University 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.”
CU 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