Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

On proper student professor sexual relationships

In a 2007 AMERICAN SCHOLAR essay on “Love on Campus” by William Deresiewicz, the author has some interesting observations on student professor relationships.  He states:

…there is a reality behind the new, sexualized academic stereotype, only it is not what the larger society thinks. Nor is it one that society is equipped to understand. The relationship between professors and students can indeed be intensely intimate, as our culture nervously suspects, but its intimacy, when it occurs, is an intimacy of the mind. I would even go so far as to say that in many cases it is an intimacy of the soul. And so the professor-student relationship, at its best, raises two problems for the American imagination: it begins in the intellect, that suspect faculty, and it involves a form of love that is neither erotic nor familial, the only two forms our culture understands. Eros in the true sense is at the heart of the pedagogical relationship, but the professor isn’t the one who falls in love.

Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul. Students will sometimes mistake this earthquake for sexual attraction, and the foolish or inexperienced or cynical instructor will exploit that confusion for his or her own gratification. But the great majority of professors understand that the art of teaching consists not only of arousing desire but of redirecting it toward its proper object, from the teacher to the thing taught.

Of course, Deresiewicz is right, but only partially right.  He is right in the sense that the student and the professor often have a passion for the subject matter.  And it is a passion that can facilitate an intense intimacy, and an intense desire by the student for approval and affirmation.  Such is what the dankprofessor calls the love of knowledge. But what Deresiewicz fails to understand is that sometimes this intimacy can lead to the knowledge of love.  He fails since he discards the knowledge of love as simply a mistake by a naïve student and a foolish or inexperienced or cynical instructor who will exploit the student for his or her own ends.

So Deresiewicz ends up playing the same old academic game when it comes to student professor sexual relationships.  The student doesn’t know, the cynical professor exploits the naïve vulnerable student.  But how does Deresiewicz know?  He knows the same way that big sister and big brother know.  They know the mind of the Other, know what motivates the Other and what is proper for the Other.  And in Deresiewicz’s terms the proper professor will redirect desire toward its proper object, from the teacher to the thing taught.

So what the good professor wants is the proper professor and proper student never engaging in improprieties.  Such, of course, is a form of pipe dreaming. And if there is a serious attempt to have the university not tolerate such improper relationships, such could very well transform university campuses into police states.

The author goes on to state-

Teaching, Yeats said, is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket, and this is how it gets lit. The professor becomes the student’s muse, the figure to whom the labors of the semester — the studying, the speaking in class, the writing — are consecrated. The alert student understands this. In talking to one of my teaching assistants about these matters, I asked her if she’d ever had a crush on an instructor when she was in college. Yes, she said, a young graduate student. “And did you want to have sex with him?” I asked. “No,” she said, “I wanted to have brain sex with him.”

Of course, he could have had a myriad of responses to his question, but for the author, one response is sufficient for him to make his case. But such is insufficient for the dankprofessor.  For the dankprofessor knows that there are many alert female students who went on to graduate school and to become teaching assistants who did want to have sex with their professor and some had sex and some may have even ended up mating with a professor, maybe even mating with a professor who was a colleague of Deresiewicz. 

But I also wish to make it clear that that the concept of “brain sex” as described in this essay, may very well be a viable concept.  But what I refuse to accept is the implication that “brain sex” exists on some higher plane than “ordinary” student professor sex.  Whether it is student professor brain sex or student professor sexual congress neither one per se is a mistake which needs redirection. 

The major problem in regards to sex, whether it be on or off campus, are the zealots and the self-righteous in their attempts to redirect the sexuality of others to some pre-ordained mold.  The love of knowledge will often lead to the knowledge of love, irrespective of what notions of propriety may be the calling of the day.

May 10, 2009 - Posted by | attractive professors, brain sex, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, love, passion, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, student professor dating, Yale University

1 Comment »

  1. […] a bit too hard  on William Deresiewicz (aka Cockmaster D while he was a professor at Yale) in my last post on his “Love on Campus” […]

    Pingback by Burning desire in the classroom « Dankprofessor’s Weblog | May 12, 2009 | Reply


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