The story is easily told but still hard to believe. On Feb. 21, Northwestern University psychology professor John M. Bailey offered an optional after-class session of his popular Human Sexuality course. In his quest to explore all aspects of human sexuality, professor Bailey invited members of the "BDSM community" (that's bondage-discipline-sado-masochism, as the Chicago Sun-Times helpfully explained) to take part in a panel discussion on fetishism. The discussion was obviously freewheeling and spirited because at one point, panel member Jim Marcus offered to demonstrate a specific topic on his fiancée, Faith Kroll. Bailey admits to hesitating, thinking the demo might be "inappropriate." But he added, "My decision to say 'yes' reflected my inability to come up with a legitimate reason why students should not be able to watch such a demonstration."
So, with Bailey's permission and warnings about the explicit nature of what was to follow, Kroll took off her clothes and let herself be penetrated with a mechanical instrument in front of an audience of approximately 100 students. "One of the students asked what my specific fetish was," Kroll told the Sun-Times, "and mine is being in front of people, having the attention and being used. The students seemed really intrigued."
This pushes the envelope, but only a little farther than it's already been pushed, as any Yalie knows. The incident is certainly worthy of outrage, and yet the act itself may not be the most disturbing factor. Professor Bailey later admitted to Slate that if he had it to do over he would have declined Marcus' offer, because it wasn't worth the controversy. But he still can't think of a principled objection. If we take the man at his word, we have to recognize the rottenness at the heart of our culture: too many educated, influential, otherwise intelligent people in our society are moral cretins. If professor Bailey really can't think of a good reason to forbid a live sex act in connection with his class, here are a few:
- Women shouldn't be "used" as objects, even if they enjoy it.
- Not every human impulse needs to be encouraged-in fact, some should be corrected.
- Students (or more likely, their parents) are paying good money for something they could get much cheaper at a peep show.
- Equating exhibitionism with serious disciplines such as English literature, molecular physics, and electrical engineering devalues all disciplines.
- An obsession with genitalia has never been scientifically demonstrated to improve the mind or liberate the spirit.
None of this will convince the professor, and the administration at Northwestern seems a bit confused. University President Morton Schapiro criticized Bailey for his "poor judgment," but a university spokesman expressed support for "the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge." This may be a canned statement, trotted out whenever a faculty member can't distinguish between apples and oranges, and Northwestern may yet sanction its wayward faculty member. But without a firm moral ground, its discipline will be as baseless as the professor's original transgression.