Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Sex, grading and external examiners

I have posted and reposted and probably posted too much on the Mark Bourrie’s commentary on student professor sexual relationships.  But just when the dankprofessor feels finished with Bourrie, something comes up.  And what has come up is a commentary by Keith Reader on the Bourrie strand; here it is-

Keith Reader said…
UK policy – all but universally accepted and applied – is conflict-of-interest based and thus requires any faculty member involved in an intimate relationship to renounce *all* professional contact with the student concerned. The issue of favouritism in marking etc. seems to me paramount, and it may be worth noting that in UK universities all assessed work is seen by a second marker as well as in borderline cases by an external examiner. Work is also submitted anonymously (it bears the student’s matriculation number and not his/her name). All very labour-intensive, but worth it in my judgement to obviate allegations of malpractice. I certainly do not criticise such relationships en bloc and in principle (I know many people who are in long-term partnerships with their former students), but share Dr Bourrie’s concerns about their potential for abuse, and believe that a recusal/disclosure approach is the besy way of forestalling this. And I don’t post anonymously …

And here is the dankprofessor’s response-

Keith Reader states that he shares Dr. Bourrie’s concern about the potential for abuse in regards to student prof sexual relationships. I suggest that Reader reread Bourrie’s comments- for Bourrie there is something more than potential for abuse; Bourrie finds these relationships to be inherently damaging to the university and to be mind-boggling. In his terms and in the terms of most of those who vigorously advocate for the abolition of student professor sexual relationships, these relationships are not simply another example of conflict of interests; they are something more. They are condemned and
special policies are promoted because they are dealing with sexual matters and sexual outrage.

Mr. Reader feels that the UK way of handling these cases is good since
“UK policy – all but universally accepted and applied – is conflict-of-
interest based and thus requires any faculty member involved in an intimate relationship to renounce *all* professional contact with the student concerned.”

Renouncing professional contact with the student seems quite medieval to me since the student appears to end up being of the genre of leper. Is such renouncing public? If not, why not? Does the renounced have any grounds for appeal? If the renouncing is private/confidential, just another personnel matter, how does the university monitor both the student and the professor as to their adhering to the renouncing. And since the policy allows personal interaction, but not professional, how is it possible for the university to know that in the context of an intimate relationship professional matters are not discussed. In the dankprofessor’s opinion, the policy as outlined by Reader is patently absurd.

But then Reader goes on to state:

“The issue of favouritism in marking etc. seems to me paramount, and it may be worth noting that in UK universities all assessed work is seen by a second marker as well as in borderline cases by an external examiner.”

If favouritism in marking is the paramount issue, then it should be paramount in all cases of professors marking students. But the reality as described by Reader is that it only becomes paramount in borderline cases. Of course, Reader makes no attempt to differentiate borderline from non-borderline cases. If all cases were treated the same, all cases would have an external examiner, then the problem is solved. No one is treated differentially, no need for a sexual investigation, no need for a renouncing, etc. Problem solved! Uniformity and fairness in grading becomes affirmed.

But I really doubt that Reader and Bourrie would go for this. For Bourrie, no moral outrage, everything uniform, just doesn’t fit the Bourrie profile. I expect that Reader will elaborate on why having an external examiner for all would not be a good way to go.

Finally, the dankprofessor wishes to bring up the question as to who would occupy the position of external examiner, and what would be the qualifications of said examiners. Certainly said examiners would not be members of the faculty, too many prejudicial factors would then enter into the situation. And, of course, faculty do not like to have their grading judgments routinely questioned so said examiners may end up in rather tenuous situations. And presently, does one know who are the external examiners? Might Mr. Reader know? Might Mr. Reader be an external examiner? Might someone refer me to an external examiner so I can become more conversant as to the problems facing external examiners? Or is the reality that no one knows anything about external examiners, that no one knows any one who is or was an external examiner, that no ones knows how one can become an external examiner?

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Canada, consensual relationships, ethics, grading, higher education, Mark Bourrie, outing students, privacy, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, United Kingdom | 2 Comments

   

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