Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

From campus rape to a Laura Bush candidacy for president

One of the cardinal tenets of the feminist movement to ban student professor relationships is that differential power precludes consent.  So in this framework a charge that  a relationship that is power differentiated is a serious one since a relationship based on coercion must represent some form of sexual assault.

Such is why the dankprofessor views the campus changes that have occurred in this area over the last 20 years as  transitioning from romance on campus framework to a rape on campus framework.  Such is indicative of the Andrea Dworkin position that heterosexual intercourse is never consensual. However, few feminists completely buy into the Dworkian take while at the same time maintaining that heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage is based on a patriarchal power dynamic.  Age differentiated relationships are seen as a subset of power differentiated relationships and therefore fall into their rape/sexual assault/non-consensual framework.

The attempt to apply this framework beyond campus scenarios has not been all that successful, e.g., the idea that Clinton forced Monica to engage in “sex”  was not bought by almost all Americans.  Whatever Clinton may have been guilty of,  he was not generally seen as being guilty of rape.  Of course, age differentiated relationships are still stigmatized by many.  Often the young wife of the older powerful man is discarded as a trophy wife or in more traditional terms as a golddigger. It has been noted by some  journalists that an inordinate number of Republican candidates for president have much younger wives, and it is an open question as to how this will affect their campaigns.  For example, is such a pairing acceptable to the the traditional values wing of the Republican party?  Will campus feminists express their ire against such pairings?  Will many Republican women divorce themselves from a Fred Thompson or a Rudy Guliani because they find their wives not to be socially correct and embrace a dual Clinton presidency.

Karen Heller  has an interesting column on candidates and their wives in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Excerpts from this column follow-

“There are two ways of looking at the field of presidential contenders. On the one hand, there’s the novelty of a woman, an African American and a Latino pursuing the White House.

On the other, presumably the left with a sizable rock involved, there are so many trophy wives.

Many candidates traded in their original models for younger, leaner and leggier partners, often producing a second family of adorable tykes so ideal for photo ops.

I know, a shocking turn of events in Washington.

This does mark progress of some sort.

In the old days, pols rarely married their daughter-aged girlfriends.

That was because they were still wed to their wives, divorce being a greater political liability than adultery.

Fred Thompson’s wife, Jeri, is 40, almost a quarter century his junior. Given to plunging necklines and soaring hems, she will never be mistaken for Laura Bush. The couple have two toddlers, making him one of several AARP diaper dads seeking the White House.

Sen. Chris Dodd, 63, who engaged in a 1985 “waitress sandwich” with Ted Kennedy while their dates were in the ladies room, is another. His second wife, Jackie, is a mere 18 years younger.

As is Cindy McCain, the Arizona Republican’s second wife of 27 years. Not being one to endure a marital vacancy, McCain began courting his second wife while married to his first.

Dennis Kucinich’s third wife, Elizabeth, has late-night pundits, You Tubists and, well, most males salivating. The former “boy mayor” of Cleveland, now 61, has a babe wife less than half his age.

She is car-crackup gorgeous and – for a change from the requisite blondage – a redhead, resembling Julianne Moore, only better and taller.

Should the Ohio Congressman be elected president, Elizabeth Kucinich would become the first first lady with a pierced tongue.

Does a spouse matter in politics? Ask George Bush, whose wife’s approval ratings dwarf his. She’s taken a pivotal role in criticizing Burma’s repressive regime and is now traveling in the Middle East.

Ask Bill Clinton. Or Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Not everyone sees this as a strength when his charisma continues to overshadow. “I think no woman is electable in America, and particularly not Hillary,” novelist Mary Gordon observed, “because she is married to this guy whom everyone is libidinally attached to. I think there is unconscious sexual jealousy of her among women.

…”

Hold on here for a moment.  Given that Laura Bush is way more popular than her husband, and given that George is in the same position as Bill Clinton in being ineligible to run for president, might Laura consider doing the same thing as Hillary and throw her hat into the presidential candicacy ring?  Then voters will have a clear choice- a Bush presidency versus a Clinton presidency.

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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

October 24, 2007 Posted by | consensual relationships, feminism, higher education, Laura Bush, political correctness, trophy wives | 2 Comments

UCLA Prof advocates “abolition” of student-prof dating bans

In an LA Times article of October 22, UCLA  psychology prof, Paul Abramson strongly comes out against bans on student-professor relationships. The LA Times interview and article occurred in the context of the publication of a new book by Abramson on student-prof dating.  One of the first dankprofessor postings was on an interview with Abramson which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. However, it is in this LA Times article that Abramson directly and forcefully takes on the higher ed establishment for “eliminating civil liberties” on campus in  the context of passing these bans.  Abramson also does not fall into the stereotype of equating student-prof relationships as composed of an older male and younger childlike female.  He recognizes that many of these relationships represent partners who are similar in age.  Of course, none of Abramson’s writings will affect the hardcore banners such as Gayle Binion who is quoted in the article and who was the prime mover of the UC ban on consensual relationships.  However, it may be that the middle mass of faculty who go in whatever direction the wind may be blowing may start to question and reconsider such policies.  However the road to change will probably be a very long one.  Only when Abramson and persons such as myself receive invitations to air our views on campus and when professors who share our abolitionist views openly embrace said abolitionism will I be more hopeful.  Personally, I became tired of listening to fellow faculty who would tell me privately that they agreed with my views, but at the same time could not air them publicly.  Academic freedom did not mean for them that they could speak out on these issues.  On the other hand, maybe they knew what I find hard to accept on a gut level- that academic freedom is an ideal that in the real world of academia is all too often not applied when it comes to a professor who is too controversial, too outspoken.

Following are excepts from the LA Times article-

In the volatile mix of academia and sex, UCLA psychology professor Paul R. Abramson says he is trying to light a torch for liberty.

Abramson is sharply criticizing his own employer and colleges nationwide that have adopted restrictions — and, in a few cases, outright bans — on romances between faculty and students.

Of course, sexual harassment should not be allowed and no one should supervise or give grades to a romantic partner, says Abramson, who has taught at UCLA for 31 years. But those concerns should not restrict the right of consenting adults to have a non-exploitative relationship, he argues in a new book.

….

Salon.com, in a blurb that set off a blistering online debate about the classroom and the bedroom, suggested that Abramson might be “a campus Casanova in his own right.”

To that, Abramson reacted wryly during an interview at his campus office. “I’m 57 and have three kids and two grandkids. If I’m the campus Casanova, then the campus has a lot of problems,” said the professor, who has longish graying hair, a goatee and an earring.

Abramson concedes that his personal life was complicated in his 20s but says he has been a staid suburban soccer dad for the last two decades. Thrice divorced, he is married to a 51-year-old neonatal nurse who has never been affiliated with UCLA.

He points out that he has not had a romance with anyone at UCLA for 20 years, although he said he had serious relationships with two former undergraduate students nearly 30 years ago. One was 13 years his senior, and the other, whom he eventually married, was five years his junior. He met them in his classes but did not date them until later, he said.

Too many people have an unrealistic stereotype of campus love, he said. “The picture of it is the older professor and Suzie Coed. I’m sure such things happen, but the greater likelihood are people of similar ages, with similar interests, going for the same music and movies,” like a 27-year-old assistant professor and a 24-year-old graduate student who later get married, he said.

Abramson’s book began as a reaction to regulations adopted by the UC regents in 2003; they didn’t ban such hookups but declared that professors should avoid romantic or sexual relationships with students for whom they have “or should reasonably expect” to have teaching or supervisory responsibility. That includes students interested in a subject within the professor’s expertise — a definition that Abramson finds overly broad. Sanctions range from written censure to dismissal.

The rules were adopted, amid some debate, partly in reaction to a sexual harassment allegation at UC Berkeley. Its law school dean, John P. Dwyer, resigned in 2002 after a student charged that he fondled her when she passed out from heavy drinking. The dean said the encounter was consensual.

The fact that the Dwyer case was cited to support the rules shows that campus leaders were more concerned about lawsuits than anything else, Abramson alleges.

“Eliminating civil liberties to punish a small number of transgressors is hardly the answer,” he writes.

To allay legal fears, he suggests an alternative: All faculty and students would read and sign a release (a “love contract”) that would warn about the power differences and favoritism that can arise from faculty-student dating. They then would promise, as in a medical release, not to hold the school responsible if the romance goes sour.

UC Santa Barbara political science professor Gayle Binion, who helped draft the 2003 UC policy when she headed the systemwide Academic Senate, said it was partly intended to shield UC from liability.

But more important, she said, most of the faculty thought it was “good policy” since students may consent to an affair but not grasp the potential consequences even if they sign a release. “If the relationship goes awry, it is the student who is going to suffer,” Binion said, citing instances of graduate students who then drop out.

Such relationships are “not terribly uncommon at the graduate student level,” but probably less frequent and more “under the radar” now than during the free-wheeling ’70s and early ’80s, she said. Still, the rule “not only makes parents more secure when they send their kids to UC, it puts the faculty on notice,” Binion said.

Abramson overstates his case about restrictions on freedom, according to Binion. Limits on dating are common in many workplaces, she said, and academia “is kind of late coming to it.”

Since 2003, a handful of cases of possible faculty violations of the policy have been formally reviewed, according to UC spokesman Brad Hayward. No professor has been dismissed, although a few were disciplined with warning letters that are considered confidential personnel matters, he said.

So what do students think? Reaction is mixed.

Dianne Tanjuaquio, a vice president of UCLA’s undergraduate students association, said she agrees with Abramson that the rules are too harsh in keeping entire departments off-limits. “We are adults at an elite university. Something as broad as that is very restrictive on our personal freedoms,” she said.

But Oiyan Poon, president of UC’s systemwide student association, supports the regulations, explaining that a teacher in the same department could harm a student’s career even if they never shared a class. Without the rules, “those issues could get extremely sticky when a student is trying to earn a degree in a timely fashion,” she said.

In 1995, the American Assn. of University Professors adopted a statement that calls sexual relations between students and faculty who supervise them “fraught with the potential for exploitation.” Anita Levy, its associate secretary for academic freedom and tenure issues, said Abramson’s arguments might find some support on campuses, but she doubted any rule changes nationwide would occur.

Abramson said he is often asked how he would react if his middle daughter, who is preparing for college, dated a professor in the future. “It’s within the realm of possibility, but it’s much more likely she would meet a 22-year-old teaching assistant,” he said. “If that’s who she wants to be involved with, that’s who she gets involved with.”

larry.gordon@latimes.com

October 24, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, ivory tower romance, student professor dating, UCLA | 7 Comments

   

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