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Education > News Hits

College strikes back

 

Published 9/29/1999

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Macomb Community College is going after John Bonnell with a vengeance, challenging the professor’s court-ordered reinstatement following an extended suspension for use of profanity in class and other alleged infractions.

An ad college trustees ran Monday in The Macomb Daily contained a vow to take the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Bonnell was originally suspended for three days in February after a female student complained about his profanity and sexually explicit language in an English course using literature with sexual subtexts.

After Bonnell went public with his criticism of the way the college handled his case, the college continued to bar him from the classroom until U.S. District Judge Paul Borman in August ordered Bonnell reinstated. College officials immediately responded by asking Borman to reconsider his decision. Last week, they took the dispute to a new level by asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to uphold the suspension while the courts sort out Bonnell’s lawsuit against MCC. In that suit, Bonnell alleges college officials violated his free speech rights and the principle of academic freedom by suspending him. In the newspaper ad college officials explain that Bonnell’s latest suspension, meant to last the entire fall semester, was for retaliation, insubordination and breach of confidentiality.

Borman ruled Bonnell didn’t retaliate against the student and that MCC had no other reasons to keep him out of the classroom. The judge found it is likely Bonnell will prevail in his lawsuit against the college.

The ad, an open letter to the public from the school’s board of trustees, says the college has until now refused to comment on the situation because of policies requiring confidentiality in disciplinary matters.

"The unfortunate consequence of honoring these requirements is that the public does not gain a complete understanding of the situation," it continues. The letter says Borman’s decision "contradicts established law governing labor relations and civil rights complaints. It significantly narrows the traditional definition of confidentiality; it limits the protections afforded women who complain of sexual harassment; it alters the way civil rights complaints are to be investigated; and it suggests that English teachers are somehow immune to discipline for violating college policies."

MCC claims the college will suffer irreparable harm if Bonnell continues to teach there. Bonnell’s lawyer, James Howarth, argues that Bonnell, his students, and the principle of academic freedom will suffer irreparable harm if he can’t.

Howarth, who expects the appeals court to render its decision this week, says, "We feel if they decide in our favor, that would be the Gettysburg of this civil war. It won’t be the end of it, as Gettysburg was not the end of the war."

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