Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Shutting out the campus sexual zealots

Tony Judt has a sort of memoir blog at the New York Review of Books.  I find all of his posts to be delightful and insightful.  His latest posting is on student professor relationships then and now, mostly then.  I encourage my readership to read the entire posting.  Following are a couple of excerpts from the post and then my comments.

In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. History was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination—or worse. Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.

Shortly after I took office, a second-year graduate student came by. A former professional ballerina interested in Eastern Europe, she had been encouraged to work with me. I was not teaching that semester, so could have advised her to return another time. Instead, I invited her in. After a closed-door discussion of Hungarian economic reforms, I suggested a course of independent study—beginning the following evening at a local restaurant. A few sessions later, in a fit of bravado, I invited her to the premiere of Oleanna—David Mamet’s lame dramatization of sexual harassment on a college campus.

How to explain such self-destructive behavior? What delusional universe was mine, to suppose that I alone could pass untouched by the punitive prudery of the hour—that the bell of sexual correctness would not toll for me? I knew my Foucault as well as anyone and was familiar with Firestone, Millett, Brownmiller, Faludi, e tutte quante. To say that the girl had irresistible eyes and that my intentions were…unclear would avail me nothing. My excuse? Please Sir, I’m from the ’60s…

Why should I not close my office door or take a student to a play? If I hesitate, have I not internalized the worst sort of communitarian self-censorship—anticipating my own guilt long before I am accused and setting a pusillanimous example for others? Yes: and if only for these reasons I see nothing wrong in my behavior. But were it not for the mandarin self-assurance of my Oxbridge years, I too might lack the courage of my convictions—though I readily concede that the volatile mix of intellectual arrogance and generational exceptionalism can ignite delusions of invulnerability.

Indeed, it is just such a sense of boundless entitlement—taken to extremes—that helps explain Bill Clinton’s self-destructive transgressions or Tony Blair’s insistence that he was right to lie his way into a war whose necessity he alone could assess. But note that for all their brazen philandering and posturing, Clinton and Blair—no less than Bush, Gore, Brown, and so many others of my generation—are still married to their first serious date. I cannot claim as much—I was divorced in 1977 and again in 1986—but in other respects the curious ’60s blend of radical attitudes and domestic convention ensnared me too. So how did I elude the harassment police, who surely were on my tail as I surreptitiously dated my bright-eyed ballerina?

Reader: I married her.

Projecting Judt’s situation into the contemporary academic scene, marriage to ones fantasy girl is no excuse.  All that is needed is one third party informant of the Linda Tripp genre.  And, of course, almost all universities codes ban “sexual OR amorous” behavior.  So any protestation that you waited until marriage for sexual congress to occur is beside the point.  Marriage would de facto indicate that there were amorous shenanigans going on.

In any case, I say “bravo” to Tony Judt.  He didn’t capitulate to the campus sexual zealots.  He shut the sexual regulators out and maintained his sexual autonomy.  Too bad that there are hardly any Tony Judt’s into today’s academe.  The men and women of the university world let the sexual control freaks have their way with them.  If they violate the will of the sexual zealots, they almost always do so deep within the campus closet.

March 11, 2010 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, love, NYU, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment

   

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