Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The university attack on love

In recent years there has been a major change in university policies banning student prof sexual relationships.  The change has been the incorporation of “sexual or amorous” relationships.  Almost all new or revised statements incorporate amorous relationships, eg, the new Yale statement incorporates amorous.  And this change has been without critical comment.

The dankprofessor has been delinquent in addressing the incorporation of amorous.  No longer will such be the case.

OK, let’s start out by being quite clear that these policies do not state sexual AND amorous; it is sexual OR amorous.  So said policies definitely cover relationships that may not have a sexual component.  This hugely increases the size of the population covered by the anti-fraternization policies.

We all know that being in love, that falling in love can occur without sex.  And we know that some loving couples do not engage in sex because for one reason or the other they feel the time is not right.  And some loving  couples believe that their relationship should not be consummated until marriage.  The makers of these policies know this, including the erudite members of the Yale Women Faculty Forum who play a critical role in creating Yale policy.

So are we really confronted here not just with a war against student prof sex but also a war against student prof love?  On the surface, the answer is yes, but there is more, much more.

The reality is that if there was just a ban on sex between student and professors, many couples would be untouchable.  They would be untouchable because they could simply deny having sex and there would be no one available who could dispute this.  Faculty and students come under suspicion based on words and deeds, and appearances.  Loving words, walking too close to a student, being seen too often with a student, having dinner with a student, notes of love to a student, loving emails to a student,  a look of love directed toward a student or a look of love directed to the professor, this is what gets people in trouble.  The assumption that underlying all of the foregoing is sex is just that- an assumption.

And, of course, what the amorous clause does is to not make it necessary to prove that sex has occurred.  For the accusers, staying at the amorous level is just fine.  Being found to be amorous with a student makes one a sex code violator.

But there is still more. What the amorous clause does is to make all close relationships with a student suspect.  And therefore to diminish the possibility of becoming suspect many faculty refuse to be close with any particular student.  Or for some profs playing it safe means that all interactions with students occur in a group context, never on a one to one basis.  Sure having lunch with a student is OK as long as there are others who are partaking in said lunch.

 It comes down to professors keeping their distance, and student professor couples becoming more and more closeted.  Such is the nature of contemporary university life.

January 3, 2010 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, love, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student-prof dating, Uncategorized, Yale University | Leave a comment

A step in the right direction

The dankprofessor has been very critical of university policy statements on consensual relationships regulating student professor sexual relationships. Invariably these policies function to degrade both students and professors and subject professors to disciplinary actions, sometimes actions that include dismissal.

Now the West Hills Community College District has come up with a policy statement that is minimally invasive and punitive and not degrading of student prof couples.  There are still some problems.  So here it is followed by my comments-

Consensual Relationships

Romantic or sexual relationships between supervisors and employees or between administrators, faculty or staff members and students are discouraged. There is an inherent imbalance of power and potential for exploitation in such relationships. A conflict of interest may arise if the administrator, faculty or staff member must evaluate the student’s or employee’s work or make decisions affectingthe employee or student. The relationship may create an appearance of impropriety and lead to charges of favoritism by other students or employees.  A consensual sexual relationship may change, with the result that sexual conduct that was once welcome becomes unwelcome and harassing. In the event that such relationships do occur, the District has the authority to transfer any involved employee to eliminate or attenuate the supervisory authority of one over the other, or of a teacher over a student. Such action by the District is a proactive and preventive measure to avoid possible charges of harassment and does not constitute discipline against any affected employee.

 Note that throughout this statement MAY is used, such as “A conflict of interest may arise…”  There is a POTENTIAL for exploitation.  Of course, all relationships have a MAY; there is nothing intrinsic about relationships that pre-determine a result.  But most policy statements have no may and simply state that there is a conflict of interest, etc.

The major difference in the policy is that there will be no “discipline taken against any affected employee.”  Bravo to West Hills. Of course, never ever should there have been any discipline taken against any party to a consensual relationship at any university.

But there is one caveat regarding the goodness of this policy and that is the statement that “the District has the authority to transfer any involved employee to eliminate or attenuate the supervisory authority of one over the other, or of a teacher over a student.”   OK, most policies state that the university can unilaterally pull out a student from the class.  This policy leaves that out which is good, but pulling out a prof from a class in the middle of a semester functions to disrupt the entire class and may lead to punishing an entire class of students.

The dankprofessor still believes that this policy is a step in the right direction.

January 3, 2010 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

   

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