Northwestern University, where I attended graduate school, recently spent a few weeks at the center of a controversy eddy for a live sex demonstration that took place on campus.
As part of an optional presentation for a human sexuality class, a visiting couple demonstrated the use of a motorized boudoir accouterment. Currently, the university is in the midst of a reputation recovery operation.
I followed some discussion on alumni listservs, and reaction has been mixed.
"The school has no business sanctioning or presenting a course on human sexuality, let alone exhibitionism presented in the name of authentic classwork," wrote a 1981 alumnus.
I think the first part of that statement goes too far. I have a B.A. in women's studies, and my college course load certainly included classes where human sexuality was a major and frequent topic. We spent a lot of time exploring and debating the historical and social context of sex/sexuality, and there were plenty of lively, informative discussions.
And as a 2010 alumna wrote: "There is a need for research and expertise on human sexuality. Unless you think we should emulate Europe in the Dark Ages or Puritan New England."
Of course, reactions were also strong outside the Northwestern community.
"This is (expletive) pathetic," a friend of a friend posted online in response to an article on the matter. "Northwestern U = NO CLASS."
I have to admit, whether I support the choice to do a live sex demo or not, I took a little offense to the above statement. I have a certain degree of Wildcat loyalty. It's the same principle by which I'm allowed to insult my family, but you aren't.
This was not a school-sanctioned activity. University president Morton Schapiro has said he was "troubled and disappointed" by the event and would investigate the after-class seminar.
Professor John Michael Bailey apologized for any offense that was taken and for the controversy that befell Northwestern, but added in a statement that he saw "no harm" in the demonstration itself.
I don't disagree with that. Honestly, I'm not concerned about the corruption of college students - most have seen a lot worse on the Internet. I'm just not wholly certain what the live demonstration actually accomplished from an educational standpoint.
Oh, well, I guess you had to be there.