Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The right to romance

Today’s Boston Globe  has an op ed piece by Paul Abramson “…on how twisted the sexual politics of university life has become.”   Abramson holds said twistedness is most vividly illustrated by the conflating of sexual harassment and consensual relationships, “…under the rules that increasingly hold sway on many university campuses, both relationships – sleazy sexual harassment and true love by consenting adults – are prohibited”.   It is these rules  “…that ignore the rights and liberties of students, and treat both as if they were children. They also represent an assault on one of the most fundamental rights of conscience: the right to choose our relationships.”  In his last paragraph he states- “For many students and professors, the university represents virtually their entire social world. This is where they are likely to meet people, and romance is occasionally the result. If we let universities prohibit consenting adults from falling in love, what will be next? Our ultimate freedom lies in our power to make choices, and a university prohibition that suppresses choice tramples the very nature of freedom itself.”

Unfortunately, as Abramson knows, we have let universities take away this choice by at times advocating that students do not have the capacity to consent and therefore “consent” in this context cannot occur.  In a perverse manner these universities hold that a consenting relationship is a more serious violation of university norms since it is usually held that sex without consent represents sexual assault or rape which is generally held to be a more serious violation  than sexual harassment.  Yes, this framework is twisted; such would be fair to characterize it as perverse.  Of course, such perversity did not suddenly come out of nowhere; it was a product of decade of a feminist onslaught initiated by Billie Dziech in The Lecherous Professor.  Feminist faculty embraced Dziech’s book as the sacred text and with most faculty, both male and female, nodding in agreement, university life ran amok being governed by feminist creed.  Of course, many of the nodders, particularly the male nodders, nodded out of fear, fear that they could be labeled as one of those lecherous professors.  Such is similar to the dynamic of some male heterosexuals who feared that they would be labeled as homosexual so they went along, some times eagerly, with anti-homosexual agendas.

Of course, matters relating to sexuality have been subject to the antics of all sorts of meddlers, people who get a thrill from intruding on the sexual behavior of others.  Sexual meddlers represent a wide spectrum of persons from Linda Tripp to J. Edgar Hoover to Larry Craig, and a great deal of damage to others has resulted from their meddling.  Abramson holds that in a constitutional democracy citizens should be protected from sexual meddlers.  He states:

” If we let universities prohibit consenting adults from falling in love, what will be next? Our ultimate freedom lies in our power to make choices, and a university prohibition that suppresses choice tramples the very nature of freedom itself.”

Abramson holds that the attack on consensual relationships can be mitigated by having strict conflict of interest rules, and advises the student who falls in love with a professor remove oneself from the class. Such removal may be easier said than done. I have difficulty envisioning a student appealing to a dean to drop a class because she is in love with her professor; the typical cynical dean would have trouble not believing that this represents another student attempt to get out of a class after deadlines for withdrawal have passed.  In any case, if the dean allows the student to drop the class, such would represent favoritism that Abramson and myself wish to avoid.  Even more likely the student who appeals in the name of love to be relieved from the class of the beloved would probably find a dean who would be more interested in relieving the beloved of all teaching responsibilities.  And if it was the professor who initiated removal of the student from the class, such would, of course, be a flagrant violation of the student’s right  to be treated as any other student.  So I do not find Abramson’s advice to be good advice.  It would just give more ammunition to administrators who wish to meddle.  My advice is the professor and the student not to do anything which would imply directly or indirectly that the university has any authority of any sort over their relationship.  Once institutional authority is invited into the relationship, the autonomy of the relationship for the two involved people has gone to hell.

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If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007

September 30, 2007 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, ivory tower romance, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized

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