In December, CU professor Patti Adler was thrust into controversy over a prostitution skit that's long been part of a class entitled "Deviance in U.S. Society." Adler backers blasted the university, which eventually backed down. But after being told she could teach the class pretty much as normal, Adler announced in January that she'll retire later this year.
The latest? Adler has now nixed the prostitution skit, too -- a decision she'll no doubt explore in a speech this week about "academic interference."
As we've reported, Adler says the prostitution lecture has been part of her class for many years. Over that span, teaching assistants have portrayed prostitutes who fit into assorted categories: "slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services."
The TAs, who Adler says volunteered to take part, then appeared at the class in costume, with the prof conducting script-based mock-interviews featuring their comments about the specifics of their jobs and the inherent risks.
Here's a screen capture from one of the skits, as seen in a 9News report on view below:
Even though participation in the lecture was said to be "entirely voluntary and not part of anyone's grade," Adler told the publication Inside Higher Ed that her approach troubled Steven Leigh, College of Arts and Sciences dean, after he heard from an ex-TA who'd "raised a concern that some participants might be uncomfortable." Adler says Leigh mentioned the "post-Penn State environment" -- a reference, presumably, to the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal -- in the context of suggesting that the prostitution lecture presented "too much risk."
Adler said Leigh gave her the option of accepting a buyout from CU or sticking around but agreeing not to teach the course and present the prostitution lecture -- both of which struck her as violating the letter and spirit of academic freedom. But after a contentious meeting at which associate sociology professor Leslie Irvine demanded the resignation of provost Russell L. Moore for allegedly implying that Adler was under investigation for sexual harassment in a message to students (a charge CU denies), Leigh sent a letter to the prof inviting her to teach the "Deviance" class again during the spring 2014 semester.
The only caveat, according to the Boulder Daily Camera, was that she'd get "full informed consent" from teaching assistants who took part in the prostitution skit -- something she insisted she'd always done.
But such consent proved more problematic than Adler had thought.
When Adler was initially given permission to teach her class again, she seemed jubilant. "After more than a month marked by trauma, turmoil and great emotional distress for my family and myself, I am proud to say that the University of Colorado has backed down from their initial position and is allowing me to return to teach this semester in the course 'Deviance in U.S. Society,'" she wrote.
However, she seemed to have been deeply impacted by her experience and voiced concerns shared in the Camera about the administration placing a "plant" in her classroom to trump up a formal complaint against her -- a strategy rejected by a CU spokesman. But even if officials weren't monitoring her, the Daily Camera was, with a videographer assigned to cover her first class.
As such, the paper's rep was on hand when Adler told a packed lecture hall that she would teach the regular "Deviance" course this semester, as well as offering a compressed three-week-long version during what's known as a "Maymester," and then retire from CU. See the clip below.
The prostitution skit was supposed to be part of what Adler called her "last waltz" at CU. But she told the Camera that coming up with a consent form that protected all parties turned out to be harder than anyone thought. Moreover, Adler believes the notoriety of the skit, which was the focus of national media coverage, made some potential performers balky. "For a variety of reasons, participants got too nervous and uncomfortable to do it," she told the paper.
So the skit's off, and so is Adler -- to Yale University, where on Friday she'll deliver the lunchtime keynote address at an event entitled "Ethnography: A Conference and Retreat."
The name of her speech? "Administrative Interference and Overreach: the 'Adler Controversy' and the 21st Century University."
We're guessing a video of her talk won't wind up on the university website.
Look below to see the aforementioned Daily Camera video shot in Adler's class in January, supplemented by a 9News report from December featuring a look at one prostitution skit.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Education archive circa December 2013: "Prostitution skit in 'Deviance' class, CU-Boulder's response both draw criticism."