Notes & Comments March 2002
Higher education, Berkeley style
On pornography for college credit.
While Stanford and UCLA have been ponying up large sums for the doodles of aging Sixties radicals, the University of California at Berkeley has been keeping the Sixties flame alive. According to a story in the February 15 issue of The Daily Californian, a student newspaper, a Women’s Studies course on male sexuality involved such educational activities as writing papers about sexual fantasies, visiting strip clubs, and watching an instructor have sex. “And all the while,” the paper observed, “earning units toward graduation at UC Berkeley.”
Of course, this sort of thing is becoming as common as dirt at college campuses these days, where it takes a sharp eye to distinguish effectively between so-called “sex studies” (good things, because they “challenge the dominant heterosexist paradigm of libidinal yak yak yak”) and plain old pornography (bad because it “reinforces the dominant,” etc.) Still, the folks at Berkeley were rather pushing the envelope. The course in question has been shut down by nervous administrators—such bad publicity! But in a way Women’s Studies 98/198 (the course in question) was only the tip of the iceberg. Reporting on the episode, The Sacramento Bee noted that
The courses were offered under the university’s “democratic education” or “de-cal” program, which are sponsored but not funded by the university. They are organized and run by student instructors and can be taken for credit toward graduation. Other such courses are Blackjack, where students are taught how to count cards, and Copwatch, which advises students “how to safely and effectively assert their rights when interacting with police.”
Responding to questions about an alleged “orgy” at a strip club, Christy Kovacs, a Berkeley freshman who got two units for her participation in the course last fall, explained that “It was just a fun, harmless get-together… . It was a class bonding experience.” No doubt.
Can this be for real? We wonder. But the deeper question is this: what does it tell us that we really don’t know whether to credit this story or regard it as a parody. It seems to be true. The Sacramento Bee is a serious newspaper. But who knows? Given what has happened to our institutions of higher education, it might very well turn out to be the case that one of our premier universities offers class credit for courses in blackjack, lying to the police, and visiting strip clubs to watch one’s instructor have sex. What does that tell us?
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 20 Number 7, on page 3
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