Friday, February 22, 2013

What if the stripping Columbia professor had been a woman?

There’s been a lot of buzz about a certain stripping down that happened at Columbia University; the story even made it to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s website: Columbia Freshmen Are Baffled by Physics Professor’s Stripped-Down Stunt by Charles Huckabee.

“First-year students in a “Frontiers of Science” course at Columbia University were shocked and confused on Monday when their professor, Emlyn Hughes, began what was to be a lecture on quantum physics by stripping to his shorts and changing clothes in front of them.”

After his performance, which included video footage of 9/11 and two people entering dressed in all black and stabbing at teddy bears with swords, Hughes states, "In order to learn quantum mechanics, you have to strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain, and start over again."

Being an English major I have to admit I know nothing about quantum mechanics, but from what I can surmise, the professor was trying to shock and confuse students to prepare their minds for opening to what he was about to teach them.

I ‘m not surprised that so many people are balking at his teaching and thinking he’s just a loon and a liberal, but I would think the students would at least appreciate his creative approach.

Here’s a professor willing to look foolish to capture young minds’ interest. This is what lies at the heart of good teaching.

While I would probably never strip in front of a class because that would definitely be perceived differently if a woman did it and because of my background, I do silly things all the time to get the students’ interest (like singing in an opera voice to quiet the class down). It’s impossible to teach if you don’t have a student’s attention.

I am curious though how this dialogue would be different if the professor had been a woman. Would the stripping down and changing of clothes be thought of as more scandalous? Would she be accused of sexual harassment? Would she be accused of using her body to get what she wants? Would she be considered slutty and attention-seeking?