One Chicago art professor resigned from his post earlier this month after a “small cadre of militant LGBT students with an authoritarian agenda” continually accused him of “racism” and “homophobia.”
The Art Institute of Chicago, professor Michael Bonesteel told the Chicago Reader, “feels more like a police state than a place where academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas is valued.”
Ultimately, Bonesteel, who had been teaching at the institute for nearly 15 years, decided to leave the school after two separate student-involved incidents that happened in the span of three days last December.
The first incident occurred Dec. 12, when Bonesteel was leading a discussion about Chicago artist Henry Darger, whose artwork often depicted young girls with male genitalia. He mentioned the popular theory that Darger’s work might be the result of childhood sexual abuse — an idea that apparently frustrated one transgender student.
“The student said there was no proof that Darger was sexually abused, and therefore, I was wrong in proposing the theory,” Bonesteel said, noting that he agreed there is no definitive proof, but pointing out that it is a common theory among art scholars.
Though Dean of Faculty Lisa Wainwright ultimately decided that the transgender student’s complaint was unfounded, Bonesteel met with a school diversity counselor and, following the counselor’s advice, apologized for his “insensitivity,” admitting he “should have treated the subject with more delicacy.”
Then, just two days later, the second problem cropped up. During a similar discussion session in another class, according to Bonesteel, a student went off on a “long diatribe about perceived anti-Semitic attitudes” of Gerard Jones, the author of a book assigned to the class. The student proceeded to complain about the institute’s treatment of transgender and minority students and then accused Bonesteel specifically of “racism and homophobia.”
The same student also complained about a lack of trigger warning during a discussion of an implied rape in another assigned text.
When the student complained about the interaction, Bonesteel said, Wainwright “ultimately ‘determined that it is more likely than not that your conduct in relation to this student constituted harassment based on gender-identity in violation of the School's Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation.’”
Several months later, another student who witnessed the entire ordeal issued a complaint to administration, claiming to have been “troubled by the incident.”
As a result of the two incidents and three student complaints, Bonesteel said he was told by administration he would no longer be teaching courses on comics, where the two interactions occurred. And his hours for the 2017-2018 school year were slashed so much that he no longer qualified for health insurance benefits.
Bonesteel told the Reader he “could have lived with” making adjustments to his courses, but to be “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,” he continued, “these were the conditions that I found unacceptable.”
In his resignation letter, the longtime art scholar, who called the institute a “toxic environment,” wrote that he believed the entire situation to be “an abuse of Title IX protections.”
The Chicago school, it should be noted, tells an entirely different story. Institute spokeswoman Bree Witt told The College Fix this week that Bonesteel “chose to leave the school.”
In a separate statement, Wainwright claimed the school never “infringed on [Bonesteel’s] academic freedom” because doing so would be “anathema to our pedagogy.”