BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – The University of Colorado acknowledged on Monday that a tenured sociology professor had been suspended — but not dismissed — from teaching her popular course on deviant behavior following a lecture on prostitution.
Despite reports that she was being “forced out” for the controversial skit, the school issued a statement to students and faculty saying Professor Patricia Adler “has not been dismissed,” and that the school is reviewing the possibility of sexual harassment policy infringements.
The controversy began last Thursday when Adler told students she would be leaving her “Deviance in U.S. Society” course, although the school had not given her the option of retirement, but had instead offered a two-year buyout.
The controversial “prostitution” lecture involved mock-interviews with various kinds of prostitutes, as a means of showing social order and deviant behavior. Inside Higher Ed reports that teacher assistants were asked to dress up as “slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services.”
“In this course I want to introduce you to the central sociological concepts of deviance, social order, social power, identity construction, and identity management,” reads the course syllabus, which typically enrolls about 500 students. “We will use the topic of deviance to see how groups of people have the power to shape social definitions and apply them onto others.”
The lecture includes Adler asking the assistants about their in-character background, or “how they got into the business,” how much they charge customers and their experiences with violence, arrest and AIDS.
According to Adler, the dean of College of Arts and Sciences, Steven Leigh, told her that such a lecture posed “too much risk…in a post-Penn State environment.” Adler said the lecture was a highlight of the course, and a Facebook page was created by students showing support for Professor Adler and the course.
However, the university said Adler had not been dismissed, and the situation was still under department review.
“In this case, University administrators heard from a number of concerned students about Professor Adler’s “prostitution” skit, the way it was presented, and the environment it created for both students in the class and for teaching assistants,” the university’s provost office wrote.
“Student assistants made it clear to administrators that they felt there would be negative consequences for anyone who refused to participate in the skit. None of them wished to be publicly identified.”
“To reiterate, Professor Adler has not been fired or forced to retire.”
Adler remarked to Inside Higher Ed that the university is more concerned about “the risk” rather than using common sense about the issue.
An emergency meeting between the Boulder Faculty Assembly and the dean of Arts and Sciences is scheduled for Wednesday morning to discuss the issue.
“It’s a culture of fear. It’s the bureaucratization of the university,” she said.