Community college forces professor to bar the public from a class with an adult film star
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The Pasadena City News considered it big news that James Deen -- the male star of straight porn who has attracted an unprecedented female fan base -- was coming to town. ABC News described him as having "dashing boy-next-door" and "wholesome" looks. His sensitivity to the women he sleeps with on film is considered unusual for the genre. And Deen -- who had once taken courses at Pasadena City College -- was coming back to give a guest lecture in a course about pornography.
While the professor teaching the course and students enrolled in it were excited about the visit (scheduled for today), some administrators reading the article didn't realize that the institution had a course about pornography. And they demanded that the professor -- Hugo Schwyzer -- come to an emergency meeting Tuesday. Schwyzer teaches history, gender studies and has a national following on blogs such as Jezebel for his commentary on gender, sexuality and other issues.
Schwyzer said in an interview that this is the second time he has taught the course, as part of a series of courses at the college that integrate humanities and social sciences topics. And he said he was told that he would have to take back the invitation he gave in the local newspaper for the public to come see the class.
Schwyzer said he was told by administrators that they believed there would be significant protests of Deen's appearance, and that the college didn't have time to prepare security. He was told he could have Deen speak today as scheduled, but only if he limited attendance to the 40 students in his class.
Reluctantly, Schwyzer said, he agreed. He acknowledged that he had not filled out all of the paperwork completely for an outside lecturer in the way the college required, although he noted that this has never been a problem with other speakers, and that he had let the college know he was going to use a larger room for a speaker -- something he has done many times before.
The college issued a statement in the name of Robert Bell, assistant superintendent of academic and student affairs, saying that Schwyzer has "academic freedom within the classroom,” but that this does not extend to events to which the public or the press is invited. Further, the statement said that Schwyzer's course is to be called "Humanities 3," not "Navigating Pornography," as Schwyzer calls it. And the statement criticized Schwyzer for talking to reporters "without the advance knowledge or authorization of the college administration."
Schwyzer said that the course is entirely academic, and includes meetings with a variety of individuals, including people in the anti-porn movement. He said that most readings are scholarly. While there are a few assignments that involve students viewing and writing about pornography, students are told they may complete alternatives if they are uncomfortable, and the viewing takes place entirely at home, not in class.
He said the college should be honored to have an alumnus who has achieved success in his field return to the campus. "He's the biggest male star of straight porn. People call him the Justin Bieber of porn" for his popularity with young women, Schwyzer said. He added that he has received a few negative e-mail messages, but that he has seen no evidence of any planned protest.
The idea that there were security concerns about the event was laughable, Schwyzer said. Administrators "told me with a straight face that their concern wasn't about the subject matter of the course, but about the potential for protest," he said. "If I invited someone to talk about the horticulture of Southern California and didn't fill out all the forms correctly, this wouldn't be happening. I find it implausible that this isn't about the content." (Schwyzer blogged about the controversy here.)
In an interview, Deen said he was looking forward to returning to Pasadena City College. He said that he had taken courses there with the plan of trying to transfer to the University of California at Los Angeles had his career in the adult film industry not taken off.
Deen said that he has lectured at other college campuses -- most recently at Washington University in St. Louis -- without incident. He stressed that his campus appearances are to talk about his career and about human sexuality, and not to perform. Deen said that he doesn't understand why Pasadena City College would want to limit access to his talk.
"This course isn't mandatory for anyone, and my talk isn't mandatory," he said. "If you are not interested, you have the right not to attend. That's the beauty of America."