Now that my working life is in its third act, I am trying diligently to develop distance and perspective on my former lives in the academy. How well I am succeeding I leave others to decide. Every now and then, though, I read a story that involves a cast of characters from my past and a stab of pity for a “there but for the grace of God” situation pierces my heart with such intensity, the shock of recognition is so electric that I find myself itching for a battle that I know has already been lost. As has the war.
I had such a moment this morning when I skimmed The Chronicle of Higher Education, which directed me to a story that must have all of Chicago atwitter. If you, like me, cannot get enough of the pervy-prof-caught-in-the-act tabloid fodder that academics seem to be specializing in of late, then you will want to take a look at the Tribune and the Sun-Times. Better yet, keep reading here because I’ll get straight to the juicy part:
More than 100 Northwestern University students watched as a naked 25-year-old woman was penetrated by a sex toy wielded by her fiancée during an after-class session of the school’s popular “Human Sexuality” class.
It gets better:
Faith Kroll, the woman who stripped, was laying down on a towel when she was penetrated. When she arrived, she thought she just would be answering students’ questions and showing off sex toys they brought, including whips, paddles and a clown wig.
An “absurd, clinical” video and subsequent discussion about various aspects of female orgasm led Faith and her partner Jim Marcus, 45, to prove to the class that female orgasm is real.
Faith said she was not coerced in any way and students were repeatedly warned it was going to get graphic.
“One of the students asked what my specific fetish was and mine is being in front of people, having the attention and being used,” she said. “The students seemed really intrigued.”
Leaving aside any consideration of whether a 25-year-old woman can ever be in a non-coercive relationship with a guy some 20 years her senior, let alone one wielding a “device that looks like a machine-powered saw with a phallic object instead of a blade,” her explanation that this spur-of-the-moment peep show was unplanned and took place only to take advantage of a teachable moment is a little undercut by her going on to say “I’m an exhibitionist. I enjoy the attention, being seen by other people. It was entertaining because there were a lot of curious minds, so that was cool.”
Professor John Michael Bailey “said he hesitated briefly before allowing the public sex act. ‘My hesitation concerned the likelihood that many people would find this inappropriate,’ he wrote. ‘My decision to say “yes” reflected my inability to come up with a legitimate reason why students should not be able to watch such a demonstration.’”
And there you have, dear reader, as fine an example as you will ever encounter of the kind of exquisitely honed “critical thinking skills” the professorate claim is the single most important expertise they model for their students.
Leave it to the administration to try as best it can to put a happy face on this sordid little episode:
“Northwestern University faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial and at the leading edge of their respective disciplines,” said Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for University Relations. “The University supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge.”
My heart goes out to VP Cubbage. I wonder how much time he was given to rehearse his statement before making his announcement. Are the insides of his cheeks bitten to a bloody pulp from trying to choke back his laughter? Are there four angry red crescent moons on the inside of each of his palms from his clenching his fists in impotent rage at Professor Bailey? Probably not. The vice president was just doing his job, cleaning up after a faculty member.
If you stay in the academy long enough, you get so that nothing a faculty member does surprises or shocks you. And that’s when you know it’s time leave and give your moral compass a chance to refresh and recalibrate. Because the next professor to teach “human sexuality” will up the ante and push the envelope even further. After all, how else will he be able to get his name in the paper?
Read about Professor Bailey’s justification for his pedagogy here.
LATE BREAKING UPDATE: Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro has posted a statement on the university’s website that is plainspoken and commonsensical in way unusual for most presidents. CMM is pulling for you, President Schapiro!