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December 1, 2007

Is Berkeley going to hand out master's degrees in -- no, I can't say it

It takes good grades, dedication and smarts to get into the University of California at Berkeley -- the top-rated public university in the world. So, as a parent, I was happy when one of my kids made it. She would mingle with Nobel laureates; meet great thinkers; get to know men and women who have shaped governments and defined quarks.

Naturally, I was a little leery, too. It is, after all, "Berzerkley" -- where Tree People live aloft near the football stadium and at Peoples Park; where the Naked Man once roamed, and where protests occur daily at Sather Gate. And what exactly is a Ninja Battle Flash Mob?

We worry about sending our 18-year-old valley kids into such a milieu. But we are comforted knowing they will be protected (at least nominally) by the university. School officials aren't baby sitters, but they will provide food, lodging and even emotional support -- if paid enough. Maybe they'll even disburse the advice that distance prevents parents from providing.

Advice? You know, the usual stuff: Get some sleep, study hard, masturbate properly.

Whoa. Back up. No, that's not a misprint. Posted on the walls and bathrooms of one large dormitory complex a couple of weeks ago were bright yellow fliers extolling the virtues of "revving the engine" -- the mildest euphemism it used for describing "self love."

"Health Tip No. 12" even included instructions, remedial help for those who haven't figured it out by the age of 18. (Did we mention these kids are supposed to be smart?)

On the front of the flier were listed "Reasons to masturbate," such as it being a "good pick- me-up;" and "it's less embarrassing if you call out the wrong name."

Whoever wrote this flier had fun, in a self- absorbed way, explaining the history of masturbation and dispelling that old rumor about blindness. Requisite for a college paper, it cited a study, this one purporting to show ultrasound images of fetuses touching their genitals. Being fair, it noted that people such as Sylvester Graham (cracker), John Kellogg (corn flakes) and Sigmund Freud (psycho) all had negative things to say about masturbation. Clearly, they were wrong.

Health Tip No. 12 gave two thumbs up for hosting a party of one.

I'm all for the university giving students a helping hand, but there was something bothersome about this flier. It wasn't the subject matter. It's possible that some brainiac kid has never found the time to develop a specific technique, or perhaps some young adults labor under the assumption that masturbation is immoral. What troubled me was the thought that people were paid to provide these, uh, tips.

What really revved my engine was knowing that UC's administrators -- the folks who feel this handy-dandy, single-sheet road map to "good health" is needed -- are asking for a 7-percent increase in tuition. Why? To give these self-loving adminstrators a raise. Facing higher tuition payments elevates my stress level.

So I called Cathy Kodama, who was raised in Modesto and is the director of University Health Services. She advised me to relax. Each of Berkeley's 75 dorms and fraternity and sorority houses has an unpaid student health worker. They create and post these tips. The total budget for all 75 is around $2,000 -- clearly a bargain at Berkeley. And while it's true that few students really need remedial help with this activity, such a flier could make it more comfortable for them to broach other, more difficult and important, subjects with health workers, such as date rape, drug use and abuse.

Her explanation made sense. Besides, Health Tip No. 12 is gone. A new flier has been posted ... urging students to attend "Sex Night."

Dunbar is the associate editor of The Bee. E-mail him at or call 209 578-2325.

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