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Noted sex educator and free expression advocate Nina Hartley recently visited UW-La Crosse, and in the days since I’ve been asked: Why did you, the chancellor of the university, invite a porn star to speak on your campus?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to answer.

Joe Gow


Nina Hartley


My primary motive in inviting Hartley was to help promote the UW System’s “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression,” implemented last fall by our Board of Regents.

As chancellor I am proud to have responsibility for ensuring everyone at UW-L is aware of this policy, particularly the idea that “it is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”

Consequently, I chose a topic, sexuality, and a speaker, Hartley, that would give the members of our campus community an opportunity to engage with someone who holds a perspective likely to be very different from their own. (Our Freedom of Expression policy is available online at

I also selected Hartley because I hoped she would remind our students, faculty and staff that sexual behavior should only involve consenting adults utilizing safe-sex practices. Given the fact that she has published a book and lectured extensively on this topic, I was confident Hartley would deliver a safe-sex message with a credibility few other speakers can claim.

Likewise, I sought someone who could provide an expert perspective on a phenomenon that is widespread, yet under discussed.

When I visited a Sexual Health Promotion class in advance of Hartley’s appearance, the students told me it is commonplace for people their age to view pornographic material.

And, indeed, statistics compiled by indicate that three of the top 10 most visited websites in the United States feature sexual content. Two of these adult sites are more popular than Twitter, eBay and Wikipedia. Thus it seemed beneficial to hear from someone who has extensive experience in a media form utilized by millions of Americans each day.

No one was required to attend Hartley’s presentation. And in order to avoid advance media sensationalism, we only promoted the event internally, using the digital screens hanging in most of the buildings on our campus.

Ms. Hartley gave her talk, “Fantasy vs. Reality: Viewing Adult Media with a Critical Eye,” using only a simple PowerPoint projection that underscored key points. There were no videos, photographs or graphics. The next morning, the presentation was well summarized in a front-page La Crosse Tribune article headlined “Frank talk about sex, porn.”

While Ms. Hartley covered a lot of ground during her remarks, and answered more audience questions than I can remember, three things continue to stand out for me.

First, just the fact that Hartley was appearing at UW-L proved to be challenging for many people. When I told several colleagues and students about her upcoming appearance, some of them expressed concerns to me, so I encouraged them to attend the event and raise their concerns through questions and comments. Most of these people chose not to come listen to Hartley, but those who did attend asked critical questions and promoted a healthy debate with our guest speaker.

Second, Hartley not only stressed the idea that sexuality should be limited to adults participating consensually and safely, she also said it is a bad idea to engage in sexual behavior after one has been drinking or using other drugs, particularly at a party or nightclub. I don’t think our students can ever hear that message too often.

And, third, Hartley emphasized that pornography is a very poor source of information about sexuality. She likened it to cartoons that present purely fantastic scenarios.

“Fantasy is what we want. Reality is what we negotiate,” she said, reminding the audience that in the real world sensitivity, collaboration and consent are essential.

This struck me as a wise perspective, not only on sexuality, but also on a host of other aspects of our lives, including careers and familial relationships. We have aspirations, but we must work well with others to realize them.

I’m grateful to Hartley for helping me to think about that.

When my wife and I dropped her off at the airport the morning after her presentation, our guest speaker thanked us for our hospitality and told us how impressed she was by her brief visit to La Crosse.

And we thanked her for so effectively helping UW-L pursue its mission.

To other universities interested in promoting free speech and advancing knowledge about essential social issues, I would recommend Hartley without hesitation.

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Joe Gow is chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.


(19) comments


Wow. He is actually proud of this. And trying to justify it. Every value we teach our children for the first 18 years of their lives is undone when we send them off to college. That fact that he is not ashamed speaks loudly to the community about his value system. In the "me too" movement, how do women feel about someone videotaping and selling their sexual encounters for all to view? Doesn't that totally degrade women and their sexuality? Consensual maybe, but perverted for sure.

Rick Czeczok

Joe, Joe, Joe, you caved to the PC crowd, You opened up a can of worms that will cost you dearly, sooner or later. I thought you were smarter then that. Good luck!


And you thought Walker was going to win in a cakewalk. He is smarter than that.

Rick Czeczok

Real name coward, or shut-up as you do not except any responsibility for your garbage you print. It's called accountability, and that is the one thing you fear the most.


See my comment below.


I suggest we all totally ignore comments that are not related to the discussion subject. Just ignore the comments that have personal jabs or childish name calling. Don't respond at all to these middle school antics and maybe Mr Tribune will see fit not to show those types of comments. I am only going to respond to posts that deal with the subject under discussion. Maybe if we all do that, those deplorables will go some where else. Ever notice that all those types are right wingers, its very revealing.


@martian2, it's funny you say to ignore all comments that have personal jabs or childish name calling, then you jab and use name calling. You are a real piece of work.


Ya gotta love conservatives. So now Hartley speaking is bad because other worse subjects "supposedly" aren't allowed at UW-L? Are conservatives really comparing the confederate flag to be as bad as the adult film industry? Geez. I wish people would think.


So Joe, when is UW-L going to have a speaker on supporting the Confederate flag? Are those "free speech" discussions going to happen at UW-L? {crickets}


I'd bet that unless the speaker caused a security concern they'd be welcome. Are you going to track down a campus group to pursue an opportunity? (crickets)


So what you are saying is that conservatives need to be more violent and that violence will shut down liberal speakers?


No. Free Speech is a one-way street at UWL. As long as you have a liberal agenda, you are welcomed with open arms. Write "Trump 2016" on a sidewalk with chalk and it will be condemned as hate speech.


Yes slider, I agree. When are they going to allow white nationalists hold a rally at UWL? How about the Nazi party giving a speech on campus. How about anti-Semitics given a chance to speak their minds. Yes a talk on supporting the confederate flag and what it represents would be a mind altering experience. Mr. Gow gave a thoughtful and well written argument and all you right wingers can do is stir up more hate talk, and turn it political. How pathetic and sad.


What is pathetic and sad is how liberals can justify any speech that they agree with and scream fascist or racist with those they don't.


yes it is too bad we can't justify hate speech slider. Why should it be so hard to justify bigotry and hate on our college campuses? Life just isn't fair! Why can't we go back to the days of jim crow and separate but equal laws for minorities? Maybe you could apply to UWL slider requesting to speak at a student assembly about your ultra right wing views. I am sure you are more than qualified.

Rick Czeczok

Ah there's the old Kingman talk coming back out, Nazi's, Russians, the guy is fixated on them. See folks this Martian guy is the "OLD KINGMAN". He was kicked off this board for spewing lies, hatred, and attacking people. He is now back with a group on here of socialist activists who spread hatred, lies, and gang up on anyone who doesn't agree with them. Martian, Old Homey, Cassandra, Joba, Fragle, Physics fun, and a couple others are in this organized group. They change their names when they get kicked off or start getting ganged up on by normal people. They are gutless cowards who will never give their real names. Now watch them come after me. So obvious it's funny. I play there silly game as they amuse me, with their silly childish statements and attacks back at me. They are really quite funny. Please use your real name when commenting back or you don't count. HAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!Like that will happen. COWARDS!


Generally Rick, the people who use screen names are ones who still work for a living and may be under fear that an employer may not agree with their political stance. If, for example, I work for a hyper conservative employer and rip on the president, there is a very real chance that I could be released from my employment. Since you and Chip don't have that worry, you are free to post whatever drips out of your mouth. But just an FYI, you've become what you decry on these comment sections. Too much name calling and not enough fruitful discussion. Have a wonderful day!!

Rick Czeczok

Shameless I ony go after those who attack others. As for your theory on working people Old Homey and Martian (Kingman) are both retired. No, anonymity is used when people say things that they know are wrong or an outright lie. Thus hide behind being the anonymous fake name. Pure BS and used most often by the PC. Sounds like you know me, so why don't we talk one on one. You simply have to call, but you won't now will you. Thus, you are like the rest, simply spewing hatred and garbage.


Czeczok, you go after anyone you disagree with. You are the one who constantly goes after people so you "just gotta know who they are" so you can attack them and not the message. You make the claim that "they change their names when they get kicked off or start getting ganged up on by normal people." They are gutless cowards who will never give their real names. So, once again, how do you know they change their name and if you believe that they will never give their real names, why do you keep asking? Is it because you can't control the conversation with something meaningful? Or is it because you really want to just attack the messenger and not engage in something meaningful at all? Your old song and dance about wanting to know is getting to be old. Just like it was with Raplin. Your not really him are you? Can you just answer some other people's questions for once?You admit that people won't give their real names so why don't you be honest and just stick to the topics at hand? Who's the real coward?

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