Colorado Professor Claims To Have Been Pressured To Resign After Prostitution Skit Cited As Possible Sexual Harassment

Professor Patti AdlerUniversity of Colorado is currently embroiled in a controversy over its diversity director allegedly running a phone sex operation out of her university office. It also received national criticism for Halloween guidelines citing costumes like Cowboys and Indians as inappropriate. Now the University is facing an accusation from sociology professor Patti Adler that she was forced out of teaching due to her use of student actors to vividly demonstrate the realities of prostitution. The university reportedly said that the skit might be viewed as sexual harassment or improper conduct by a faculty member. The action against Adler raises serious questions of academic freedom.

Adler told her class that she was told that she had to retire by the University due to a complaint over a skit on prostitution in her popular “Deviance in U.S. Society” course. She says that one of her teaching assistants went to the chair of the sociology department to complain about the use of undergraduates in the skit and object that the students may not feel comfortable with their roles but afraid of retaliation if they refuse. The chair, Dr. Joanne Belknap, then went to CU’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment, which opened an investigation. The investigators watched as TAs portrayed prostitutes ranging from sex slaves to escorts. She was called into a meeting with the investigators, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Leigh, Associate Dean Ann Carlos and a member of the university’s legal team who discussed troubling aspects of the skit. The objectionable parts including an actor speaking in an Eastern European accent; a male prostitute using the word “faggot”; and the actor pretending to be a pimp said that “the bottom of his shoes would make a bitch’s face look like a wavy Lay’s potato chip.”

Adler-smallCU Provost Russell Moore stated “In this case, 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. None of them wished to be publicly identified.” However, Moore insisted that Adler was not coerced into retirement or threatened with termination.

That is different from what Adler, 62, has stated and she continues to insist that she was told to take a buyout and retire, or stay at the university but not teach her signature class next semester.

What concerns me is the suggestion that Adler may have violated the university’s sexual harassment policy. Moore said that academic freedom does not protect faculty who “violate the university’s sexual harassment policy by creating a hostile environment for their teaching assistants, or for their students attending the class.” While he did not object to the subject matter of the course, he said that there was a concern over the “manner in which the material was presented in one particular classroom exercise.”

I fail to see why having students play realistic characters, including realistic terms, is a legitimate basis for such concerns. I certainly believe that students should not be fearful to decline such roles. However, that would not be a basis for suspending the skit or the teaching of the course.

Adler has objected to how the university handles such harassment concerns and has gone as far as calling the administrators “witch hunters.” She objects that “to be accused, to be investigated, is to be guilty. You’re assumed to be guilty with no due process. It’s a culture of fear, a culture of political correctness and power of (the Office of Discrimination and Harassment).”

Some 2,300 people have signed on online petition to bring Adler back to teaching as well as a Facebook campaign.

Here is the Provost’s message:

Dear CU-Boulder Faculty, Staff and Students,

The University has received a number of queries from faculty, staff, students, media and external stakeholders regarding the status of sociology Professor Patti Adler.

Professor Adler has not been dismissed from the University and is not being forced to retire. Dismissal requires extensive due process proceedings, and the University does not coerce its faculty to retire. She remains a tenured faculty member in sociology at CU-Boulder.

A number of you have raised concerns about academic freedom and how it may connect to this situation. Academic freedom protects faculty who teach controversial and uncomfortable/unpopular subjects. However, academic freedom does not allow faculty members to violate the University’s sexual harassment policy by creating a hostile environment for their teaching assistants, or for their students attending the class.

In this case, 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. None of them wished to be publicly identified.

The Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and the Chair of the Sociology Department determined that Professor Adler would not teach the class in the spring semester (2014). Pending a review by faculty in sociology and in accordance with the needs of the department, Professor Adler may be eligible to teach the course in the future.

To reiterate, Professor Adler has not been fired or forced to retire. As to comments she has made that she might be fired in the future, I should note that any employee at the University — including faculty members — found responsible for violating the University’s sexual harassment policy, is subject to discipline up to and including termination.

The University fully supports the teaching of controversial subjects, and the ability of faculty to challenge students in the classroom and prompt critical thinking. At no time was the subject of Professor Adler’s course in question. Rather, it was the manner in which the material was presented in one particular classroom exercise and the impact of that manner of presentation on teaching assistants and students.

Russell L. Moore, Provost

University of Colorado Boulder

Source: Daily Camera

21 thoughts on “Colorado Professor Claims To Have Been Pressured To Resign After Prostitution Skit Cited As Possible Sexual Harassment

  1. Incidents such as these cause many faculty to exclude coverage of controversial issues in their curricula, which is antithetical to the purposes of education.

  2. “I fail to see why having students play realistic characters, including realistic terms, is a legitimate basis for such concerns.”

    Really?

    You have a case where (apparently) multiple students complained about the class, along with teaching assistants (who also said there would be penalties for non-participation). The ‘skit’ involves students being forced to act like pimps and prostitutes. Yet you can’t see that there can be legitimate concerns abut this?

    Let’s accept a basic premise: you should be able to study “deviance in US society” without being forced to act like a prostitute. In such a course it may be very useful to have skits, or other teaching activities. But when you have students complaining to the administration, that should be taken as a strong indication that there may be something wrong going on.

  3. Couldn’t the university simply just had her stop the skit if it was so objectionable and end this matter? As for sexual harassment, what is shown here is not enough from an evidence point of view. An element of sexual harassment is that the acts be unwanted by the “victim” The TAs said there might be students who objected but were unwilling to come forward. In otherwords nothing.

    If these administrators are so sensitive, I recommend they go to the nearest police academy and watch the cadets do Mock Scenes.

  4. ” The TAs said there might be students who objected but were unwilling to come forward. ”

    The letter from the Provost said that the administration had heard from ‘a number of students’ about this class. The TA’s are said to have confirmed that participation would be counted in your grade. None of the students or TA’s wished to be publicly identified. The letter implies that more than one or two students did come forward.

    In a university you don’t know who to trust least; the professor or the administrator. But based on what is being said there is clearly substantial justification for an investigation.

  5. Dan 1, December 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    The ‘skit’ involves students being forced to act like pimps and prostitutes.

    =============================
    Like playing Santa or an Elf.

    Play (that is why they call them plays).

    But would you object to them being presstitutes at say Fox?

    Let’s accept a basic premise: you should be able to study “deviance in US society” without being forced to act like a prostitute. In such a course it may be very useful to have skits, or other teaching activities. But when you have students complaining to the administration, that should be taken as a strong indication that there may be something wrong going on.

  6. The reality of prostitution is usually a whole lot of violence and mind control, usually starting with very young victims. Understanding that may be shocking to some people, and thus upset them. Prostitution is glamorized in this society and it’s reality is pushed aside for fantasy. However, like Dredd, I wonder if other things are going on here. I would like to know if that concern is accurate.

    First of all, I feel role playing should not be mandatory. Abuse victims, and there are many of those, could be traumatized by taking on these roles. If she feels it must be mandatory, she needs to make certain each person in her class knows what she expects from them up front, so they can drop her course immediately, without penalty. There are likely people in her class who have experienced prostitution. She should be aware of that.

    Perhaps she could ask people if they are willing to speak about their experience. I am all for exposing the reality of prostitution. Part of that reality is the great physical and psychological harm which often results from it.

    I don’t really see why this is called social deviance. It’s a billion dollar business paid for with the bodies of babies, children, women and men.

  7. If you have a kid who wants to go to law school and that place is on this list then sort through his/her priorities and inhibitions and decide if you want and he/she wants to go to this kindergarten. Law school for dummies. Go farther West young man, go West of Boulder. Stop by the boulder to poop but keep going if you are a dog.

  8. Wait, wasn’t dressing like pimps and prostitutes on the Halloween costume blacklist. And, I didn’t know they still taught sociology in college. I was certified to teach high school sociology but NO high schools in the state offered it.

  9. SMFH and yet these same students and tas will go home and watch the clowndashians prostitute themselves on tv, will watch be yawnce prostitute herself in music and video. men and women prostitute themselves all day everyday… legal or so called illegal anyone who accepts money or gifts from someone for sexual favors is a prostitute.. heres the bug in your ear..

    you can go out and sleep with 100 men or women everyday and not one word will be said until you accept money or a gift from them then your suddenly a prostitute.. smh. but hey give it up for free and you have no worries…

    this was a skit. and i doubt very seriously anyone of the SO CALLED ADULTS in the class was afraid to turn the parts down. i mean they knew what the class was about and what was expected before signing up for the class….. this sounds like a set up to me and kudos to Professor Adler for fighting for her rights, freedoms and reputation…

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