The University of North Carolina system has had a pornography problem lately. Appalachian State University professor Jammie Price made national news when she showed pornographic images in a documentary in her sociology class without warning students first. She was placed on academic leave by ASU’s administration.
But there is a worse pornography problem in UNC’s midst. Despite her lapse of judgment, Price was at least not encouraging pornography; the film she showed opposed it. That is not the case with the recently hired Alessandro Porco of UNC-Wilmington’s English department.
He publicly seeks acclaim for his appreciation of X-rated entertainment, through his equally X-rated poetry. In doing so, he is really pushing the envelope of acceptable behavior for a professor, taking what has been a private vice that participants usually keep secret and publicly embracing it—even luxuriating in it. A role model, he is not. Not unless the goal is a more decadent society.
Take Porco’s first book, entitled The Jill Kelly Poems. Kelly is a porn star. In an interview on a website called PopMatters.com, Porco described it as “my book-length ode to the adult-film star affectionately referred to as ‘the anal queen.’” Most of the poems are far too vulgar to be repeated on this site.
And that is not Porco’s only offensive book. His second is entitled Augustine in Carthage, and Other Poems. The title poem begins as an X-rated rumination of his drunken experiences and thoughts in a Montreal strip club. It is a stream-of-consciousness rant that is essentially incomprehensible to readers, unless, perhaps, they are somehow familiar with all of Porco’s high-brow literary and low pop culture references, an unlikely likelihood.
Porco, however, insists that it has a point. In the PopMatters interview, he described it as a “trans-historical re-imagining of Book III of St. Augustine’s Confessions in present-day Montreal.”
In truth, it can only be seen as a mockery of that work. Indeed, one of the messages he hopes readers take away is the “hypocrisy of spiritual conversion.”
Augustine in Carthage ends with what Porco describes as “21 of the filthiest limericks I could think to write.”
Porco’s fixation on pornography and lewdness is not the only reason to eliminate him for consideration for a teaching job. His writing also exhibits a seriously juvenile quality. Here is the only printable stanza for a Jill Kelly poem, entitled “Jill Kelly’s Twiddle da [obscene word for female genitals]”:
Scuttle me buttle
Piddle me paddle
Tickle my piggle
Twatle my twiddle
A ten-year-old might find that clever; a serious scholar on an academic search committee should shake his head in dismay and shout “Next!” Here’s another example of what can best be termed as infantile gibberish, from Augustine in Carthage, entitled, “Chuck Niederman’s ‘To His Coy Mistress (The Necessary Roughness Remix)”
Time timalaya timalina timarooskie
Coy coyalaya coyalina coyarooskie
Lady ladylaya ladylina ladyrooskie
Veggie veggilaya veggilina veggirooskie
It goes on the same for twenty-four inane lines. Surely a professor of poetry can do better than a sad imitation of the 1964 hit song, “The Name Game,” that itself was based on a child’s exercise to practice letter sounds.
Some might be tempted to defend Porco’s writing on account of academic freedom. But according to American Association of University Professors’ guidelines, schools can take action against professors when they believe that their “extramural” statements “raise grave doubts about the teachers’ fitness for his or her position.”
Even if Porco’s anti-social writing, excessive immaturity, and obsession with pornography don’t deem him unfit to guide young people intellectually—and that seems doubtful—the above guideline only concerns professors who are already employed. The bar should be much lower in the hiring process, to enable schools to reject prospective teachers whose writing reveals both anti-intellectual and anti-social tendencies.
UNC-Wilmington’s English department knew that Porco wrote deliberately offensive materials, according to English department chairman Don Bushman, but chose not to consider those works in the hiring process.
That failure to consider Porco’s outrageous statements should be regarded as academic malpractice. It is also a finger-in-the-eye insult to taxpayers who would prefer not to subsidize the salary of an exuberant promoter of pornography.
Even if he were judged solely on his academic credentials, Porco’s background seems lacking for a tenure-track job at UNC-Wilmington. Bushman said that, of the “roughly 100 applicants” for the position, Porco was deemed the “most qualified,” but that is hard to imagine.
Tenure-track jobs in the humanities are difficult to get today; highly qualified applicants are begging for work. Other assistant professors in UNC-Wilmington’s English department received their Ph.D.s from elite schools such as Georgetown, University of Virginia, UNC-Chapel Hill, and University of Florida; Porco received his from the far less prestigious State University of New York at Buffalo.
Furthermore, his doctoral dissertation was entitled “Sound Off: Rhythm, Rhyme, and Voice in Hip-Hop.” That is hardly the preferred background for a teacher of “Restoration and 18th Century Literature,” one of the courses he taught this semester at UNC-Wilmington.
And it was unlikely that many other applicants carried controversial baggage as bad as Porco’s. When a department hires somebody such as Porco over one hundred other applicants, many of them likely to possess superior qualifications and superior characters, it raises doubts about the judgment of the department members—and about the entire university administration as well. Is this the sort of influence on the next generation they wish to promote?
Parents should think twice about placing their impressionable offspring into the hands of Dr. Porco and his UNC-Wilmington colleagues who found him to be an acceptable (indeed, the best) candidate. Consider the following refrain from one of The Jill Kelly Poems, entitled “Hot Girl-Girl Action University President Jill Kelly Welcomes This Year’s Freshman Class”:
Thank you fathers for your daughters
There is something disturbing and predatory—and all too real—about that line, when written by the lascivious Dr. Porco. UNC-Wilmington, heal thyself.