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Is professor fucked?


A professor who remains suspended from Macomb Community College says he might lose his job over something he’s been doing more than 30 years – using profanity when the subject matter calls for it.

"I say fuck," says English professor John Bonnell, who has taught at Macomb Community College for 32 years. "I talk about what it means, what its implications are, and sometimes, when I am emoting, I use it for dramatic effect."

Last year a female student complained to college administrators, calling Bonnell’s words "dehumanizing, degrading and sexually explicit" in a Nov. 6, 1998, letter to college administrators. Bonnell, suspended since Feb. 1, awaits a disciplinary hearing slated for Thursday.

Ironically, Bonnell says back in the 1970s two women complained after he had curtailed his profanity to avoid offending women, calling him a "chauvinist pig." He says he agreed with them, and went back to his old ways.

"I wish it would piss off every women in the nation, what’s happening here," Bonnell says. "It’s much more insulting to pretend as if there’s something so fragile about women that they have to be protected in the public sector, even in spite of themselves."

MCC spokesperson Frank Ruggirello declined comment, saying faculty contracts prohibit discussion of a disciplinary matter concerning a faculty member.

According to Bonnell, the student complained about the professor’s use of profanity to illustrate how certain degrading phrases in American culture are applied to women and not to men. An example he gave is "As useless as tits on a nun." Bonnell told students. "You’ll never hear ‘As useless as balls on a priest.’"

Bonnell says neither the administration nor the faculty union are supporting him. The American Civil Liberties Union is examining the case to determine whether it will become involved, says ACLU-Detroit spokesperson Michael J. Steinberg.

"Of course there’s the question of free speech," Steinberg says. "The First Amendment should be at its height at college campuses and the college classroom should be a place for a free exchange of ideas."

"Actually, it’s an attack on academic freedom," says William Cox, a fellow professor at MCC and a longtime friend of Bonnell’s. Cox says he considers Bonnell to be among the best professors at the college.

"He totally opened the doorway to the critical analysis of literature," says Michele Kazyak, a former student of Bonnell’s. "Unfortunately for the administration of Macomb Community College, literature is rife with sexual and adult themes. Apparently, they have a problem with that."

Bonnell says he loves teaching, but doubts MCC administrators will allow him to return. And even if he does go back, Bonnell’s future at the college may depend on whether he complies with the college policy dealing with profanity, which Bonnell says is vague in that, among other things, it does not define "profane, vulgar or obscene speech."

Bonnell says if administrators refuse to clarify the policy or "obviously" violate the First Amendment, he will strongly consider taking the issue to court.

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