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Boulder's Sex Problem

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Enough already. Our local guardians of morals have been getting a lot of mileage out of being shocked, shocked, at the way a panel of randy "experts" from the World Affairs Conference were allowed to espouse sexual experimentation to Boulder High School kids last month. Vince Carroll has been turning his nose up regularly in the Rocky at the audacity of these hedonists ("Please masturbate!" one urged the crowd), and Dan Caplis has been calling on his radio show for heads to roll.

It's clear that requiring public school students to attend such an event was a very bad idea; what self-respecting adolescent wants to hear a bunch of old farts talk about sex, anyway? But Carroll, Caplis and the rest of the hand-wringers have evidently forgotten what the World Affairs Conference was like in its heyday, before it had to resort to invading local high schools to find an audience. When the late CU sociology professor Howard Higman ran the show, the WAC was considered quite racy and even occasionally dangerous. Here's an excerpt from a 1994 article about those glory days:

"In other conferences, this kind of stuff goes on in the bar," says Higman. "You read your paper, and if you have any excitement, it's in the hotel room, not on stage. We try to put the excitement on stage."

Over time, though, the CWA became known for the off-stage excitement, too--the lavish house parties for visiting geniuses, the clubby camaraderie among veteran panelists. Columnist Molly Ivins called the event "Howard Higman's house party," and a platoon of hard-drinking British journalists sang its praises. "I have arrived back at my host's house on all fours smelling like a pub carpet," boasted Simon Hoggart in the New Statesman & Society not long ago.

Higman once estimated that the CWA was responsible for more than a dozen marriages and an equal number of divorces. It was the kind of event, one visitor noted, at which "people do the wrong things and fall in love with the wrong people and get drunk and disgrace themselves."

So hip and shocking in the Fifties and Sixties, over time the WAC fell victim to Boulder's rigorous sense of political correctness. It was deemed too old, too white and too male, and Higman was forced out; the poignant details of that struggle can be found here. Today's conference is a sober shadow of what used to pass for lively discourse in Boulder, before the thought police broke up the party. –Alan Prendergast


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