Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The love that dare not speak its name

In my prior post on the LA Times being bamboozled by the UC administration as to the number of professors dismissed for violating the UC student professor dating code, such bamboozling can be quite effective.  Such is likely to be effective since the whole process is usually shrouded in secrecy.  Charges for violation are confidential and the outcome of such cases are confidential.  The name of the alleged victim is confidential as well as the one who is so charged.  Of course, it is much more likely that more persons know the name of the alleged offender than the alleged victim.  Many times there may be no complaining victims.  In the UCLA case, a third party functioned as an informant; whether this informant violated the privacy of of the student and professor was simply of no concern to the UCLA chancellor.  The fact that the UCLA chancellor spoke out on this case is what is so exceptional.  Obviously the chancellor felt that he had to speak out to make it clear to all concerned that UCLA had a no tolerance policy for professors who violated  the consensual dating code and it was of no import to him that the professor had a very strong record of service to the UCLA community; it was also of no concern to him that many students rallied in support of the professor and essentially begged the UCLA administration to not dismiss the professor.  Shortly after these public pronouncements  the professor was no longer seen on campus.

But here is where this situation takes a bizarre turn.  Two years later as far as the UC administration is concerned, this dismissal never occurred.  The UC administration is being quite serious when they state there has never been a faculty dismissal under this code.  What happened to this professor is shrouded in secrecy.  What I speculate happened is that the professor resigned and retired in the context of signing a confidentiality agreement which meant he simply disappeared from campus.  I have no idea how many more professors may have disappeared from UCLA or from any of the other University of California campuses.  I challenge any student or professor to come up with names and numbers in this area.  I doubt that few will take up this challenge since any student or professor seeking such information will probably be held to be under suspicion, and may be subject to various violations of privacy.  The fact is that one professor from a mid-western university who published an article on student professor dating a few years ago in a sociology journal ended up being charged with sexual harassment; the professor so charged is a woman; the outcome of her case I believe is pending. 

The Dankprofessor holds that SECRECY is a key component in attempting to understand the contemporary context of student professor relationships.  A major, if not the most major, function of these codes has been to drive student professor relationships into the closet, the creation of a new campus underground.  Fewer and fewer professors are willing to engage in scholarly writing on the subject.  For those who do and even hint that these bans are problematic one can be pretty sure that the most hideous labels will be applied to them.  When Professor Abramson received his initial public attention in the Chronicle of Higher Education, commentaries published in the Chronicle focused on the good professor’s physical appearance indicating that his look was the look of a lecherous professor.  In the 1990s when I was one of the few male professors speaking out against these bans, I was subject to myriad character assassinations; such did not deter me, but I do feel that these attacks did deter others from speaking out.  Today I can’t find paper presentations in any of the major social science associations meetings, whether it be the ASA, APA, regional sociological and psychological associations.  There are many many papers on homosexuality and gays, the subject is now thoroughly out of the closet, and thoroughly in the closet when it comes to student professor relationships.  Academics play it safe, both students and professors, both tenured and untenured in adhering to appropriate norms regarding the love that dare not speak its name.  Of course, I am one of the few exceptions, I only wrote about gay life when the preponderance of gays were still the closet.  In 1971, I published an article entitled “Coming Out in the Gay World” which foresaw the upcoming positive changes in the creation of a “public” gay world and a world where homosexuality would no longer be the love that dare not speak its name.  Then and now advocates of the closet argue that going public would offend too many good upstanding citizens. So many of the attempts to repress speech and association in contemporary academic life relate to offending sensitive others.  How sad! How utterly sad that more and more academics are committed to not offending others.  How sad that as of this date not a single professor at the University of Connecticut Law School has come forward in defense of their colleague, Robert Birmingham!

It was back in 1994 in the journal Radical Teacher that sociologist Toni H. Oliviero wrote about the dangerous consequences relating to secrecy that would result from banning student professor relationships.  Quoting from this article-

“I am thinking of two things here. First the ways that prohibitions construct the silence of concealment. The establishment of anti-sex rules would create the need to lie (just when gays and lesbians are daring not to in significant numbers). Axiomatic is, There will be sex. There will be consensual relations between all sorts of people. Some of those relations will be only ostensibly consensual, in your view or mine. But sex will happen. Do we want to drive it underground and cause a sexual relationship between two adults to take its shape, even in part, from the narrow and twisted constraints that secrecy imposes? When you prohibit something, you cannot then talk about how to do it as well as possible, or as harmlessly. This constraint on our ability to learn is not in keeping with any notion I can imagine of ourselves as teachers or as citizens.”

Yes, another apt title for this post would be ACADEMICS IN CONSTRAINTS, CONSTRAINTS MADE AND IMPOSED BY ACADEMICS.

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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

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November 2, 2007 - Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, fraternization, higher education, homosexual, political correctness, secrecy, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, the closet, UC, UCLA

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