Patti Adler, CU professor in prostitution skit controversy, to retire
Last month, CU professor Patti Adler was called on the carpet over a prostitution skit that's long been part of a class entitled "Deviance in U.S. Society," with Adler supporters blasting the university for what they saw as attacks on academic freedom and Adler personally.
In the end, the administration backed down, allowing Adler to teach the class with minimal changes. But yesterday, she told students she's resigning at the semester's end.
As we've reported, Adler says the prostitution lecture has been part of her class for many years. In it, she has teaching assistants portray prostitutes who fit into assorted categories: "slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services."
The TAs, who Adler says volunteer to take part, then appear 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 is 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 says 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 called for the resignation of provost Russell L. Moore for allegedly implying that Adler was under investigation for sexual harassment in a letter to students (a charge CU denies), Leigh sent a letter to the prof inviting her to teach the "Deviance" class again next semester.
The only caveat, according to the Boulder Daily Camera, is that she get "full informed consent" from teaching assistants who take part in the prostitution skit -- something she insisted she'd always done.
This appeared to be a complete victory for Adler. So why is she choosing to walk away?
Patti Adler, in a photo from her CU website for students of her class.
"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,'" Adler wrote about her return to the classroom.
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 prepared to file a formal complaint against her -- a strategy denied by a CU spokesman.
Still, the attention on Adler has been high this week, with the Daily Camera actually sending a videographer to her class yesterday; see the resulting cilp below. As such, the paper's rep was on hand when Adler told a packed lecture hall that she'll 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.
Thus far, Adler hasn't posted about the decision on her Facebook page. But it seems clear the controversy has taken its toll on the professor, who's calling the next two classes her "last waltz."
Look below to see the aforementioned Daily Camera video shot in Adler's class yesterday, supplemented by a 9News report from December featuring a look at one prostitution skit.
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."
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