Art professor Michael Bonesteel says he is the victim of a “small cadre of militant LGBT students with an authoritarian agenda” who “unfairly vilified and demonized” him.
Bonesteel, who taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, says he faced accusations of “racism,” “homophobia,” and was consequently expecting grossly compromised career progression.
As The College Fix reports, the school, where Bonesteel taught for 15 years, is offering no support but insisting the case has nothing to do with any loss of academic freedom for a professor who is the noted author of the “first definitive book” on artist Henry Darger.
Bonesteel spoke to the Chicago Reader and Raw Vision about his experiences with politically-motivated students that the teacher says resulted in disciplinary action from the school.
In December 2016, Bonesteel was lecturing on the work of Henry Darger when he displayed a particular painting showing young females with male sex organs. Bonesteel suggested that the disturbing scene might indicate that Darger was a victim of sexual abuse as a boy. This theory apparently outraged a transgender student in his class, who issued a formal complaint.
Even though the complaint was ultimately deemed out of order, Bonesteel nonetheless offered an apology for his “insensitivity” after a session with a diversity counsellor, telling the offended student that he “should have treated the subject with more delicacy.”
Just two days after the first incident, Bonesteel ran into trouble in another of his courses. In the midst of a class discussion, Bonesteel says a student decided to vent in “long diatribe about perceived anti-Semitic attitudes” allegedly present in the works of Gerald Jones, an author who was part of he assigned course readings.
The same student continued to rage at the School of Art Institute until he made “accusations of racism and homophobia” against Bonesteel and objected to the teacher not offering advance warning that he was going to say “rape” during the class discussion. Another complaint was lodged.
This time the school ruled against the professor saying, “it is more likely than not that [Bonesteel’s] conduct in relation to his student constituted harassment based on gender-identity in violation of the School’s Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation,” as the Chicago Reader reported.
That wasn’t the end of that matter as some months later, a different student also filed a complaint about the incident.
After three strikes, Bonesteel was apparently on his way out. The school told him at the end of the academic year that he would have his teaching hours cut so severely that he could no longer claim health insurance benefits as an employee of the institute, he was banned from teaching comic book classses and that Bonesteel’s academic niche courses on outsider art would be subject to intense revision with “new readings from academic journals” taking precedence over the writings that Bonesteel had selected.
Bonesteel said the ultimatum was “unacceptable” and he decided to resign. He has since described the art institute has having a “toxic environment” and working at a college that “feels more like a police state than a place where academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas is valued.”