English seduction course stirs debate on campus

Zach Henson

Assistant News Editor

Noel Harold Kaylor, an English professor, will be teaching ENG 4400, “The Seduction of Women in Literature,” a Selected Topics course he has called “Fall Term 2018’s Most Controversial English Course.”

The course became the center of controversy in the English department last Monday after Kaylor hung advertisements for the course reading “Depending upon your perspective, this is a ‘How to’ course; ‘Why not to’ course.”

“There was an attempt at humor that was inappropriate,” said Kirk Curnutt, the English department chair. “That’s what set everybody off.”

Bronwyn Arnold, a junior English major from Prattville, said it seemed as though Kaylor was making fun of the topic.

“The phrase was poorly chosen,” Kaylor said. “And it should have read this: how to understand seduction.”

According to the Troy University Human Resources Department, an anonymous source voiced a concern regarding the advertisement, but HR found the English department already in the process of handling the situation.

“I tend to accept (Kaylor’s) explanation that he was trying to make a humorous remark; it was an inappropriate remark,” said Curnutt. “I told him to revise the flyer, and that’s essentially what has happened.”

A revised flyer, omitting “How to” and reading “Why not to seduce,” is currently posted in the English department, but some students and faculty are still concerned about the course material.

The flyer advertises four books to be taught in the course: “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, “Dangerous Liaisons” by Pierre Ambroise Laclos, “The Possessed” by Dostoevsky and “The Marquise of O” by Kleist.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The Marquise of O” centers around a young widow “who finds herself inexplicably pregnant,” which she then finds was caused by rape while she was unconscious.

According to SparkNotes, the main character of “Lolita,” as an adult remembering a childhood relationship, seeks to find another young girl to remind him of his first love, eventually becoming “infatuated” with a 12-year-old.

“It concerns me because the books are very controversial and a very heavy topic to discuss,” Arnold said.

She further expressed worry that the class “should not be taught by someone who has been charged for assault and harassment,” referring to a 2008 incident in which Kaylor was accused of harassing a flight attendant.

“Forget it,” Kaylor said when asked about these allegations.

He later showed a Tropolitan reporter correspondence between himself and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., which showed Kaylor was cleared of charges regarding this incident by the U.S. Department of State.

Kaylor also acknowledged the heft of the topics but said that controversial topics must be understood before they can be dealt with.

“We’re dealing with many, many representations in literature (of seduction) … by authors who disapprove of seduction, as do I,” Kaylor said.

The students taking the course will use critical thinking skills “to analyze how seduction occurs in its many variations,” he said.

As he explained his choice of course title and assigned reading, he emphasized the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of seduce.

“Seduce: to lead away from duty, accepted principle, or proper conduct,” he read.

“Knowing the definition (of seduction), I know that I have properly named the course, and I know that to seduce, by definition, is acceptable nowhere in civilized society. The dean of my college and the chair of my department would never think of approving a course that would instruct seduction, which is an activity unacceptable in civilized society.”

Patricia Waters, an assistant professor of English, voiced concerns regarding the objectification of women in the advertisement.

She described the women in the novels as being emblems of changing social and political thought in the advertised works and expressed disappointment that the advertisement seemed to refer only to women being “cajoled” and “manipulated.”

“I think the poster’s language was ill-advised, I think the poster’s framing of the course description was ill-informed and I think that intrinsically interesting material is being undercut by a failure to recognize a theoretical framework,” Waters said. “(The class) is being contextualized in gender stereotypes and not being contextualized in terms of critical theory.”

Both Kaylor and Curnutt emphasized that the course is an elective, and not a mandatory class, meaning that students who may be offended by the course do not have to take it.

“This is a niche course,” said Curnutt. “We live in an age where, obviously, we are evolving in our understanding of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate in terms of sexual comments, and I think that’s a conversation that this campus probably needs to have.”

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