Michael Bailey, Northwestern professor of psychology and human sexuality learned a lesson in coalitions and legitimacy when followers leapt from his bandwagon and stopped supporting him.
Bailey found himself in hot water after staging an explicit demonstration of the female orgasm in an optional after-class presentation for undergraduate students.
Originally, the support of a coalition of students, administrators, and university health officials helped sustain the professor’s legitimacy. University spokesman Al Cubbage released a statement saying, “the university supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge.”
However, as the media descended on campus, the coalition began fragmenting. Powerful alumni, trustees, and religious student organizations began questioning Bailey’s judgment. Meanwhile, Bailey remained defiant, refusing to apologize or recognize his collapsing coalition. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but watching naked people on stage doing pleasurable things will never hurt you,” he argued in response.
Within a day, the university rescinded its support and began a formal investigation. Without coalitional or institutional support, Bailey rapidly found his agenda and legitimacy disintegrating. Within months, the university announced that it would no longer offer Bailey’s course future.
Bailey was left naked without coalitional support behind his agenda.
The lesson here is that we must go through the humbling exercise of sustaining our legitimacy and coalition partners so that they will stand behind us when conflict arises.
Even if we feel we are on ethical high ground, as Bailey no doubt believed he was, we can never take our support for granted.
We must maintain our political competence and sell our agenda whether that agenda involves paper clips or female sexuality. Ultimately, even if we’re shedding our clothes, we must never shed our coalition or risk burying our agenda.