A debate is currently brewing at Northwestern University over the value of human sexuality. School officials recently announced plans to drop the popular psychology course from the curriculum for the next academic year. The move is partially in response to the mega-controversy caused by an optional sex-themed demonstration held after a class session this past February.
As Daily Northwestern staff writer Patrick Svitek reported, “The 600-person course, taught by psychology Prof. John Michael Bailey, is one of the largest at NU. The after-class events, which range from a question-and-answer session with swingers to a panel of convicted sex offenders, are a popular feature of the class.” The event that fell under nationwide scrutiny proved more explicit than usual, involving a woman performing for students with a “motorized sex toy.”
It prompted an explosion of media attention and an ongoing university investigation. Separate ethics complaints filed by an outside clinician alleges the performance “may have exposed minors to a public sex act and knowingly inflicted psychological damage upon present students.”
A number of students are fighting those charges and speaking out against the school’s decision to drop the course. In a recent opinion piece, Ali Elkin, a Northwestern junior who previously took human sexuality, wrote, “Learning about the evolutionary, physiological, psychological and sociological factors at work challenged the way I previously thought, or, perhaps more appropriately, had not thought, about sex. I am grateful for having gained this valuable experience and concerned that the university is planning to deny it to future students.”
In a separate editorial, the Daily Northwestern argued the administrative decision to drop human sexuality is also an indirect impinging on academic freedom. As a portion of the piece noted, “NU should not be allowed to dictate what Bailey or any university professor teach in their classrooms. Once an established member of the faculty, professors must be able to control what they do in academic settings. Judgment calls about what’s educational and appropriate for students fall solely within the discretion of professors, not of students, parents or administrators.”
What do you think? Is human sexuality a worthy addition to a university curriculum? Is the class or something like it offered at your school?
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