It had to happen, I suppose. Northwestern Professor John Michael Bailey has issued a heartfelt apology via a statement to the Daily Northwestern, the university’s newspaper. As I have come to expect from anything Professor Bailey says or writes, this latest missive is a model of its genre. All you graduate students out there planning a career in the academy might want to take notes.
Bailey’s text is in italics. My interpretive text is not. Bailey begins:
I regret allowing the controversial after class demonstration on February 21st. I regret the effect that this has had on Northwestern University’s reputation, and I regret upsetting so many people in this particular manner. I apologize. As I have noted elsewhere, the demonstration was unplanned and occurred because I made a quick decision to allow it. I should not have done so. In the 18 years I have taught the course, nothing like the demonstration at issue has occurred, and I will allow nothing like it to happen again. In other words, he’s sorry he’s in trouble. Interesting that he trots out the most juvenile of excuses, “I made a quick decision,” i.e., “I didn’t think.” Well, Professor Bailey, you take home a paycheck because as a teacher-scholar you are paid to think. You are in your position because of your ability to make discerning judgments in your field, judgments informed by years of education and study, not “quick decision(s).”
To admit that I did not anticipate the degree of reaction my decision provoked does not even begin to convey my surprise. During a time of financial crisis, war, and global warming, this story has been a top news story for more than two days. That this is so reveals a stark difference of opinion between people like me, who see absolutely no harm in what happened, and those who believe that it was profoundly wrong. A typical diversionary tactic. Shame on all you prudes for pointing fingers of disapproval at lil ole Professor Bailey! Don’t you know the unemployment rate among polar bears is upwards of 15%? Don’t you know there are polar bears dying in war torn countries around the world?! In this paragraph Bailey also affirms that he’s not sorry at all for his “quick decision”: he plainly states that he sees “absolutely no harm in what happened.” If this is the case, Professor Bailey, then why are you apologizing?
I have already stated my case as clearly as I could (see): The demonstration was relevant to a topic relevant to my course, it occurred after class in a completely voluntary setting with ample information about what would occur. It involved an act that although unusual, had no harmful effect on anyone. Observers were Northwestern students legally capable of voting, enlisting in the military and consuming pornography, as well as making many other serious decisions that legal adults are allowed to make. Again, the Professor throws up a smokescreen of irrelevancy. The setting was “voluntary” only in so far as class was over. The room was the same. The students were the same. The subject matter was the same. But most important of all, Professor Bailey, your role as teacher, expert, guide, and authority was the same. You knew going into the class and after-class session that the subject matter of both relied–as does the subject matter in any class on any topic taught by any faculty member–on your, the professor’s, ability to convey that subject matter with the finely honed decision-making ability and critical capacities your years in academy have supposedly bestowed upon you. In this you failed. You failed those who were your teachers. You failed your students. You failed your discipline. Some might even say you failed the 25-year-old twit duped into appearing on stage.
Those who believe that there was, in fact, a serious problem have had considerable opportunity to explain why: in the numerous media stories on the controversy, or in their various correspondences with me. But they have failed to do so. Saying that the demonstration “crossed the line,” “went too far,” “was inappropriate,” or “was troubling” convey disapproval but do not illuminate reasoning. If I were grading the arguments I have seen against what occurred, most would earn an “F.” Offense and anger are not arguments. But I remain open to hearing and reading good arguments. Of course you’d flunk them. They disagree with you. I imagine that a number of your adversaries are of the naïve assumption that you understand their euphemisms. But since you obtusely maintain that you do not, let me spell out what you did wrong: 1) By your own admission, you made a bad decision in a “controversial” situation. That you knew the situation was “controversial,” means you also knew there would be consequences to your decision affecting not only you, but your institution. You knew that, and you acted anyway. At best, you were selfish. At worst, you were willfully and willingly ready to harm Northwestern’s reputation and waste the time of innumerable staff who are still cleaning up after you—and, no, Professor Bailey, wielding a personal pooper scooper just for your messes is not in their job descriptions. 2) Your act of “daring” just made society a little coarser, a little more vulgar, and a little more desensitized to the difference between what is public and what is private. And in that sense you, to use your own word, “harmed” us all. 3) Spare me your puling excuse that the live sex show was after class: it had your imprimatur. You really think that does not mean anything? Have you lived under a rock for the last 30 years? Are you totally unaware of the power dynamic between a teacher and his students? 4) You say that your class on human sexuality included kinky sex. How does it follow that a demonstration is necessary? I wonder what the after-class session on pedophilia will feature.
Although as I have noted, I regret allowing the demonstration, as an educator I do not think we should waste the opportunity the controversy has raised. There are real, important issues here, including optimal limits on academic freedom, the effect of sexual attitudes on education, and sexual rights and responsibilities, among others. A great university, such as Northwestern University, should be a place where people are not only free, but encouraged, to debate our most contentious issues. These include, apparently, the issues raised by the February 21st demonstration. Translation: Colleagues, help me out here! Ya gotta bail me out! Mommy! I want my mommy!!
I am working with undergraduate students to arrange an event that includes high-¬‐level discussion and debate about the February 21st demonstration and the issues it has raised. I invite President Schapiro to work with us to help ensure that this event is as intellectually valuable as it should be. Translation: Please don’t be mad at me President Schapiro.
Finally, I want to express my appreciation and admiration to the many students, colleagues, and parents who have written me in support. They, also, are part of the Northwestern community, along with some of those whom I have offended. God Bless America.
What a craven hypocrite.