Northwestern Professor Fights for the Right to Free Speech and Fellatio

June 19, 2015

By Meghan Keenan at Red Alert Politics

For the second time in recent months, Northwestern University is under fire for censoring faculty.

Digital issues of a magazine published annually by one of Northwestern’s medical school programs were taken down after running an an essay called “Head Nurses,” that described a nurse performing oral sex on a patient in 1978.

Atrium is a publication of the Feinberg School of Medicine’s (FSM’s) Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program (MHB), and features content from authors at institutions around the country. The theme of the Winter 2014 issue was “Bad Girls,” and included an essay by Syracuse University professor William Peace about his rehabilitation experience after being paralyzed at age 18, and his fear that he would be unable to have sex ever again.

A letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), addressed to Northwestern President Morton Shapiro and Feinberg School of Medicine Dean Eric Neilson, described Peace’s essay:

“The article describes how in his rehabilitation ward, a few nurses were referred to as ‘head nurses’ because they were known to occasionally provide oral sex to certain patients late at night. Peace described his own experience of being provided oral sex by a nurse with whom he had a good relationship, a consensual act that for him brought relief at the realization that he had not lost his ability to function sexually. Peace credited the nurse, with whom he developed a lifelong friendship, with playing a significant role in his psychological recovery.”

Dean Neilson expressed concern that the article was not in line with the “brand” of the Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Medicine, the corporate parent overseeing the hospital system.

After administrator’s expressed concern, all issues of Atrium were taken down.

Alice Dreger, a Northwestern professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics who also served as the guest editor for the “Bad Girls” issue, worked with school officials to get the previous issues of the magazine back online, however according to Dreger they refused to publish the issue with Peace’s essay.

Dreger decided to go public with her battle against the university after seeing the Title IX investigation of Northwestern film professor Laura Kipnis over an essay Kipnis published discussing university policies on sexual misconduct.

However, after Dreger and Peace threatened to go public with Atrium’s censorship, the administration decided to republish the controversial issue.

FIRE continues to be concerned about academic freedom at the university and censorship of Atrium, after being informed that a new committee of administrators and external relations officials will be evaluating prospective content for the next issue of the magazine.

“Despite Northwestern’s stated commitments to academic freedom, FIRE is concerned that FSM or Northwestern Medicine will now assert ownership of Atrium so that it can take a more active role in managing its content,” wrote Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “This raises serious concerns not only for Atrium’s autonomy but also for that of any faculty or departmental publication that dares to venture into uncomfortable or controversial territory.”

Schools: Northwestern University Cases: Northwestern University: Censorship of Faculty-Produced Bioethics Journal with “Bad Girls” Theme