BOULDER, Colo., January 10, 2014—The University of Colorado (CU) has backed down from last month’s cancellation of Professor Patti Adler’s popular and long-running “Deviance in U.S. Society” class after claiming that a lecture on prostitution that involved voluntary student participation could be seen as “harassing.” The rowback comes only days after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, and the Student Press Law Center issued a public statement to the university warning of the cancellation’s consequences for academic freedom. Adler will teach the course again this spring.
“While we’re glad that Professor Adler will return to campus this spring, CU should never have attempted to force her out in the first place,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “This is yet another example of an institution misusing harassment policies to silence expression it finds inconvenient. After this embarrassment, CU must assure faculty and students that teaching and learning are CU’s primary concerns, not stripping the curriculum of any controversial matter in a misguided attempt to avoid liability.”
As the Boulder Daily Camera reported, “During a Nov. 5 lecture on prostitution, some of Adler’s teaching assistants dressed as various types of prostitutes and other characters to portray their lifestyles for the class. That lecture was reviewed by the Office of Discrimination and Harassment, which found it to be a ‘risk’ to the university, according to Adler.” Adler reports that she was given two choices: “take a buyout and retire, or stay at the university but not teach her signature class next semester.” CU has denied this allegation.
As resistance to CU’s decision grew, the university announced that Adler’s course could stay if she agreed to have it reviewed and approved by fellow faculty members, while warning that “academic freedom does not allow faculty members to violate the University’s sexual harassment policy by creating a hostile environment for their teaching assistants, or for their students attending the class.” Yet the faculty committee assigned to review Adler’s course found no such problems and issued a report recommending that “she should be welcome to teach the course in Spring 2014 and thereafter.”
Yesterday, Adler announced that she would indeed be teaching her class again next semester. In her statement, she warned that “the trends toward mission creep and overreach by bodies such as the Office of Discrimination and Harassment and Institutional Review Boards are increasingly dominating decision-making in higher education.” She further noted that “[u]niversities and schools at all levels around the globe are increasingly sacrificing academic freedom as they become more concerned with risk and liability than with creating an environment in which creativity and ideas can flourish and students can be challenged to expand their horizons.”
In an email to FIRE, Adler wrote, “I had a very hard decision to make in coming back this semester. But part of what propelled me was how hard so many people worked to protect my academic freedom, and I felt that I had to come back and stand up for that.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org