July 10, 2017

Adjunct Professor Resigns from SAIC, Citing a “Toxic Environment”

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Author, art critic, and longtime adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) Michael Bonesteel resigned last month after the school allegedly forced him to revise his courses and cut his hours, in response to student complaints about his explicit class materials, the Chicago Reader reports.

Bonesteel left the school following two incidents that occurred last December. The first complaint was made by a transgender student who objected to Bonesteel’s lecture about Chicago artist Henry Darger. The professor said that the student argued against a theory proposing that the artist was sexually abused in his childhood, which is generally accepted by scholars. Bonesteel issued an apology for his “insensitivity” after he consulted with a diversity counselor. While Lisa Wainwright, the dean of faculty, found no violation of school policy, she determined that Bonesteel needed training in how to teach the “identity-related material” in his curriculum.

Two days later, another student complained about the perceived anti-Semitic attitude of Gerard Jones, the author of the required reading Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book(2004). The student was also upset after Bonesteel failed to warn the class that another assigned text implied that someone had been raped. Months later, a third student filed a complaint over the incident.

According to Bonesteel, the school said his actions “constituted harassment based on gender-identity” and that he had violated the school’s policy against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. After SAIC informed him that he had to select new readings for his outsider art and comic art courses, it reduced his hours for the 2017–18 school year, which would cause him to lose his health insurance benefits.

In response, Bonesteel declared the learning environment at the school “toxic” and compared it to a police state rather than an institution “where academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas is valued.” He also maintains that he had been “unfairly vilified and demonized by [a] small cadre of militant LBGT students with an authoritarian agenda.”

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