After more than 15 years as a professor at The Art Institute of Chicago, Michael Bonesteel resigned from his post following two incident involving “militant LGBT students” accusing him of “racism and homophobia” last year.
Bonesteel told the Chicago Reader that he was “unfairly vilified and demonized by [a] small cadre of militant LGBT students with an authoritarian agenda.”
He also revealed that the Institute began to feel “more like a police state than a place where academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas is valued.”
However, The Art Institute of Chicago maintains that it had not “infringed “on [his] academic freedom.”
He recalled the first incident that occurred Dec. 12, when leading a discussion about artist Henry Darger, whose artwork showcased young girls with male genitalia. During the lecture, he said that scholars believed Darger may have been a victim of childhood sexual abuse — a notion that outraged one transgender student in attendance.
“The student said there was no proof that Darger was sexually abused, and therefore, I was wrong in proposing the theory,” Bonesteel said.
Soon after, the transgender student filed a complaint with the Dean of Faculty Lisa Wainwright, who deemed the complaint unfounded.
Bonesteel agreed to meet with a school diversity counselor for his actions and apologized to the student for his “insensitivity,” admitting he “should have treated the subject with more delicacy.”
Two days after issuing his apology, during another lecture, a student reportedly engaged in a “long diatribe about perceived anti-Semitic attitudes” of Gerard Jones, the author of a book assigned to Bonesteel’s class. Then, the student took issue with the Institute allegedly mistreating transgender students, before accusing Bonesteel of “racism and homophobia.”
The student also claimed to be offended by the lack of a trigger warning when Bonesteel used the word “rape” during one of his lectures.
A second complaint was filed against the professor, which Dean Wainwright decided: “It is more likely than not that [Bonesteel’s] conduct in relation to this student constituted harassment based on gender-identity in violation of the School’s Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation.”
The trouble only continued to mount when several months later, another student who witnessed one of the incidents claimed they were “troubled by the incident,” bringing the total to three individual complaints.
Ultimately, Bonesteel decided that being “labeled discriminatory and charged with sexual harassment because I got into a heated debate with a hostile student who happened to be transgender … seems entirely unfair.”
“Then, to be punished by refusing to let me teach three comics courses, in which I had invested 12 years of time and effort and love, and in the process take away my insurance benefits,” the former professor continued, “these were the conditions that I found unacceptable.”
Bonesteel called the school a “toxic environment” in his resignation letter and argued that his unfair treatment was “an abuse of Title IX protections.”
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