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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:

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.

Why 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.”

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.

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.  

Participation by the ATAs is entirely voluntary and not part of anyone’s grade.

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.

"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."

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.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (24+ / 0-)

    "I swear it to you on my common woman's head, the common woman is as common as a common loaf of bread ... and will rise."

    by Expat Okie on Fri Dec 20, 2013 at 06:31:50 PM PST

  •  I think it is very unfortunate that Prof Adler (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Expat Okie, kurt

    isn't allowed to continue to teach her course in her own unique way. As long as the course is an elective, and not required to complete any major, then students who feel they might be offended by some of the course material can just not take it.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Fri Dec 20, 2013 at 07:07:13 PM PST

  •  You're talking about an institution (4+ / 0-)

    that pulled a good-old-boy Republican politician out of mothballs to save the football team and fire Ward Churchill.

    Par for the course, sadly.

    Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

    by corvo on Fri Dec 20, 2013 at 07:09:25 PM PST

  •  what a load (6+ / 0-)

    of horse manure

    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.”

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Fri Dec 20, 2013 at 07:20:26 PM PST

  •  Sounds like a fantastic class (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We need more professors who can connect personally with their students, and have them reflect on themselves and their relationship with others.

  •  I would object to the characterization of (7+ / 0-)

    comparing a course which has willing student interns or RAs act out roles which portray real life sex workers to a decades long conspiracy by coaches and administrators to not only cover up child molestation on the part of a person associated with the university but to allow it to continue unabated for such a period of time.  The only valid comparison I can think of is the actions of the RCC to cover up actions by certain pedophile priests.

    To make the comparison the university officials did either conflates what the prof did to an unreasonable level or else trivializes what happened at Penn State.  Also, should the utilization of students in such characterizations is objectionable, I wonder if the administration retains the same  stringent oversight over the drama dept.  I can think of several plays which have sex workers as characters which would be suitable for presentation by a college troupe.  I guess at this institution, presenting such a play would lead to the drama prof being sacked  

  •  Can't be teachin' folks compassion , now can we? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    “I love a good man outside the law, 
just as much as I hate a bad man inside the law,” Woody Guthrie

    by Wood Gas on Fri Dec 20, 2013 at 09:05:04 PM PST

  •  This is indeed a blow (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, StrayCat, LeftOfYou, ebohlman

    At least as it is described.

    There are at least (if not more) than two problems with this situation (again, as described, I don't know what else is behind this).

    There does not appear to be any specific charge or complainant. If there were a charge, I suppose it would be some form of sexual harassment.

    However, it is not clear what happened during the investigation. I also don't know what the policies and procedures are at the University. My guess is she is not covered by a Union contract, but there should still be very clear procedures in the University's policy manual/handbook, which the University should follow. So, it appears that at a minimum, there has not been due process.

    There is a second problem and that is academic freedom. Since what she is doing is clearly related to the curriculum, her speech that is on topic in the classroom should be protected.

    I should stress that it is difficult to really make a judgement here, not knowing all the facts (what is the University's policy? How was the investigation conducted? Was there ever actually a complainant?).

    This has nothing to do with Penn State. At Penn State, an Assistant Football Coach committed crimes against minors and used University resources to commit those crimes. The issues at stake went far beyond the University and involved rape of minors.

    Here we are talking about young adults learning about a subject matter and speech on the subject matter. The two are not even remotely related.

    There does seem to be a bigger issue and problem here, and that is with the interpretation of what is and is not sexual harassment/gender harassment and what the standards are for proof in these cases.

    This is alas, the end result of vague, open ended standards of sexual harassment in the classroom, exceptions to due process, and the erosion of academic freedom.

    This isn't about professors hitting on students. If students are uncomfortable with this class, they could take an alternate section.

    I do doubt that the motive behind this is that her teaching style is threatening her colleagues in any way. This appears to be about University administrators lacking a spine and feeling that they have to insure that the University does not suffer bad publicity or a lawsuit, or both. Academic freedom and due process have to stand up to these pressures.

    I should also caution that we don't know what steps the professor has taken or can take to uphold her rights.

    This is similar to the earlier case blogged about a while back about the communications professor who was disciplined for being too confrontational in teaching about white privilege.

    There is a lesson here though: you may think that creating vague standards in sexual harassment and eroding due process only threatens racist or sexist speech. These kinds of cases should serve to illustrate that when you create standards that can be abused, they will be abused.

  •  The charge appears to be that she (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Expat Okie

    "might make someone uncomfortable". We've got to keep everything as dull and uninteresting as possible, lest someone somewhere take offence. And you can bet that in today's world, someone will.

    I taught college for 20 years and did all sorts of things to get the kids involved. Luckily, I was teaching remedial courses, so no one was interested or aware of how my classes went.

    I've had teachers who read their 20 year old notes, and I've had interesting teachers. That sounds like a fascinating course, and I'd take it today in a heartbeat!

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