Embarrassment In Evanston

Northwestern University is dealing with an embarrassing story that is, I think, symptomatic of some deeper problems with higher education in America.

The story has to do with a popular class called Human Sexuality that is taught by a psychology professor.  The class often offers optional after-class events, such as presentations by panels of convicted sex offenders, question and answer sessions with “swingers,” and similar programming.  Last week, however, the optional after-class event featured a naked, non-student woman being repeatedly sexually stimulated by a provocatively named sex toy.  Moreover, the man who presented the demonstration says Northwestern will pay him between $300 and $500 for the performance.

Not surprisingly, once the story leaked there was an uproar.  Equally predictably, the professor defended the presentation as being educational about sexual diversity.  The professor says his students are open-minded about such things, and added in a statement that students find “the events to be quite valuable, typically, because engaging real people in conversation provides useful examples and extensions of concepts students learn about in traditional academic ways.”

I am sick to death of absurd activity being defended in the name of “academic freedom” and “intellectual curiosity.”  Is a university professor really unable to appreciate that having a university pay someone to present a naked woman being stimulated by a sex toy is offensive and inconsistent with an institution of higher learning?  Does the professor really not understand that such a demonstration is better suited to an X-rated theater or a Dutch sex show?  Is it too much to expect that people might actually have a sense of propriety about something so outlandish?  This is the kind of story that makes American colleges seem like an increasingly ribald joke, obsessed with pandering to the hedonistic and prurient interests of students who are more interested in having a good time than actually becoming educated.

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The Journey

Kish and I have become hooked on The JourneyThe Journey is a weekly, half-hour Big Ten Network TV show that runs during the basketball season.  It doesn’t have a host, or talking heads, or show clips of game highlights.  Instead, it covers behind-the-scenes stories of Big Ten basketball players, coaches, athletic directors and fans.  It is another example of the truism that there is nothing so fascinating as individual human beings and their personal stories.

Typically, The Journey will follow three or four storylines each episode, with the different subjects woven together into a kind of tapestry.  The show is granted exceptional, behind-the-scenes access to the players and coaches, to the workout rooms, the long bus rides, the timeout huddles when the game is in the balance, and the locker room jubilation and disappointment.  Viewers of The Journey have learned about what a fine person Michigan’s Darius Morris must be, as he has dealt with the death of a close friend from a debilitating disease.  We’ve seen the commitment of the Illinois student section, the Orange Crush, as they perform charitable work and then travel for hours to cheer their team during a key away game.  We’ve heard Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe talk about overcoming his past mistakes, seen Northwestern’s Mighty Mite Iron Man, Juice Thompson, conditioning himself to play every minute of every game, and listened to Ohio State’s Dallas Lauderdale talk about his mother and the limitations imposed by her illness.  The stories are well presented and told by the subjects themselves and the production values are excellent.  The end product is riveting television.

The Journey reminds you that these athletic gods that we alternately revere and criticize are just young men who are specially gifted in some respects but who are dealing with normal, everyday issues in many other ways.  You can’t help but admire the athletes who are featured.  And that, really, is the problem with the show.  What is an Ohio State fan like me supposed to do when I learn that Darius Morris of Michigan — Michigan, for heaven’s sake! — seems to be a really good kid?