Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The Bourrie syndrome

Mark Bourrie in his ongoing diatribe against professors who have an intimate sexual relationship with a student challenged his readership to deal with 6 issues he had brought up on this question.  I took Bourrie seriously, my mistake, and took up his challenge.  My response to his challenge which was published in his blog is highlighted in blue at the end of this post.  His response was quite brief, to say the least, and appears not to even meet his standards of professionalism.  His response follows-

More red herrings, straw men and decayed logic. Give it up.

BTW, it’s “Dr. Bourrie”.

Of course, his response was a non-response.  His non-response is ironic in that it demonstrates that he has ‘given it up’   The only thing marginally of a substantive nature is that he is disturbed that I often refer to him as Bourrie rather than Dr. Bourrie in my posts.  Big deal, particularly given the fact that the only time that he referred to me by name in his posts, he did not give me a title or first name; the referral just used my last name. 

Last name, title or no title, why get hung up on this rather than dealing with the issue?  Well, maybe it is a major issue for Bourrie.  In dealing with the prof student issue, Bourrie invokes professionalism ad nauseam; his appeal or rationale for his position is that he is defending professionalism.  And in that context, professors having sex with students in his terms is an attack on professionalism which functions to demean the reputation of Concordia University or any university that does not ban these relationships and in the present case such functions to demean the reputation of the faculty of Concordia of which he is a member.  So, consequently, Concordia’s non-banning of these relationships, in Bourrie’s terms functions to demean his reputation.  And Bourrie is baffled that a prof engaging in said behavior is not concerned about reputation.  In fact, at times he implies that he is protecting the reputation of the offending professor.

So such MAY be the reason that Bourrie is so zealously promoting his agenda on this issue.  Ultimately, to a significant degree, it is about himself, his reputation and his professionalism.  The most troubling aspect of this is that in his defense of self and professionalism, he throws out fundamental issues such as the right of adults to engage in consensual relationships as “crap”.  And, of course, he trashes others by arguing they do not have the ability to consent; for him women involved in such relationships do not speak for themselves since they cannot speak for themselves.  Once again we have the Man defining a woman’s reality- she is exploited because “I” say so; he doesn’t have to consult with them.  He treats women as if they are children even though he at times argues that age has nothing to do with it.  But I would argue that it does for Bourrie, for most likely Bourrie seems his self as an adult protecting female childlike students.  Such is not terribly surprising since all of us at one time linked child and student together and teacher and adult together and some of us have not grown up to understand that at a certain point the linkage ends.  Too many of us have this default assumption equating student and child and professor and adult and therefore such relationships are always exploitative.  And the true believer is able to do whatever he/she believes is necessary to wipe out the scourge, to protect us from evil, or as Anita Bryant once said, to save our children. 

The problem for all of us is who is going to protect us from the likes of Mark Bourrie?  You have to have a strong skin to deal with Bourrie and his ilk; he already has tried to cast me away as a prof who supposedly seduced his male students.  Of course, those who know me, know I seduced no one, much less male students since I plea guilty to being a committed heterosexual.  Ultimately, the bottom line for us is that we must be able to protect ourselves from the seductive argument of Mark Bourrie.  No external authority will do it.  No professional or politician or preacher will do it, no one but ourselves will do it.

My prior posting to Bourrie’s blog follows-

Bourrie states

“The “consenting adults” stuff is just crap. If there was some sort of Charter right in that regard, surely doctors and lawyers who have been disciplined by their professional associations would have relied on it as a defence.”

and in his first point he states-

“1. The power imbalance between students and faculty, raising the question of whether real consent can exist. That’s why the “consenting adults” argument is a red herring.”

Bourrie find the argument regarding the rights of consenting adults to be “just crap”. So much for his version of professionalism. I would argue that almost all persons who have seriously engaged issues regarding sexual behavior would argue that consent is of central concern, ethically and legally. Taking adults ability to consent away by a third party is damn serious business. It is so serious that the burden should be on the third party who argues there is no consent to prove there is no consent. And to emphasize the seriousness of the issue, let’s put this in rather stark terms. Where there is no sexual consent, there is rape. Even though Bourrie applies demeaning and degrading rhetoric to these so-called predatory professors, he doesn’t call in his terms a spade a spade; he does not call these profs rapists. Calling them rapists might function for some to show how transparently absurd is his argument.

Bourrie invokes the medical and legal professions in defense of his argument that universities can prohibit student professor relationships; doctors are banned from having sexual relationships with their patients and lawyers with clients although I think that the lawyer client ban is more variable, more tenuous. But what Bourrie does not say is that the medical profession does not ban intimacies between medical professors and medical students and the legal profession is far from uniform in banning such relationships between law profs and law students.

Just looking at the medical profession, just about anybody would be able to tell you there is a giant leap from being a patient and a doctor to that of being a student and professor. Patients are not a part of
a medical community; students are part of a university community. Patients don’t work, study and assist
medical doctors; students often do all of the aforementioned with professors. Patients don’t hang around the doctors office, students hang out throughout the university campus. Patients don’t socialize with doctors; professors and students socialize and are often encouraged to socialize by university administrators. Bourrie would like to have the university function like a hospital in terms of standards and practices with students. God help students and professors if such becomes fully the case; unfortunately such is gradually becoming the case.

And I don’t want to let the medical and legal professions get a pass re Bourrie’s power imbalance issue. Power imbalances are rife throughout the medical world. Does Bourrie really believe that relationships between doctors and nurses are banned and do not occur? That relationships between doctors and med techs are banned and do not occur? Between doctors and medical staff? I will leave it for Bourrie’s imagination to determine how the ethically engaged legal profession in the real world deals with the power imbalance issue.

I will say this in the legal area- Bourrie would be laughed out of court if he came and testified that he knew that in all student prof affairs there can be no consent, case closed. As indicated, it would be Bourrie’s responsibility to testify regarding a particular case and if he were an expert witness to present
evidence that consent was diminished or abolished in the particular case under consideration.

And if Bourrie is adverse to power imbalances and power abuses, he must know that appointing persons to investigate and control the sexual behavior of others in private requires a power imbalance and is essentially equivalent to power abuse.

I will now skip to Bourrie’s point 5 which is relevant to the points I have just made.

5. The potential liability of the university when it enables this to take place.

I do not believe there is an issue here. I know of no case in which a university was sued successfully for not prohibiting consensual relationships. Who would be doing the suing, not the consenting parties, but some third party, such as Dr. Bourrie. Maybe Bourrie might consider suing Concordia for not prohibiting such relationships. Even Bourrie saying that the university enables these relationships is problematic. Where there is a large number of eligible persons in terms of dating and mating concentrated in the same geographic area, relationships will occur; relationships will occur between profs and students, no matter what the university policy. Of course, if female students did not find some professors attractive, there will be no consensual relationships in this area. For this to occur, we will need some coercive mind manipulation and control and I am sure Bourrie would not want that.

Bourrie’s point 2-

2. The real and apparent conflict of interest re: marks, scholarship evaluation, internships, TA and RA hirings and assignments, and other out-of-class evaluations.

As for conflict of interest, I believe that Concordia as well as most other universities have conflict of interest policies. Where conflict of interest situations occur, the university should attempt to deal with them. No need for a special sexual conflict of interest policy. Of course, the conflict of interest policy as indicated by Bourrie is directed to having fair and objective treatment of students in terms of their various evaluations. Unfortunately, the university is terribly derelict in this policy, such is so apparent in that the university never ever warns profs or anyone else not to differentially treat students or colleagues in terms of personal attractiveness or in terms of personal relationships. I know Bourrie feels the sexual component is different. I don’t. The issue is the same. The issue is creating an environment where it would be unthinkable to grade students based on personal preferences. I know it is an anathema to me.
I know I never let any kind of personal relationship interfere with how I graded a student, etc. And in terms of apparent conflict of of interest, in my case such was not relevant since my private life was private. In any case, universities are terribly delinquent in dealing with conflict of interest policy, particularly when it deals with money. I suggest that people taka a look at the University Diaries blog
and see how medical schools deal with conflict of interest issues.

3. The disruption to the teaching environment, as other students believe a conflict and favoritism may exist.

Unfortunately as I have stated previously, students often feel there is favoritism with student x getting a better grade than oneself. Such is rife amongst students; I got a C because the prof did not like me, etc. etc. Does Bourie think that students do not frequently think that he grades based on personal preference.? This belief generally has little or nothing to do with reality. If, IN FACT, a personal relationship of a professor disrupts the learning environment, the student or students should be able to file a complaint and there should be an investigation. I know that Bourrie thinks such disruptions due to a student prof relationship are frequent. I beg to differ. It is rare. Bourrie will of course know of the exceptions, professors and students who are discreet will not be known by Bourrie.

4. The discomfort of students who do not want to be approached by professors seeking a relationship.

Of course, this can be an issue. And when it occurs, such should fall under the sexual harassment policy.
And, of course, Bourrie seems not to get it- that for a relationship to ensue, the professor does not have to approach. In my experience, the “approach” was by the female student or it was apparent that there was a mutual attraction. Or, on a more pedestrian level- I first dated my wife to be after the class ended, after Spring semester. She was not a student of mine in the Fall and we dated and had a serious relationship. Then she told me during registration for the forthcoming Spring courses,, she wanted to take one of my courses and if it was OK with me. I told her that her question was misdirected; the issue for her is whether it was OK with her. I treat all my students the same and as a student I treat her the same as all other students. It was her call to make, not mine. And, I know, unfortunately, there will always be people who think the worst, that she was prostituting herself for the grade; that she was a gradedigger. If you live for these people, then you will end up leading a horrendous life, trying to please people who always think the worst of others.

6. The affect of this behavior on the university’s reputation, as people in the community believe students can literally screw their way to an A.

People will believe what they want, no matter what the policy of the university. I would question if a university’s reputation will go up if they adopt such a policy. Will the status or prestige of Concordia or UT, really change due to this policy? Did the prestige of UC Berkeley go up after a policy was adopted.
In any case, reputation and prestige should be no rationale for taking away fundamental rights such as
choice of romantic partner.

And might I ask Bourrie, did Clinton’s prestige among the voters at large go down and remain down after his relationship with intern Lewinsky was revealed? And now as a “retired” person living with my wife who was my ex-student and meeting persons from all walks of life, including professors, and in terms of getting acquainted, we often relate how we met to others, and no person has ever responded with any degree of negativity. And if our past was a problem for them, then adios. And if we violated the so-called professional standards of whatever profession, no guilt from this party. I feel sorry for people who forego the opportunity to love and be loved in the name of professionalism. In the name of love, I sign off, at least for now.

April 11, 2009 Posted by | Canada, coercing women, Concordia University, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, Mark Bourrie, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 1 Comment

   

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