Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

UK residents advised to destroy “questionable” sm books to avoid arrest

The Criminal Justice Bill has become the law of the United Kingdom as of May 8.  The dankprofessor has previously posted on this attempt to criminalize so-called extreme pornography by making it illegal for persons to be in possession of extreme pornography or what may appear to be extreme pornography.  I viewed the passage of this bill to be a clear and present danger to any person in the UK, citizen or non-citizen, who is in possession of what the authorities deem as extreme pornography.  But at the time of my original posting I erred in assuming that the law would be predominantly if not totally directed toward persons in the UK who view so called extreme porn sites on the web. I noted that American citizens in the UK could be arrested for viewing website originating in America that were legal in the United States.

The dankprofessor confesses to have been in a state of extreme naivete since I did not recognize that persons in the UK who are in possession of books, journals, photos, etc., that had representations of extreme pornography are subject to arrest for violation of the Criminal Justice Bill.

The website Index on Censorship facilitated my becoming more cognizant of how many persons could become entangled by this law.  Following are key quotes from the Index On Censorship post-

Collectors looking to make a fast buck by investing in erotica had a nervous awakening this morning. And fans of Madonna were left wondering whether they would need to mutilate one of her most famous books.
The Criminal Justice Bill …on ‘extreme pornography’…makes it illegal to possess images that depict ‘explicit realistic extreme acts’ that are also ‘grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character’. The penalty, if found guilty, is up to three years in prison.

Supporters claim that the target of the bill is very clear. Others are not so sure.

Sex, by Madonna, caused controversy on its publication in 1992. It was shot by respected photographer Steven Meisel. But critics accused it of including hardcore images of sado-masochism and even bestiality. In one photo, Madonna appears threatened by a knife. In another she appears in a sexually suggestive pose with a dog. Sex was banned in Japan.

Up to 100,000 copies may still be owned in the UK. Mint copies of this work are being traded for up to £700 on Amazon.

Confusion reigns. A barrister with expertise in this area argues that at least one of the images in Madonna’s book could pass all three tests set by the new law.

‘There has always been a grey area between art and pornography. For the first time, owning a book could land you in jail’, she added.

London lawyer John Lovatt, who advises on the Law and sexuality, is not so sure. ‘Personally, I do not think Madonna’s work would be criminal within the meaning of the new Act.

‘But this law is uncharted territory and will remain so until we see how the courts — and juries — interpret it.

‘If individuals wish to be 100 per cent safe, then they need to err on the side of caution. There are many books it would be safer to mutilate — or destroy altogether.’

His advice to collectors is therefore very simple: ‘be careful. It’s not worth going to jail for a coffee table adornment’.

The dankprofessor finds the bottom line of this posting to be disconcerting, extremely disconcerting to say the least.  To advise persons living in the UK to be careful and the safer thing to do with books of the genre of Madonna’s SEX would be to mutilate them or destroy them is almost beyond belief.

No wonder that “opponents of the new law burnt images outside the British Library before going on to mount a demonstration in Parliament Square”.

As reported by the website Inquisition 21st Century, Clair Lewis one of the demonstrators said that the protesters will employ other strategies as well-

“On the one hand, we intend to demand from the police, from the CPS, from Government that they make crystal clear which books, which images will be illegal. Future actions are likely to involve mass visits to police stations, asking the police to provide guidance, before the law is enacted.

“On the other, we are not going to make this easy for them. It is clear from police enthusiasm for this measure that they believed that taking control of people’s sexuality would be straightforward. It will not. We will fight them all the way. Every case will cost the police and authorities very dear indeed in terms of time, resources and manpower.”

“It is not the business of government to police the bedrooms of consenting adults. We cannot conduct our sex lives on the basis of ringing for legal advice every time we open a book.”

The voice of Clair Lewis will hopefully ring loud and clear not only in the UK but in all nations in which the freedom of the citizenry to choose for themselves what to view and read is considered to be axiomatic.

—–
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 2008

 

May 25, 2008 Posted by | censorship, consensual relationships, ethics, pornography, sadomasochism, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, speech, United Kingdom | 1 Comment

Sex and the university in the United Kingdom

The London Times Higher Education section of May 22 has an extensive and on the whole excellent article on student professor sexual relationships with the focus being on relationships in UK universities.  It is interesting to see the differences between American and British attitudes on the subject.  Following are presented key sections of the article with the dankprofessor’s comments in the text.  This article definitely merits reading in its entirety by anyone who is seriously interested in the subject; click here for the full text.  My comments are highlighted in blue.
 

When dramatist Stephen Lowe took up a post as visiting writer at Dartington College of Arts, he expected the job to boost his theatre career. What he hadn’t anticipated was that he would meet his life partner. Lowe, then 31, fell for his 21-year-old undergraduate student Tanya Myers. After 27 years, the pair still live and work together and are the parents of two children.

It may sound like the contrived plot of a campus novel, but Lowe’s story is not unique. Despite widespread concern about abuse of power and conflicts of interest, sexual relationships between tutor and student often flourish within academe.

“I have altogether too much experience of teachers engaging in sexual relations with students, both their own students and (those of) their colleagues,” remembers Alan Ryan, now warden of New College, Oxford. He looks back on his early career at Keele University with fond memories of the relationships that began between young academics and their students. “In my misspent youth, my ability to resist temptation was not great, and since I started teaching in the early 1960s, and new faculty were mostly only a couple of years older than the finalists, the discovery of sexual pleasure was a shared experience,” he says.

“Of the affairs I remember, an awful lot turned into highly successful marriages, though a good many were simple flings,” he says. “There were, of course, spectacular characters who weren’t like this at all. Freddie (A.J.) Ayer (the philosopher) fell into bed with everyone who was remotely willing, and an awful lot of young women were very happy to tick him off on the list of famous professors they had laid.”

Attitudes are beginning to harden, however. Like their US counterparts, which have historically been stricter on campus relationships, British universities are starting to crack down on such liaisons. Policies are being drafted to deal with relationships and the inevitable conflicts of interest that can follow – as one might put it, “an A for a lay”. Questions of morality and responsibility, sexuality and pedagogy are being raised.

But however an institution chooses to tackle the problem, it’s certainly not going to disappear. As Ryan points out: “The availability of partners is a geographical matter; if you are cooped up on a campus, who are you likely to fall into bed with?”

It is hard for the dankprofessor to imagine an American university administrator speaking so openly about this issue and ones prior involvements with students as Alan Ryan, warden of New College, Oxford.  Ryan’s final observation that it is a matter of geography is completely correct- eligible men and women “cooped up on a campus” cannot be prevented from fraternizing no matter how hard university moralists and administrators try to eliminate these relationships.  The only way to eliminate these relationships is to eliminate campus life as we know it and replace it with so-called online education.

In the UK, attitudes towards relationships in academe are changing rather more slowly. In 2005, figures revealed after a Freedom of Information Act request by Times Higher Education showed that 50 out of 102 institutions had no policy requiring staff to declare sexual or other relationships with students that might give rise to a conflict of interest. Of those that did, few appeared to apply them: just 17 universities had any current records on file.

In the same year, 18 per cent of respondents to a poll conducted by the Teacher Support Network said that they had had a sexual relationship with a student. Despite this, only 73 relationships were officially recorded and just five of these were defined as sexual or romantic. Many respondents, 62 per cent, said they did not know whether or not their university had a protocol on such matters.

Nevertheless, attitudes among academics have already shifted. “Many more of my colleagues now teach one to one with the room door open. I also know that there are people who avoid teaching certain topics,” says Mary Beard, professor of Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge. “That can’t be a good thing.”

She remembers two personal stories of close but non-sexual relationships that flourished at the university. While an undergraduate, Beard regularly spent long weekends with her tutor, who was decades her senior. Although the relationship was purely pedagogical, she admits that his motives may have been rather different from hers. Similarly, as a tutor, Beard formed a friendship with a young male student who eventually helped teach her to drive, sitting as her passenger regularly while she practised and improved.

“In the Oxbridge of the Twenties and Thirties, students went on holiday with their tutors,” she says. “It wouldn’t happen now. It’s hard to know where the barrier lies between institutional rules and a change in the culture. I think it’s very hard to know which is which,” she adds.

“In some ways we have to accept that there is an erotic dimension to pedagogy. If you take a traditional Oxbridge-style tutorial system, that’s one thing that students love and it’s some of the most interesting teaching when you really get to know someone. That doesn’t mean it’s about feeling someone up, but it is passionate. The difficulty is that that’s a terribly sexy experience; two people sitting together really talking through how Latin love poetry works. How do you desexualise that?”

Of course, you can’t desexualize it.  But no matter the moralists on and off campus will do their damnest to repress it. The dankprofessor has often speculated that those who are so involved in sexual repression may very well find their repressive activities to be quite sexually gratifying.  

“I think it’s a tricky moral dilemma,” Beard says. “I think it’s undeniable that some students and staff have been hurt by these kinds of relationships. I think it’s also undeniable that there have been people who have gained from them.”

But for some, whatever the age of the two individuals, the power relationship inherent between tutor and student means that sexual contact is tantamount to abuse of that power.

A decade ago, Paul Norris, then a social sciences lecturer at Southampton Institute (now Southampton Solent University), caused controversy when he left his wife for a student. He had previously been disciplined by the institution in 1992 for having a sexual relationship with a student on a course he both taught and assessed. His wife, who vowed to set up a support group for other women in her position, claimed that lecturers “perceive sex with students as a perk of the job”. “It seems common to me, and universities seem very blase,” she stated.

 Yes, the Norris case was a notorious one in the UK.  It was made notorious in part by his wife who set up a support group of wives who were left by their professor husbands for a younger student. Of course, banning older married men from having sex with younger women may very well be a fantasy for women such as the wife of Paul Norris.  No question that in the competition between women for mates, younger women generally have a competitive edge. 

 One senior lecturer working in London says she has seen too many young people distressed by the break-up of such relationships. When she conducted a straw poll among a group of colleagues and students, only two people felt it was wrong for a tutor to have a relationship with a student – a figure she cannot understand. She says relationships are formed because tutors prey on the naivety of students or because knowing young men and women use a member of staff for their own ends.

Now this prior paragraph certainly represents the Americanized purity feminist approach on this subject

In their book The Lecherous Professor, Billie Wright Dziech and Linder Weiner comment: “Few students are ever, in the strictest sense, consenting adults. A student can never be the genuine equal of a professor insofar as his professional position gives him power over her … Whether the student consents to the involvement or whether the professor ever intends to use his power against her is not the point. The issue is that the power and the role disparity always exist.”

And here is the hardcore attitude.  Billie Dziech has done more than any academic to facilitate the banning of these relationships by arguing ad nauseum that few students can ever be consenting adults when it comes to relationships with professors.

Brian Martin, lecturer in the department of science and technology at Wollongong University, Australia, agrees. He has written on the issue on numerous occasions, citing his concerns at the lack of action being taken by universities on the matter.

“University teachers hold positions of trust. They are expected to design teaching programmes and carry out their teaching duties to help their students develop as mature thinkers … for impressionable young students, the boundaries between intellectual development and personal life may easily become blurred,” he says.

“Even if academic evaluations are kept completely independent of personal involvements, it is likely that there will be an appearance of bias in the eyes of other students. When a key academic, who should be a mentor, shows a keen interest in a student’s body, it often sends a signal that their intellect is of secondary importance. The impact on the student’s self-confidence can be devastating.”

He is also dismissive of the value of formal institutional policies. “I don’t think policies on their own make a lot of difference,” he says. “Many policies exist, but I’m not aware of any studies examining whether they are enforced.”

Yes, I also know of no studies relating to the enforcement of these sexual codes or the effectiveness of said enforcement. Such should not be surprising since enforcement is usually in secret and secret police aka administrators hardly ever want their practices evaluated.  Secrecy gives license to the the enforcers to do what they want to do.

The potential for abuse of power is certainly an important issue, and one that is well recognised and well understood. Nevertheless, most personal relationships entered into by people in all walks of life involve some basic balancing of power and control. One should perhaps not expect relationships that grow within academe to be immune or exempt from these concerns.

Universities UK says that it is up to individual institutions to decide what their policy is on such “sensitive” areas and to implement those. There are no broad guidelines available to UK universities to help them draft a policy, but nationally the Office of the Independent Adjudicator can pick up cases where, for example, sexual harassment is claimed and the university itself is unable to resolve the case.

“They will consider extenuating circumstances that a student claims affected their performance and the institution didn’t adequately respond to – this could include a relationship with an academic,” a UK spokesperson confirmed.

This kind of careful “monitoring” of relationships leaves many academics cold, but while threats of sexual harassment cases loom there seems little alternative for universities. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that most individuals would not choose to begin a sexual or romantic relationship in their workplace or with a person for whom they have direct managerial or pedagogical responsibility. As Lowe comments of his own experience: “It’s a difficult place to have a relationship. It’s embarrassing whatever you do.”

With that in mind, academics advocate a soft approach to the enforcement of the rules. “I think the institution has to look out for people and make sure everybody looks out for each other,” Beard states. “I think a kind of police state where everybody is sniffing out to see how close X is getting to Y is wrong.

“It’s a lot like smoking. You can’t get people to give up unless you recognise that sometimes it’s pleasurable.”

I love this bottom line by Mary Beard.  Of course, people are not going to give it up since to the dismay of the moralists it is all too often too pleasurable.  And yes, Beard appropriately uses the concept of “police state”.  Once we understand that all too many universities are heading in the direction of sexual police states, more persons will oppose these policies.  What Beard fails to mention is that these policies cannot be effective to any degree without secret informants, third party informants of the genre of Linda Tripp.

—–
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 2008

 

May 24, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, passion, secrecy, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, United Kingdom | 1 Comment

Fear rules at Indiana University

Indiana University has played a pivotal role in the history of sexual behavior in the United States since at IU is located the famous Kinsey Institute.  Of course,  IU functioned as the headquarters for the sex research of Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s.  Since that time some of the most respected sex researchers have become IU professors due to the fact that the Kinsey Institute is located on the IU campus.  Such would have never occurred if in the 1940s and 1950s, IU had the student professor consensual sexual relationships policy that is currently existent at Indiana University. Given this policy, Kinsey would have been dismissed for unprofessional conduct due to his relationships with students and research assistants.

In any case, since there are so many scholars at IU with an interest in sexual behavior and sexual policy issues, one would expect that sexual policy regulations would be presented in a manner that is empirically grounded and adhere to the rules of logic.  To determine if such is the case, presented below is the IU consensual relationships policy; the dankprofessor’s criticisms are presented in blue in the text of the policy.

Policy on Consensual Relationships
Academic Handbook: (A. Right and Responsibilities, I. General Statement : Relations with Students)
With regard to relations with students, the term “faculty” or “faculty member” means all those who teach and/or do research at the University including (but not limited to) tenured and tenure-track faculty, librarians, holders of research, lecturer, or clinical appointments, graduate students with teaching responsibilities, visiting and part-time faculty, and other instructional personnel including coaches, advisors, and counselors.

The University’s educational mission is promoted by professionalism in faculty/ student relationships. Professionalism is fostered by an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Actions of faculty members and students that harm this atmosphere undermine professionalism and hinder fulfillment of the University’s educational mission. Trust and respect are diminished when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their power. Those who abuse their power in such a context violate their duty to the University community.

Of course, professionalism is not defined; it is presented as a given even though there has been much argumentation over what is professional or non-professional.  Whatever professionalism is,  it must be a good thing since mutual trust and respect are good things; even the dankprofessor is for mutual trust and respect. And I am also against diminishing trust and respect when authority abuses power or appears to abuse power.  But nowhere in this document is abuse of power defined and I am quite sure that I would not equate abuse of power with the appearance of the abuse of power.  Might I raise the following questions- Is it  OK to equate murder with the appearance of murder? To equate adultery with the appearance of adultery?  To equate crime with the appearance of crime?

To equate appearances with reality certainly should not be an accepted policy in the halls of academia.  In theory, professors have learned to engage in critical thinking, have learned to teach critical thinking, but now they become a party to the IU statement that passes off the conflating of fact with fiction as being OK.  Well, the dankprofessor says it is not OK, and that any university which is against the abuse of both students and professors would make the effort of separating appearances from reality. We all should know the danger of not doing so as represented by the actions of Duke University in their persecution of the Duke lacrosse team members who appeared to the powers that be at Duke and too many Duke faculty as having engaged in rape.

Faculty members exercise power over students, whether in giving them praise or criticism, evaluating them, making recommendations for their further studies or their future employment, or conferring any other benefits on them. All amorous or sexual relationships between faculty members and students are unacceptable when the faculty member has any professional responsibility for the student.

The two prior sentences represent a non sequitur.  A statement that X has power over Y does not necessarily mean that X and Y are incapable of having a consensual sexual relationship.  Of course, there are some academics who embrace cant and rant such as “Differential power precludes consent.”  If this cant is accepted, such means that when persons of differential power engage in a sexual relationship, the situation becomes one of rape.  The dankprofessor holds that such is utter poppycock and is indicative of a form of heterophobia, possibly homophobia as well, or may be it is more accurate to state that such represents a fear of sex or is sex phobic.

Such situations greatly increase the chances that the faculty member will abuse his or her power and sexually exploit the student.

The sex phobia is illustrated in the prior sentence since the sex phobic always feels that sex in some form or the other will lead to harm and abuse.  It is always better to be abstinent.  In fact, this sort of thinking comes right out of the Bush sponsored sex abstinence sex education agenda.

Voluntary consent by the student in such a relationship is suspect, given the fundamental asymmetric nature of the relationship.

Again, back to the assumption that differential power precludes consent, and even if it does not preclude consent, it is still bad since it makes the “relationship suspect”.  The dankprofessor asks do real persons in the real world of love and romance and marriage and parenthood, and divorce and dissolution really believe that if one person is seen as having greater power than ones partner that the relationship is seen as suspect?  Of course, there are many persons who exist with fear being omnipresent; such persons have fully embraced a paranoid world view.  The fearful and weak-minded may be the subject of such rhetoric, but attempting to pass this off on the Kinsey sophisticates at IU is just too much for the dankprofessor to handle.

Moreover, other students and faculty may be affected by such unprofessional behavior because it places the faculty member in a position to favor or advance one student’s interest at the expense of others and implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors.

About the possibility of other students being affected, of course, it should be pointed out that there are also many other students who would not be affected or offended.  And offended is the word that should be used here; IU is arguing that students should be protected from offense.  The possibility of the right to offend is simply ignored.  The IU argument is a dangerous argument, an argument that could be used to ban or criminalize just about anything.  The California Supreme Court recently dealt with this in overturning arguments to ban same sex marriage just as in a prior decision the California Supreme Court made short shrift of the arguments in support of banning interracial marriage.

And as for the rest of the statement about “implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors”.  I do not see anything here implicit or explicit.  If people want to think the worst of others, it is easy to impugn the motives of others.  But to do this on a group level, to use a prostitution framing for student professor relationships goes beyond the pale for the dankprofessor.

Therefore, the University will view it as a violation of this Code of Academic Ethics if faculty members engage in amorous or sexual relations with students for whom they have professional responsibility, as defined in number 1 or 2 below, even when both parties have consented or appear to have consented to the relationship. Such professional responsibility encompasses both instructional and non-instructional contexts.

1. Relationships in the Instructional Context. A faculty member shall not have an amorous or sexual relationship, consensual or otherwise, with a student who is enrolled in a course being taught by the faculty member or whose performance is being supervised or evaluated by the faculty member.

2. Relationships outside the Instructional Context. A faculty member should be careful to distance himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize a student with whom he or she has or has had an amorous or sexual relationship, even outside the instructional context, especially when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit or in units that are allied academically.

Of course section 2 goes way beyond the instructional context.  Ever having a sexual relationship at any prior time, five months ago or five years ago with a current student, makes the faculty member suspect.  No matter that the relationship is now “ancient history”, the faculty member must distant himself or herself from the permanently sexually impaired (stigmatized) student.  Such distancing is what I would call unprofessional behavior.

Handbook for Student Academic Appointees (Duties and Responsibilities particular to Associate Instructors: Relations with Students)
If faculty members (including graduate students with teaching responsibilities) engage in amorous or sexual relations with students for whom they have professional responsibility, even when both have consented to the relationship, it will be viewed as a violation of the “Code of Academic Ethics”.

Such ends the presentation of the IU consensual relationships policy.  The dankprofessor finds the policy to be outrageous. Such represents the product of the small minded, and the fear obsessed.  Or could it be the product of cynical fear mongers who know they can communicate the inane as accepted IU policy because the IU intellectual and scholarly elite fear to dissent or even worse, the thinking represented in this policy has now become the thinking of the IU professoriate.

The dankprofessor welcomes and encourages input from IU professors who dissent from the IU consensual policy.  However, it is the dankprofessor’s opinion that receiving such dissent for blog publication is just about nil.

—–
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 2008

May 22, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, Indiana University, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating | 2 Comments

The desiccation of university life

It’s about passion- a passion for learning and studying, a passionate search for truth.  Such was my vision of the university prior to becoming a professor so many years ago.  Such remains my ideal but with the knowledge that all too many universities have embraced a pedagogy that takes the passion out of higher education by replacing real live student professor encounters with powerpoint presentations and then totally getting rid of in person student professor interaction via online classes.

And, yes, the dankprofessor knows that there have always been too many professors who never really taught in the classroom, but simply assigned chapters from a textbook and then read their lectures in class which were essentially a rehash of the textbook.  These professors suffered from what I call the textbook syndrome.  Such means that they are totally dependent on the textbook; they have nothing to offer of themselves, their own thinking in their own words to their students, and therefore their greatest fear becomes the loss of the textbook for without the textbook they would have nothing to say.

What has changed is the embracing of a dehumanizing techno centered education by the powers that be at the university. Peak learning experiences, intellectual breakthroughs, bonding with professors and fellow students in the intellectual quest become an irrelevancy.  All eyes become focused on the screen, in class, out of class, almost all the time.

No wonder that so many universities have so easily embraced codes that ban student professor consensual sexual relationships. No big deal.  No big deal since passion, love and romance are seen as having nothing to do with university life.  No big deal since there is little or no university community.  In this vision of the university, everyone knows their place and should never be out of place and then there is Big Sister or Big Brother to keep students and professors in their proper places- powerpointing, powering up or powering down, keeping screen life clean and without giving offense to anyone at any time.

And now we have Margaret Soltan(UD), the Universities Diaries blogger, who understands how university life is descending into just another screen test (my words, not hers).  She breaks through in her blog entry of May 21 entitled “New Forces in the Soul”.  Do click the original essay and read it in its entirety.  And for those who are not inclined to click, below you will find what the dankprofessor considers to be the key parts of this brilliant essay.

…What’s striking about the contemporary American university isn’t this or that flashy scandal – drugs at San Diego State, professional basketball players at USC. It’s that many American campuses look like death warmed over.

Put your ear to the American campus. Listen. The pulse of the cellphone, the click of the laptop. The drone of the headset.

The quiet of the grave.

The quiet of a cathedral full of monks.

In class all heads stay bowed, the professor over her PowerPoint, the student over her Mac. The room flickers with illuminated screens in whose thin light a soul scopes out its trivia: Facebook, Minesweeper, Solitaire.

The white noise of the American university is the sound of souls subdued throughout the day by a succession of screens. The screen is in the classroom and in the diningroom. It is the dorm room and on the quad. Its pacifying effect deepens with iPods, cell phones, and Blackberries.

Of course it’s not just university students. We all look down, messing with our stuff on the metro, in church, in bed.

But it’s sad to see it among university students. Among their professors.

Because of all American cultural settings, the university’s specifically designed to break through the nothingness, to nudge you awake, toward enlightenment. The form of vitality intrinsic to a university is intellectual bliss, the condition of being engrossed in new thought. Not abstract thought. Thought embodied, vitalized, in another human being, a professor.

There are forms of vitality university campuses share with sports arenas and bars, but the distinctive nature of the university is that it offers intellectual vitality, that it offers a faculty which includes people who adore the play of the mind as it takes up this and that element of the world.

It’s not so outlandish a form of enthusiasm. Most people find the classic story of youthful awakening in My Fair Lady and Educating Rita enormously appealing.

And why? Because they recognize these as essentially love stories. They’re not about people downloading lecture content and tapping inquiries to an online ghost. They’re about two people who share a passion for clarity and self-transformation. One of them, a teacher, delights in the discovery of an eager intelllect, receptive to the ideas that excite him. The other, having found a sympathetic human being who has thought about the questions that fascinate her, spends every day charged with cerebral energy.

Also with emotional energy, to be sure. Erotic material exists inside the relationship.

A friend and fellow blogger puts it like this:

[A]cademic life is likely to be formed out of intense relationships all around. .. [T]he eros surrounding them injects them with an ambiguity and intensity that makes life interesting and urgent. Studying is exciting; eros is part of that excitement.
Studying is exciting. Eros is part of that excitement. Feeling your mind expand is exciting. You can do it fitfully, with LSD, or you can do it in a more disciplined way. Feeling a respected professor’s interest in you – even admiration for you – as you receive, absorb, and respond to important ideas is heady stuff.

Be assured that the professor is also excited – excited to have connected with a student about things that matter enormously to the professor.

Heart and body and mind – all are engaged in this intensity.

Actually, occasionally, this intensity will express itself physically, and an affair will ensue. Much more than an affair sometimes. How many professors are married to former students?

Our lives are more and more online, silent, self-absorbed, and, in our preference for customized websites, provincial. The university should be a counterforce to dulling, lulling screenlife, a place that arouses our passion for lightning bolts.

—–
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 2008

May 22, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, passion, political correctness, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment

Professor Lisa Chavez accused of illegal behavior by former University of New Mexico student

Angela Maria Williams, former Daily Lobo editor, a graduate of the UNM creative writing program and a former student of Lisa Chavez engaged in an emotional rant in today’s New Mexico DAILY LOBO.

Ms. Williams is particularly distressed about the resignation of Sharon Warner as Director of the UNM Creative Writing Program.  According to Sharon Warner, she resigned as a form of protest against the UNM administration decision not to
sanction Lisa Chavez for engaging with a student in a website sm performance. The Warner resignation was completely a voluntary one.  I gather it was an act of moral conscience at least as seen by Professor Warner.

Ms. Williams demeaned Warner’s resignation when she stated: “It alarms me even more that Warner was coerced into resigning for doing the right thing.”  And then went on to state: “I want to convey my heartfelt regret that Warner had to leave this way.”  

Williams does not present an iota of evidence that Warner was coerced to leave or had to leave.  Warner never stated that such was the case.  If she was coerced and the Warner resignation did not represent a form of voluntary protest, then Williams should come forward with evidence of this coercion of Sharon Warner.

In addition, Williams engages in a form of over dramatization when she characterizes Warner’s resignation as a “stunning blow” not just to the English Department but to the entire University since she was such a great teacher and did so much to create an excellent creative writing program.”  The fact is that Warner continues to teach at UNM, and did not give up her tenure at UNM.  And if, as Williams states, she was so successful in establishing such a strong creative writing program, there would be a number of excellent professors in the program who could and would step in as director of the program.  If the creative writing program is all about Sharon Warner and said program cannot survive without her, such is a very poor reflection on both Warner and the creative writing program she created.

Williams goes on to bash Lisa Chavez for in her terms engaging in a sexual act with a student and for Williams sexual acts also include “posing in sadomasochistic photos .” She goes on to strongly imply that Chavez had sexually harassed the SM posing student since she believes: “The power in any such situation belongs entirely to the professor, and this is the reason we have sexual harassment laws in the first place.”  She then asks: “Why was Chavez not properly punished for what amounts to repeated acts of sexual harassment?”

She was not punished since there was no sexual harassment. To have sexual harassment you need a complainant and Williams entirely ignores the fact that the student, Liz Derrington, has publicly stated in no uncertain terms that her participation was completely voluntary.  In fact in a blog interview, Derrington states that the major problem she has experienced is that few take her seriously.  Her interpretations of her own experience are simply dismissed by all too many persons.  And this is exactly what Williams does-she dismisses her as a person with no power, as essentially faceless and non-existent. What Williams purports that Chavez did to the student does not compare as to how badly Williams treats the student, how utterly disrespectfully she has treated Derrington in her essay.

Then Williams attempts to finish off Professor Chavez when she states: “What Chavez did was wrong, unethical and, above all, illegal.”  Above all, illegal!  This is the first time I have heard a charge of illegality lodged against Chavez.  Indeed, such is a very serious charge.  If Williams knows that some form of illegality has occurred, minimally she should tell us what it is exactly and going beyond the readers of her rant, she should go to the Albuquerque district’s attorney’s office with evidence of said illegality.  But she hasn’t, and I trust that she won’t since the illegality is probably a figment of her imagination.  If I am wrong, Williams can quickly prove the wrong beliefs of the dankprofessor, by going to the appropriate authorities in Albuquerque.

Williams states that she has “utmost respect for Warner. She has proven to me consistently over the years that she is one of the most dedicated and competent faculty members at UNM.”  The fact that Williams believes that Sharon Warner is one of the most dedicated faculty members at UNM is beside the point.  What is to the point is that Warner has been involved in a campaign to get rid of Chavez, and as part of that campaign she is willing to sacrifice her involvement in the UNM creative writing program.  Such is Warner’s right to protest and to resign.

What Williams misses is the utter lack of respect by her and Warner and others directed toward Chavez.  I do not know of Professor Chavez engaging in any disrespectful behavior.  And what is needed at the University of New Mexico is a lot more respect to be demonstrated by all the involved parties.

—–
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 2008

May 7, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sex work, sexual harassment, sexual politics, University of New Mexico | 2 Comments

Defending academic freedom from the sexual Puritans

Reviewing the past academic year in terms of finding academics who became stars in opposing arbitrary and capricious repression of sexually related matters on campus, there are very few who attained star status.  The dankprofessor has given recognition to Deputy Provost Richard Holder of the University of New Mexico who was resolute in opposing campus faculty who wished to impose sanctions on English Professor Lisa Chavez for her after academic hours work as a phone sex worker and sm posing model.  However, I do not think that this matter has reached a final resolution and there may be more tests for the Deputy Provost as to how resolute he is in defending civil liberties in academe.

Unquestionably there was one shining academic star this past year- William & Mary president Gene Nichol.  Of course, I should refer to him as past president of William & Mary.  In part because of his opposition to the termination of the Sex Workers’ Art Show, he was relieved of his duties as president of William & Mary.

The Hook, a weekly newspaper out of Charlottesville, Va., has published an article which reviewed a number of recent cases in Virginia relating to sexual repression.  Following is their summary of what happened at William & Mary.

According to its website, the Sex Workers’ Art Show features performers who were once strippers, porn stars, and prostitutes who “offer a wide range of perspectives on sex work, from celebration of prostitutes’ rights and sex-positivity, to views from the darker sides of the industry.”

When Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-Williamsburg) first heard such a show would take place in her district, she dashed off an open letter to then-William & Mary president Gene Nichol, demanding that he step in to cancel the performance.

“Not only has this controversy brought considerable embarrassment to our community,” she wrote, “but in my estimation this will inflict damage to the dignity and decorum that the college enjoys.”

Nichol did ban any photography from the event, even by members of the media, but refused to drop the curtain on the performance. On the night of Monday, February 4, with William & Mary police waiting in the wings to arrest anyone violating the obscenity statute, the Sex Workers’ Art Show put on a censored version of their show, as per a contract negotiated by representatives of state Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

Still, the cries of outrage only seemed to grow. On Thursday, February 7, four potential appointees to the William & Mary board awaiting the General Assembly’s approval were brought before the House of Delegates’ Privileges and Elections Committee. They got an earful, according to media accounts.

“Quite frankly, members of this committee– and many more in the House– are not sure what to make of all these events,” said Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania), the committee’s chair, “and how they advance the teaching, research, and public service mission of William & Mary.”

Five days later, Nichol offered his abrupt resignation, and issued this parting shot in a farewell e-mail to the William & Mary community:

“A committed, relentless, frequently untruthful, and vicious campaign– on the Internet and in the press– has been waged against me, my wife, and my daughters,” he wrote. “It has been joined, occasionally, by members of the Virginia House of Delegates– including last week’s steps by the Privileges and Elections Committee to effectively threaten Board appointees if I were not fired over decisions concerning the Wren Cross [which Nichol had decided to remove to make the College's oldest building more nondenominational] and the Sex Workers’ Art Show. That campaign has now been rendered successful. And those same voices will no doubt claim victory today.”

The rector of William & Mary’s board, and ultimately Nichol’s boss, is Michael Powell, a 1985 alum of the College and the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commissions, who famously levied a $550,000 fine– the largest in the agency’s history– against CBS for airing Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004.

In a statement on the day of Nichol’s resignation, Powell wrote, “the Board believed there were a number of problems that were keeping the College from reaching its full potential and concluded that those issues could not be effectively remedied without a change of leadership,” adding that, “It is critical to explain that this decision was not in any way based on ideology or any single public controversy. To suggest such a motivation for the Board is flatly wrong.”

Weeks after his resignation from the College’s presidency, Nichol left his faculty post at William & Mary’s law school for a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law School, where he was once dean.

For his part, Whitehead believes it’s an indicator that William & Mary is out of step with the times.

“The university wants to exist in this ivy-covered world outside of reality,” he says. “This guy just seems like he’s stirred the pot, and that sex show was the death of him.”

With William & Mary being a state university, the controversy has not gone unnoticed by Governor Tim Kaine (D). While he did not act in any official capacity in the Nichol matter, he did tell the Hook in a Charlottesville visit last month that he’s skeptical of the reasons why the Board axed its president so soon.

“I don’t think the majority of people in Virginia feel the way that the Board felt with the issues that came up in the Nichol firing,” Kaine says. “But some people do, and it’s a matter of finding the right balance.”

The dankprofessor professes a lack of modesty in giving his kudos to Gene Nichol for his resolute defense of academic values and freedom.  He would not allow the sexual politics of Virginia and William & Mary to trump academic freedom for sexual Puritanism.    

—–
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 2008

 

 

 

May 5, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, art, ethics, higher education, sex, sex workers, sexual politics, University of New Mexico, William & Mary College | Leave a comment

Gregory Bird and Lethbridge College

In a previous posting, I reported that Gregory Bird, a psychology professor at Lethbridge College who had been fired by Lethbridge for having consensual relationships with three Lethbridge students had been ordered to be reinstated by a Lethbridge arbitration board.

Although the term arbitration implies a final judgment, such is not necessarily the case.  Many universities and corporations involved in an arbitration proceeding and facing a judgment they do not like, appeal to the civil courts arguing that the arbitrator violated the rules of the arbitration.  And this is exactly what the Lethbridge administration did- they appealed.

As reported by the Lethbridge Herald,

A judge’s decision was reserved Monday, more than 26 months after a Lethbridge College instructor was fired for having sex with his students.

Justice C.S. Phillips gave no indication of when her decision would be handed down, after hearing arguments from two Calgary lawyers over the college’s termination of psychology teacher Greg Bird. Earlier this year an arbitration board ordered him reinstated by May 1, but college officials went to Court of Queen’s Bench to appeal that ruling.

While Bird admitted to his actions, the instructors’ lawyer told the judge, the college’s response was too severe. College officials maintain their action was proper because he’d violated a professional code of ethics.  Lawyer Bill Armstrong, acting for the college, said the provincially appointed arbitration panel’s decision was inconsistent with the facts it cited in reaching a verdict. He also held the college’s lack of a specific policy on personal conduct between students and teachers should not be sufficient to warrant reinstatement.

…William Johnson, representing the college faculty association, cited cases from other colleges and universities across Canada to show firing was too strong a punishment. A hot-tub party involving students and a faculty member at an Okanagan Valley college provides the most recent case law, he said.

In the college’s collective agreement with its faculty, he said it’s stated disciplinary actions would be “reasonable” under the circumstances. When he was hired more than a decade ago, Johnson said the dean of student services advised Bird and other new faculty there was no policy but they should “be discrete” about their interactions with students.

After two years and two months away from the classroom, he held, Bird has faced enough punishment.
Both lawyers submitted extensive written arguments as well.
“There’s a lot to go through here,” the Calgary judge said, reserving her decision. Court officials say issues like this, heard in Calgary chambers, could be resolved in less than a month or take as long as one year.

Of course, the Lethbridge administration may be hoping that the judge takes one year or more to reach a decision.  Such may represent a strategy to simply wear down Bird so that he would voluntarily withdraw from the university in the context of a minimal financial settlement.

It is the dankprofessor’s hope that Bird cannot be forced out.  I agree with Bird’s lawyer that firing is an excessive punishment for engaging in consensual relationships with students.  I would also agree in the context of this case that Bird’s punishment has already been excessive.  And, of course, based on the dankprofessor’s personal perspective, Bird should not have been punished at all.  Any punishment in this case is too much punishment.  Consensual relationships are simply not the business of persons other than the persons involved in the relationships.

In response to my prior posting on this case, I received personal communications from students of Bird praising him as a great teacher and lamenting the actions taken against him by   Lethbridge College.  If Gregory Bird should read this post, I encourage him to contact me; I would value the opportunity to personally communciate with him.

—–
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 2008
 
 

May 3, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, Lethbridge College, litigation, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating | 2 Comments

NUDE POSERS IN BERKELEY TREE

nude tree people

I am not sure as to how to frame the above photo. NUDES IN A TREE would seem to be an appropriate caption. But some might argue that the caption does not provide a protest discourse since without an initial organized protest this photo would never have been taken.

And what was the nature of the protest?

Last year, the University of California announced that it was going to build a new athletic training facility next to Memorial Stadium at the eastern edge of the Berkeley campus. Unfortunately, in order to build the facility as planned, the University must remove several oak trees that are currently growing on the site.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, local activists have seized on the fate of the “Memorial Oak Grove” as the cause du jour, and a vigorous campaign has been launched to stop the project and save the trees. To that end, protesters have been actually living in the trees since December of 2006, alternating in shifts every few days or weeks. The controversy has received an inordinate amount of media coverage.

OK, so maybe the caption should have been NUDE TREE DWELLERS. But there is more.

Completely unrelated to any of this, a local art photographer named Jack Gescheidt has recently become well-known for a photo series he calls the “TreeSpirit Project,” which involves naked models pictured climbing and hugging trees. But when Gescheidt heard about the Memorial Oak Grove brouhaha, he sensed a perfect media opportunity. He announced that the next installment in his Tree Spirit Project would be a nude photo shoot among the oak trees next to Memorial Stadium. And this time he wouldn’t use only professional models: he issued an open call for anyone and everyone to come get naked for the trees.

And so on Saturday, March 17, 2007, the planets came into alignment and a disparate confluence of people found themselves gathered together in the oak grove: tree-sitters, nudists, activists, journalists, Jack Gescheidt and his assistant, perverts, pornographers, the police and passersby…

OK, how about NUDE POSERS IN BERKELEY TREE?

The whole scene could or should be dedicated to the UC Berkeley nude guy of yesteryear, Andrew Martinez.

For the complete photo shoot, click here.

May 3, 2008 Posted by | exhibitionism, higher education, hugging, nudity, sexual politics, UC Berkeley, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Exhibitionism and voyeurism at Oberlin College and beyond

Inside Higher Ed reports that there are an increasing number of college anchored message boards “which encourage students to “share thoughts, debate ideas and communicate anonymously.”  Actually many of these boards require anonymous posting.

However, Oberlin College’s Oberlin Confessional has gone beyond just posting thoughts and ideas.  “At Oberlin Confessional, one of the most popular threads (with over 500 comments and counting) asks students to photograph their own genitals and post links to the pictures online so that others can rate them.  They have, and they are.”

Supposedly the body parts can be rated, but not dated or hooked up with; said body parts are not associated with any particular person.  However, such does not prevent any Oberlin student from claiming any particular body part.  Anonymity allows anyone to come forward to claim a particular image as their own image.  Of course, the person who donates the image can make a counter claim.  But such would lead to one’s identity becoming compromised.  Its all very tenuous and very ambiguous.

In terms of ambiguity, the dankprofessor raises the question as to the appropriate way to frame  the Oberlin scenario.  Might such represent a form of exhibitionism?  Committed exhibitionists get sexual gratification from exposing themselves to non-consenting anonymous others.  In the present case, Oberlin displaying students have the same anonymity needs as the traditional exhibitionists.  But those viewing the Oberlin display are there by choice so such separates them off from the non-consenting others of the traditional exhibitionists. 

But is such truly the case?  At some level is it not the case that the so-called unwilling victim may at times be quite compatible with the exhibitionist’s fantasy world and obtain voyeuristic gratification?  And at the Oberlin Confessional site one can quickly change roles from exhibitionist to voyeur.

And if the dankprofessor can take this scenario one step further, isn’t it the case that the net is driven by the exhibitionistic and that their needs are gratified by the presence of millions looking for anonymous voyeuristic gratification?  In a sense, the net has normalized both exhibitionism and voyeurism.  Oh, I almost forgot, for those of the voyeuristic bent, here is the link to Oberlin Confessional.

—–
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 2008
 

May 2, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, exhibitionism, higher education, Oberlin College, sex, sexual politics, voyeurism | Leave a comment

   

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