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It’s grin-and-bare-it time at U.C. Berkeley

March 4, 2001

Q: Mr. Answer Man, I understand there’s a sex scandal at the University of California, Berkeley. What’s going on?A: I wouldn’t call it a scandal. I would call it overblown media coverage of a very promising male sexuality course.Q: What happened?

A: 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 sex courses for their sensitivity and academic content? No. The Daily Cal, the student paper, had to run an article making the male course sound tawdry. Actually, there was nothing cheesy about it at all, though there was some class interaction of a sexual nature.

Q: You mean like at a fraternity party?

A: That’s vulgar. This was serious. All the students, male and female, would discuss their sexual fantasies and porn stars were invited to lecture. The 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. One female in the class called it an orgy. Students earned two academic credits for this course.

Q: What? Berkeley has fraternity parties for credit?

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

Q: What’s a “de-cal” class?

A: 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. In student led-classes there aren’t any teachers, just “coordinators” and “facilitators,” and everybody is on the same level.

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

A: 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.”

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

A: 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.

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

A: 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.

Q: Berkeley cops just don’t understand modern education. What about all the porn-studies courses popping up at universities around the country. Are the Berkeley courses related to them?

A: Yes. Porn studies is one hottest trends in the academic world, right up there with food studies, disabilities studies and “Star Trek” analysis.

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

A: 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. Another photo showed his wife dressed as a porn star.

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

Q: Say, how old are you, anyway?

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