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Northwestern chief: Live sex demonstration doesn’t define school

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro said Monday he believes that “guided by the light of reason” the university community will work through recent controversy over an in-classroom live sex demonstration.

Schapiro’s latest statement, posted at the university’s website, highlighted several recent events more in keeping with the school’s reputation as an academic powerhouse, such as a breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research at the Feinberg School of Medicine and a visit by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the law school.

“Those activities, and the many other wonderful things that occur each and every day at Northwestern, aren’t likely to attract the same amount of media coverage that the recent incident has,” Schapiro’s statement said. “But they define who we are.”

Schapiro said controversy was a part of every university.

“And when it does occur, there will be disagreement on how the University should respond, even among the most thoughtful of our more than 250,000 students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni,” the statement said. “I’m confident, however, in our ability to work through this situation, guided, as we must be, by the light of reason.”

On Feb. 21, two non-students demonstrated for 100 students a power tool converted into a sex toy in an optional after-class seminar of Professor J. Michael Bailey’s “Human Sexuality” class. In the six days since the news broke, the university and Bailey have issued five different statements. The school and Bailey have heard from parents, alumni and others with no ties to Northwestern. Students have mostly been supportive of Bailey and his approach to learning.

The university first addressed the incident stating that the school “supports the efforts of faculty to further the advancement of knowledge.” The next day, Schapiro backtracked, saying he was disturbed and would launch an investigation. Monday’s statement didn’t mention the investigation, but that he has learned “the deep affection that members of the Northwestern community have for the University and why it is so well-deserved.” He shares that pride, he wrote.

Bailey’s initial statement explained his rationale behind the live sex display and said he wasn’t sure if he regretted allowing students to watch it. On Saturday, he put out a statement apologizing, though he noted he wasn’t buying any of the arguments he had heard against in-classroom live sex acts.

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