Updated: Northwestern copes with fallout, attention from sex toy demo

Patrick Svitek

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As Northwestern begins an investigation into an optional, after-class sex toy demonstration held last week, an award-winning scholar and clinician announced Thursday evening she will file a formal complaint against psychology Prof. John Michael Bailey for what she calls “a gross violation” of the American Psychological Association Code of Ethics.

The accusations come in the wake of a statement released Thursday morning by University President Morton Schapiro that said he is troubled, disappointed and disturbed about the demonstration in Bailey’s popular Human Sexuality course. In an interview Thursday, University spokesman Al Cubbage said the impending investigation has been spawned by the “strong reaction from within and outside the Northwestern community.”

“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. “I simply do not believe this was appropriate, necessary or in keeping with Northwestern University’s academic mission.”

Bailey has publicly defended the demonstration as educational about sexual diversity, which is a common theme in his classes. He said he has received no complaints about the incident.

“The students find the events to be quite valuable, typically, because engaging real people in conversation provides useful examples and extensions of concepts students learn about in traditional academic ways,” the 21-year professor wrote in a written statement e-mailed to the students in the 600-person course, one of the largest at NU.

The optional presentation last Monday, attended by about 120 students, featured a naked non-student woman being repeatedly sexually stimulated to the point of orgasm by the sex toy, essentially a motorized phallus.

The after-class events, which range from a question-and-answer session with swingers to a panel of convicted sex offenders, are a popular feature of the class. They are optional, and none of the material is included on exams.

Chicago sex tour guide Ken Melvoin-Berg, the man who ran the demonstration, said in an interview Thursday that NU will be paying him $300-500 for the hour-long session, his usual fee.

Cubbage said he could not comment on any fee paid to Melvoin-Berg because it is the University’s policy not to disclose financial information.

Ethics charges

Robin Mathy, who has published four books and more than 50 peer-reviewed articles on human sexuality, notified The Daily Thursday evening of her intentions to bring charges against both Bailey and NU’s psychology department. In an interview later Thursday, she alleged Bailey defied the governing body’s ethical guidelines by potentially exposing minors to a public sex act and knowingly inflicting psychological damage on students.

“I really predict this is going to result in the deaccreditation of the psychology department,” Mathy said. “The APA can’t just tolerate someone who engages in this prurient behavior.”

She added that Bailey’s public exhibition “speaks to a voyeuristic excitement” and is not a legitimate form of sexual education.

While Bailey is not an APA member, the psychology department is accredited by the APA and will be held accountable for the incident, Mathy said.

In 2008, she filed ethics complaints against Bailey for asserting that having sex with a research subject is not technically wrong. These previous grievances, she said, stemmed from a transsexual woman claiming in 2003 that Bailey had sex with her without disclosing she would be a subject of his controversial book “The Man Who Would Be Queen,” which explores male femininity and autogynephilia, a sexual fixation in which a man is sexually excited by the thought or image of himself as a female.

Though his research has prompted controversy in the past, Bailey is one the most popular professors at NU. He has been named to the Associated Student Government Faculty Honor Roll multiple times, including in 2009 and 2010.

NU changes position

Schapiro’s statement on Thursday represented a marked shift from the University’s position a day earlier, when Cubbage released a statement defending Bailey.

“Northwestern University faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial and at the leading edge of their respective disciplines,” Cubbage said in the statement. “The university supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge.”

The about-face was a result of mounting controversy from students and the media, administrators acknowledged. Among the news organizations that have covered the issue are The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and many others.

“Like anything, it takes some time to gather facts and information, and we were able to do some more of that yesterday, ” Cubbage said. “People in the Northwestern community and from outside the Northwestern community expressed their concerns very strongly about this activity, and the University heard and understand those concerns.”

Cubbage declined to answer specific questions about the nature of the investigation. Students questioned its necessity.

“I don’t think it’s worth their time,” McCormick junior Spencer Vadner said. “When I heard about it, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God, this is terrible,’ but I can see how people would be upset.”

On comment boards and social media outlets, NU students, parents and alumni, as well as national observers, voiced sharply differing opinions about the demonstration.

In his statement and several media interviews Thursday, Bailey said he still believes the demonstration was appropriate, especially given its voluntary attendance.

“Do I have any regrets?” he wrote in the statement. “It is mostly too early to say. I certainly have no regrets concerning Northwestern students, who have demonstrated that they are open-minded grown ups rather than fragile children.”

Melvoin-Berg said if he could go back in time, he would “definitely do it again.”

“I don’t think any of us understand why this is such a large issue,” he said.

‘Venting’ alums

But it appears to be just that. Bailey’s demonstration has struck a sensitive chord with alumni and others watching the controversy unfold on television and computer screens across the country.

At the Northwestern Alumni Association club in Chicago, a spokesman said he had been receiving calls all day Thursday, most of them of graduates expressing their outrage. The spokesman agreed to speak to The Daily on the condition of anonymity, as all NAA staff are being instructed to redirect media inquiries to Cubbage.

“Obviously, everybody is concerned about this,” the club spokesman said. “I would say that more than anything people are disappointed. They’re just venting.”

Ben Slivka, McCormick ’82, a prominent trustee after whom Slivka Residential College is named, wrote in an e-mail Thursday that he had read about the incident Wednesday and has been hearing from a “few friends … on the topic” since then.

He said Bailey’s sex-toy presentation deserves scrutiny from NU administrators.

“I much prefer when Northwestern University is making news for ground-breaking research, student achievements, Dance Marathon fundraising, national championships and Nobel Prizes,” Slivka wrote. “It doesn’t sound like a class I would take, but I don’t know precisely what happened, so I am happy the University is investigating this incident.”

Michael Mills, associate provost of University enrollment, declined to comment Thursday on whether current applicants or incoming freshmen had contacted the admissions office with concerns.

The American Association of Univ
ersity Professors, a Washington, D.C.-based organization of professors and other academics, declined to comment Thursday on whether a University investigation is warranted. Greg Scholtz, the group’s director of academic freedom, did, however, reaffirm that Bailey should be judged by his peers and not just administrators.

“One thing I would say is that if there is an investigation into the professor’s conduct, and the University determines some sort of sanction should be imposed, then, in our view, whatever basis that sanction has should be examined by a faculty body,” Scholtz said.

Brian Rosenthal contributed reporting.