BOULDER, CO—Professor Patricia ("Patti") Adler's signature course, "Deviance in U.S. Society," is one of the curriculum's major attractions for sociology majors and a few others—the course typically has more than 500 enrollees. But the lecture she gives biannually on prostitution, considered one of the highlights of the course, just got her edged out of her tenured position in her department.
Adler was told she could be fired altogether "if anyone complained about her teaching in the future," according to an article on the InsideHigherEd.com website. In light of the administration's actions, Adler has decided to resign from the faculty rather than suffer the curtailment of her academic freedom.
Of course, it's not as if any of Adler's students had complained to her about her conduct or the prostitution lecture in particular, despite administration claims to the contrary. In fact, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder have mounted a petition drive and created a supportive Facebook page to try get the university to reconsider its position, and allow Adler to continue teaching her course, including the prostitution lecture.
However, in a letter from Provost Russell L. Moore directed to "CU-Boulder Faculty, Staff and Students," Moore claimed that "University administrators heard from a number of concerned students about Professor Adler's 'prostitution' skit, the way it was presented, and the environment it created for both students in the class and for teaching assistants. Student assistants made it clear to administrators that they felt there would be negative consequences for anyone who refused to participate in the skit." Of course, "None of them wished to be publicly identified," so good luck to Prof. Adler in confronting her accusers!
According to the InsideHigherEd article, Adler, who's taught roughly that same lecture for 20 years, "seeks volunteers from among assistant teaching assistants (who are undergraduates) to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes—she named as categories 'slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services.' They work with Adler on scripts in which they describe their lives as these types of prostitutes. During the lecture, Adler talks with them (with the assistant teaching assistants in character) about such issues as their backgrounds, 'how they got into the business,' how much they charge, the services they perform, and the risks they face of violence, arrest and AIDS. The class is a mix of lecture and discussion."
"I think the lecture was very valuable because it brought the material to life," said Caitlin McCluskey, who played an "upper class bar whore" in the prostitution lecture. "Unlike many professors who teach large lectures, Patti always tried to engage students in a one-on-one manner. It was not unusual for her to walk up and down the steps of the lecture hall to ask students questions about the material and discussions occurred in nearly every class."
However, even though participation of the teaching assistants is completely voluntary, Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UC-Boulder, told her that one of the assistants had "raised a concern that some participants might be uncomfortable, but that none had in fact complained." Adler stated that Leigh had told her that in light of the Penn State University pedophile scandal involving assistant sports coach Jerry Sandusky—Leigh called it the "post-Penn State environment"—there was "too much risk" involved in her giving the prostitution lecture. University spokesman Mark J. Miller doubled down on that, stating that "all education institutions, including CU-Boulder, have to ensure that no student or employee feels subject to discrimination or harassment."
That's an interesting position to take, considering that the university's other courses include "World Politics & Society," part of whose description says that students will study "America's relationship with key countries since 1945; the rise of Muslim extremism; modern terrorism and its meaning; the importance of oil; and the events of 9/11 and the Bush Administration's response to it, at home and abroad." No chance of any of that offending anyone! Ditto for "Banned Books and the First Amendment," where "This class will look at some classics in literature: Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, and Huck Finn [sic], and will explore the questions of why they were controversial and whether censorship of books is ever justified." Groups like the ultra-conservative American Family Association or Family Research Council would have a field day with that description!
So be at peace, anyone who's ever accepted money for having sex: The University of Colorado at Boulder doesn't think your profession is worth studying—even though the chances are good that some students at the university are paying for their courses of study by engaging in the very practice the administration wants to ignore.
Pictured: Prof. Patti Adler at the lectern