If you haven’t been following Professor Gilbert’s story, here is a recap. This tenured professor at the University of Denver was banned from campus after two graduate students in his course “Domestic Consequences of the Drug War” complained that the professor sexually harassed them by the content of their lectures. Yes, I know that this sounds wackadoo, but it’s Denver, what do you expect?
The professor made these anonymous complainants feel harassed by – get this – bringing an art deco vibrator into the classroom during a discussion of how sexuality was theorized historically and by discussing studies linking masturbation to prostate health. Of course, the course unit where these egregious offences happened was titled “Drugs and Sin in American Life: from masturbation and prostitution to alcohol and drugs.” The prissy fools who find a scholarly discussion of masturbation to be intolerable could have chosen to skip the class. What fun would that have been, though? They chose to attend and feel harassed by the discussion.
This is a 75-year-old prof with an unblemished record who is being banned from campus and enjoined from having any contact with students because he talked about masturbation and showed an antique vibrator to graduate students. There was no formal investigation, the numerous pleas on behalf of this distinguished scholar by his peers at different institutions have been disregarded, the attempts by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to start a discussion with the university about this issue have been ignored:
In letter correspondences to DU, the AAUP and FIRE have not only urged the university to revisit its decision upholding the sexual harassment charges against Gilbert, but also the university’s policies for sexual harassment cases and the university’s case review process.
“The University of Denver is treating its adult students like children who are too fragile to hear academic talk about sex and drugs,” said Adam Kissel, the vice president of programs at FIRE, in an article published on the FIRE website on Dec. 12, 2011.
The situation is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. The very real issue of sexual harassment on campus is completely trivialized by a pair of officious idiots who don’t see the difference between a prof stopping them in the hallway to whisper “So how often do you masturbate?” and a prof discussing the societal perception of masturbation in the classroom. Vindictive students who dislike a prof for being a tough grader or committing the unpardonable sin of trying to make them think discover a perfect way to punish that pesky scholar. Profs are forced to start self-censoring for fear that, say, showing Goya’s famous painting “The Naked Maja” will be interpreted as distribution of pornography. I have a lot to say about this painting but I have excluded it from my lecture on Goya because I’m afraid of idiots.
The good news is that Professor Gilbert will now resume teaching his “Domestic Consequences of the Drug War” course. He will require that all students sign a statement saying that they understand what the course will be about and what topic will be discussed. Of course,we all know that if some idiot wants to feel harassed by an intellectual discussion, they will do so in spite of signing any statement.