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University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow recently apologized for his naivety about the media coverage of his decision to pay $5,000 of public money to porn star Nina Hartley to give a talk on campus.

Bob Atwell

Atwell

When Johnny’s baseball breaks the neighbor’s window, he normally doesn’t apologize that glass shatters. I am glad the media has covered the story.

I commend Dr. Gow for offering to return the money and for scheduling a follow-up event to present a far different perspective on pornography.

When Dr. Gow, Ms. Hartley and I were teenagers, pornography was a very different thing. What was a crinkled magazine picture then is today an unimaginable flood of graphic images two clicks away from every kid with a smartphone.

Most of us really don’t know or don’t want to know what goes on in the Internet world of today. However awkward this experience, this may still become an occasion for the sifting and winnowing that is central to the Wisconsin Idea at the heart of our universities.

Pornography is a horrible hill on which to plant the flag of free expression.

In a recent op-ed, Chancellor Gow expressed admiration for Ms. Hartley’s strange comment that “fantasy is what we want; reality is what we negotiate.”

I hope Dr. Gow comes to understand that there is much to pity and nothing to admire in this phrase. I suspect she is fantasizing about negotiating with the reality of life as porn star too old to be much in demand. Rebranding herself as a paid advocate for sexual health isn’t going to restore her surrendered dignity.

No amount of talking about condoms and consent will undo the damage she has done to herself and others.

I wonder if she or Dr. Gow have ever talked with a woman whose husband is trapped in the addictive fantasies he longs to escape? Has she ever thought about their children?

Do we really think that pervasive adult pornography plays no role in the proliferation of child pornography? How is a porn user supposed to know how old the person behind the image is?

Pornography is a protected form of expression, but that doesn’t make it good. It is not art. It is a massively profitable global industry that longs to brand itself as art.

Most of us don’t need science to know how devastating pornography is to the mental, physical and social health of those enslaved by it. We can see it in the sad and empty eyes of millions of boys and young men whose zest for life is being sucked into their smart phones.

There is ample scientific evidence that what Dr. Gow apparently admires as free expression, is in fact a massive public health problem.

I am hopeful this will result in a deep conversation about pornography rather than a shallow one about freedom.

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Bob Atwell serves on the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents and is chairman & CEO of Nicolet Bankshares Inc.

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(10) comments

Uncle Harry

Is Joe going to pony up for the opposing viewpoint or will that come out of students fees?

I do not think he should've offered to paid the fees, but if that's the way it's going to be, he should have to cover the opposition speaker. Otherwise, he should not have to or offered to cover Ms. Hartley's fee.

PhysicsIsFun

What is the opposing viewpoint? Did you read what she said in the presentation? It sounded to me like she gave the students good advice. So your suggestion is someone tells them it's OK to have sex when you are drunk, that pornography reflects reality, that you don't need consent before sex. These are the opposite of what she told them. I agree that an pornographic actress is not at the top of any career choice list, and that it seems unseemly, but sex is a big part of life. I assume that you object to the person not the message.

Slider

Doesn't Mr. Atwell as someone who sits on the Board of Regents have the authority to discipline Joe Gow? Does the $5,000 payments forgive such a lapse in judgment?

Uncle Harry

How is this a lapse in judgement?

Are you going to make the same case if Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, or Charlie Kirk speak at UWL?

shameless

UW-L generally brings in experts in their fields to speak, not twitter/youtube trolls.

RNeibuhr

Mr. Atwell’s letter is a proof of why this talk was an excellent example of free speech on campus. Clearly, he has a negative view of pornography. And it’s true that there is some evidence of harmful effects (not that Mr. Atwell actually provided any evidence, mind you). All the more reason we should have a robust discussion with multiple viewpoints, not sweep it under the rug because of some childish fear. Protections of free speech exist precisely so that taboo subject can be talked about—from pornogrophy to white supremacy. All Atwell proves in this letter is that he has no understanding of the Wisconsin Idea or the purpose of collegiate education. I guess that’s what we get for putting a banker on the board of regents.

martian2

I wonder if Mr Atwell was actually at the talk by the ex p*rn star. Did he actually get a chance to hear the questions put before her by the students and did he hear the answers she gave. If not, perhaps he shouldn't comment on the event he knows little about. Gow has apologized and reimbursed the university, really what more do people want?

Cassandra2

You know what's a really horrible idea for a presentation at the University? Lying, white supremacists and nazis.

Mr Wizard

Wow Cassie, you are a sick sob.

Cassandra2

Really, Wiz? You disagree? You prefer racists and Nazis?

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