DETROIT – A man suspended from a Detroit-area university after writing about his attraction to teachers in a class journal sued the school Friday for $2.2 million and four lost credits, claiming his free-speech rights were violated.
Joseph Corlett, 57, a home builder who enrolled in college because of the weak economy, said he was an A-student in a writing class at Oakland University in Rochester until he submitted a journal in 2011 titled "Hot For Teacher," the name of a song by the rock band Van Halen.
Corlett compared his female instructor to Ginger, a sultry movie starlet character on the 1960s TV show "Gilligan's Island." He feared being distracted and said, "I'll never learn a thing." He said another teacher who was pregnant was "hot, and not just from baking the bun in her oven."
The teacher informed an Oakland dean after reading the journal for the first time. Officials said Corlett's writings violated a policy against intimidation or harassment and last year barred him for three terms, through winter 2013. The university said he must undergo counseling if he wants to return as a student.
In an interview, Corlett, who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., said he's fighting for his civil rights.
"When you get past the titillation, you've got to look into what's really going on here," he said. "It's academic freedom or no academic freedom. We're all collectively dumbed when speech is suppressed or challenged."
Oakland spokesman David Groves said the school doesn't comment on lawsuits.
Corlett said students in the English 380 class were told to write "raw things, a personal diary that maybe we wouldn't want anyone to read." He said the teacher had no objection to his earlier work, which earned an A, an essay about accidentally seeing women's breasts.
"There is no constitutional protection against being offended," Corlett said. "And while I am sympathetic to anyone's feelings, I repeatedly asked for instruction. I was repeatedly told there were no topics that were out of bounds."
Corlett was removed from the writing class by two police officers after an Oakland administrator forgot to tell him that he was barred from attending while his status as a student was under review.
Attorney Alari Adams said Corlett is seeking $2.2 million for mental anguish and the embarrassment of being kicked out of school.
Corlett enrolled full-time at Oakland in 2011 after earning an associate degree from Oakland Community College. He said he needs 40 credit hours for a bachelor's degree.