‘Porn in the Morn’ is no more

For those forward-thinking students who, having turned in schedules for the fall term, are looking ahead to spring courses, “Porn in the Morn” is no longer on the menu.

That’s because the class, officially dubbed “Biology of Gender and Human Sexuality” lost its science credit and will not be offered this academic year. The course underwent routine review by the Yale College Science Council in April; that body decided the course no longer met the requirements of a science distributional requirement.

Professor Bill Summers elected to cancel his “Porn in the Morn” class.
Eva Galvan
Professor Bill Summers elected to cancel his “Porn in the Morn” class.

William Summers, the radiology professor who conceived of the course and has taught “Porn in the Morn” since 2005, disagreed with that decision.

“I didn’t agree that it wasn’t a science course,” Summers said.

After the Science Council pulled the course’s coveted “Sc” status, Summers pulled the course.

“I thought the decision showed a lack of confidence the Science Council expressed in me,” Summers said. “When you lose the respect of your colleagues by teaching it, you lose your enthusiasm to teach it.”

Summers said he views science more broadly than does the Science Council — which only designates natural sciences, not human sciences, for science distribution credit. Summers believes that the human sciences, such as psychology, should also be given the science distributional designation.

“If you do an epidemiological study of birds, it’s considered a natural science, but if you do it on humans, it’s not considered a natural science,” Summers said. “I thought it was all science but they had a distinction between natural sciences and all other sciences.”

There were other reasons why Summers decided not to teach the course. He wanted to focus on other subjects in his teaching; he is currently teaching six credits. But had the course’s science credit been re-approved, Summers said he probably would have continued to teach it because the course was in high demand among students. Last spring, 357 students took the iconic course — mainly freshman and sophomores. Enrollment peaked in 2005 when 546 took “Porn in the Morn.”

That year, Summers had to split the class in two because space wasn’t available for the full 546-student lecture. Summers would lecture the same material twice a day, two days a week.

The next semester, Summers taught “Porn in the Morn” from the auditorium in the Yale Law School, one of the largest lecture spaces on central campus. It was a setting where some students first learned the concept of the G-spot, or first saw an image of a crowning baby (the projection of which on the auditorium screen caused several students to walk out). Summers was known to invoke aliens on his exams, a trope “to suggest that one look at the issue [of sexual dimorphism] without any preconceived assumptions,” he wrote in an e-mail to the News.

“This is genuinely interesting subject matter that some people have never been exposed to,” said Christina Cicchetti ’11, who took the class last term. “It’s valuable even if it doesn’t make English majors cry.”

That said, Jenny Witthuhn ’12 — who also took the class last spring — said it made more sense to classify the course as a social science credit, rather than as a natural science.

“The class really focused on the social constructions of the topic,” Witthuhn said. “I see the logic of [the change] because it makes more sense to classify it as a social sciences.”

Routine reviews of all courses proposed for the science distributional credit occur every three to five years, said William Segraves, associate dean for science education and the chair of the Science Council. Segraves would not say exactly why the Science Council removed the science designation from Summers’s course.

Students still had the option of taking a course on human sexuality and reproduction this term: Harvey Kliman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale School of Medicine, is teaching a yearlong freshman seminar called “Topics of Reproductive Biology.” The seminar — which carries the “Sc” coding — addresses Yale’s hook-up culture and “the idea that reproduction is the center of all human activity,” Kliman said.

But Kliman’s course is not for the faint of heart: Interested students must have received a score of 5 on the Advanced Placement Biology exam to be considered for the course.

Comments

  • Goldie ’08

    Summers is a great prof and a good, funny dude. His lectures and subject matter actually held my interest. I looked forward to attending these lectures.

    Oh well – I got my science credit from it. Sorry current students!

  • Nathan ’09

    It’s about time. Why is Yale afraid to make its students do real science? I’ve outlined my argument against Summer’s course on my blog: http://wp.me/paF2T-11

  • Recent Alum

    What a joke that this class was offered. I have no doubt that Prof. Summers is a “funny dude” but I wonder if he would even be able to pass real science classes like organic chemistry.

  • Bill Summers

    It is probably imprudent to enter this fray, but Commentator #3 has provoked this response.. just for the record, I did pass organic chemistry (and a lot of other chemistry courses, too…) as well as a number of other “real” science courses. I have even taught such courses as physical biochemistry and quantum mechanics(not “and beyond”) to generations of Yalies majoring in the “real” sciences.

  • Another Recent Alum

    The question wasn’t whether Prof. Summers did pass classes like organic chemistry, but whether he would pass them now. Let’s try it and see. Even if he didn’t get an A, at least he isn’t senile or uninterested in teaching like some members of the Yale faculty!