Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

From Consensual Relationships to Rape; the Ohio State University Work Group Report

 In my last post on OSU Work Group examination of the OSU policy on consensual sexual relations between faculty and students I may have presented too much as well as too little.  I may have presented too much in the context of having key points overlooked or lost in the mass of this material while at the same time accidentally omitting a key point.

First the dankprofessor must emphasize that the Working Group was appointed by the OSU President’s Council on Women.  The report of the Working Group was then forwarded to the President which led to the creation of the Task Force Examining the Policy on Consensual Relations which issued its report on July 11, 2005.  I have presented the first part of the Working Group report, the second part will follow in an upcoming post; the President’s Task force report will also be examined in an upcoming post.

It should be emphasized that the Work Group functioned to set the basic framework for a possible change in the OSU policy on prohibiting student professor sexual relationships.  What I did not report in my prior posting was the membership of the Work Group.  A listing of the membership follows-

Deborah A. Ballam, Associate Provost of Women’s Policy Initiatives; Director, The Women’s Place; Professor, Fisher College of Business
Olga Esquivel-Gonzalez, Interim Director, Consulting Services and Employee Relations
Rebecca Gurney, Graduate Administrative Associate, Rape Education and Prevention Program of the Multicultural Center
Eunice Hornsby, Assistant Director and OD Consultant, Organization and Human Resource Development
Beth Miglin, Partnership Coordinator, The Women’s Place
Deborah Schipper, Coordinator, Rape Education and Prevention Program of the Multicultural Center

Do note that two of the six members of the Work Group were involved in rape education; two other members were involved in the OSU group, The Women’s Place, and the remaining two were
involved in employee relations.  In the dankprofessor’s opinion, this group was formed with an expected outcome which would employ an anti-rape framework.  Why else have 1/3 of the membership coming out of anti-rape backgrounds?  Or the question can be formulated in the following manner, why on a committee formulating policy on consensual relationships would 1/3 of the membership be involved in rape prevention programs?

Well, if one carefully reads over their report, it should become clear that the members do not believe that the concept of consensual relationships can be applicable to student professor sexual relationships.  The closest they come to employing the concept of consent is to use the concept of  “exploited consent” which in their terms I believe means that such consent would only occur in a power differentiated situation and that if the situation was not power differentiated the female student would then not consent.  As I indicated in my prior posting on OSU, there is absolutely no way of proving that such would be the case.  In any case, where you have one party involved in a sexual relationship who cannot provide consent, then one has a situation of rape or sexual assault.  This does not mean that the party did not verbally consent, but such does mean for them that the “consent” was coerced.  It is in this rape framework that the committee functions.  No wonder that the female student is never viewed as initiating any sexual relationship; faculty initiation functions as a default assumption for them which I find quite understandable since if one believes that one is dealing with a rape victim, it becomes almost axiomatic that the rape victim did not initiate.

One should also note that the only reason given by the Work Group for prohibiting student professor sexual relationships revolves around the power differentiation and the inability to fully give consent, and therefore stopping so-called predatory professors from engaging in predatory behavior. Nothing is mentioned about conflict of interest; nothing is mentioned about avoiding civil lawsuits.  Unquestionably, the report would have been different if there were persons appointed to the Work Group who have some background in civil liberties or had an academic appointment in Political Science or, God forbid, Sociology.  Of course, not one member of the committee was a full-time professor.  And when they called upon persons outside of the Work Group to provide input, the situation was no better; they relied upon counselors to testify about helping grief stricken students who were attempting to cope with a broken relationship with a professor.  For them, better to call upon counselors of the grief stricken than a student or a professor who would testify about how their relationship made a positive difference in their lives.  Obviously,  the OSU President’s Council on Women stacked the deck and got the report they wanted- a report about rape, a report in which the term “consensual” was viewed as being employed as a shield for what they considered the underlying rape reality.

Buying into this rape mythology apparently is quite easy for those within academia who are committed to a victim feminism.  Such a mythology is not accepted and generally given short thrift by the larger society.  For example, in terms of the Clinton/Lewinsky fiasco, even Clinton’s most ardent adversaries, including Prosecutor Starr, did not portray Lewinsky as a victim of sexual assault.  To buy into the rape mythology one must reduce female students to children, and this is what campus victim feminists do, but without calling them children but rather calling them victims.  The larger society has a proneness to accept the rhetoric of equating student professor sex with child adult sex which I have discussed in a previous posting but generally such does not represent an embracing of a rape mythology as presented by the OSU Work Group.

The Work Group in part relies on Professor David Archard’s analysis of consent and on his “exploited consent” concept.  In my last posting, I indicated I would try to access Archard’s article, but was unable to do so; the article is part of an anthology.  However, I did find that Daphne Patai had reviewed the anthology in context of a review essay on victim feminism.  I urge blog readers to click on the Patai article; it is required reading for anyone seriously interested in this subject.

The dankprofessor was taken aback by the Work Group citing the writings of Bell Hooks as being consistent with their analysis of the lack of consent in student professor relationships.  I was taken aback since Bell Hooks is a feminist who has strongly come out against prohibiting student professor relationships.  Such is the case in her article PASSIONATE PEDAGOGY; EROTIC STUDENT/FACULTY RELATIONSHIPS.  And I quote the following from her article-

“Student devotion to a teacher can easily be a context where erotic longings emerge. Passionate pedagogy in any setting is likely to spark erotic energy. It cannot be policed or outlawed. This erotic energy can be used in constructive ways both in individual relationships and in the classroom setting. Just as it is important that we be vigilant in challenging abuses of power wherein the erotic becomes a terrain of exploitation, it is equally important to recognize that space where erotic interaction is enabling and positively transforming. Desire in the context of relations where hierarchy and unequal power separate individuals is always potentially disruptive and simultaneously potentially transformative. Desire can be a democratic equalizing force — the fierce reminder of the limitations of hierarchy and status — as much as it can be a context for abuse and exploitation. The erotic is always present, always with us. When we deny that erotic feelings will emerge between teachers and students, this denial precludes the recognition of accountability and responsibility. The implications of entering intimate relations where there is an imbalance of power cannot be understood, or those relations handled with care in a cultural context where desire that disrupts is seen as so taboo that it cannot be spoken, acknowledged, and addressed. Banning relations between faculty and students would create a climate of silence and taboo that would only intensify dynamics of coercion and exploitation. The moment power differences are articulated in a dialogue where erotic desire surfaces, a space is created where choice is possible, where accountability can be clearly assessed.”

The Work Group also chose not to cite empirical studies of student-professor relationships that are not consistent with their findings.  There are not many empirical studies in this area, and probably one of the best is by Marcia Bellas and Jennifer Gossett, “LOVE OF THE “LECHEROUS PROFESSOR”: Consensual Sexual Relationships Between professors and Students,” THE SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol 2, No. 4, 2001, pp. 529-558. Bellas and Gossett did not take a unidimensional approach as taken by the Work Group; they see the situation as being much more complex as indicated in the following quote from their article-

“Both student and faculty respondents universally viewed their relationships as meaningful and justified. Some respondents, both professors and students, saw their relationships as no different than any type of romantic relationship. Although aware of their status difference, for some, the professor/student status represented only one of many ways in which they defined themselves and their partners For these respondents, the relationship seemed to transcend the social categories imposed on them. Indeed, we suspect that for some individuals, their ability to transcend social boundaries contributed to their willingness to cross the student/professor divide in the first place. For many of our respondents, issues related to race/ethnicity, sexuality, and age brought greater challenges to their relationships than did the professor/student status difference. We found that negative reactions from others tended to he most extreme for those who crossed multiple social boundaries

For the most part, respondents were well aware of the benefits and detriments of consensual relationships between professors and students. While some saw no special benefits associated with these relationships, both professors and students cited the rewards of intellectual compatibility and a shared lifestyle. Students, in particular, recognized the benefits of professional socialization. Despite such benefits, respondents also recognized the negative or potentially negative aspects of such relationships, especially the power difference between professors and students, and consequently advised others not to pursue them. Respondents tended to refer to power issues in abstract rather than personal terms, however, or noted that power differences are inherent in most relationships.
Faculty respondents in particular viewed their own relationships as equitable, although female faculty, and especially lesbians, expressed somewhat more concern about power issues than male and heterosexual female faculty. This heightened sensitivity among women, particularly lesbians, may reflect the subordinate position of women and gays/ lesbians in social hierarchies. Students, too, tended to see their relationships as being fairly equitable, although they expressed greater concern than faculty about power issues. Most recognized that students are in a more vulnerable position than professors Most were also cognizant of the ways that power differences are reinforced by other status differences, particularly age. We suspect that the sensitivity of many of our student respondents to power issues probably contributed to their ability to analyze their relationships and to negotiate satisfactory solutions to any conflicts Those who cannot do so may end their relationships. Several students who ended their relationship cited power and control issues as contributing to the demise of the relationship.”

Another excellent empirical study is-Skeen, R.E. and J. M. Nielsen (1983). “Student-Faculty Sexual Relationships,” QUALITATIVE SOCIOLOGY, 6(2), 99-117.
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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

 

 

December 22, 2007 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, Ohio State University, rape, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 2 Comments

   

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