My accounting professor created a large binder full of notes for us to use instead of an actual textbook. He created it, and since he's the head of the accounting department at my university, he has implemented it into all of the accounting curricula. In this binder, there are news articles and random cartoons which are almost entirely unrelated to accounting. For example, there is a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip on almost every other page and the content of the strips are not in the least related to accounting.

An exam is coming up so I started studying from the beginning of the section and I happened across an unusual piece that was photocopied into the notes. This piece is the Italian telling of "Sleeping Beauty". No explanation or anything saying what it is; I was only able to figure out what it is because I was so offended by it (read further for an explanation of the offense) that I researched what it was, so I could maybe develop an understanding of why my professor would dare to include this in what he is teaching us.

If you are not familiar with the Italian (arguably the original) telling of this fairy tale, it is rather simple, and goes as follows: A young woman is drugged; she appears to be dead to her family so they leave her body in peace in a cabin that they seal up. One day a rich king comes across the cabin and breaks in; he sees the YOUNG woman and assumes she is asleep so he rapes her because she's so beautiful. This young woman eventually gives birth to twins and through a series of events they wake her from her drugged and practically dead state. Skipping some information I don't think is necessary, the young woman considers her rape and rapist blessings and is thankful for said horrific rape.

Now, my question is that I want to know if this is acceptable? I was disgusted when I read it (while studying for an exam, mind you). I consider myself a feminist and as a woman myself, I found the story offensive in the extreme. I also feel that this is helping to perpetuate the belief that women should be thankful for their rapists because it is a compliment. Can my university (a state university) legally, ethically, and morally publish this to their students in a faculty made textbook? I want to take action but I am not sure if this is even allowed and do not want to make a fool of myself.

Update (posted in comments):

I have spoken with the professor who created this book (it is more of a textbook than lecture notes) and he admitted he was in the wrong for including this. He stated that he likes to include things unrelated to accounting in his book just because. There was no explanation about the story, no relating back to accounting or econ or anything.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – aeismail
    Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 12:48
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    For someone coming by here, it pays to remember that essentially all well-known fairy tales are horrific in their original source material.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 2:07
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    by "italian version" I suppose you mean Sun, Moon, and Talia and not The Young Slave? Then the "irrelevant" parts you skipped include the queen plotting to cook the children? In the other version a wife beating the child and making her her slave? Ask cause while you dismay them it's in effect framing fairy tales which deal darker things than you think. Ever noticed the more you go back in history the uglier world you get?
    – n611x007
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 6:22
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    I think the moral might actually also be misread. Talia is about to be burned in the tale when she gots the idea to make the queen let her undress so the queen would think she would get her heavily-jeweled robes but to turn that into a spectacle by crying out loud, because if the garrisson takes her the mayhem will make the king have a look. Finally Talia becomes queen. Well you gotta ask an Italian but the moral che come si è sempre saputo se la fortuna viene scende dal cielo anche dormendo il bene tries to tell "who has the nerve can turn the deepest shit (sorry) for herself into benefit".
    – n611x007
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 7:09
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    So if you try it like this the story is about the cleverness of the girl. She got dead, been raped, her children attempted to be murdered and herself burn on fire. But since she got the nerves, fortuna helps her and she makes herself queen. I don't know if she went on taking revenge on the king or forgave him but I think the tale is about how she turned the events. If I were you I would save my rage for something else.
    – n611x007
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 7:15

13 Answers 13


In economics a "sleeping beauty" is a company primed for takeover, often because it is under-valued. Asset valuation is quite a large topic in accounting, since it can have a huge impact on the final total value of the company.

Some authors are of the opinion that the (European) sovereign debt crisis created a mentality shift in accounting. That is, valuation tended towards more conservative methods, and in so doing, accountants created more sleeping beauties than before the crisis.

It is my guess that your professor did not have time to cover this topic in your course. Or perhaps it is used in another course? Why don't you ask him?

If you feel that there is hostile environment against women, then go right ahead and report it. You should not feel guilty in any way.

However, the professor could simply be trying to grab your attention with a small "shock", as asset valuation is considered by many students (that I have met) to be both mundane and boring.

We do not need more political correctness (PC) or micro aggression within higher education. So please ask yourself if he really ment to promote rape, or if you are simply taking this completely out of context. Again, what is stopping you e-mailing him? Write that you you do not see how it is related to the course, and ask for a clarification. His response should give you a clear indication of how to continue.

  • The entire comment conversation has been moved to Academia Chat. Please refrain from extended discussion on the comments.
    – eykanal
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 12:35
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    @eykanal: I am curious to see the discussion, but I am having trouble finding it there. Can you post a more specific link? Thanks. Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 9:23
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    @mike3 chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/31014/… Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 14:43
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    @mike3 - The direct link is here. Thank you, ChingChong!
    – eykanal
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 3:12
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    One other consideration is that I believe in Italy the most popular version of the sleeping beauty story is the one popularized in the disney cartoon, in which the woman is put to sleep by magic and awoke with a kiss. It is a fairly common kids' tale in Italy, and while one can debate on the role played by gender stereotypes in the story, I would find it hard to be considered portraying rape and most likely the professor would be unaware of its original darker tone.
    – Three Diag
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 10:03
  1. Now, my question is that I want to know if this is acceptable? --- This may or may not be acceptable, depending on the context in which this example is used in the teaching process. For example, it is acceptable to use this story to reflect on how the dominant attitude to women rights changed in time.
  2. I found the story offensive in the extreme --- I sympathise with your feelings. However, the story is not about you, and I hope the lecturer does not encourage you or other students to use it as a model of good practice.
  3. Can my university (a state university) legally, ethically, and morally publish this to their students in a faculty made textbook? --- Definitely yes. On the same grounds as it can publish a story of people killing each other in a war conflict to help students learn about this episode and reflect on it. It does not assume that the University encourages students to kill other people.
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    I wouldn't use "definitely" in your third part. Given Mr. Watterson notoriously adverse position on merchandise and licensing, I doubt if the generous use of Calvin and Hobbes strips are properly licensed.
    – KlaymenDK
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 12:09
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    @KlaymenDK The statement refers to the Sleeping Beauty tale, not to the comics. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 12:19
  • Okay, I read it as relating to the question in general. However, this doesn't diminish my point regarding the comics.
    – KlaymenDK
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 12:24
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    @KlaymenDK I agree that there is a potential copyright issue here regarding the comics. However, I believe, the author was mostly concerned with other legal and ethical aspects. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 12:45

To get back to the overall topic question(s):

Is it appropriate for my professor to teach us something that can be controversial?

In general, yes. New ideas are often controversial, almost by definition. If you spend much time in the better parts of academia, you'll be exposed to boatloads of "controversial" ideas.

Of course there are degrees of controversy. It's one thing to argue that Heisenberg was wrong about quantum mechanics, and entirely another to argue that Hitler was right about exterminating Jews.

The measure of an idea and its suitability in the academic context isn't whether it's controversial, it's whether the idea is built upon rational foundations and if/how well it stands up to logical scrutiny.

Is it appropriate for my professor to teach us something completely unrelated to the class subject matter?

I once had a statistics professor who, when discussing confidence intervals, would often go off on tangents about things which could be proven to a very high level of certainty, chiefly among them being the non-existence of god.

I think that's a good example of non-relevant material that's arguably inappropriate to the subject matter. And I say that even though I personally agree with his position. His opinions on the presence or non-presence of a creator entity were completely irrelevant to the subject of statistics. And over the course of a semester he probably wasted several hours of course time while off on his tangents, which tended to last 10-15 minutes at a time and were repeated on practically a weekly basis.

I don't think that was appropriate. Specifically, I don't think spending that much time on a tangential subject was appropriate. And what did I do about it? At the end of the semester, there was a routine survey taken to get feedback on the course. As part of my feedback, I noted that while philosophy was all well and good, it wasn't really necessary or relevant in a course on statistics.

So what's the point? That there are degrees of inappropriateness. And that the measure should be not whether you feel something is inappropriate, but whether or not the inappropriate behavior is actually detrimental to the course. The problem, in my case, was that we lost hours of instruction time to the professor's tangential rants about religion. If he had just mentioned his opinion once or twice in passing, it wouldn't have even been worth mentioning (though certainly, there still may be people who would find that "inappropriate").

Professors are people too, and their teaching styles can vary wildly. Some can be quite conversational, which often leads to the discussion of off-topic/"inappropriate" subjects. But it's really only a problem when it causes a significant distraction from the intended subject matter.

Now to your specific question:

I want to know if this is acceptable?

To be clear, the "this" in your question is that you found a copy of an old fairy tale amongst a binder full of notes, and it contains content that is sexist and/or misogynist when viewed in a modern context. You seem to have inferred that its mere presence in the notebook means that the instructor is "teaching" you that story and the sexist message contained within it. You also seem to have inferred that the professor is deliberately promulgating that message.

However, from your question, it's not clear that the inspector has taught anything at all yet. Let alone anything controversial or unrelated to the subject matter. Including a story in a set of notes is not the same thing as teaching. It's not the same thing as endorsing the story or its content. And it's not the same thing as advocating that people take the message of the story to heart.

Have you considered the alternative possibilities that exist, such as:

  1. The professor is bad at preparing notes and other course materials.
  2. The material is in fact relevant to the subject matter, in a way that the professor will eventually make clear during lecture time, when he is actually teaching.
  3. The professor likes to go off on his own tangents about the progression of societal views over time, and has included the story to demonstrate how views towards women have changed, and to illustrate how barbaric they once were.

A big part of being in academia is keeping an open mind, and not jumping to conclusions.

I believe you need to give your professor a chance to contextualize the material before you can make a rational and informed decision about whether or not it's relevant, controversial, or acceptable. Instead of, you know, prejudging the issue because you find some of the notes personally distasteful when viewed completely out of context.


Based upon your updates, it sounds like #1 (above) was indeed the case. From the details provided, the professor's methodology for preparing notes is essentially arbitrary. He did a careless and academically unprofessional thing (times two since there are valid justifications for the content, which the professor never had and failed to come up with), and if he cannot relate the reference material to the subject matter in any way, it's appropriate that the reference material be removed (due to non-relevance).

That said, arguing that the professor's actions or that the presence of a 400 year old fairy tale in reference materials amount to a propagation of rape culture is way, way over the top.

The point I want to make is, I hope you take the incident as a learning experience instead of simply an excuse to further an ideological viewpoint. Academics isn't about exposing you to only the safe, comfortable, familiar ideas. Challenging students with opposing (and often, uncomfortable) viewpoints is a normal part of the learning process, and helps develop both self-confidence and critical-thinking skills (both of which you'll need if you ever make it as far as having to defend a thesis). If you never feel uncomfortable, your instructors aren't doing their job.

The best way, academically speaking, to confront upsetting, hurtful, or just plain wrong ideas is to disprove/discredit them through open and rational discourse.

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    Indeed - and (2) can be as little a remark as "If you are interested why 'sleeping beauties' are named as they are, you can find a story that provided the name in the lecture notes.", thereby not even using any significant amount of time as in the cases, you described. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 14:43
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    I had a professor declared at the start of a lecture "I shall disprove the existence of an omnipotent god" and then ran through the basic proof of the term "omnipotent" being automatically self contradictory. It was for part of the course involving formally stating and proving/disproving logical statements so it was actually quite appropriate and was carried smoothly on to talking about other provably self contradictory concepts.
    – Murphy
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 14:54
  • Some jurisdictions have a policy on the grounds of "education is integral". That kind of policy makes you unable to challenge your professor because he taught something out of subject. Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 17:17

One cannot presume to know why the professor included the story in his notes. Since he's obviously experienced in his job, it's probably reasonable to give him the benefit of a doubt.

Additionally, this is a fairy tale that was probably written more than 100 years ago. Of course it's not going to be PC for today, very few are. It is reasonable to expect that an adult today would be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy and would not model their behavior on hundred-year-old fairy tales.

There probably is a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why this was included. I would just ask.

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    Indeed, it should be about 400 years ago; the version (Basile's) that is presumably quoted was published 1635.
    – quid
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 8:50
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    Side note: if OP doesn't feel comfortable asking the professor in a personal way, they can always create a new throwaway Gmail account just to ask the question (just identify clearly as a student in the university, so the professor doesn't think it's spam)
    – DVK
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 17:03

To summarize your question, there seem to be two issues with the binder:

  1. The binder is very poor, full of superflous or irrelevant material, yet is used as either the main text or a supporting text in all accounting curricula at your university, even when very good accounting textbooks obviously exist and are in use at other universities.
  2. One among many 'pieces' of irrelevant material in the binder is a misogynistic, medieval folk story about the benefits of rape on rape survivors.

So the sleeping beauty story is a particularly egregious illustration of the more general problem, that the binder is not a good set of materials.

While the term sleeping beauty is used as a metaphor in finance and a number of other disciplines, that is because (the modern version of) the story is well known to pretty much anyone. There is absolutely no need to include the full story in an accounting text, because the details are completely irrelevant to students of accounting. To choose a medieval telling of the story, in which sleeping beauty is raped, is at best outrageously poor judgement. The professor would know as much if he had spent just a few seconds critically reflecting on what he was up to.

So to summarize, I think you are right to be offended, and you should lodge a complaint - possibly after your exam.

But would you be happy if this one story gets removed from the binder, for it then to continue as reading material of choice for all accounting courses at your university? Assuming not, I think your complaint should focus on the more general problem, citing sleeping beauty and other cases as examples. The general problem being, that the standard of quality expected from a state university is not being upheld.

  • 7
    Do you seriously expect every professor of accounting to be familiar with every medieval variation of a fairy tale? They're not history professors. The 1959 Sleeping Beauty is much, much better known that the 1635 Sleeping Beauty. Consider that a complaint will be judged by people who probably also know only the 1959 version. Even if the rest of your complaint would have had merit, the Sleeping Beauty reference alone would make the rest of the complaint look silly as well.
    – MSalters
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 10:45
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    I expect a person who compiles a compendium for students to read whatever text he places in that compendium. This particular professor of accounting chose to put the story of how sleeping beauty got raped in his accounting compendium. It would also have been poor judgement to put the 1959 version in the accounting compendium, because it is a waste of space and students time. But this guy actively chose the version in which sleeping beauty is saved by rape.
    – BjaRule
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 11:18
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    I am surprised this answer has gathered so many upvotes. "very poor, full of superflous or irrelevant material"; "because the details are completely irrelevant to students of accounting" - such a narrow-minded stance is downright unbecoming of university graduates. If you want to restrict yourself to the precise operational knowledge of your particular profession, go to a vocational school. I see nothing wrong in conveying contextual and background information on a topic. No-one claims the story is included in the binder as a central piece of information rather than just as a "read if ... Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 11:22
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    My inference was that including the original, more brutal version of the story could have made sense as an allusion to the business world, where the profit motive often leads corporate entities to amoral, exploitative, and even cutthroat behavior.
    – aroth
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 13:37
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    @O.R.Mapper If I go to an accounting lecture, I expect the lecturer to talk about accounting. That does not mean it should be restricted to 'precise operational knowledge'. It just means it should be related to the topic of the lecture/course, or be reasonably presumed to be of at least marginal interest to the people in the auditorium. The story in question is not related to accounting in any meaningful way and there is no reason to believe any of the students would have any interest in it at all. Because it can not conceivably contribute any context or background to an accounting topic.
    – BjaRule
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 14:42

Wow, I really disagree with the current highly voted answers defending this prof.

This is terrible teaching.

  • A highly dramatic story like this is going to distract from the material, and leave people thinking about rape, not about whatever the book is supposed to focus on. Just today, I did a lecture on principal component analysis and I showed how you could use it to clump together cars with similar features. (Thanks stats.SE!) I could have showed how to use PCA to clump human racial groups instead. I didn't, because I wanted to talk about linear maps, high dimensional geometry and singular value decomposition, not about race. If I'd brought the controversial material into the classroom, students would have woken up, yes, but they would have been entirely focused on racial politics, not on mathematics. Cars are interesting and practical enough for people to get the point, while still thinking about math.

  • Rape is a fairly common crime, and one which is known to create particularly strong flashbacks and phobias in its victims. It is reasonable to assume that, in a large university lecture, there will be rape victims. Now, if rape is relevant, that is a reason to discuss the material with sensitivity. But when rape has nothing to do with the lecture, just don't bring it up.

Responses to points I can imagine some people making:

  • One needs some humor/interest to keep students paying attention. Sure. But it should be light humor and it should be brief; they are supposed to be paying attention to the course material. Secondly, for many people, this isn't going to be funny or interesting, it is going to be severely upsetting. If I flashed a slide of a giant tarantula in the middle of a lecture on eigenvalues, it would get people's attention, but it wouldn't be kind or helpful.

  • The story was meant to illustrate the investment slang term Sleeping Beauty. First of all, we have no actual evidence of that. Secondly, the description at the link suggests that the metaphor is usually used in the sense of a company that needs to "wake up" to achieve its potential, not the sense of a company that needs to be raped in order to produce other productive companies. The latter would, I guess, be a metaphor for something like acquiring a company in the expectation of using its buildings/machinery etc to do something else. One could imagine a course talking about the ethics of doing that. And the discussion would go a whole lot better if the prof. didn't bias the conversation by comparing it to rape.

  • Blaming the university, as the OP seems to do when she writes "Can my university (a state university) legally, ethically, and morally publish this to their students in a faculty made textbook?" seems silly to me. Universities don't generally censor their professors coursepacks; it is the professor's job to build something appropriate. And I think that is a good system. (Oh, and it is certainly legal. IANAL, but I don't see how this possibly fails to have first amendment protection -- as do many other bad ideas.)

  • The professor has the right to do this. Yeah, sure. And I, and all his students, have the right to criticize him. And he has the right to criticize us ad infinitum. You have the right to criticize that whole chain of criticisms -- for the mathematicians, that would be an ω criticism. (See? Connecting mathematics to humor in an inoffensive way! Not so hard!)

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    "A highly dramatic story like this is going to distract from the material" - under that assumption, how can any university student be expected to learn anything at all? Admittedly, I do not come from a textbook culture - at my place, having only a "skeleton" of lecture notes, while requiring students to constantly find all the detail information on their own is seen as preferrable over having students restrict their intake of information to a single book or set of lecture notes. If students were really that easily distracted, sending students out into the world of information to find ... Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 22:03
  • ... details on any topic couldn't possibly work at all. As it, in my experience, does work very well, something about your assumption that students are easily and significantly distracted by dramatic or intimidating topics cannot be quite accurate. Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 22:04

Speaking strictly legally and specifically with respect to the United States, your university is bound by title IX to take steps to prevent and mitigate hostile environments due to gender. The precise nature of these steps depends a great deal upon your universities' specific policies and implementation. It may be that your school's policies are more far-reaching than this, however so long as your school receives money from the federal government, it is required to meet this bar.

A hostile environment is generally considered to exist when there is conduct such that a student's access to education is impeded on the basis of the student's sex. The impediment does not necessarily need to be "a big deal" to meet this standard. Examples of behavior which may lead to a hostile environment could range from an attempted assault, to lewd remarks. There are subjective and objective components used to determine whether or not an environment could be considered hostile. First, did anyone subjectively feel that the environment was hostile? Second, would a reasonable person have found that the behavior led to a hostile environment?

If the inclusion of the story created a hostile environment, then the university has an obligation to remediate the situation. That determination will probably be made by your school's title IX office, upon the receipt of a complaint, if you or someone else were to choose to file one. In deciding whether or not to file such a complaint, you might consider asking yourself whether you, personally, felt that your access to your notes or ability to study was impeded. In the most recent final ruling, the Department of Education interpreted the changes to Title IX made by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as including protections for people who file official complaints.

If you feel strongly enough about this, filing a complaint with your Title IX office is probably your best bet, however it should be noted that this can only possibly cause the school to compel the professor to change textbooks or remove the offending sections. Furthermore, while I am speaking about law, you should also understand that I am not a lawyer, I am not your lawyer, and the precise obligations and policies governing these things depends upon the precise wording of your school's policies and what jurisdiction it falls under.

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    The bar for course material to count as a Title IX violation is quite high. College instructors in the U.S. are normally afforded a large degree of academic freedom when it comes to their research and course materials. There's a big difference between a professor harassing students and a professor presenting objectionable material in coursework. The former is a Title IX violation, while the latter is more or less required to accurately teach many subjects and is tolerated to a very large degree even when it isn't required.
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 2:22
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    @reirab, yes. I would agree that showing that the incident described in the OP constituted a violation would be quite difficult, however to the best of my knowledge, Title IX is still this student's best recourse. I went back and forth as to whether or not to include a guess at the this students chances in my answer, and ultimately decided against doing so. However it is my impression as well that the burden of proof for a title IX claim concerning course material is quite high. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 13:15
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    @GalenHarrison best recourse? Are we even convinced the student has been wronged? Is the student? So far the professor hasn't even been asked to explain the inclusion. "I felt uncomfortable" is not necessarily "I felt so wronged I should initiate legal action". Based on your standard, your answer is so offensively bad (because hey, I'm offended!) I should lodge a complaint. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 21:44
  • @InfernalRapture, while others have answered based upon ethical principles, OP also asked whether or not the legally university was obligated to take action or not. I provided that aspect of the answer. Maybe you think that the student should not avail themself of this option, or that this option should not exist, however that does nothing to negate the correctness of this answer. Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 21:02
  • Oh, and just as an aside, filing a title IX complaint within the school does not constitute 'taking legal action', as it won't automatically trigger any sort of judicial or legal process. In general it's possible for Title IX complaints to move into the legal realm, or for incidents generating Title IX complaints to move in parallel through the courts, however the two processes are separate. Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 21:08

Inappropriate in what sense? Moral versus according to academic ethics? IMO it's inappropriate in both senses. It could be inappropriate in neither. It's possible that it's only inappropriate in the former, i.e., maybe the material relates, but you just don't know how. You should try to find out.

You're going to run into some strange professors while you're in college. Some are just downright bad. They've been teaching forever, and will do whatever they feel like doing regarding curriculum. There is often no oversight for professors who have been teaching a long time. For example, one of the longest tenured professors in our department spent his class periods talking about his ex-wife...

There are a couple of approaches. You can go straight to student services and lodge a complaint. If you're feeling more comfortable (maybe take an ally with you), you might approach him with your frustrations. Explain to him why the material is upsetting to you, and ask him to explain how it's related to the course. He might just be a bit eccentric. You can lodge a complaint based on his response to your questioning, but you might find that the university does nothing. Eccentricity is not a crime.

You can also try approaching the chair of the department, or the undergraduate adviser for the department. This is a nice middle-ground IMO.


You are not at university just to be efficiently given useful knowledge - at least, most universities do not see that as their function. They imagine part of their job is to teach you to think, in a very general sense, and your professor may see that as part of his job. It is not reasonable to expect this to be painless on your part.

  1. The professor could be pointing out that both the phrase 'Sleeping Beauty' as used in finance, and the modern Bowdlerized fairy tale, trace back to something surprising. Professors often like to trace the origins and evolution of things, as that is both part of deep knowledge of a field, and a widely held academic value. Carefully and dispassionately examining ideas is also a fundamental academic value, as others have pointed out.

  2. This could be an easter egg - on some test the professor will ask a question that you can only answer correctly if you read, or at least found, the Sleeping Beauty page in his binder. This would reward those who carefully examined all the material in the binder, and punish those who skimmed or skipped. ...In which case - you win!

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    I would have agreed with (1). It could also have been a factor that (3), the professor saw nothing wrong with including a slightly risque, but not obscene, story in a coursepack (especially if the really disturbing part is hidden in archaic framing). I remember that an early exercise in the second college Spanish class I took was to fill in blanks with vino (wine: masculine) or cerveza (beer: feminine). I wouldn't have expected that in high school, but I didn't complain about it in college, even though I don't drink and half the students in the class were too young to drink legally.
    – david
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 10:00
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    I left out the obvious possibility: The instructor is to some extent, consciously or unconsciously misogynistic and either thinks the story is 'funny', or enjoys, at some level, making female students uncomfortable. I wish I could imagine that this is unlikely.
    – Spike0xff
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 17:25
  • @Spike0xff Given the closing sentencein your previous comment: perhaps it is worth adding this possibility to the list in your main answer, with whatever comments you feel necessary about how likely or unlikely this is.
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 22:05

Building on the excellent answer by @GalenHarrison:

"Title IX also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping, even if those acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature" (footnote 9 on p. 3 of the 2011 Office for Civil Rights Dear Colleague letter about Title IX).

"Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling, as well as nonverbal behavior, such as graphic and written statements, or conduct that is physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating" (p. 15 of the 2015 Department of Education Title IX Resource Guide).

A 2001 Title IX guidance document published by the Office for Civil Rights (Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance: Harassment of Students by School Employees, Other Students, or Third Parties) provides guidelines about a school's responsibility to address internal complaints regarding a "hostile environment that denies or limits the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s program."

Your institution should have a Title IX Coordinator. That would be a good place to start. When you go in to talk to him or her, I would not expect you to be made uncomfortable in any way (for example, any implication that you are making a fool of yourself).

If you have the bad luck to find that your Title IX Coordinator does not handle your complaint effectively, you can try going higher in your institution's administration. If that does not turn things around, you could file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights about both the original offensive and discriminatory material, as well as the institution's ineffective response to your complaint.

But in today's climate I would be very surprised if your Title IX Coordinator didn't act quickly on this. What I expect would happen is that the Title IX Coordinator and the relevant dean would have a prompt behind-the-scenes chat with the professor, and a revised set of course notes is issued quite quickly.

My guess is that you would be within your rights to request an opportunity to retake that exam, if you wished to do so.

Please note, you are expressly protected from any retaliation by the professor himself or anyone else related to your complaint.

I hope you'll keep us updated!

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    @O.R.Mapper - Perhaps your reading of Title IX leads you to consider ia quick remedy less than likely. Or perhaps you are less sanguine than I about the effectiveness of the internal Title IX procedures in the OP's institution. Time will tell! Of course, one could conduct an experiment, and introduce gratuitous violence against a member of a protected class into required course notes, and see what happens. Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 17:22
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    Many fairy tales and other historical texts contain what, by nowadays' standards, would count as "gratuitous violence". This has already been discussed in the comments on the question. I am pretty sure that, for instance, many literature and history classes feature countless texts describing gratuitous violence against members of nowadays protected classes in their required course notes, and I can see nothing wrong with that, and everything wrong with trying to suppress that information. Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 18:21
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    @O.R.Mapper - By gratuitous I meant that there was no relevance to the subject matter. The situation described by the OP in no way resembles a literature class that analyzes a work of fiction featuring a rape scene. Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 18:45
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    @O.R.Mapper - Let's imagine that you are a student originally from another country, or of a minority ethnic group. Suppose that your professor peppers the course materials with images of violence against people from your country or ethnic group. How comfortable will you be in a course with that professor? Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 20:52
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    @O.R.Mapper - You're welcome to write your own answer and include specific quotes from Office for Civil Rights guidance to back up your point of view. You are also welcome to downvote my answer. But broken record style repetitions of your disagreement with the content of an answer -- please stop. It's time to agree to disagree. Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 2:47

At my institution in the US, professors for upper-level courses are given a lot of freedom to explore topics they deem relevant as the course material. These are often elective courses, or "selected topics" courses where either the instructor -or collaboration with the instructor/enrolled students- produces a focused presentation of course content in a given area agreed upon at the beginning of the term. Other times, an instructor may use a specific textbook, but survey only the elements they deem as relevant to the course. Some Professors also recycle powerpoints term-to-term and test on a "know everything" basis. I think that for some courses, a little creative control by the instructor goes an extra mile for immersing the student in the materials.


Now, my question is that I want to know if this is acceptable?

The prior paragraph spoke of rape. It is clear whether you consider the story to be acceptable, so presumably you're asking about whether inclusion of the professor's extra material is acceptable.

Actually, no. And, specifically, here's what is not acceptable with including all of this material:

For example, there is a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip on almost every other page and the content of the strips are not in the least related to accounting.

This is likely a violation. UniversalUClick FAQ page on Reprints has a FAQ's answer which says, "All correspondence for Bill Watterson is handled by our office. Mr. Watterson does not make his contact information public." (He's the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.) EmuReprints: Educational Use seems to indicate that up to 7 strips can be used. Your description ("almost every other page" of "a large binder") makes it sound like this book violates the granted permission. (The violation seems particularly unnecessary since he could just include URLs to a legal references. Namely, I believe that Calvin and Hobbes online is likely to be fully legal.)

I also think that including the entire story of "Sleeping Beauty" is quite a bit of material that is off-topic from the class's main subject of accounting. If this is included in "required reading", then this may be a bit disrespectful of students' time.

Now, I think most of the question was intended to be something other than Copyright or respect. Much of the question was about rape, so let's focus on that aspect. As the question summarized the story (but with the emphasis added by myself)...

One day a rich king comes [...] so he rapes her because she's so beautiful. This young woman eventually gives birth to twins [... later...] the young woman considers her rape and rapist blessings and is thankful for said horrific rape.

I understand that this "king" did not follow our modern society's rules of ensuring her explicit permission, since she was unconscious. Before we impose our ideals upon this fictitious man and demonize his criminal act of violating the woman's rights, we should remember how much weight our beliefs deserve to have as we ponder such a situation. The story's authors (including some of the story's updaters over the centuries) had very different perspectives than many modern opinions.

While considering these attitudes, my goal is not to acquit the king's actions, but rather to quickly investigate how this action would have been understood by the authors, the likely recipients (who read this story or, more likely, hear it), and the characters within the story. I'm not even trying to touch upon the topic of what our judgments or attitudes should be. I'm simply saying, let's momentarily consider what the impact of the culture's values would have been, and how they would have influenced the thoughts of people living in this era.

The society (which created this story) may have been prone to heavily honor an act which essentially converted a virgin into a mother. Since this young woman's culture embraced child-making as a feminine duty, she may have felt greatly benefited by the increased dignity of being a mother, not to mention the pleasure of being able to raise children without consciously needing to suffer morning sickness and going through labor. She may not have been very concerned about the idea of her rights being violated because she was a part of a society that did not officially grant women with these rights, and which was a society that promoted raising children more than other values that our society holds more dear (like a woman being able to exert more control over her role in society).

I'm not saying that the woman would have liked every aspect of the story, nor that every woman would have such an attitude/decision. I am simply pointing out some existing culture influences that made such attitudes feel a bit more believable in that culture than this culture.

Besides the evidence of the woman apparently embracing the situation she found herself in, there is additional evidence that the visiting king broke neither any law of the land, nor performed any action that would be viewed as a terrible violation of the sleeper. He not only returned to the land, he checked on her and freely confessed what he had done. Had he impregnated a woman, and then left her to raise offspring on her own, then that would likely have been terribly disgraceful to that society. What he actually did (which is to perform his role in starting the child-making process, and then follow up) would not have been judged nearly as harshly by that society (as compared/contrasted to how those same actions would have been condemned by ours).

In order to answer to the main question here, we actually do not need to determine which society values are superior. Whether the content of the story is good, including whether the story was ever suitable for children, is also an entirely different question from a more applicable point, which is whether college students should see the results (this story) of what historically happened (when the story was created and shared). The big question here is whether inclusion of this story was "acceptable". To that end, I would ask two questions:

  • Is exposure to such material an appropriate thing for people who are old enough to be in college?
  • Is it right for colleges to point out some of the different attitudes exposed by different cultures?

To the first question, I suggest the answer is yes, for the same reason that studying atrocities in history, including death found in war, is worthwhile.

If this story's inclusion led to you thinking about different values (even indirectly, by getting a student so incensed that a question got posted on Academia.StackExchange.com), then I'm inclined to think that the story's inclusion successfully performed the role of helping to accomplishing the mission and purpose of higher education, which is to get people to be more familiar with certain aspects of life.

In some cases, determining what "is acceptable" can be rather clear-cut if we accept some standards that are presumably likely to be very common ground, such as disapproving of copyright violations. In many other cases, determining the real answer to what "is acceptable" may be subject to individual opinions. So, I will share with you mine.

Perhaps this story was inappropriate to include in an accounting class because it is off-topic, more properly belonging to a class in humanities, history, or literature. Maybe the professor just wanted to help students in ways other than just economics/math. I personally am not in strong favor of having this included, but the reason is not because I feel the professor had an obligation to avoid these origins of a widely respected story. Despite my inclination to not include such material, since my experience as a college instructor, I am rather inclined to lean in favor of giving instructors significant liberty to design their course. So, although I find the Calvin and Hobbes material to be an unacceptable inclusion for entirely different reasons, and although I disagree with the decision to include this Sleeping Beauty variant as arguably off-topic material (and I do not believe I would be prone to making the same decision myself), I am currently thinking that I find this story's inclusion to be within the realm of what I would consider to be acceptable.

Since I'm judging the inclusion to be "acceptable" (not necessarily preferable, but within the realm of acceptability), if I were overseeing the instructor, the actions I think I would probably make would be to pass along the feedback for the instructor's consideration, but not make any reprimand or formal actions that would negatively affect the instructor, nor to order any changes. I would continue to leave this at instructor discretion.

I know this answer is already a bit long, but before I end, I like to provide complete answers, so I will address some remaining questions/comments:

Can my university (a state university) legally, ethically, and morally publish this to their students in a faculty made textbook?

Regarding what is legal, that will determine where you live. Since you mention "a state university", I am inclined to believe you are referring to America. Due to the nation's freedom of speech, I find it highly likely that this will be completely legal. I would guess that even the vague descriptions of sexual activity (such as the story saying “he decided to follow the tenets of Venus”) would probably even be legal for teenagers, and much more for adults. If you happen to disagree, well, you could pursue exploring that further if you like. This isn't really the forum for exploring legality in any depth.

Regarding ethics/morals, I think that was covered by my previous assessment (about what is "acceptable").

I want to take action but I am not sure if this is even allowed and do not want to make a fool of myself.

I'm taking this as a few implied questions:

  • what action should you take?
  • is something (action?) allowed?
  • and: how to not make a fool of yourself?

Your best bet is likely to find that the actions violated a policy of the university, college, or department. Many places that do have such a policy may have an established process on how to handle problems, so if you wish to pursue this further, start by checking if there is a formal process. You've already spoken to the instructor. If you wish to take further actions that are not very formal, but which may impact this instructor's behavior, your best bet may be to contact the office of the department chair/head, or the office of a dean. Conceivably, either position could have someone address the issue directly, or provide you with guidance on how to pursue the matter further. Unfortunately, since different institutions (universities, or even departments) may have some variances in how they operate, with different people being involved, I can't give you universal advice on what would be more effective. However, if the department chair doesn't handle things, you might still have an open door to escalate to the dean. So I would suggest checking within the department. Before taking additional action, though, I would consider what you would hope to be accomplishing at this point.

For the second bullet point, that will depend on policies. Again, I state that I have no universal advice due to policies/procedures that differ.

Finally, about how to not make a fool of yourself: don't be demanding. In my opinion, mentioning that you are offended may work in your favor, or against you. (Perhaps both. Perhaps depending on your audience(s).) Your best bet may be to start by researching any published policies, and then have your next step be to ask questions in informal contexts, being willing to go from the bottom up, before trying taking any actions.


There's pleny of arguments that could be made in defense of that prof - most boil down to his freedom to decide the means of his teaching.

But I think that your analysis is right on point - using this tale to illustrate anything in accounting is disempowering to survivors of rape, and it doesn't really matter what the intentions of that prof are. This is a tale that justifies rape by the identyfying with the rapist and by talking about "positive" effects of the rape - isn't it funny that some of the comments and answers focus on the prof's intentions and goals, instead of his effects on survivors? (I'm not comparing him to a rapist, but the defense parallels the tale's rape justification.)

Realistically, since "sleeping beauty" is indeed used for an undervalued company, this isn't so much about your prof's judgement, it's more about an element of rape culture in economice (equating an undervalued company to a "sleeping beauty" that just needs to be raped have worth, and it seems like they don't even realize what they're saying.) Given his position and the fact that this behaviour doesn't seem too far astray from the pack, don't make it too much about him or his intentions.

This isn't appropriate, and it's certainly hostile to survivors. On the other hand he's providing evidence that the sexualisation of economic power exists.

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    This just sounds ridiculous. So you are saying that even if this was included in order for the professor to be able to point to it in the lecture and speak about how people would probably not use the term if they were more familiar with the original version, it is "inappropriate" because someone might feel disempowered (whatever that means). So no story involving any sort of traumatic event can ever be used to illustrate anything in case someone in class happens to have been subjected to said event? Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 9:43
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    This answer confuses me. What is your point?
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 12:40
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    The term as used in economics has no reference to violence. It merely means that there is, in essence, a hidden, undervalued gem company. This isn't Tumblr; at ASE, we at least try to talk using proper evidence, not gut feelings, where possible. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 15:32
  • +1 for pointing out some ideas that I didn't notice in other answers. (This answer was rated at -9.) Still, not a super-great answer: The "raped have worth" confused me (grammatically). Though you make points favoring both sides, there's little direction or clear statements. In the end, there's "This isn't appropriate"... "On the other hand", there's benefit. This leaves people quite confused whether you determine the story's inclusion to be "tolerable" or "intolerable". Such a binary judgment is needed, reflecting the binary nature of the story either being "included" or "not included".
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 20:08

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