Patricia Adler, a tenured professor of sociology at the University of Colorado has apparently delivered her last lecture in her “Deviance in U.S. Society” class. Professor Adler has taught the course every semester for more than 20 years. The 500-person class is in high demand but now the University has told Professor Adler that she has the choice of accepting a buyout or staying but not teaching the course or teaching the course without a particular lecture. If she stays she could be fired and lose her retirement benefits if anyone complains about her teaching in the future. On a personal note, my daughter took the course several years ago and described it as rigorous and rewarding.
Professor Adler described the course as follows:
COURSE DESCRIPTIONWhy is Professor Adler leaving? Because the University’s Administration is now objecting to a lecture that has always been included in the class, a lecture about prostitution. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Professor Adler describes this particular lecture as “the highlight of the semester in my signature course.”
In this course I want to introduce you to the central sociological concepts of deviance, social order, social power, identity construction, and identity management. In this class we will work together to begin to understand the basics of the sociological perspective and to see how it differs from the psychological approach that most people are used to using to understand society and social life. We will use the topic of deviance to see how groups of people have the power to shape social definitions and apply them onto others. We will then look at the consequences for those defined as deviant of this label. We will look at how people come to develop a deviant identity and what that means to them in the exercise of their everyday lives. The readings I have selected are designed to take us through this intellectual pathway in an interesting and informative manner.
In addition [to the three exams], there will be an extra credit available for students who want to write a Norm Violation paper. This will be a short (3-5 page) mini-paper covering your violation and analysis of some norm. This is not an excuse to commit pranks, but a serious paper about the importance of norms in society. For this paper you have two choices. You can either reflectively analyze some norm violation you have done, or you can select a norm and violate it during this class. After reflecting or gathering information about the behavior, write a short essay describing and analyzing this norm violation, the reactions of others, and what you can theoretically infer from this. You will be expected to relate these ideas to your discussions of the definition and social creation of deviance.
Inside Higher Ed reports
She uses prostitution, she said, to illustrate that status stratification occurs in various groups considered deviant by society. She seeks volunteers from among assistant teaching assistants (who are undergraduates) to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes -- she named as categories "slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services." They work with Adler on scripts in which they describe their lives as these types of prostitutes.Participation by the ATAs is entirely voluntary and not part of anyone’s grade.
During the lecture, Adler talks with them (with the assistant teaching assistants in character) about such issues as their backgrounds, "how they got into the business," how much they charge, the services they perform, and the risks they face of violence, arrest and AIDS. The class is a mix of lecture and discussion, just like most classes, she said.
According to a public statement by the University
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, Professor Adler told Inside Higher Ed that she was told by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences that a former teaching assistant had raised a concern that some participants might be uncomfortable, but that none had in fact complained.
Who actually complained? The Boulder Daily Camera reports that students who attended the class say that on the day of the lecture, several people who did not appear to be students attended the skit and took lots of notes. Some students say that the visitors were staff members from CU's Office of Discrimination and Harassment but university officials would not confirm or deny that.
So why now? The dean told Professor Adler that there was “too much risk” in having such a lecture in the “post-Penn State environment.” When asked about the “post-Penn State” comment, a spokesman for the University said that “all education institutions, including CU-Boulder, have to ensure that no student or employee feels subject to discrimination or harassment.”
However, students interviewed by the Daily Camera think there is a different reason.
Freshman Sona Seligova, who was scheduled to be one of Adler's assistants next semester, said Adler's teaching style and passion for the subject has led her to consider adding a second major in sociology.Unorthodox and provocative and the students are engaged. Maybe she is a threat to other professors who can only read their lecture notes in a monotone and measure student involvement by how many use their clickers.
"Most professors that I have read off of lecture notes," Seligova said. "They're not really into associating with the students and integrating them into the class, and Patti is the complete opposite. It's just so much more interesting when your professor actually cares."
Many students said the administration's alleged decision to oust Adler was an attempt to squash creativity among professors who teach in nontraditional ways or about provocative subjects.
Students recounted how Adler showed up in class in a bikini to illustrate deviance or dressed as a homeless person to make the same point.
"Patti is so unorthodox, which is what makes her such an important faculty member," said Ciera Catalano. "It's what makes all of her students remember her. She was goofy and she was fun and she made us like her, but she also taught us so much. The only reason she's being targeted is because she's so unorthodox and because she's so provocative. The university should celebrate that. The university should stand behind their faculty members."