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Jewish World Review March 4, 2002 / 20 Adar, 5762

John Leo

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Consumer Reports

It's grin-and-bare-it time at U.C.-Berkeley -- Mr. Answer Man, I understand there's a sex scandal at the University of California-Berkeley. What's going on? I wouldn't call it a scandal. I'd call it overblown media coverage of a very promising male sexuality course.

What happened?

A Berkeley course was designed to make men feel safe about their bodies and their sexual feelings. There's a female version, too. Do people respect these courses for their sensitivity and their academic content? No. The Daily Californian, the student paper, had to run an article making the male course sound tawdry. The course even got suspended. Actually, there was nothing cheesy about it at all, though there was some class interaction of a sexual nature.

You mean like at a fraternity party?

That's vulgar. This was serious academic study. All the students, both male and female, would discuss their sexual fantasies. Porn stars were invited to lecture. Students allegedly went to a strip club and watched a class coordinator have sex on stage. As an icebreaker at one class party, the students allegedly took photos of their genitals, and later tried to match all the genitals with their owners. You can imagine the interpersonal exchanges that followed. Students earned two academic credits for this course.

What? Berkeley has fraternity parties for credit?

I wish you'd stop calling this a frat party. It's a dignified and empathetic de-cal class, and it's been going on for years.

What's a de-cal class?

It stands for Democratic Education at Cal–student-led classes outside the general curriculum. A lot of educational theory says that teacher-led classes are too hierarchical. They imply that teachers know more than students do. In student-led classes there aren't any teachers, just "coordinators" and "facilitators," and everybody is on the same level.

There's no adult supervision? No wonder things are out of control. I thought this was a major university.

It is. But you are behind the times. Nowadays, students educate themselves. They don't meekly receive prepackaged wisdom from an older person. Anyway, the de-cal courses range from "Body Dissatisfaction" and "The Joy of Garbage" to Esperanto and "Copwatch for Credit"–how to monitor your local police. Sexual material is only part of the mix. One student said she loved de-cal courses because they fill "that empty space where faculty can't go."

I can see why the university likes de-cal classes. Adult-free courses mean that there's no professor to pay. But what's in it for students?

Well, there's no annoying teacher around, the classes are impossible to fail, they require no actual work, and, if you're lucky, you get to grope your classmates for credit. And the courses are totally nonjudgmental. The male sex course simply lists "self-castration" as one lifestyle option. Is that fair or what?

Did the de-cal classes have anything to do with the nude students strolling around in downtown Berkeley last spring?

Yes. A policewoman told them to get dressed or get arrested, but the students explained that it was a class project for women's studies, sort of a final exam. The students were miffed that the cop wanted to interfere with an important academic exercise, but they let it go.

Berkeley cops just don't understand modern education. What about all the porn-studies courses popping up at univer- sities around the country? Are the Berkeley courses related to them?

Yes. Porn studies is one of the hottest trends in the academic world, right up there with food studies, disabilities studies, and the ever-popular Star Trek analysis.

Would you say that this is because the academic world is heading downscale and having a pop-culture breakdown?

No, though some porn-studies professors believe they are a bulwark against attacks on our vibrant pop culture. Richard Burt, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, says that "the attack on porn studies is less an attack on the study of sex than it is on the study of popular culture." Unfortunately, his university has been interfering with his work. They made him take down his Web site showing him with a topless stripper straddling his lap and also showing a picture of his wife dressed as a porn star.

Well, college certainly has changed. I remember when students just used to read books and learn how to think. If we drooled over porn, we did it on our own time.

Say, how old are you, anyway?

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Incorrect Thoughts: Notes on Our Wayward Culture. Send your comments by clicking here.


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