Protect professors’ freedoms

Typically students don’t equate porn stars, sexual fantasies and strip clubs with credit-based courses they can apply to graduation requirements. But according to the syllabus of a male sexuality course at the University of California-Berkley, such a class exists – or at least did until Monday. That is when department administrators suspended the course amid allegations of orgies, Polaroid photos of genitalia and a live sex act by the student-instructor.

The male sexuality course was part of a program called Democratic Education at Cal or DE-Cal. The program allows students to take courses sponsored, but not funded, by the school for credit. The program offers courses about female sexuality, blackjack, Afghanistan history and AIDS/HIV, among others. The classes are organized, proposed, conducted and taught by students. However, each course requires a professor’s sponsorship. Caren Kaplan, chairwoman of the women’s studies department, sponsored the male sexuality course. And now that the male sexuality course has attracted national coverage, Kaplan will undoubtedly feel apprehensive about sponsoring certain classes in the future. This sort of thing cannot be allowed to happen. The DE-Cal program is a good idea and important to students’ education and should not be sacrificed, nor should professors be fired, pressured or stigmatized based on the content of the classes they sponsor.

Threatening professors based on the content of their research or any other academic endeavor – in this case sponsoring a class – is a grave threat to academia. Such acts would lead to stagnation in thought, discourse and diversity. Perhaps America’s greatest cultural and economic advantages during the last century stem from its ability to cross-pollinate paradigms, continuing the cycle of intellectual and philosophical growth. Frictional pressures placed on these intellectual incubators severely hinder this important process and could further perpetuate the hegemonic system that stifles creativity and human innovation. And if professors are pressured into deterred involvement or silence, the consequence will be that faulty political or intellectual modes of thought will be allowed to perpetuate, growing in on themselves and weakening our society. The DE-Cal program provides a place where enlightenment is furthered daily.

In addition, these classes are a good idea. One bad class should not result in the sacrifice of a program that greatly benefits students. As our society moves away from specialization, it is becoming increasingly evident that a broad knowledge base is important for all people. As technology increasingly removes the necessity of repetitive tasks, the human mind is freed to explore additional avenues of thought. These classes provide a place for students to explore these avenues and increase their knowledge base.

So if the university is really worried about its reputation, it should not pressure professors to stifle creativity and free thinking by hindering class sponsorships and infringing on professors’ personal freedoms.