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.