News Column

'Hot for Teacher' Essayist Sues for $2.2M

March 16, 2013

Tammy Stables Battaglia

An Oakland University student kicked out of school after writing an essay titled "Hot for Teacher" is suing the college for more than $2.2 million, claiming the school violated his rights to free speech and freedom of expression.

Joseph Corlett, 57, now lives in Sarasota, Fla., after moving from Orion Township. He filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit against Oakland University's Board of Trustees, President Gary Russi and Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Mary Beth Snyder.

"In the end, he just ended up getting suspended from school for completing a homework assignment," his lawyer Alari Adams said Friday after filing the lawsuit.

Corlett says he was unfairly kicked out of school after penning the essay in September 2011 while enrolled in English 380: Advanced Critical Writing, taught by Pamela Mitzelfeld. He says the essay, named after the 1984 Van Halen song that glamorizes a student's lust for his teacher, was a "whimsical exaggeration" of his attraction toward Mitzelfeld.

"Are you kidding me?" he wrote in cursive in the composition entry submitted with the lawsuit. "I should drop right now. There is no way I'll concentrate in class especially with that sexy little mole on her upper lip beckoning with every accented word. And that smile."

Mitzelfeld on Friday was listed on the school's website as a special lecturer and associate director of the college's writing center.

Oakland University spokesman Ted Montgomery said Friday afternoon that the school had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation.

Corlett said he wrote the essay after Mitzelfeld assured him no topics were restricted in the free-writing assignment and that she wanted "the raw stuff," according to the lawsuit.

"Previous essays he had submitted to her were sexually themed," Adams said. "And in his previous essays, she had given him A's, so he didn't think him writing about his attraction to her warranted him being suspended from school."

Corlett said he was escorted out of Mitzelfeld's class by the Oakland University police a few days after submitting the composition book. He said he was told he was kicked out of school for the rest of the semester.

Corlett, a builder who was working on a bachelor's degree in writing and rhetoric at Oakland, said he refused the university's offer of a refund. He said officials there declined his request to submit his work through an intermediary.

Instead, Corlett says, the school ordered him to appear in front of the University Conduct Committee in January 2012 and found that his essay constituted "intimidating behavior."

Corlett says the school further violated his rights by not allowing him to present any evidence at the hearing and didn't record the proceedings as required by school guidelines. After the hearing, the university banned him from campus for more than a year, forbidding him from taking classes until the winter 2013 semester -- and only if he showed proof that he had gone through sensitivity counseling, according to an Oakland University letter dated Jan. 20, 2012, submitted with the lawsuit.

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(c)2013 the Detroit Free Press

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