Boulder, CO- Professor Patricia Adler has taught the “Deviancy in the U.S.” sociology class for several years at Colorado University in Boulder. The tenured Professor with a commendable 20 year record is now facing allegations of sexual harassment, and has been barred from teaching her signature course during the spring semester.

The controversy surrounding Professor Adler’s course began in December after one of her teaching assistants complained that they felt pressured to participate in a role-playing game about prostitutes. Adler explained to Inside Higher Ed how the lesson works:

“She seeks volunteers from among assistant teaching assistants (who are undergraduates) to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes — she named as categories “slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services.” They work with Adler on scripts in which they describe their lives as these types of prostitutes.

During the lecture, Adler talks with them (with the assistant teaching assistants in character) about such issues as their backgrounds, “how they got into the business,” how much they charge, the services they perform, and the risks they face of violence, arrest and AIDS. The class is a mix of lecture and discussion, just like most classes, she said.”

Initial reports claimed University of Colorado forced Professor Adler to retire after one of the teaching assistants complained about being forced to participate in the lecture against their will. Adler said participation was not mandatory, however the complainant told administrators otherwise.

Administrators at the University of Colorado said they did not rife Professor Adler and said she remains a tenured professor. But Adler characterized the situation differently, telling Inside Higher Ed that she was given the choice to take a buyout now or not teach the course or the prostitution lecture. She also said she was warned that she could lose her job if she received any future complaints.

The controversy over Adler’s lecture comes at a time when universities are struggling to combat sexual harassment on their campuses under immense pressure from the Department of Education. While some of universities have, in the past, failed to protect their students from sexual harassment, students and the ACLU-CO believe the University of Colorado is overreacting in this incident.

“Classroom discussion of issues related to sex and sexuality is not sexual harassment,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “By suggesting otherwise, and raising the possibility of disciplinary proceedings, the CU administration unjustifiably threatens to silence not only Professor Adler, but any professor whose classroom teaching may touch on sensitive topics.”

Touching on sensitive topics does not meet the federal definition of sexual harassment as defined by federal law, which is defined as “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” behavior of a sexual nature. Adler’s one-time lecture, however, does not seem to fit into that definition.

Students who are subjected to pervasive sexual harassment should speak out and report the incidents to school administrators. If their university does not take any action; they should retain a sexual harassment attorney.