America—land of the free, home of the married 56-year-old pervs who get off on harassing college professors and hiding behind the Constitution. That’s my takeaway from a story that broke last week and burned out rather quickly but deserves some further thought. It involves aspiring writer Joseph Corlett, a student who was banned from Oakland University’s campus after penning some rather graphic journal entries about his female English professor. Admittedly, what hooked me was the Van Halen angle in the headline: “’Hot for Teacher’ Essay Lands Student In Trouble.” It sounded hilarious at first glance—I’m picturing David Lee Roth driving a school bus and this Corlett dude’s class turning into a beauty pageant. But the details of his creative writing exercise and righteous crusade that followed aren’t funny.
Corlett’s instructor, Pamela Mitzelfeld, encouraged her students to write in a journal and record, according to at least one account, their “uncensored thoughts.” What she found in Corlett’s notebook was less Hemingway and more Penthouse Forum—an essay inspired by the ’80s rock hit in which he wrote this about Mitzelfeld: “She walks in and I say to myself ‘Drop, motherfucker, drop.’ Kee-rist, I’ll never learn a thing. Tall, blond, stacked, skirt, heels, fingernails, smart, articulate, smile … I’ll search for something unattractive about her. No luck yet. Shit.” Corlett’s point was that he should drop her class rather than continue to fantasize about her sexually, like he’d done with so many other female teachers. If that wasn’t creepy enough, here’s another professor-turned-lust-object described in his essay: “Her skirt came unzipped in Comp 2 one day and her polka-dotted panties were exposed. I was a perfect gentleman and discretely told her to pull her sweater over. She smiled and thanked me. It is our delicious little secret.”
The university dropped a sexual harassment charge but found Corlett guilty of intimidation and banned him from campus. It also required proof of psychological counseling before he could apply to re-enroll. Corlett’s response? He lawyered up, threatened to sue if his appeal isn’t successful, and said this: “The real issue here is the First Amendment. It’s about academic freedom and about due process … the sooner we can get past the titillation of it and see those issues, the better.”
Of course, titillation is exactly what Corlett was trying to achieve. Anyone with a lick of common sense would leave their teacher out of a sex essay. Let’s get real here: This is yet another self-deluded jackwagon wrapping himself in the Constitution. Neither free speech nor creative writing gives a person the right to intimidate, harass or threaten without consequences. If I walked into the Philly Mag offices and asked a co-worker if she was wearing a new bra because she looked “stacked” today, her next move should be a visit to human resources. When Corlett included Mitzelfeld in his long list of women he fantasizes about, he crossed a line. Ironically, for all his talk of being distracted by his teachers, I imagine it’s Mitzelfeld who couldn’t concentrate in class if she knew Corlett was on the lookout for a wardrobe malfunction.
The same ridiculous argument has been raised in Haverford, where a billboard ban has been challenged as a restriction of the First Amendment. Free speech doesn’t mean the right to erect a 672-square foot sign wherever you please, either. Of course, if there’s someone willing to file a lawsuit, you can bet there’s a lawyer somewhere willing to throw a legal Hail Mary; the locally based Foundation for Individual Rights In Education found an attorney to take Corlett’s case. Yelling about Constitutional rights is so hot right now. Thankfully that document is strong enough to withstand all the knuckleheads who are twisting its words.