Friday, March 4, 2011

Ah Yes, This Is What Academic Freedom Is All About!

From the March 3, 2011 Chicago Tribune;
Northwestern University, fielding a torrent of criticism after a professor allowed students to view a live sex demonstration after his Human Sexuality class, is now grappling over the long cherished tenets of academic freedom and its boundaries.

The university initially supported the actions of psychology professor J. Michael Bailey, saying in a statement released Wednesday that, "the university supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge." But by Thursday morning, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro announced that the school would investigate amid an unfolding scandal.
I'm not going to quote exactly what happened--you can click over for all the prurient details. 

I'm a firm believer in academic freedom, because there is an enormous level of disparity in what constitutes offensive, and reality is sometimes offensive.  I will be teaching about the rise of Islam this coming week, and I am not going to shy away from some of the less pleasant aspects of shariah.  I do not shy away from the Inquisition's use of torture, either. 

I have had college students cover their eyes to avoid seeing Botticelli's Birth of Venus when we reached the Renaissance.  (Okay, not many.)  There does come a moment where you find yourself saying, "What made you think something like this was appropriate in a classroom?"

UPDATE: By the way, as a commenter points out, Bailey is not going to win any awards from the sexually correct crowd.  He has published quite a bit of research, it appears, that attempts to understand homosexuality and bisexuality based on evidence, rather than starting from the Articles of the True Faith that dominate so much of the academic community on this subject.  I notice that some of those intent on seeing the 21st century equivalent of an auto da fe for Bailey have published extensively with titles suggesting their alternative sexual orientation.

This doesn't excuse his actions.  It does mean that along with legitimate upset about this inappropriate action, there may well be some other motivations for going after him.


  1. The guy who did this is not only a very distinguished scholar (he's been featured on 60 Minutes) but is actually considered, if not "conservative," extremely politically incorrect in his views.

  2. It is most unfortunate that he lacked the good sense to realize that this is not appropriate in a classroom.