Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Meddling campus moralists

The University World News article “Ban sex between lecturers and students?” in the UK which I cited in my last post merits more attention from the dankprofessor.

The article cites Rob Briner, a professor of organisational psychology at Birkbeck University who bemoans the loss of the old Oxbridge ideal of meeting students for a glass of sherry at 11am.

“When I was a student, the lecturer would close the door for a tutorial but now lecturers are wary of doing things like that – most just wouldn’t do it,” Briner said. “Staff are aware of the need to keep away from situations where they might be accused of doing anything.”

Where they might be accused of doing anything?  How utterly sad that the passage of these fraternization rules has led to fear and paranoia on campus and the destruction of campus community.  Better to do nothing than anything.  Keep those doors open on the closed campuses?

British universities have become more wary of possible allegations of abuse on the one hand but have also in many cases come to accept they cannot prevent relationships taking place.

A survey by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2005 found that 52 out of 102 institutions had developed policies on the issue with many, like Birkbeck, requiring that any such relationship be declared to the employee’s line manager.

“Like in a lot of other policy areas, the organisation is trying to acknowledge that it [sexual relations] is going on and then they can deal with it,” Briner said.

Most universities contacted by University World News were either reluctant or unable to give numbers of lecturers who had been forced to resign as a result of a sexual relationship with a student. In America – where many universities have an outright ban on student-lecturer relationships – the American Association of University Professors was unable to provide any statistics on the issue.

“Although we handle hundreds and even thousands of inquiries and complaints each year… there is no central source for statistics on the nature of those cases,” said Dr John Curtis, Director of Research and Public Policy at the AAUP.

Of course, there are no statistics on student professor consensual relationships due to the fact that they are consensual!   Are parties to a consensual relationship motivated to turn themselves in and thereby become part of a campus statistic? 

As for the inability of campuses to prevent consensual relationships,
why would any academic expect that there could be effective prevention?  Have same sex consensual relationships been prevented in the context of centuries of persecution?

What astounds the dankprofessor is that journalists almost always buy into the myth that consensual relationships between students and professors represent a danger to the university.  For example, I am not aware of any case in which a lawsuit has been brought against a university due to a consensual relationship between a student and a professor?  Yes, there have been many lawsuits regarding sexual harassment involving a student and a professor, but consensual relationships between a student and a professor are not a subpart of sexual harassment no matter how many times the two are confounded by journalists, academics and assorted ideologues.  And, yes, a consensual relationship can turn into a situation of sexual harassment, but the absurdity of banning consensual relationships due to a bad outcome becomes transparent if when using this logic one argues that consensual heterosexual relationships should be banned because they can result in situations of rape. 

Overall, though, it seems as if policies that require lecturers to reveal any intimate relationships they are having with students – now common in the UK and US – are likely to spread.

If they are likely to spread then academics who value privacy and autonomy and do not feel good about universities embracing an authoritarian corporate model, should fight the spread of these nefarious policies

In conclusion, the University World News cites Professor Manola Makhanya, Pro vice-chancellor of the University of South Africa who they stated was

certainly enthusiastically considering whether such specific policies could be applied in South Africa: “It is important to focus on this because my sense is that it will increase,” he said. “Clearly we have to come up with policies rather than sit back, be confronted with a situation and not know how to deal with it.”

My advice to Professor Makanya is that it is better to do nothing.  Better to reject the American university model of the meddling moralistic authoritarians.  In fact, I am sure that the good professor knows that the American electorate just got rid of its number one meddler after a history of eight years meddling in the affairs of just about everybody.

January 27, 2009 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, United Kingdom

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