Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Sex and grading

Professor Charles Lindsey of the Florida Gulf Coast University has responded to my critical post in his recent commentary on the issue of the regulation of student professor sexual relationships and the regulation of sexual relationships between other members of the university community.  I appreciate his temperate response and I now respond to his critique.
 
Professor Lindsey disputes my assertion that restrictions on relationships between people when one exercises supervisory authority over another are automatically “power abuse”.  Of course, such may come down to the adage of beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Here is how I behold.  Consensual sexual relationships between adults should not be subject to the intervention by a higher authority just because said authority feels that some or most persons may be offended by said consensual relationships.  Such should not occur simply because their may be the appearance of impropriety.  Appearances should not trump the right of consenting adults to be left alone.  The Supreme Court in the Lawrence case affirmed that traditional antipathy toward consensual same sex sexual relationships is no grounds for the intervention of state authority into said relationships or the penalizing of the parties in said relationships.  The same is true in regards to interracial relationships. But unfortunately there has been a long history of interventions by universities into interracial, same sex and student professor relationships at various times in American history.  It all depended on which way the winds of sexual bigotry were or are blowing.
Professor Lindsey then states the following-
Your argument seems to be that since we cannot stamp out all forms of prejudicial grading, we should remain silent about this one. I don’t agree with that either (if I am misrepresenting your position, feel free to correct me). Faculty have an obligation to be fair and objective in grading students, <i>and to be perceived as fair and objective</i> as much as we can manage it. Having relationships with one’s current students is highly damaging to this perception–ask any of the other students in the class–and the university has a legitimate interest in preventing such damage, since it ultimately impacts the reputation of the entire institution.
 
Lindsey does not understand my argument or the basic issue which is involved here.  Of course, I agree that faculty have the obligation to be fair and objective in grading.  Faculty should not treat any student differentially based on a sexual relationship or any other form of relationship.  To argue that ones personal relationship with a person who is also a student automatically precludes fair and objective grading is absurd.  It may or may not impact on ones grading.  Such is an empirical question that may be addressed in regards to any specific situation.  As indicated previously the fact that some students some of the time may look askance at such relationships is simply not relevant if one takes a civil liberties perspective.  And, of course, for many and probably most student professor sexual relationships, other students and other professors may have no knowledge of a particular relationship.  Given the contemporary campus climate re this issue, most of these relationships are probably quite closeted.
 
The irony is that once a policy is established in this area then the involved student will be treated differentially, subject to possibly be taken out of the classroom and have ones privacy taken away if the professor follows the boilerplate procedure and informs ones supervisor that the professor is having an affair with so and so student.  I call this abuse.  Professor Lindsey appears more willing to save the reputation of the university than protecting the reputation and privacy of the student and the professor.
Even the assertion that the reputation of the university is based in whole or in part on suppressing student professor sexual relationships is problematic except for those who are sexually obsessed.
 
Professor Lindsey then concludes with the following-
If you know where I can get information about workshops on prejudicial grading, I would be interested in looking into it.” 
Of course, I know of no such workshops at any university.  I suggested that this is where the need is because universities give lip service to the importance of grading.  If grading was held in high value by universities faculties it would be abominable that teaching assistants would ever do the grading; too important of a function to leave to the inexperienced. In my 30 plus years as a university professor it was routine that professors expressed disdain for students that they were grading.  Professors routinely have their favorite and not so favorite students but such favoring seems to be quite acceptable and supposedly unrelated to grading fairness.  And then there is grade inflation which occurs when profs give students higher grades so that they can get higher student evaluations.
And then there are professors who quite openly state how much they hate grading.  Hating what one does particularly when what one does has import on the lives of others clearly indicates we have a problem here.
 
I could go on and on as to how profs are generally oblivious to matters relating to fairness in grading.  The need for workshops in this area is great.  But there won’t be any since profs don’t invest themselves in grades and grading.  Professors don’t get accolades from other professors about what great graders they are; students care about grading, not professors. Tell me Professor Lindsey do you know of instances when job applicants for teaching positions are ever questioned about grading issues.
 
So I tell Professor Lindsey the issue at his university is not about grading; its about sex. Take the sex away and hardly anyone gives a damn. Say it isn’t so Charles Lindsey.

September 8, 2009 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, Florida Gulf Coast University, grading, higher education, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating

2 Comments »

  1. dankprofessor,

    i applaud your blog, and this post. your public opinions have been tremendously helpful for me as someone who is in a meaningful long-term relationship with a former professor. i find most of the arguments against professor-student relationships to be sexist, ludicrous, and pathos-ridden. i agree: it’s about sex. without that, there would be no grand public gestures decrying meaningful relationships, under the guise of “power abuse” and “unfair grading.”

    again, thank you.

    Comment by agreed | September 9, 2009 | Reply

  2. Another excellent commentary, by the Dank professor!
    If a professor/ work supervisor only gave good grades to students/ promoted staff members who played golf or table tennis with him, wouldn’t that be discriminatory? It could happen once or twice, but an exclusive practice would not be tolerated. The same should apply to any qualified student/ staff member, who receives an “A’/promotion and happens to have gone to dinner with the professor/supervisor.

    Comment by Donald Visconti | September 11, 2009 | Reply


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