A longtime University of Colorado-Boulder sociology professor has been forced off the job because of a controversial lecture on prostitution that featured student aides acting in a skit as hookers and pimps.
Video from the lecture shown on Denver’s 9News shows one of the aides portraying a sex slave in skimpy lingerie before a lecture hall with as many as 500 students.
Professor Patti Adler said the skit has been part of her course for 20 years, but this time some of the aides complained to university administrators that they weren’t comfortable performing in it and didn’t feel they could express their concerns to Adler.
In an email to the campus, Provost Russell Moore said Adler was suspended over the skit. The move had nothing to do with academic freedom, he wrote, but because of concerns that she violated CU’s sexual harassment policy.
“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,” Moore wrote in the email, which was reported by the Daily Camera. “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.”
One of the students who attended the lecture, Colin Harkrider, told 9News that one of the assistants performed in “a short skirt, a thong, where you could see fishnet stockings and a short little top.”
He said he supported Adler but that the skit initially felt uncomfortable.
Adler told the Daily Camera that the chairman of the sociology department lodged a formal complaint about her course on deviant behavior in which the skit was performed. She said she was offered the option of retiring with a two-year salary buy out or staying at the university if she dropped the deviance class.
The second option came with the caveat that if anyone complained about her again, she would be fired without retirement benefits. She has until Jan. 6 to decide.
“I’m still trying to get my head to stop whirling,” she told the Camera. “I need to figure out what’s best for my family and me. I want to try to let things calm down and discuss this. It’s going to affect my husband’s work and our lives.”
Moore wrote that CU supports the teaching of controversial topics, including in ways that challenge students, but that Adler’s presentation crossed a line.
“The University fully supports the teaching of controversial subjects, and the ability of faculty to challenge students in the classroom and prompt critical thinking,” he wrote in his email. “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.”
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