An English professor suspended from Macomb Community College for classroom cussing has filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing college and faculty union officials of conspiring to destroy his teaching career and violate his civil rights.
Professor John Bonnell, who has been suspended indefinitely with pay since Feb. 4, says he has used profanity in classroom discussions throughout his 32 years of teaching college English, a subject that often includes literature with sexual and adult themes.
"Academic freedom is the teacher’s right to speak his mind in the classroom," Bonnell says. "There’s to be no chilling pall of orthodoxy cast over a teacher who is speaking over matters of public concern."
At issue are Bonnell’s use of words and phrases including "fuck," "butt-fucking," "blow job," "tits on a nun" and "balls on a priest" during classroom discussions of topics such as gender discrimination in the Catholic Church, the Greek term "philia" and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bonnell says a female student complained about his language in a Nov. 6, 1998, letter to college administrators, calling it "dehumanizing, degrading and sexually explicit."
The lawsuit, filed March 10 on behalf of Bonnell and his wife Nancy, calls for unspecified monetary damages and for Bonnell to be reinstated as a professor. In the lawsuit, Bonnell accuses college officials and the union attorney of violating his constitutional rights to counsel, due process and equal protection of the laws during his disciplinary process.
He also accuses the officials of conspiring to violate his First Amendment right to freedom of association with a "gag order" that forbids him to discuss his suspension and other topics with current students at the college.
MCC spokesman Frank Ruggirello declined comment on the lawsuit or anything else concerning an unresolved faculty disciplinary matter.
The same day the suit was filed, Bonnell informed college officials he would not attend a disciplinary hearing scheduled for the following day. Bonnell says his attorneys advised him not to attend the hearing, where he would be represented by a faculty union lawyer, even though the union does not support him.
Representatives of the Macomb Community College Faculty Organization did not return phone calls from the Metro Times on Monday.
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