Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Call for censuring/censoring Chavez continues at UNM

The Albuquerque Journal reports (August 23) that the campaign against UNM S&M performing professor of English Lisa D Chavez continues unabated.  The campaign is conducted by some of her Creative Writing  and English Department colleagues who want the UNM administration to take some sort of sanctions against the professor for engaging in a S&M scenario on a website with UNM students.  However, the UNM administration will not buy into the professorial moral crusade against Chavez. 

In a recent letter to the faculty of the English Department, UNM President David Schmidley wrote:
“The university is, first and foremost, a place where students, faculty and administrators alike constantly engage in learning. It’s now time for all of us to learn anew the lessons of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

The UNM President has brought in an outside consulting firm in an attempt to resolve the situation, but such resolution has not occurred.  Some faculty have refused to engage in any form of mediation.  In fact, some of the faculty are threatening to leave if they don’t get their way-

“How can I stay? I don’t think I can stay,” said Joy Harjo, a full professor in the university’s creative writing program and a well regarded Native American poet who left the University of California Los Angeles for the chance to work for her alma mater. She said she’s bothered there were no consequences and that the university was dismissive of those who expressed concern.
    “Bottom line here is that there’s something of integrity being sacrificed, and that’s what is most disturbing to me,” she said.
    Sharon Warner, who resigned her post as director of the nationally recognized creative writing program in protest of the university’s handling of the Chávez situation, said several faculty members, including her, are looking for employment elsewhere.
    Warner said she attended Friday’s “facilitated discussion” and considered it unproductive.

(from Albuquerque Journal August 23)  

University Diaries blogger Margaret Soltan sympathizes with the offended faculty and refers to Chavez
as a “tenured perv”.   UD has also expressed a concern that the Chavez controversy may lead to the demise of the Creative Writing program which is a very small program.  In her latest blog posting, UD states:

“While UD thinks faculty should do more or less what they want on their own time, she agrees with Warner and Harjo that Lisa Chavez’s behavior was grotesque enough — and you don’t hear her apologizing for it, or saying she won’t do it again — that UNM should have been able to impose some sanctions. UD remains perplexed as to why it does not.”

The fact is that the UNM administration has indicated in no uncertain terms that they will take no action against Chavez since her S&M posing activities were unrelated to any formal university function.  In essence, their position is that Chavez’s off campus activities and the students who were involved in these activities did not represent any involvement of the University of New Mexico.  And the fact that there were no student complaints as to these activities impacting on their role as students at UNM is additional support for the correctness of the UNM position.

And the dankprofessor also holds that university professors do not have a right not to be offended by their colleagues off campus activities.  And this is what academic freedom is all about- the right to offend
even when such offending is off campus and even when such offensive conduct appears to be of a sexual nature.  The fact that UD judges Chavez to be a “tenured perv” is irrelevant; the fact that I find such a characterization offensive is also irrelevant.  It becomes relevant to the dankprofessor when such characterization is used as a means to terminate or sanction a professor.  If tenure has any meaning, it should mean that faculty should not attempt to sanction fellow faculty for what they consider to be offensive.

Critics of Chavez will point to an ad for the sm website which employed Chavez and which “characterizes Mistress Jade” as “a stern teacher ready to punish unruly students.” Of course, such is a  frequent s&m fantasy.  But as far as punishment goes, it is clear that several persons at UNM would like to punish Chavez in the real world for her acting out punishment scenarios in a fantasy world.

Sadistic conduct in the context of attempted coercion and degradation is certainly going on in the real world of UNM but such conduct is not being promulgated by Lisa Chavez; it is being promulgated by some faculty against Lisa Chavez.  Can’t a creative writing faculty tell the difference between fantasy and reality?  Can’t persons who are supposedly committed to creative thought and writing for themselves and their students, restrain their desire to censor and control?  Such represents a minimal expectation for those who are committed to the values of the life of the mind.

August 25, 2008 - Posted by | academic freedom, censorship, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, University of New Mexico

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