NU professor apologizes over sex education controversy

March 05, 2011

Text and photos by Ted Regencia

EVANSTON, Ill — A long-time psychology at Chicago’s Northwestern University has issued an apology for allowing an after-school live sex demonstration, as part of his Human Sexuality class, expressing “regret” over the controversy that followed.

In a letter published online, Prof. John Michael Bailey said, “I regret the effect that this has had on Northwestern University’s reputation, and I regret upsetting so many people in this particular manner. I apologize.”

“In the 18 years I have taught the course, nothing like the demonstration at issue has occurred, and I will allow nothing like it to happen again,” Bailey added.

At the same time, Bailey insisted that the demonstration was “relevant to a topic relevant to my course,” adding that “it occurred after class in a completely voluntary setting with ample information about what would occur.”

The controversy started last Feb. 21, when Bailey arranged a demonstration for his class of nearly 600 students. Following a lecture on “sexual arousal” and “female ejaculation,” he invited a guest onstage to discuss the topic further. Students were advised of the “explicit” nature of the topic, and about 100 of them decided to stay and participate in the discussion.

The guest, Ken Melvoin-Berg, with the help of two performers, then proceeded to demonstrate “female ejaculation using equipment they had brought with them.” The “machine” is described as a “sex toy” attached to a mechanized saw.

This reporter contacted Melvoin-Berg, but he declined the interview saying, he is fully-booked for media appearances until Monday, March 7.

After news reports of the event came out, University President Morton Schapiro ordered an investigation saying he was troubled, disappointed and disturbed about Bailey’s decision to proceed with the controversial study.

“Although the incident took place in an after-class session that students were not required to attend and students were advised in advance, several times, of the explicit nature of the activity, I feel it represented extremely poor judgment on the part of our faculty member,” Schapiro said in a statement.

“I simply do not believe this was appropriate, necessary or in keeping with Northwestern University’s academic mission,” he added. It’s a sharp turn from an earlier statement expressing his administration support for Bailey.

With Bailey’s apology, it is not clear whether the investigation will continue.

A leading psychology researcher Robin Mathy had told that she will file a complaint against Bailey for “gross violation” of the American Psychological Association (APA) Code of Ethics.

Most of Bailey’s students are rallying in his defense, launching an online petition urging the university administration “that Professor Bailey should not be severely punished for the demonstration.”

Northwestern University students interviewed by this reporter also said the issue has been “blown out of proportion,” adding that Bailey should be given the academic freedom to teach in whatever way he wishes.

Senior student Jacqueline Jarrold, who is taking European History and Theater, defended Bailey, saying the outrage “seems artificial.”

“It seems like the only reason it’s garnering any attention from the administration is the fact that the media has picked up on it,” Jarrold said.

Jarrold said parents who raised objections against the class should take up the issue with their children “and not the university as a whole.” “A parent is only responsible for their kid. They really shouldn’t have a say over what everyone else is learning,” she said, adding that “gender is not a part of the equation” in the controversy.

Engineering student Harsha Patel agreed with Jarrold, saying it should not come “as a big surprise” if students are exposed “to some of this material” if they are taking a class entitled Human Sexuality.

For music and engineering student Emily Wilson, the demonstration was “way out of line” and she would not take the class herself.

“I understand the purpose of the class, that it’s important to be educated about sex. But it’s really hard to draw the line, where is educating people, and where goes too far. So I think that [demonstration] is on the end of too far,” Wilson said.

Still, Wilson insisted that the issue is “not an accurate representation of at all of what goes on at Northwestern. That is one isolated event.”

In its March 4 editorial, the University’s student-run newspaper Daily Northwestern also defended Bailey.

“One of the best parts of any university is its ability expose students to new perspectives and force them to push their limits. For that dynamic to work, NU professors must have the power to exercise academic freedom and teach even the most controversial viewpoints in their research fields.”

The Daily also said punishing Bailey, could “possibly deter qualified professors and students from coming to this institution.”

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