Officials at a Catholic university in Minnesota have refused to renew a popular professor’s contract after he oversaw the production of an ancient Greek play which utilized phallic props.
The professor is David Hillman of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, reports Inside Higher Ed. Hillman, a single father, was also moonlighting as a toilet-scrubbing janitor on campus to earn extra money, but St. Mary’s officials sacked him from that job, too.
The play is “Medea,” a tragedy written by Euripides (first staged in 431 B.C.). It’s based on the myth of Jason and Medea. In a nutshell, Jason leaves Medea for a politically-connected princess. Medea gets her revenge by murdering Jason’s new wife and her children. She then flees to Athens.
The school specifically contracted Hillman, a professor of Greek and Latin, to supervise and translate the play. He chose to highlight the theme of greed. He asked cast members to wave fascina — things that look like big, erect penises — at the audience at various points in the play when the lines concern greed.
Fascina are the embodiments of a divine phallus. (The image in this story shows one of the actual fascina props.) In ancient Greece, fascina were used in certain rituals and to defend against evil.
Greek plays — particularly tragicomic satyr plays — routinely featured phallic props and all manner of very forward sexuality.
According to Hillman, he and Judy Myers, a full-time theater and dance professor, were summoned to a meeting with Michael Charron, a St. Mary’s dean, during rehearsals.
At Charron’s insistence, the student production crew replaced the fascina props which looked like big, erect penises with props which looked like “big bananas” — and, therefore, also resembled big, erect penises.
Meanwhile, after students involved in the “Medea” production created a petition in support of their play, Myers attempted to submit an op-ed to The Cardinal, “the outlet for student journalism at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.”
“[A]ncient practices included the processional of the actors to the performance space carrying an eight-foot phallus as well as an improvised set of insults hurled at the audience with a fascinum (a small hand-held phallus) in hand,” the op-ed by Myers explained in part. “These insults were a means of holding a mirror up to the audience and confronting viewers with their lavish and corrupt lifestyles.”
Donna Aronson, vice president of academic affairs at St. Mary’s, quashed the op-ed because, she said in an email obtained by Inside Higher Ed, “it could alarm the conservative Catholic community.”
The St. Mary’s production of “Medea” ran successfully in November. It featured the “big bananas” which looked like big penises instead of the phallus props which looked like big penises.
In late November, administrators informed Hillman that a student had filed a sexual harassment claim against him. Hillman said the charges involved instances when he told dancers in the “Medea” play to move sensually, when he showed actors how to use a whip (because Medea whips people) and when he discussed the play’s bi-gender gynomorphs.
This month, St. Mary’s officials told Hillman that they will not renew his contract.
Last week, school officials also fired him from his job as a custodian.
St. Mary’s has refused comment on the sexual harassment claim as well as both firings, describing it as “confidential.”
Hillman says he is innocent.
He said St. Mary’s administrators refused to allow both an attorney and his department chair to assist in his defense against the sexual harassment claim.
Dorothy Diehl, who chairs the St. Mary’s language department, lamented the loss of Hillman.
“Never before in the 16 years that I have been at Saint Mary’s have I seen such interest in Latin and Greek as there has been since he joined the department,” she told Inside Higher Ed.
Hillman had taught at St. Mary’s for three years. His Greek and Latin courses often filled to capacity. He also taught a medical terminology course for the biology department.
“With my firing they shot a message across the bow — ‘Look, this is what happens to people who stand up and insist upon speaking freely,” the professor told Inside Higher Ed.
Hillman also said he believes school officials sacked him — as a professor and as a janitor — because they don’t want to offend donors.
Hillman’s salary as an adjunct professor was $15,000 per year.
St. Mary’s, a school associated with the De La Salle Christian Brothers, charges each student $39,650 for tuition, fees and room and board annually.