Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Daily Iowan gets it right

The dankprofessor is in awe re the Daily Iowan’s editorial of February 26 on the response of the UI administration to the UI sexual harassment problem.  Following are the two key paragraphs from said editorial

But the nature of this particular resource (sexual harassmnt training) is foundationally suspect. It lends itself more to calming the ripples of an upset image and hand-hidden gossip caused by the accusations, and subsequent suicides, of Arthur Miller and Mark Weiger, and not the more latent problem of harassment itself. As a reaction to general publicity of sexual harassment, the university is setting up this “training” program, which changes neither the effectiveness nor application of existing policy but merely draws attention to the problem and some of its potential solutions. The program is disingenuous because all it manages to accomplish is a heightened atmosphere of what could be called paranoia, in the sense that the main thrust of the university is to scrub away the blemishes left by the “scandals” themselves and not the root causes: ignorance and disrespect.

Students need ready options for this kind of education, but the tactic of pure “brochure-ism” is not working. A forum of discussion and support could provide the groundwork for a solid system for counteracting harassment, involving all tiers of academic society. In fact, this might resolve into a culture of safety instead of one of apparent vanity. Reiterating and drawing attention to policy will not affect its success. We need a more efficient method of creating a safe, educational environment, not merely reactive measures of highlighting previously existing programs while ignoring their faults.


February 26, 2009 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Writing out University of Iowa buffoonery

In terms of the recent faculty sexual harassment cases and faculty suicides at the University of Iowa, the dankprofessor believes it would be fair to state that things are not going well at UI.  But such is not the view of the UI administration.

UI officials are now touting progress in their fight against faculty sexual harassment and suicide. UI Provost Wallace Loh says that “extraordinary progress'” is occurring at UI since the university has put 4,800 faculty and staff and teaching assistants thru their sexual harassment education program.  Note that the program is now called education and not training.  So in one foul swoop the UI administration is now playing both a numbers game and a name game.  Their stated goal is for 17,800 faculty, staff and TAs to become educated in the ins and outs of sexual harassment.

To argue that so-called educational progress is reflected in these numbers is ludicrous.  Such would be similar to arguing that police training in “cultural sensitivity” means that more police are more sensitive on the beat.  Outcomes and program numbers are not one in the same, whether it be on the beat or in the classroom.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of faculty and staff and TAs who have gone thru said education or training or indoctrination believe that such does not reflect so-called progress but are more likely to believe it is simply an attempt to avoid the University of Iowa becoming involved in legal entanglements.

The dankprofessor  believes that UI communications studies professor Steve Duck who recently completed the UI program got it right when

he said the program is an ineffective public relations move and …many faculty members want to know what (President) Mason will do if another accusation arises.

“Sally Mason’s requirement that all faculty take a mandatory course, which I passed at a level that won me a badge and a free plastic cup, was an ineffective response that does little more than attract bad publicity,” Duck said.

“In fact most faculty, TAs and students have a greater deal of common sense than she recognizes, and her required course doesn’t solve the problem either,” he said.

Handing out a badge and a cup to those who complete this so-called education is downright insulting and patronizing.   Such “gestures” show how little regard, show how little respect the UI administrators have for faculty and students.

What a simple world it would be if we could solve harassment and suicide problems through some pseudo education and the awarding of a badge and a cup.  Or to put it in more blunt terms- the aforementioned represents a form of pablum designed for the simple-minded.

Obviously, the major problem at UI is that the UI President Sally Mason and her administrator underlings do not take these problems seriously.  If they took the problems seriously they would stop treating their faculty as children who they order around while playing mindless word games. 

THE problem at UI and at many other universities is essentially one of authoritarianism. Authoritarians love to give out rewards to those who obey them; obedience is always their game.   However, when the authoritarians also embrace buffoonery over and over again, one ends up with a bad comedy with no one taking anything seriously.  Obviously, the University of Iowa needs some new script writers who will write out these clowns and replace them with persons engaging each other on the serious problems of the day.

February 22, 2009 Posted by | ethics, higher education, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Saving lives at the University of Iowa

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a major story today on the suicides of two University of Iowa professors who were charged with sexual harassment and then committed suicide.  The two cases were unrelated to each other.  Both professors committed suicide days after the sexual harassment charges became public.  Professor Mark Weiger committed suicide three months after the suicide of Professor Arthur Miller.

The CHE reported that after Professor Miller was banished from his classroom by the University that UI President, Sally Mason

“issued a statement saying she would not tolerate the kind of conduct Mr. Miller had been accused of. She also said the case had prompted her to make sexual-harassment -awareness training mandatory for all professors. And while she said that “every person is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” she then went on to “applaud the courage of the student victims in coming forward” to charge Mr. Miller.

President Mason declined to answer questions about her statement, but Ms. (Dean) Maxson defends it, saying the president had to take a tough stand because Mr. Miller had been “accused of a very serious infraction of behavioral and legal rules.” To the professor, his wife, and some of his colleagues, however, it felt like the president was pronouncing him guilty before he had even had a chance to defend himself.

Of course, in the dankprofessor’s opinion, President Sally Mason was pronouncing Professor Miller guilty. She not only suspended him from the classroom, but ordered that all faculty go thru sexual harassment training as well as applauding the courage of student victims coming forward.

Maybe Mason should have drawn on some of her own courage to publicly call for the adherence of to the principle of the presumption of innocence.  But such was not the case.  And three months later when Professor Weiger’s situation became public, Weiger knew what to expect and obviously could not deal with this kind of public degradation.

What boggles the mind of the dankprofessor is that President Mason instead of calling for mandating suicide prevention training after these two suicides, she mandates sexual harassment training.  Certainly this gives insight into the values of the President.   Sexual harassment trumps suicide in her hierarchy of values.  The lethality of suicide simply is not as weighty as the effects of being sexually harassed.

In the CHE article, the UI administration stated that UI stays neutral in these sorts of cases.  I guess neutrality means giving short shrift to having any sort of reaching out to the charged professors that would help them psychologically get thru these travails.  I guess this would be considered to be coddling the sexual predator professor.  Of course, one does not coddle the guilty, only the innocent.  And it is obvious that the UI administration did not honor the presumption of innocence.

Helping those who are held to be victimized is expected.  The UI is not neutral in such matters, they  attempt to psychologically help the student victim but not the professor who they de facto treat as an offender.

For example, in December the Daily Iowan reported on the programs that were being implemented at the UI to help student victims of sexual misconduct-

To establish one point of contact for victims, the UI hired Monique DiCarlo from the Women’s Resource Action Center to act as the school’s coordinator for sexual-misconduct response.

Each school would also establish new victim-advocate positions. DiCarlo will assign a victim-advocate to each sexual-assault report.

“Having an advocate on hand at all times is crucial for any victim,” said Cathlene Argento, a Women’s Resource and Action Center volunteer. “It’s great that victims can form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”

The mother of the alleged UI sexual-assault victim complained in a letter to UI President Sally Mason that she felt there were too few UI officials looking out for her daughter.

Parrott said the UI will now strongly encourage victims to take their sexual-assault allegations to the police as well as the UI.

Employing the rhetoric of Cathlene Agento, the Women’s Resources and Action Center volunteer, wouldn’t it be great if faculty and others so charged be able to “…form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”  And if such a policy had been applied to the charged faculty at UI during the past year, maybe, just maybe, two faculty lives could have been saved.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sex offenders, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Student professor relationships as awkward fantasies?

The Washington University of St. Louis student newspaper, STUDENT LIFE, published a pre-Valentines Day article, “Professor Student Couplings Remain Awkward Fantasies”.

In the dankprofessor’s opinion the major awkwardness regarding the article is that no student interviewed had ever had a romantic relationship with a professor, and no professor interviewed had ever had a romantic relationship with a student.  This goes beyond awkwardness.  I call it shoddy journalism. 

The article did state that professor student dating is rare.  But rare or infrequent dating is not the same as non-existent dating.  If the article writer had simply asked around, the probability is overwhelming that either a student or professor could have been found.   Such ruminations remind me of the Iranian president’s statement at Columbia University that there are no homosexuals in Iran.

There was one interview with a professor.  Interviewed was Dean Jami Ake, professor of English and women and gender studies, who serves as a co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Assault.

Wow! In an article on student professor consensual relationships, the student newspaper decides that the one professorial interview should be with a person who serves as co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Assaults.  The choice of a sexual assault specialist says it all.  If the paper was doing an article on marriage, would they have selected a specialist on rape to be interviewed?  If doing an article on gay marriage would they have selected a specialist on child molestation? 

But Dean Ake was not all that bad, she

“agreed that there is a potential connection between academic and romantic interest.  Even the vocabularies overlap. ‘I want you to be passionate about something. I want you to be inspired by it,'” Ake said. “It’s easy to see how that kind of intense interest in somebody and everything they stand for can translate more in terms of passion.”

Ake said that navigating the boundaries between close and too-close relationships is difficult, in part because of the worry that the student will feel uncomfortable or harassed.

Dean Ake certainly got it right when she imparts the understanding that in essence love of knowledge can lead to knowledge of love.  However, she does end up on a patronizing note when she states that things may end up being difficult and worrisome and this could lead to the student feeling uncomfortable or harassed. Such is patronizing since she ignores the potentiality of the professor also feeling uncomfortable or harassed. Or, of course, in more general terms the potentiality of both the professor and student ending up in a state of love and happiness is ignored.

However the news reporter did ask Ack if a student could have a healthy relationship with a teacher.  Note the questioner did not bother to ask if the professor could have a healthy relationship with a student.  Her response was “I would say the odds are against you, but anything’s possible.”  Anything is possible, I guess her response would be similar to believing that in Sarah Palin’s terms it is possible that President Obama could end up paling around with terrorists.  And in the dankprofessor’s opinion it becomes a fool’s game to attempt to characterize almost any romantic relationship as healthy or unhealthy.

But all was not for naught in this article.  There was one interviewee who appeared to be quite knowledgeable on issues related to student professor relationships.

Senior Emma Cohen is writing her senior humanities thesis on the discourse of sexual harassment and consensual relationship policies in universities, and its implications for pedagogy. She argues that fear of student-teacher relationships is based on the incorrect assumption that students are powerless in those situations. According to Cohen’s thesis, intimacy on certain levels can be productive in an academic relationship.

“While policies are rightly concerned about preventing exploitation of students, they tend to sort of shut down tendencies for personal intimacy without sex,” Cohen said.

Yes, Cohen’s bottom line is of critical importance.  The fear and stigma that is occurring in regards to student professor relationships has led to all close relationships between students and professors becoming suspect.  Too many profs fear that a close relationship with a student will lead to the imputation by others of a sexual component.  Such leads to too many professors having an open door policy; open door policies simply do not facilitate closeness or intimacy.  What it does facilitate is impersonality.

What this article fails to note is that student professor intimate relationships may very well lead to the discarding of the student professor labels.  True intimacy undermines the power of such labels.  In Martin Buber’s terms, an I-it relationship is replaced by an I-thou relationship.  In this framework, it does not become surprising that the powers that be who are committed to preserving the ongoning hierarchy, almost always attempt to control love, love and marriage, and romance.  The freedom to choose who to love and how to love simply has no place in authoritarian organizations.  In such frameworks, love that crosses boundaries becomes the societal enemy par excellence.

February 14, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, love, passion, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Washington University | 1 Comment

Harvard coed reveals sexual relationship with Harvard TF

If one wants to know about the sex life in explicit terms of a Harvard coed, then the blog to go to is Sex and the Ivy moderated by Lena Chen.   The dankprofessor has been reading Lena’s blog for some time as she reports on her various sexual exploits and as others condemn her for being an exhibitionist and being unabashedly promiscuous.  But Lena was not content.  She was lonely and she wanted to find a special other but felt that such was unlikely because of her notorious reputation. 

Now Lena reports in her most recent post that she has found the one in the form of her former sociology TF (Teaching Fellow).  Her description of how this relationship was initiated and developed is probably the most detailed account of a “student-professor” relationship. 

Lena’s relationship is a relationship that is inappropriate in terms of Harvard’s official policy.  Said policy and the dankprofessor’s commentary follows Lena’s narrative-

…Then a couple weeks after my trip to New York, I found myself at dinner with a guy I mostly remembered for his inability to keep me awake during statistics. Patrick was eight years older, German, and a Ph.D candidate in my department. He also happened to be the most attractive person who’d ever been in charge of my grading me. Over the previous year and a half, my best friend Jason and I took three classes with Patrick, and though I’d like to say that it was because I found him impossibly charming, I was mostly just fulfilling sociology requirements. Nonetheless, I silently rejoiced every time I was assigned to his section, especially after I realized my piece of eye candy was a rather efficient and helpful teaching instructor and not merely a hot guy with a funny accent. To Patrick, however, I was then just a sleepy student. Statistics, which I got a C+ in, was a particularly harrowing experience. I recall Jason pinching me a lot in that class … and really not much else.

By the time Patrick and I finally went out, it’d been over two months since I last saw him and even longer since he graded one of my mediocre papers. The prelude to the actual date was fairly undramatic. Following a thinly veiled public declaration of my affection, initial contact was made over email and the date was suggested over text message. Well, actually, I suggested hooking up over text message. But Patrick, for some crazy reason I’ve still yet to figure out, thought that dinner would be more acceptable. I was pretty much thinking, “Yeah, this really isn’t necessary. Can we just fuck?” I somehow suppressed the urge to reveal this thought and along with it, my slutty nature. It would certainly be revealed soon enough.

I immediately gloated to Jason who called me crazy more than once and insisted that I was completely misinterpreting the situation and  going to make things extremely awkward with a former TF who we actually might want to take classes with in the future. Basically, Jason had the mindset of someone who wanted to get into law school. I had the mindset of someone who wanted an interesting story to tell at post-grad cocktail parties. I was already getting started by telling every friend in close proximity about the TF fantasy-turned-reality and spent the day feeling rather smug about myself, despite a looming deadline for some mediocre paper I had not yet written. I probably would’ve taken out an announcement in The Crimson if possible. After all, it’s not everyday you get to fulfill a crush three semesters in the making.

Yet somehow, about an hour before the actual date, my excitement over going out with and potentially fucking my former TF turned into total trepidation over going out with and potentially fucking my former TF. What the hell was I getting myself into? I knew next-to-nothing about Patrick, even less about what to expect out of the evening, and I was pretty sure that Jason was right when it came to me totally misinterpreting the situation. By the time I got off the train to meet Patrick, I was ready to get right back on. In fact, I felt a mild wave of nausea, then panic, followed by paralyzing fear. Um, I had a date in five minutes and I was on the verge of an anxiety attack. After taking several deep breaths, I called Jason and told him, “I can’t do this. I’m about to hyperventilate.” Jason, ever so reasonable and probably fearful of jeopardizing his letter of recommendation by association with a whore whore slut, suggested calmly that I tell Patrick I was sick and then go home. Discouragement was exactly what I needed to snap out of it. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” I declared. “You’re totally useless. I’ll call you when the date is over.”

About 30 seconds after the exchange with my truly unadventurous best friend, I found myself face-to-face with Patrick who looked considerably taller than I remembered and was dressed in decidedly un-academic clothing. He looked hot, and not even in a scholarly kind of way. Given our previously limited interaction and his non-American background, I didn’t have any idea how to read him. Maybe he thought that I’d be an easy lay, but then again, he always seemed so proper in class. No, it was more likely that his intentions were genuine, which was almost endearing. Here was a semi-awkward foreign grad student too culturally unaware to realize that asking out a former student is a mildly scandalous affair. Poor thing. Also, I thought: he so does not know about my sex blog. It occurs to me in retrospect that I was being extremely condescending, but in all likelihood, I probably employed every defense mechanism available to stay calm and feel in control. Surprisingly, as soon as we got into a cab and started talking, my anxiety dissipated along with my theory that Patrick was awkward with women and clueless about American prudishness. We compared frat life at Yale (where he did undergrad) to the final club scene at Harvard and discussed the “athletic” rivalry between our schools. Patrick actually seemed normal, and my stomach seemed calm. It appeared as if I was not going to puke after all.

Dinner was at a South End establishment with live music and dim lighting, the key facilitators to close-up conversation, which is like the foreplay to foreplay. It was a relatively grown-up venue given my recent romps in fraternity houses and dorm rooms, and I realized early in the evening that I felt uncharacteristically nervous. Typically on dates, I acted self-assured and liked to challenge guys by teasing them or being playfully argumentative. With Patrick, however, I couldn’t muster up my usual feistiness. I was so used to viewing him as an instructor that it seemed inappropriate to treat him like a peer. For the first time in a long while, I actually felt flustered. Patrick, on the other hand, was completely at ease which only disarmed me further. When I failed to look him in the eye while clinking glasses, he said to me, “You know what that means, right? Seven years of bad sex.” I almost choked on my drink. My TF just the word “sex” in a reference to me. Thankfully, my nerves were nothing alcohol couldn’t fix. I rarely drank but on this night, I happily chugged glass after glass of wine. Liquid courage along with Patrick’s disarming attitude made for surprisingly entertaining conversation. I was regaining my confidence and ten-fold at that. Two hours and several courses into the date, I put my hand on his knee and leaned in closer. I wanted to kiss him and was too drunk to even be subtle about it.

All in all, the turnaround from initial email to his cock in my mouth took about 24 hours. We had sex that first night. And again the next night. And then he went away to New York for two days, picked up the pair of flats I left at  a West Village repair place during that miserable Valentine’s weekend, and returned them to me first thing when he got back, not even stopping by his apartment beforehand. I spent spring bouncing from my Harvard Square dorm to his place in Beacon Hill and summer bouncing from Kennedy’s Heidelberg flat to his home in Osnabrück. When September came, I paid a full month’s rent for a sublet I never moved into. I cancelled it and have been in Beacon Hill ever since.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like we went out and it was happily ever after that, not unless your fairy tales include Internet sex scandals advanced by overzealous online stalkers or unprecedented emotional outbursts from yours truly. The path toward cohabitation has hardly been a smooth one, but slowly, I infiltrated Patrick’s life and apartment to the point where breaking up would have been both awkward and inconvenient. And now, here we are today: me, Patrick, Hamlet, and two suitcases of my stuff under the bed! It’s more than I ever could’ve hoped for. And to think, all I wanted on our first date was to get laid.

I write all this because a year ago, I really, truly didn’t believe in the possibility of love (at least not for myself) and it wasn’t just because I was single during Valentine’s Day. My blog was a legitimate barrier to meeting guys, and as the nude photo leak and subsequent breakdown suggested, it was perhaps a barrier to, um, life. Maybe if my friends were different people, they would’ve told me to shut it down instead of insisting that I was lovable, blog or no blog. Maybe if I were a different person, I would’ve listened. I’m glad I didn’t, not just because my friends were right, but because I would’ve always thought from then on that the only desirable version of myself was the sanitized version. The fact that I’m now happily playing house with the Adorno-spouting, bulldog-owning German of my dreams indicates that there is hope for pretty much ANYONE out there. If I can finagle a boyfriend with my reputation and dismissive attitude toward dating “rules”, then love is a possibility for everyone.

Now here is the Harvard policy regarding relationships such as the one between Lena and Patrick-

Officers and other members of the teaching staff should be aware that any romantic involvement with their students makes them liable for formal action against them. Even when both parties have consented at the outset to the development of such a relationship, it is the officer or instructor who, by virtue of his or her special responsibility and educational mission, will be held accountable for unprofessional behavior. Graduate student teaching fellows, tutors, and undergraduate course assistants may be less accustomed than faculty members to thinking of themselves as holding professional responsibilities. They may need to exercise special care in their relationships with students whom they instruct, evaluate, or otherwise supervise, recognizing that their students might view them as more powerful than they may perceive themselves to be.

Amorous relationships between members of the Faculty and students that occur outside the instructional context can also lead to difficulties. In a personal relationship between an officer and a student for whom the officer has no current professional responsibility, the officer should be sensitive to the constant possibility that he or she may unexpectedly be placed in a position of responsibility for the student’s instruction or evaluation. This could involve being called upon to write a letter of recommendation or to serve on an admissions or selection committee involving the student. In addition, one should be aware that others may speculate that a specific power relationship exists even when there is none, giving rise to assumptions of inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved. Relationships between officers and students are always fundamentally asymmetric in nature.

So should Patrick and Lena be concerned that others may speculate that “a specific power relationship exists even when there is none”?  Should they be concerned that others may think that there may be “inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved”?  Should Lena and Patrick discard their relationship because it will always be “fundamentally asymmetric in nature”?

In terms of Lena’s description of the relationship, she and by implication Patrick, never gave a thought to the Harvard policy and warnings.  The policy for them was probably an irrelevancy.  And if it was an irrelevancy for them such should not be surprising since TF’s are essentially novices who are learning to navigate the teaching process.  Those who wish to have the TF punished for what they consider to be a flagrant violation are simply out of order, whether they be in favor or in opposition to such rules.  Learning by a novice as a result of ones “mistakes” represents a positive outcome; punishment of a novice for ones mistakes may very well represent a form of sadism or simply small-mindedness.

The irony for Lena who has flagrantly violated the societal dominant sexual norms as applied to women is that she now embraces a loving relationship in cohabitation which may be in violation of Harvard’s official norms as applied to students and teaching fellows.  And it also should be piointed out that the Harvard rules, like most rules in this area, are ambiguous.  But when it comes to sexual norms or rules, ambiguity almost always rules the day.

The dankprofessor believes that Lena has made a significant contribution albeit unintentional in exposing the utter absurdity and impossibility of Harvard’s policy regulating student professor relationships, a policy which is both anti-sexual and conformist in nature.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, exhibitionism, Harvard University, higher education, love, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating | 4 Comments

   

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