labs") is quite convincing in his account and persuasive in his attitude. Anyone who takes "the administration"'s (any administration's) word for anything has serious credulity problems.

Posted by: language hat at November 7, 2003 03:53 PM

Sorry, I still have to part company with those who are defending this guy, including Erin O'Connor, whom I greatly respect. The only way I could reconsider this opinion were if the allegations have no basis in fact, but as I understand it, Professor Bonnell has not refuted them. In fact, seeing some of the written discourse he's generated at one of the websites that Erin linked, I can fully imagine that the complaints are accurate. I'm no prude, but I would be offended by some professor (or a work colleague) talking about his/her sex life in graphic detail in a manner that was wholly unrelated to the subject at hand. Again, we're not discussing general profanity, but his graphic descriptions of his own masturbation, his arousal at certain objects, etc. This is pure sexual aggression on his part. I'd like to say to him, No one cares about what gets you off in public bathrooms! Keep it in your pants! Get a room! I can't for the life of me understand why he thinks such discourse in the classroom is reasonable and appropriate. Just because not all of his students mind such language, or just because he hasn't used it recently, doesn't change the situation. For God's sake, this guy was suspended multiple times *before* his current thin ice! How dense can he be? I have no sympathy for him at all. He's made his bed, now let him lie (or whatever else he's told his students he likes to do) in it.

Posted by: Kevin Walzer at November 7, 2003 04:11 PM

I cannot help but comment and agree with those of you who recognize that the "personal anecdotes" attributed to Bonnell are out of bounds. Some of them sickened me to read, but probably not for the same reasons that they disgusted you. I am nauseated by the fact that so many otherwise intelligent people take these allegations as fact, and that a man such as Bonnell is being so defamed. Between 1996 and 1998 I took three classes with Bonnell - unfortunately he only taught three classes - had he been employed to teach more I probably would have listed my major as "Bonnell." No one disputes that Bonnell was akin to use the whole language, including many of the words cited when called for. But the stories, these horrific stories, fall somewhere between totally distorted and overblown accounts BASED on comments actually made, and bald-faced lies. One post cited that even his numerous student supporters have not attended ALL of his classes. This is true, but after years of classes, you begin to recognize the boundaries set by a professor - both those which he does and does not cross. Furthermore, since his latest suspension, I have had the privilege of getting to know this man - I may say as a fellow educator, although I must admit that I still look upon him with an air of admiration and humility - and having become acquainted with him on a personal level, I am even more aware of his level of integrity and propriety. Does he stretch the boundaries? Yes. Better and more effectively than anyone I know. Is there anyone out there who doubts that this is the best - if not the only - way to learn and to grow? Is he an offensive, perverted, prurient exhibitionist? The only way I can express the extent to which I disagree with this opinion is to say "HELL NO!" I patiently await a challenge by someone who claims otherwise, but let me qualify this because I'm sure there are many out there just waiting to dismiss or refute my claims. Let me hear from someone who knows firsthand that Bonnell is guilty as accused, who felt harassed by him, AND who is justified enough in their claims that they aren't afraid to sign their names and have their claims scrutinized by the public, as have been the accusations against John Bonnell.

Posted by: Julie Sergel at November 7, 2003 09:27 PM

OK, we have another Person With Actual Personal Experience weighing in on Bonnell's side. How many do we have to pile up before people start reconsidering their "no sympathy for him at all" attitudes? Or is The Administration, in its absent majesty, automatically more credible than mere students who happen to be familiar with the guy?

Posted by: language hat at November 8, 2003 12:28 PM

One commentor above is all too willing to join the witch-hunt and condemn Bonnell, and uses pretty sick reasoning in support of his judgements.

///as I understand it, Professor Bonnell has not refuted them///

Why should we think that even if he did (isn't he banned from discussing the case?), any of the witch-hunters posing as intellectuals wouldn't trump up some disengenuous reason to ignore the refutations?

///graphic descriptions of his own masturbation, his arousal at certain objects, etc. This is pure sexual aggression on his part///

What business has anyone of passing a judgement of 'sexual aggression' on a hearsay assertion about someone else's behavior? Is that how we as defendants should all be judged under anonymous accusations? By the reasoning of the quote, all the above graphic descriptions of outrage at his behavior, based on wholly unsupported assertions, is a form of nasty 'intellectual aggression' and the authors had better report for counselling at once.

///can't for the life of me understand why he thinks such discourse in the classroom is reasonable and appropriate.///

Perhaps such a lack of understanding could be assuaged by taking one of his classes and observing the discourse firsthand. Or are the anonymous hearsay descriptions of it more titillating?

After all, literature is supposed to encompass human behavior and give an educated person a deeper understanding of it. Is Mr. Bonnell so inhuman that his behavior, and his descriptions of the behavior of himself and others, should be erased from the history of humanity?

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive at November 8, 2003 02:35 PM

I've written to Erin O'Connor about the issues here. I think there's really two issues, and we're intermingling them in this conversation.

First, is the evidence that Bonnell said the more extreme things in the classroom attributed to him by Macomb reliable? Most of us are passing this particular "Go" and collecting $200. But there's ample reason, even leaving aside the responses here from Bonnell students, that the evidence is not reliable: it was collected in a flawed process and disseminated by untrustworthy entities. There are enormous due process violations here. So in terms of judging Bonnell, I think we all have to err on the side of, "He never said it".

Then there's the second issue, which is, "Suppose he said it". The reason this keeps coming up is not merely Macomb's allegations, but even that some of Bonnell's defenders, including Julie Siegel, indicate that even if he *had* said things that others might find offense, they defend his right to say them. Most of us (including myself to some extent) keep wanting to skip to this discussion, and find him guilty of unprofessional conduct in the hypothethical instance that he actually said the more extreme things attributed to him. I would stand by that: if he said it, he stepped over a line. But as it stands, I've got no basis--and I don't think Macomb does either--for reliably saying, with transparent faith in the claim, that those things were said. So that judgement is only a hypothetical one, and the discussion of what the boundaries of proper classroom talk might be are best left as hypotheticals, as if we were talking about a Professor Smith at Johnson College.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at November 8, 2003 05:57 PM

Another student (apparently) has a letter in Kimberly Swygert's comments.

Incidentally, while O'Connor focuses solely on the free-speech issue, the admin is not simply targeting him on those grounds, as is clear if you read the letter through to the end.

And yes, I'm happy to regard this as entirely hypothetical.

Posted by: Miriam at November 8, 2003 06:22 PM

"as if we were talking about a Professor Smith at Johnson College."

Wait. I think I know him.

You're absolutely right about the two different conversations. And in light of some of the comments here, I think I might write the original blog entry a bit differently. (But I guess that's one of the reasons to have comments).

Rereading my original post, I think it's fair to say that I hedged my bets. But in all honesty, I think it's also fair to acknowledge that the overall tendency of the entry is to suggest that the accusations have some credence. The more I think about the unreliability of the evidence, the troubling nature of the gag order imposed on Bonnell, and the due process violations, the more inclined I am to regret having written it in this way.

So I have to agree with Tim Burke that the only fair thing is to err on the side of assuming Bonnell did not say the things that have been attributed to him, and to rather discuss the case as a hypothetical.

As a hypothetical case (Professor Smith at Johnson College, say: yeah, I know the guy, but I'm certain he won't mind), I would actually state my originally tentative position much more forcefully: if Smith said these things, he crossed the line on one side of which professorial utterances are covered by the principle of academic freedom.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 8, 2003 07:22 PM

But this isn't the kind of question that can be judged hypothetically. I don't need to tell anyone here that the line between good teaching and bad, acceptable and unacceptable provocation, changes at each moment in the classroom. The relationships of the students as a group; their relationship to the their instructor, both collectively and individually; factions in the room; the mood of the day; the history of each of these factors (and many more besides) are all at issue.

We already have here testimony from two of Bonnell's students (assuming these to be genuine) that, although what he said was provocative and risqué, they thought it acceptable. Any judgment of the situation has to be based on their testimony, not a list of alleged statements which, stripped of context, aren't even meaningful, let alone damning.

Posted by: ogged at November 8, 2003 09:21 PM

Ogged, why do you say you can't judge hypothetically what the groundrules for classroom professionalism might be? It seems to me that we can come to some "outer bounds" that are not simultaneous with the "outer bounds" of general speech acts. I don't know that there *are* legitimate outer bounds of general speech acts, in my estimation--perhaps ye old shouting of fire in a crowded moviehouse, or incitement to riot. Unless you say, "The classroom is the same as the generality: nothing is out of bounds, ever", then I think we can make some categorical statements. For example, I would say the classroom is a place where speech is about the production of knowledge, in a one-to-many (professor to student) and many-to-many (all participants in dialogue with one another) manner. It's not just an arbitrary assemblage of 20, 50 or 250 people who are just sitting around talking: there is a subject matter, there is a bounded domain of knowledge to be explored, there are expected if rather nonmeasurable outcomes. You can be very generous about saying that there are a million roads to those outcomes, that saying the classroom is constrained to be productive is not to yoke it to a single, dull, plodding productivist ethos. But you can still talk about outcomes and the labor of knowledge.

With that in mind, I think I can say that a teacher is beyond a boundary in a couple of instances:

1) When his or her speech in a classroom is willfully disinterested in outcomes. Not challenging to outcomes--I think that can be interesting and valid, when you set out to critically ask what the *purpose* of the knowledge you're tasked to provide might be--but when you're just sort of talking arbitrarily, without any thought to outcomes, rambling along in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.

2) When his or her speech in the classroom is about service his or her own needs, when it is about the work of self-fashioning, rather than about some kind of transactional outcomes between a teacher and students.

3) When his or her speech in the classroom strongly and consistently and programmatically helps only one fraction of students achieve useful outcomes while actively impeding others from doing so.

There's probably other points like this you could enumerate, but these seem like reasonable principles to me--and they're all ones that a hypothetical Professor Smith at Johnson College might be held to trespass on if said professor regularly told long anecdotal tales of his or her own sexual adventures and feelings.

Now as to what consequences ought to flow from such trespass, that's still another matter. I'd say, maybe nothing at all, because you know, all teachers are going to trespass in this way from time to time. I had a graduate professor that I liked quite a lot who nevertheless mostly told long shaggy-dog stories about his ethnographic fieldwork in our course, only some of which was "productive" for the students in any sense.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at November 9, 2003 11:04 AM

Timothy, it's not that I don't believe groundrules can be established hypothetically, just whether or not they've been violated. And even that needs clarification.

There are standards to which we can hold Bonnell (and Johnson), but we would need a mass of information to determine whether the professors have violated them. In fact, what I indicated only obliquely in my comment is that I don't think someone not in the class can ever have sufficient "first-order" information (this is what was said, this is what was being discussed, these are the rules) to make the determination, because there are just too many relevant factors: the mood of a room isn't the sum of what we can articulate about it.

So, we should fall back on "second-order" information, namely, the reaction of the students, whether they think they're learning, and whether, by some reasonable measure, they are in fact learning. Along these lines, I think a valid (though far from perfect) actual or hypothetical case can be made.

Posted by: ogged at November 9, 2003 11:53 AM

Ogged & TB:
Even supposing that sharp lines can't be drawn without intimate knowledge of context, we can identify cases ("then I filled the cardboard tube with vaseline, and attached it to my dryer..") that are surely a violation of any plausible set of norms.

Second, it's important to keep in mind that the classroom situation is complex and opaque to the instructor. The person teaching the class is not infallible when it comes to judging what the collective mood (and individual students) find(s) amusing, enlightening, or offensive.

Language Hat: fair enough, but I'm not claiming some special knowledge of what really happened. After John Lott turned into Mary Rosh (or whatever his drag-queen supporter name was) I take comments like the student's with a grain of salt.

Posted by: Fontana Labs at November 9, 2003 05:33 PM

Any judgement has to be based on the particulars of the case. Ogged thinks that a hypothetical can never be thickly enough described that you can get at enough particulars to judge (Ogged, if I'm misinterpreting you, object). I would go further. Even if you could sufficiently thickly describe a hypothetical, any real case will sufficiently differ in sufficeintly many particulars from any hypothetical you've previously analyzed that you'd have to analyze it de novo. So judging hypotheticals is a useless exercise.

In particular, the hypothetical that's based on Macomb's press releases will differ in all important aspects from the real case of what happened in Bonnell's classroom.

Posted by: jam at November 9, 2003 07:38 PM

Jammed, that means that every single moment in every single classroom is effectively completely opaque to every participant, and thus, that there is no ethos ever save the ephemeral one of each classroom moment, that no one, not even the teacher nor the students, can later judge that boundaries were crossed, trust violated, bad service rendered, or anything else. You propose cutting the classroom loose as an utterly sovereign space, free of any tie to an institution, free of any rational transactional expectations. I've always believed in the importance of the classroom as autonomous space, but at that level of exclusivity, I can't see why anyone would ever bother to preferentially seek out an academic classroom. What would be the difference between that and just sitting in a cafe listening to people chatter around you, or randomly accosting a stranger about a subject of interest to you, or getting pissed with a couple of buddies on a Friday night? You propose a sense of the classroom in which there could be no reasonable minimum expectation, and no possible regime of administrative quality assurance, where no instructor need be viewed as preferred in any sense, and no credential a meaningful guarantee of professionalism.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at November 9, 2003 08:48 PM

//Even supposing that sharp lines can't be drawn without intimate knowledge of context, we can identify cases ("then I filled the cardboard tube with vaseline, and attached it to my dryer..") that are surely a violation of any plausible set of norms.//

//Language Hat: fair enough, but I'm not claiming some special knowledge of what really happened. After John Lott turned into Mary Rosh (or whatever his drag-queen supporter name was) I take comments like the student's with a grain of salt.//

Fontana Labs: I find it intellectually amazing that you will take my support of Bonnell "with a grain of salt" and yet continue to give credence to the assertion that he made the comments you cited regarding the toilet paper tube. If you don't want to accept the viewpoint of someone who was there and who knows the man, that's fine. Maybe you assume I'm just some whacked-out lunatic. And not only me, but every other student who's ever come to bat for John Bonnell. But to then turn around and entertain as plausible the charges against Bonnell, obtained from unsubstantiated 2nd and 3rd party sources is, to me, totally absurd and illogical.

Posted by: Julie Sergel at November 9, 2003 09:13 PM


That's not the kind of doubting Fontana's doing. John Lott was an embattled instructor who invented a "former student" named Mary Rosh to defend himself in online forums like this. Fontana is expressing a doubt about identity on the internet, not whether the actual Julie Sergel is credible.

Posted by: ogged at November 9, 2003 09:17 PM

Ok, I'm really really sorry about this.

You're the photographer at a Martian wedding. You're told that Martian eyes are more sensitive to flashbulbs than human eyes, but you don't know by how much. You use human eyes as your baseline, you judge the light in the room, and you try to figure the proper settings. But, ultimately, the only way for you to know whether your flash is too bright is to ask the Martians after you've snapped a picture.

We know the standards (not too bright::offensive and not germane); we can be confident of what would violate them (3x as bright as a flash used on humans::tube/vaseline/dryer); but, ultimately, we just have to ask (the Martians::the students) whether it was ok.

Of course experience will help a photographer/instructor to narrow the acceptable range, but, in any borderline (read: interesting) case, even he (and any external judge) will again be forced to just ask. Even then, there are complications, because any one answer may be exceptional, so we still have to decide how many creatures we're willing to blind/offend for the sake of doing the job.

Posted by: ogged at November 9, 2003 09:49 PM

ogged: Thanks for briefing me on the John Lott reference - if that is indeed what Fontana meant then I withdraw my response to his questioning my credibility. However, he did note the cardboard roll anecdote as if it were fact, so that part of my response stands.

As a side note to your alien photographer analogy: At one point in time, Bonnell did warn his students and presolicit responses to his style - obviously it's true that the response can't come before the flash, however you must admit that this is the next best thing. Bonnell has been characterized as an intimidating madman who foists his language on others without regard and this is simply not true. My classes with him came immediately after his first suspension - he passed out papers with articles as well as volunteered testimonials from past students (and they weren't all glowing) and told the class "This is how I teach. If a couple of you are uncomfortable with this, there are many other sections of the course still open. If many of you object to this, or if the first option is not possible for you - TELL ME. I will do my best to accomodate you." Obviously this is not verbatim but close enough. This seemed to work - he went quite a few years before being hit with his second suspension. This summer I found out that a gag order was "issued" by the college that forbade him from doing this. (This is in addition to the overarching gag order that disallows him to speak of his case at all.) So, if you're wondering why these suspensions seemed to pile up so suddenly after 30 years of teaching, there's one reason.

Still the sudden onslaught of "disciplinary measures" don't make sense to even me, unless their is some collusion involved by and on behalf of the administration - I wouldn't put it past them but I'm not convinced to the point of accusation - yet.

P.S. To the rest of you out there who might be buying into the Mary Rosh Hypothesis, my existence can be verified. I delivered the address that most of you read on Erin's website in front of the MCC Board of Trustee's and a room full of people, who won't soon forget. I made quite an impression, though unfortunately it had no recognizable effect on the board. And, though I don't know how elaborate John Lott was, I highly doubt he went to the trouble to create an entirely separate online identity for his "feminine side" - typing my name into a search engine will bring up other examples of my "virtual existence."

Posted by: Julie Sergel at November 10, 2003 01:22 AM

Hi, Julie.

First, I *did* intend the cardboard-roll claim as a hypothetical-- my point in 41 was that even if some hypothetical cases are hard to judge, *other* hypothetical cases are not. For example, we can imagine a clear case of indefensible behavior-- I think the case in which an instructor goes on about the paper towel roll is such a case. Rereading the post, I see that wasn't clear: I didn't mean to suggest that we know that Bonnell said this. I meant to say that if he did, it's a problem.

Second, my general point is that we in the comments audience really don't know much at all about what really happened, so we should confine ourselves to conditional judgments. The administration says one thing, some students say another, and I'm not going to take either party's word. (My guess is that the administration really did hear these stories from students, whether or not they're accurate, but that's just a hunch.)

I'm sorry that that post came across as a doubt about your integrity in particular. It was intended as a reminder of where we are, and the epistemic constraints on us because of that.

Posted by: Fontana Labs at November 10, 2003 01:32 PM

Fontana Labs speaks the truth!

Posted by: Jesus at November 10, 2003 01:33 PM

Nuts. Okay, so Bonnell likes to shock people with profanity and obscenity, and delights in celebrating his own sexual experiences in class. I might find myself offended in his class if I thought he was going "over the top". But my reaction would be to stand up and call him on his behavior, demand that he link his profane speech to the subject at hand, and insist that he show the class the relevance of his speech. If I found his speech offensive, I would challenge him on it right then. That's what it means to take responsibility for your actions and for your own dignity. In short, if he's really challenging his class, his class should challenge right back.

But filing complaints and anonymous grievances is the work of cowards and witlings. These people don't deserve the academic freedom they are undermining. Do they not realize that academic freedom extends to BOTH sides of the lectern, that they have as much right to say "Fuck you" in class as Mr. Bonnell, that they have the right to say "You're full of shit. Prove it." every time he says something they think is outrageous? I suspect the way to get Mr. Bonnell to stop shouting "Fuck" in class is for his class to shout it back at him, as in "Shutthefuckup and get on with James Joyce!"

Basically, these students don't seem to realize that they're not on the playground anymore. It doesn't mean they HAVE to shout obscenities right back; if they want to they can insist, with language suitable for a courtroom or a church, in the strongest possible terms, that he link what he says with what he says he's teaching. But no, that would require acting like a free-thinking grownup. So much easier to run to the Dean and whine about a hostile environment.

Boy, am I glad to not be a teacher.

Posted by: Sarah at November 13, 2003 03:49 AM

Everyone here is focusing on the individual case, but I have a sinking feeling that the worst possible version of this episode, maybe suitably embellished, will start appearing in right-wing screeds against academe. The wingnuts would love to find a way to prevent the teaching of gender / sexuality content , aka feminist and gay / lesbian / bisexual / transgender studies. Furthermore, the radical right is not above engineering such witch-hunts (supporting students in bringing lurid allegations). I'm not saying that is the case in this particular episode, but it can be used.

I am particularly angry over HR 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act, which passed the House of Representatives Oct. 21. It is supposed to involve the close regulation of the funding and teaching of "area studies" that are considered to be a hotbed of anti-Americanism by the Right. Those in the know consider it a focused attack on post-colonial theory.

What does this have to do with running on at the mouth in class about one's sexual activities? Well, the suppression of teaching about gender / sexuality would be related to the suppression of the teaching of gendered approaches to international relations, which includes the figuring of imperialism as rape.

This happens to be the subject of my most recent academic work. Sorry to waste your time by frothing at the mouth. I've come to understand that my academic approach is further to the left than that of most people in my field.

Posted by: sara at November 14, 2003 09:17 PM