Archive for Thursday, February 12, 2004

KU prof revisits sex-class controversy at public forum

February 12, 2004


Nearly a year after his teaching methods were questioned in the Legislature and on national television, a Kansas University social welfare professor now says he's in some ways glad to have gone though the incident.

"For me, this was an unbelievably positive experience," Dennis Dailey said. "Even though it was frightening and hurtful, I got support and affirmation that was really remarkable."

Dailey on Wednesday gave his first public lecture about the controversy, which erupted last spring over his "Human Sexuality in Everyday Life" class. He spoke to about 60 people at the Ecumenical Christian Ministry's weekly University Forum.

He said he was hesitant to speak at the forum, fearing media coverage would set off new attacks against his curriculum.

"I heard three times, wouldn't it be better to let resting dogs lie?" he said.

But Dailey, who has taught at KU since 1969, said he was concerned enough about the academic freedom issues to speak about his experiences. He said he feared outside attacks on academia would have "chilling effects on a university's enterprise."

Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, first questioned Dailey's teaching in late March on the Senate floor. She introduced an amendment that would have cut funding to KU's school of social welfare if videos shown in Dailey's class were deemed obscene.

The measure passed both houses but was vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius eventually signed into a law a compromise that requires state universities to have policies on sexually explicit materials, sexual harassment and pedophilia.

Dailey defended his decision not to comment to the news media in the early stages of the debate, because he didn't want to "add gas to the fire." He said he was better served by having students and colleagues defend him.

He also said he has decided against suing Wagle for defamation of character, despite the pleadings of several attorneys, including his daughter.

"It's not my style," Dailey said.

Though Dailey said he received overwhelming support from colleagues and former students, he also received death threats.

"I had eight e-mails that were absolutely terrifying because they all threatened my life," he said. "And they weren't masked threats. It was, 'We know where you live, and we're coming after you.' One mentioned they knew where my daughter lived."

He also said he thought the controversy was fueled by society's hesitance to discuss sexuality in public.

"You and I are going to be dust in somebody's petunia garden before this is settled," he said.

Dailey received support from those at ECM, which is host to a community version of his class. Richard League, who organizes the University Forum series for ECM, said the Dailey-Wagle issue had been a topic of conversation at ECM.

"We thought it was timely," he said. "This caused a lot of interest on campus and in the outside world. What we try to do is have topics that are substantial to what's going on in our culture right now."

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