Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Duke University and Moral Repugnance

I recently blogged on the new Duke University policy which regulates in detail Duke University students sexual behavior.  The major rationale given for such intrusion into the private lives of Duke students is that the policy attempts to insure that all sexual interaction between students is ‘absolutely’ consensual.

What the dankprofessor finds bemusing is that Duke does not apply this policy to faculty, staff or administrators.  Shouldn’t Duke be concerned that all the sexual behavior engaged in by their employees is absolutely consensual?  The dankprofessor thought it would be of interest to see how Duke handles student professor relationships and if said policy is consistent with their coercively administered sexual code.

Their 2002 policy begins with the following statement-

Duke University is committed to maintaining learning and work environments as free as possible from conflicts of interest, exploitation, and favoritism.

Where a party uses a position of authority to induce another person to enter into a non-consensual relationship, the harm both to that person and to the institution is clear.

Note that the person inducing is the person in authority; the person not in authority cannot induce.  We shall see that the rest of their policy is consistent with this since students are hardly ever seen as being agents of their own behavior.

The policy continues-

Even where the relationship is consensual, there is significant potential for harm when there is an institutional power difference between the parties involved, as is the case, for example, between supervisor and employee, faculty and student, or academic advisor and advisee.

But even when there is no power differential there is risk of harm.  On the other hand, there is also the potentiality of good- romance, love and marriage and children.  But the Duke administration can never entertain that sexual behavior is good.  They embrace the notion that sexuality is intrinsically bad EXCEPT when there is regulation from above.  Only the powers that be can protect Duke students from such evil consequences; such is why Duke passed the draconian policy regulating sexual behavior of students.

The policy continues-

…the student–teacher relationship represents a special case, because the integrity of this relationship is of such fundamental importance to the central mission of the university. Students look to their professors for guidance and depend upon them for assessment, advancement, and advice. Faculty–student consensual relationships create obvious dangers for abuse of authority and conflict of interest actual, potential, and apparent. Especially problematic is such a relationship between a faculty member and a graduate student who is particularly dependent upon him or her for access to research opportunities, supervision of thesis or dissertation work, and assistance in pursuing job opportunities.

Interesting is their assertion that relationships between grad students and faculty are “especially problematic”.  Interesting since Yale in its newly revised policy only applied blanket bans to undergraduates.  Graduate students were given more leeway since they were seen as more mature.

Duke University has adopted a consensual relationship policy for the following reasons: to avoid the types of problems outlined above, to protect people from the kind of injury that either a subordinate or superior party to such a relationship can suffer, and to provide information and guidance to members of the Duke community. Most of all, this policy seeks to help ensure that each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity and without regard to any factors that are not relevant to that person’s work.

The last sentence brings us into the land of the absurd- policy insures each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity.  Is attempting to control the sexual decision making of others dignified?  Can outright coercion of others insure the dignity of others?  This policy as formulated may help the policy enforcers to feel more dignified, and facilitate their work of attempting to take dignity away form others.

The policy continues-

No faculty member should enter into a consensual relationship with a student actually under that faculty member’s authority. Situations of authority include, but are not limited to, teaching, formal mentoring, supervision of research, and employment of a student as a research or teaching assistant; and exercising substantial responsibility for grades, honors, or degrees; and considering disciplinary action involving the student.

No faculty member should accept authority over a student with whom he or she has or has had a consensual relationship without agreement with the appropriate dean. Specifically, the faculty member should not, absent such agreement, allow the student to enroll for credit in a course which the faculty member is teaching or supervising; direct the student’s independent study, thesis, or dissertation; employ the student as a teaching or research assistant; participate in decisions pertaining to a student’s grades, honors, degrees; or consider disciplinary action involving the student.

Students and faculty alike should be aware that entering into a consensual relationship will limit the faculty member’s ability to teach and mentor, direct work, employ, and promote the career of a student involved with him or her in a consensual relationship, and that the relationship should be disclosed in any letter of recommendation the faculty member may write on the student’s behalf. Furthermore, should the faculty member be the only supervisor available in a particular area of study or research, the student may be compelled to avoid or change the special area of his or her study or research.

If nevertheless a consensual relationship exists or develops between a faculty member and a student involving any situation of authority, that situation of authority must be terminated. Termination includes, but is not limited to, the student withdrawing from a course taught by the faculty member; transfer of the student to another course or section, or assumption of the position of authority by a qualified alternative faculty member or teaching assistant; the student selecting or being assigned to another academic advisor and/or thesis or dissertation advisor; and changing the supervision of the student’s teaching or research assistantship. In order for these changes to be made and ratified appropriately, the faculty must disclose the consensual relationship to his or her superior, normally the chair, division head, or dean, and reach an agreement for remediation. In case of failure to reach agreement, the supervisor shall terminate the situation of authority.

What the dankprofessor finds to be most degrading in regards to students is that the faculty member must disclose the consensual relationship to his or her superior.  What about the consent of the student re disclosure?  What about the student’s right to privacy?  And as for a faculty member unilaterally disclosing this relationship to a so-called superior, such behavior is damning.  The faculty member who ends up as being an informant should have grownup and had the ability to say no to arbitrary authority who refer to themselves as “superiors”.

Of course, there are ethical issues involved here.  But ethics are too important to be left to an authority which imposes its will on non-consenting others.  Ethical engagement should always be at the core of university life.  But the Duke student policy and student professor sexual relationships policy do not promote ethics.  The ethic they promote is one of force; is one of authoritarianism.  Consenting sexuality of adults is too important, too private to be controlled by university administrators, no matter how superior they consider themselves to be.  The dankprofessor feels that university administrators who end up being part of a sexual police are utterly morally repugnant.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | consensual relationships, Duke University, ethics, higher education, privacy, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student-prof dating, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

   

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