Should 'Professor Shimmy' Have Been Sacked?

Professors may need to think twice about what they do during after-school hours, lest they want to risk getting canned -- especially if they are female faculty members. Such was the message loud and clear from John F. Kennedy University in its firing of psychology professor Sheila Addison, a.k.a. "Professor Shimmy" of the San Francisco burlesque show, Hubba Hubba Revue.

Fearing that her extracurricular activity was too scandalous, school administrators commented that Addison's performances have brought "public disrespect, contempt, and ridicule to the university," and described students as "shocked and dismayed" by the former assistant professor's actions. Yet, funny enough, the university hasn't taken the same hard line with a male professor at JFK University, who stripped down during his one-man show at the Hubba Hubba Revue. He has yet to be disciplined.

With JFK University citing no other reasons for Addison's termination, many instructors are now wondering if their personal, private activities -- erotically-oriented or not -- can cost them their livelihood. How far can faculty members or school teachers go in legally expressing their sexuality, gender, or rights to free speech when off-campus? Do they have the right to engage in artistic and political activities on their own time? And how is it acceptable that women should be subject to a double standard in their sexuality expression, as appears to be the case here?

Addison's "offense" was simply performing burlesque, with her shows involving the typical features of this art, like dance, storytelling, comedy with parody and a partial striptease. With burlesque a celebration of one's sensuality -- not sexuality -- regardless of one's age or body type, the power of suggestion is its main enticement.

The voluptuous performer's actions involved sashaying on stage with belly-dancing moves, while peeling off a male performer's layers (he's never fully nude). She then strips down to pasties while keeping the lower half of her body clothed.

Addison, who is suing on the grounds of sexual discrimination, alleges that the university has "disgust for a woman performing in politically, socially, and sexually based performance art." She has defended herself with the fact that there's no link between her burlesque and teaching activities. While the male professor who stripped down during his show actually invited students and colleagues to catch his performance, Addison has never talked about her hobby to her students or about her university teaching to her show's audience. Her activities were supposedly anonymous.

In the university's defense, Addison should have perhaps picked a better stage name than "Professor Shimmy," which doesn't exactly indicate that her on- and off-campus activities exist in two separate spheres. In using the term "professor," she's drawing upon and shaping her identity as an instructor both on and off campus, and some may find that problematic if she's mistakenly seen as representing the university in her stage act.

Still, despite this bad call on Addison's part, many feel that JFK University overreacted and overstepped its right to fault a faculty member for their off-campus, personal antics. Professor or not, female or not, sensual, sexual enthusiast or not, anybody with an employer to answer to should be alarmed that you can be strung up and lose your job for something you're legally entitled to enjoy on your own time.