Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Univ of Iowa prof raises havoc in response to Republicans “coming out”

When we speak of people coming out, I think such generally implies that one is coming out of some sort of “closet”.  One has been closeted since one fears that being known would lead to one being hurt in some sense.

Apparently Republicans at the University of University of Iowa have been living in fear and have been closeted.  So some UI Republicans have called for a coming out on campus at specific times and places via sending a coming out announcement to all university personnel.

Such has raised quite a ruckus at the University of Iowa.  Even a UI Women’s Studies professor engaged in some very foul language regarding the coming out announcement.  Even the President of UI has issued a statement on the issue.

Following is a detailed report as to the situation at UI and Iowa City.

A University of Iowa professor who studies same-sex relationships was so upset by a mass email from a campus Republican group promoting “Conservative Coming Out Week” that she fired off a vulgarity aimed at all Republicans.

Ellen Lewin, a professor of Anthropology and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies in the Department of Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies, responded to the email by writing, “F*** YOU, REPUBLICANS” from her official University of Iowa email account.

Lewin’s message prompted a flurry of e-mails in response, all of which were published on The Iowa Republican, a GOP news website.

UI student and Chairwoman of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans Natalie Ginty demanded an apology from Lewin’s supervisors.

“We understand that as a faculty member she has the right to express her political opinion, but by leaving her credentials at the bottom of the email she was representing the University of Iowa, not herself alone,” Ginty wrote to James Enloe, the head of the Department of Anthropology.

“Vile responses like Ellen’s need to end. Demonizing the other party through name-calling only further entrenches feelings of disdain for the other side. I am sure you understand that nothing is ever accomplished by aimless screams of attack,” Ginty wrote.

Lewin later wrote back to explain, “This is a time when political passions are inflamed, and when I received your unsolicited email, I had just finished reading some newspaper accounts of fresh outrages committed by Republicans in government. I admit the language was inappropriate, and apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities. I would really appreciate your not sending blanket emails to everyone on campus, especially in these difficult times.”

In a later email to the group, Lewin wrote the following:

“I should note that several things in the original message were extremely offensive, nearly rising to the level of obscenity. Despite the Republicans’ general disdain for LGBT rights you called your upcoming event ‘conservative coming out day,’ appropriating the language of the LGBT right movement. Your reference to the Wisconsin protests suggested that they were frivolous attempts to avoid work. And the ‘Animal Rights BBQ’ is extremely insensitive to those who consider animal rights an important cause. Then, in the email that Ms. Ginty sent complaining about my language, she referred to me as Ellen, not Professor Lewin, which is the correct way for a student to address a faculty member, or indeed, for anyone to refer to an adult with whom they are not acquainted. I do apologize for my intemperate language, but the message you all sent out was extremely disturbing and offensive.”

UI President Sally Mason responded in an email to the university community:

“Dear Members of the University Community:

The University of Iowa encourages freedom of expression, opposing viewpoints, and civil debate about those opposing viewpoints. This is clearly articulated in our core values of Diversity and Respect. Because diversity, broadly defined, advances its mission of teaching, research, and service, the University is dedicated to an inclusive community in which people of different cultural, national, individual, and academic backgrounds encounter one another in a spirit of cooperation, openness, and shared appreciation.

The University also strongly encourages student engagement in such discussions and supports students acting on their viewpoints. Student organizations are sometimes formed along political lines and act on their political beliefs. Even if we personally disagree with those viewpoints, we must be respectful of those viewpoints in every way. Intolerant and disrespectful discord is not acceptable behavior.

Sally Mason
President”

The original e-mail from the College Republicans was sent out under the university’s mass email policy, in which campus groups can e-mail all or parts of campus so long as the message is approved by UI Student Services:

From: UI College Republicans

Subject: [NonAcadStudorg] Conservative Coming Out Week

Conservatives in Iowa City it is now time to come out of the closet!

I know at times it feels like you are the only person that disagrees with this liberal town, but you are not alone! We are asking all Republicans, Independents leaning right, or just anyone slightly frustrated with the current one party controlling every level of Johnson County, and some levels of Iowa and U.S. government to STAND UP!

Conservative Coming Out Week will be April 18th – April 22nd. Here is the schedule of events that will be going on throughout the week:

Monday: Whose Conservative Anyway? Guess which athletes, movie stars, and performing artists are Republican. 11-1 on Kautz Plaza off of the T. Anne Cleary Walkway.

Tuesday: Red vs. Blue Blood Drive from 2 to 6pm at the Carnival Room in Burge. Competition between the Republicans and Democrats for a good cause!

-College Republican meeting that night at 8pm in 71 Schaeffer Hall with showing of “Journey’s with George” in honor of President George W. Bush.

Wednesday: Come pick up your Doctors’ Notice to miss class for “sick of being stress”, just like the Wisconsin public employees during the union protests from 11 to 1 on the Pentacrest.

Thursday: Red vs Blue games! Beat the UDems in kickball and flag football from 4-6 in Hubbard Park. Wear your respective political parties color!

Stick around for a Animal Rights BBQ at 6 p.m.

Friday: Wear RED Day! Come out of the closet and show your true colors!

Should be a great week! Lets come out!

April 21, 2011 Posted by | feminism, higher education, sexual politics, Uncategorized, University of Iowa | 1 Comment

The Yale Ballyhoo

Sexual harassment, so-called hostile environment sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape continue to be conflated as indicated by a the complaint of 16 Yale students to the Dept. Of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (the OCR) and the public responses to said complaint.

As dissident feminist Wendy Kaminer points out the group’s complaint

“reportedly includes testimony about sexual assaults, but the hostile-environment charge against the university rests as well on a litany of complaints about offensive exercises of First Amendment freedoms. A December 2010 draft complaint letter, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), focuses on these “incidents”: In 2006, a group of frat boys chant “No means yes, yes means anal” outside the Yale Women’s Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women’s dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women’s Center holding signs saying, “We love Yale sluts.” In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers “it would take to have sex with them.”

It is these public incidents that have engaged the public’s attention and brought forth a condemnation of sexual harassment/assault by Vice President Biden.  But what some call sexual harassment boils down in the dankprofessor terms as obnoxious and offensive behavior.  And the terms used are of import since offensive and obnoxious behavior are constitutionally protected and university sexual harassment codes, particularly of the hostile environment genre, may impinge on constitutionally protected speech.

For example, take the “Yale Sluts” sign which was held up by a group of Zeta Psi Fraternity members in front of the Yale Women’s Center and then the circulation of this imagery in the wider campus community.  In response to this incident the Women’s Center called for “an overhaul of the University’s sexual-harassment and assault education policies, increased regulation of fraternities, disciplinary actions against Zeta Psi members…”  The Center’s board indicated they will continue in their ongoing quest to end the “fraternity-sponsored or enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape” they had observed on campus.

So putting it in rather blunt terms condemning the Zeta Psi actions as offensive is not enough; the problem according to the Women’s Center is that the Zeta Psi members are rape enablers.  And the dankprofessor surmises that those who assert that the actions of the Zeta Psi members are constitutionally protected, they too are at risk of being labeled as rape enablers.

What was and is needed at Yale is some form of conflict resolution between fraternities and women’s organizations.  But based on my information in the three years since the 2008 incident, there has been no communication at Yale between Zeta Psi and organizations such as the Women’s Center.

Name-calling whether it be sluts or rape enablers is puerile.  The basic problem at Yale is one of civility.  The problem of civility will not be ameliorated by taking this situation into an adversarial legal system, and using the media as a means of demonizing  the “other side”.

April 9, 2011 Posted by | civility, feminism, fraternities, higher education, rape, sexual harassment, sexual politics, Uncategorized, Yale University | 3 Comments

Billie Dziech unplugged

Billie Dziech is probably the most committed academic to obliterating student professor intimate relationships.  She began her campaign in the 1980s with the publication of her tome THE LECHEROUS PROFESSOR and she continues her crusade to the present day. In 1998 in the Chronicle of Higher education she published an essay entitled“The Abuse of Power in Intimate Relationships”.

This essay has not been systematically critiqued and continues to circulate on the web. The CHE essay provides the dankprofessor an opportunity to critique Dziech’s “thinking” on this issue.  So come along with me on this critical journey into the heart of Dziech; maybe we can find something of value.  I have highlighted quoted material from her essay

While the tangled puzzle of the relationship between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky may appear far removed from life on American campuses, that is not the case. The current scandal recalls recent campus debates about intimate relationships between people with differing degrees of power — usually faculty members and students — and whether those relationships can be genuinely consensual.

In addition, the Clinton-Lewinsky controversy has become a litmus test of Americans’ attitudes toward male-female relations, and a harbinger of future positions on gender issues. Students and educators should listen carefully to the debate.

It is obvious that educators contemplating intimate relationships with students need to look hard at the portrait the media have painted of Monica Lewinsky. Reports depict her as a child deeply scarred by her parents’ acrimonious divorce; as an overweight teenager who developed a crush on a popular high-school classmate and then carried on a lengthy affair with a former high-school teacher; and as a young woman who at some point may have idolized or pursued Bill Clinton.

There is a simple message in the details of this young life. Whether or not we admit its pathetic quality, we must all recognize that people such as Monica Lewinsky exist, and that they pose a significant threat to those who choose to become intimately involved with them. The younger the person, the more likely that individual is to engage in fantasy and in actions based on whim. The more wounded the individual is at the onset of a relationship, the more vulnerable and unstable that person is likely to be during and after the affair.

Explicit in her analysis of Lewinsky is that we are on safe grounds in basing a psychological evaluation of her on media reports.  And, of course, Monica Lewinsky posed no significant threat to Clinton or anyone else.  The significant threat came from Linda Tripp and Special Prosecutor Starr who used Tripp’s surreptitiously taped conversations with Monica.  Linda Tripp and Prosecutor Starr systematically invaded the privacy of Lewinsky in order to invade the privacy of Clinton.  But Dziech in her essay never mentions Tripp and mentions Starr only once in passing. And no where in this essay is there any mention of the role of third party informants and the ethical issues involved when universities use or employ third party informants in their attempt to expose student professor couples.

Hence academicians, like Presidents, are either naive or reckless when they engage in physical contact (or what Mr. Clinton has described as an “emotional relationship”) with impressionable, unpredictable students who are unlikely to comprehend the true parameters of such interactions. Professors and Presidents alike should be sophisticated enough to realize the dangers inherent in singling out a subordinate for special attention. Monica Lewinsky is a chilling reminder that even the gift of a book of poetry (especially one with erotic material, such as Leaves of Grass) can lead to disaster.

Again Monica did nothing chilling. It was the people who were out to get Clinton who engaged in chilling and dastardly behavior.

People in positions of authority cannot ignore the vulnerabilities of those in subordinate positions. Perhaps that is why Andy Bleiler, the former drama teacher with whom Monica Lewinsky was sexually involved, seems so disreputable. Contending that the 19-year-old Ms. Lewinsky was “obsessed with sex” and that she “stalked” and “trapped” him into a five-year affair, Mr. Bleiler claimed that the young woman had been “no victim.” But his assertion rang hollow, even with the omnipresent supportive wife standing at his side.

Of course, observers cannot ignore the vulnerabilities of those in the so-called superordinate positions.  Persons in power positions become targets of other who wish to bring them down; some times by false charges, sometimes by frivolous civil suits.  The fact is that when it comes to power figures everyone close to the so-called powerful is vulnerable.  And when it comes to love and sex, one cannot truly love without making oneself emotionally vulnerable.

There is more at stake in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal than just reputations, however. Educators should also note that countless Americans accept Mr. Bleiler’s portrait of the person Bill Clinton calls “that woman.” Those of us in academe who have fought for equality for women and the eradication of sexual harassment should be disturbed by polls such as one that found that men who had previously regarded the President as a “wimp” now were more inclined to support him — and to regard his wife positively because she once again “stood by her man.”

Of course, Clinton left office with high approval ratings.  In fact, until the arrival of Barak Obama, Clinton was and possibly still is the most popular American politician in the world at large.  His “affair” with Lewinsky did not hurt his stature, or that of his wife.

Already, the story of the President and the intern has revived old gender stereotypes that had seemed almost exhausted. The public appears to accept, without reservation, the image of Bill Clinton crafted by the Hollywood Houdini Harry Thomason and other supporters: He is struggling valiantly in adversity; he shoulders his burdens and carries on selflessly for family and country. Should it become necessary, those same supporters are undoubtedly prepared to portray Ms. Lewinsky as a delusional hysteric or a conniving predator who sullied an honest man’s virtue.

Well Billie Dziech must know that no politician is honest.  Given all the attacks on Clinton, he still has emerged unsullied.  No need for his supporters to sully Lewinsky since Dziech does a pretty good job of degrading and sullying her.

At present, though, the public doesn’t seem to need encouragement to view Ms. Lewinsky negatively. All it has to do is rely on stereotypes. Adhering perfectly to the old script on gender, a recent female caller to C-SPAN identified Ms. Lewinsky as “a wannabe.” The caller explained that she meant the kind of female found in every office or school, the kind who will do anything to be the boss’s or teacher’s “favorite.” One television commentator described Ms. Lewinsky as a “Valley girl,” another as “every woman’s nightmare.” Some enterprising citizen has been thoughtful enough to publish on the Internet either authentic or doctored nude pictures of Lewinsky. She has emerged as the pretty young thing who threatens hearth and home, because, presumably, even the strongest men are unable to resist a wily 21-year-old.

Dziech seems to be Lewinsky obsessed.  Yes, she was in the public scene, but she was involuntarily dragged into said scene.  Dziech needs to go beyond Lewinsky and focus on people who invade the privacy of others, such as Linda Tripp and Kenneth Starr.

That is surely a chilling portrait for those who have worked for laws and policies that encourage men to take responsibility for their sexual activities. Just when it appeared that Americans were beginning to “get” sexual harassment, just when the sexes seemed on the way to more mutual respect, along came the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to demonstrate how overly optimistic that impression was. Nothing inappropriate may have happened between Lewinsky and Clinton, but, because of the allegations, society seems to have reverted, at least temporarily, to an escapist mentality of the past: “I don’t care what happened on campus, at work, or even in the Oval Office, so long as it doesn’t happen to me or my daughter.”

Oh, please, people are more caring than Dziech is willing to believe.  Most people came to see, except for Republicans in Washington, that the Lewinsky affair was consensual, and the matter should be dropped except that it was OK to read so-called non-fiction tell all books on the Clinton Lewinsky scenario.

The consensus of the polls conducted since January seems to be that Americans are not particularly disturbed by a 51-year-old authority figure’s having sex with an intern less than half his age. If one listens to radio and television call-in shows or reads the polls, it appears that the old, dark days are here again — that once more, it is acceptable to view students and working women as seductresses preying upon naive males.

Its not the old dark days, but rather the live and let live days, the days of non-acceptance of the government coercing adults involved in consensual relationships.  Dziech fails to understand and note that her so-called dark days were the same days that many Americans came to accept homosexuals at work, in government, as friends and as relatives.

An especially telling Newsweek survey reported that 45 per cent of the public believes that, if a sexual relationship did occur between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, it was her fault for pursuing him. Only 17 per cent accepted a basic tenet of sexual-harassment law: that a person who is in a position of power misuses his authority if he — or she — engages in sexual activity with a subordinate.

Only 17% accepted the so-called basic tenet of sexual harassment law since they viewed the Clinton Lewinsky relationship as consensual. Take away the dehumanizing subordinate rhetoric and most people will admit and accept the fact that they have been in power differentiated relationships which they believe were consensual.  Dziech and others deny their perception of consensuality and wish to portray most Americans, particularly women, as victims.

It is little wonder that the public misunderstands that point. A month of exposure to the tortured logic of Administration officials and lawyers trying to minimize the scandal has demonstrated how easy it is to obscure the patently obvious point: It’s the sex that matters. In other words, if the alleged consensual relationship were legally, ethically, and socially acceptable, there would be no reason to discuss perjury, subornation of perjury, or obstruction of justice. If Mr. Clinton lied under oath and attempted to obscure the truth, it was because he understood what many, on campus and off, seem unwilling to admit publicly: Where an imbalance in authority exists, there can be no equality and thus no genuine consent.

Dziech is patently wrong here, out of touch with reality.  Generally people are sympathetic to Clinton lying because the lying dealt with his private sex life.  And people don’t want the government in their bedrooms.  Bottom line the problem that Dziech cannot understand is that many people if not most people would do the same thing as Clinton did- refuse to tell the absolute truth about their sex lives.

The law, assuming that human beings are more than animals enslaved to their passions, demands that those in positions of power behave responsibly and rationally, no matter how immoral, stupid, or lascivious their subordinates might be. That legal mandate seems lost on a public content to dismiss Monica Lewinsky as someone who “asked for it.”

Yes, people in power should behave rationally and responsibly and such is why it was wrong for a special prosecutor to engage in a sexual crusade and wrong for the House Republicans to impeach Clinton.

Before there was a name for sexual harassment and a recognition that, between individuals with disparate authority, even consensual sex is coercive sex, women who had affairs with teachers and employers were described as either seductive and dissolute or naive and vulnerable. However, when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 were enacted, they required businesses and educational institutions to construct policies and procedures to discourage harassment and to set up training programs to educate people about the law and about appropriate interactions between superiors and subordinates.

Said educational campaign has failed, abysmally failed.  Selling consensual sex as coercive sex is a patent absurdity, it won’t sell.

Monica Lewinsky’s life spans the quarter-century of American history that has devoted close attention to gender issues, so it may be understandable that the public is unsympathetic to her not only because of her alleged willingness to engage in the purported sexual activity, but also because she is considered likely to have known better. She had every opportunity to be better educated than women in past generations were about the dangers and damage inherent in inappropriate sexual relations — and yet she allegedly still chose to become involved.

There is nothing inherently dangerous about inappropriate sexual relationships, e.g. same sex relationships were historically considered inappropriate; the danger came not from something inherent in homosexuality relationships, but the danger came from other people, people like Dziech who meddle in other peoples sex lives. And if we had a populace that was committed to appropriate and only appropriate sexual relations, what a dull world we would have created, a world that only could approach fruition in a totalitarian society.

Her situation should send a wake-up call to her peers. Just as the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debate made it impossible for people to deny awareness of sexual harassment, so those in the post-Lewinsky generation may find it increasingly difficult to declare innocence or victimization after engaging in sex with teachers or employers. The caveat that governed consensual sex on the campuses and in the workplace during most of Ms. Lewinsky’s mother’s life was a simple “Don’t — or you’ll pay a heavy price.” Over the past decade and a half, however, as case law has mounted, and as complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and grievances filed at colleges and universities have increased, educators and employers have become more supportive of those who report having sexual relations with superiors.

More supportive most likely because they are required and are paid to do so.  There is big money involved in the sexual harassment industry, not only for the university police but for lawyers and for persons such as Dziech who are hired by universities as consultants to engage in the impossible task of creating an environment in which power differentiated persons do not fraternize. Too bad for Dziech, such is an impossible dream.

But despite that institutional support, the public reaction to Monica Lewinsky may — and probably does — suggest that a generation more sophisticated about sex and more knowledgeable about the law will be expected to assume greater personal responsibility for recognizing, resisting, and reporting inappropriate behavior. (And whether they like it or not, schools and colleges will continue to be the most likely settings in which those three “R’s” can be taught.)

Dziech is wrong again about the universities. Yes, there will be those recognizing, resisting and reporting, but most of the three Rs will be practiced by those who take responsibility for their own sexual behavior; resist the unwelcome intrusion by academic busybodies, and report only to themselves and trusted friends.

The assumption that all young adults are more sophisticated about harassment than they were in the past is unfortunate, though. First, it does not take into account the psychology of true victims, whose particular circumstances and emotional frailties may make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to recognize and resist harassment — and may make reporting it inconceivable. Monica Lewinsky may be one such victim. One has only to read accounts of her background to realize that she is a very vulnerable young woman.

The other problem with imposing a higher standard on the post-Lewinsky generation than has been used in recent years is that it wrongly assumes that the stepped-up discussions of harassment by parents, educational institutions, and the public have adequately educated the young about the problems with consensual relationships. That is simply not the case. Public discussion of sexual harassment has been, at best, contentious. Add the romantic portrayals on television and in film of illicit sex between teachers and students, and the message about the dangers of consensual sex becomes highly convoluted.

Yes, these messages are highly convoluted but so are Dziech’s messages.  And as for the young, her messages are directed to all members of the university community, no matter their age, no matter if the student is 25 or 35 or 45; they all need to be coerced by Dziech, et. al, to do the right thing.

Most colleges and universities have done little of substance to clarify the issue. Many simply ignore the problem of consent in their sexual-harassment policies; some strongly warn against consensual relationships; but almost none have been courageous or practical enough to ban consensual relationships altogether. While many businesses unequivocally prohibit relationships between adult workers and supervisors, debates in academe have centered — as they often do — on faculty members’ rights. When discussion of consent in relationships between supervisors and students is discussed, it usually occurs in an emotionally charged atmosphere, which results in students’ seeing the problem in simplistic, hyperbolic terms.

No businesses have across the board effective bans. Said businesses talk the talk but hardly ever walk the walk. In other words, appearances do not reflect reality. With the workplace becoming in essence the home place for many employees, employees will and do fraternize; it’s a matter of propinquity and convenience.

If the post-Lewinsky generation is to be held to a higher standard of accountability in sexual relationships than in the past, campus advocates for women’s issues should be very concerned about the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal and should initiate discussions about the ramifications of consent. That may not happen, however, if Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, speaks for most advocates of women’s rights. She is reported to have said: “If the President had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, it was consensual. That’s a distinction I think people are trying to blur.”

Non-academic feminist Jill Ireland got it right.

Although Ms. Ireland may not “get” the dynamics of consent, we can hope that other women do, and that they will exercise reason and objectivity in the days ahead. It is no secret that academicians tend to be politically left of center and thus sympathetic to many of Mr. Clinton’s domestic and international policies. Should Monica Lewinsky disavow her previous affidavit or be found to have been sexually involved with the President, many academics will be trapped between Mr. Clinton’s verbal and political support for women’s issues and the misogyny and disregard for women that his private actions convey. If that happens, academics should muster the courage to divorce the man from his policies and reaffirm the truth they have fought hard to establish: However much superficial sophistication about sex or theoretical knowledge about sexual harassment students and workers might have, they are always at risk in relationships with professors or employers upon whom grades, recommendations, pay, or jobs depend.

But so are professors at risk, at risk of being charged with sexual harassment; at risk of a low graded student charging sexual harassment as part of a revenge scenario.  Everyone is at risk.  Certainly nothing that Dziech and her conferes have done have reduced the feelings of risk by both faculty and students.  Maybe what is needed is for all academics (including) students to take a vow of celibacy, maybe using the Catholic Church as their model!

No one in a public scandal about sex looks good. In this case, not Monica Lewinsky. Not Bill or Hillary Clinton. Not Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Not the press. And certainly not a nation that has told pollsters that it doesn’t much care how men and women treat one another, as long as the economy is sound.

Wow! Finally she mentions Kenneth Starr, but only in passing.  Shouldn’t Starr be Dziech’s star?

Some commentators have lauded this complacency about the alleged sexual activity as evidence of Americans’ increased “maturity,” “sophistication,” and “tolerance.” Those of us who write and speak about social issues and who teach college students need to reassess our roles in producing this “sophisticated” society. With the exception of their families, today’s youth are influenced most by their peers, the entertainment industry, and education. Since it is unlikely that friends and film stars can shed much light on the legal and ethical dimensions of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, educators must address the issue, both in casual conversations and in classroom discussions that deal with male-female issues, human development, social history, and the responsibilities of public leaders.

Yes, I agree that such should be addressed in classroom discussions and in informal conversations, but such is unlikely to occur in the context of coercion. People are unlikely to state the truth in public settings when said statements can lead to being disciplined and removed from the classroom. Of course, such persons can confidentially write to the dankprofessor, knowing that they, students and professors, have me as a resource person who will respect their confidentiality and their right to privacy

And we must realize that academe’s conception of sophistication and tolerance is directly tested in how it handles its own problems. When most campuses refuse to ban sexual relationships between students and professors, why should the public, when confronted by scandal, disapprove of the President’s cavorting with a young woman barely of legal age? Sophistication, tolerance, freedom, and individual rights are admirable concepts, but the genuinely enlightened recognize that there are always limits to freedom, that some behaviors deserve harsh judgment, and that, in some circumstances, tolerance allows pain and injustice to occur. Actions that denigrate and exploit women, particularly vulnerable subordinates, fit that category. We have an obligation to teach these principles to our students, by our words and by our own behavior.

Of course, given Dziech’s sophistication, she denies the reality that what she wants is a Big Brother or Big Sister university where students and professors must trust powerful others to not misuse their power in the sexual area. Does Billie Dziech really trust university administrators to wield such power in a fair and equitable manner, particularly when such power wielding is often done in secret?  Doesn’t Professor Dziech know that Kenneth Starr copy cats and varicolored sexual zealots populate the ranks of sexual police aka university administrators?  As is often the ultimate question, who is to protect us from our protectors, particularly when the protectors were once sophisticated professors who gave up their professorships for the “right” to wield big power and big money?

August 6, 2010 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, privacy, secrecy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sex at Yale

So Yale University has now formally banned sexual relationships between professors and ALL undergraduate students. Previously the ban applied only when the faculty member was in a supervisory relationship with a student.

It is this supervisory aspect that supposedly was the basic rationale for prohibiting student prof sexual relationships.  Such supposedly disabled profs from engaging in non-prejudicial grading and even if there was no grading problem such gave the appearance of a conflict of interest.  And those who were appearance obsessed argued that ultimately the integrity of the university was some how undermined.

The dankprofessor never bought into this as the real rationale. Academics were not and are not hung up on the importance of grading; in fact, grading occupies the low end of the academic totem pole.  It’s generally considered to be dirty work that can be farmed out to inexperienced teaching assistants.  What too many academics are hung up on is sex, particularly academics who see themselves as feminists, feminists who when they think about sex dread the existence of power differentials which are viewed as being omnipresent in heterosexual relationships.

So student professor relationships became the quintessential dreaded power differentiated relationships with the female student always being the helpless and victimized other in need of protection.  Or to put it in other terms, the new Yale ban is patently, openly anti-sexual; the anti-sexual brigades have taken over at Yale and in the dankprofessor’s opinion this is just the opening shot.

Just listen to Yale’s Deputy Provost Charles Long who has advocated student prof dating bans for many a year-  “I think we have a responsibility to protect students from behavior that is damaging to them and to the objectives for their being here.”  Obviously, people who think that sex is damaging are anti-sexual and would prefer to ban sex when such is possible.  And do note that Long makes no exceptions- he knows all that he needs to know- sex with professors damages undergraduates, end of story, no need to be concerned about students who do not want his protection.  No concern here about issues relating to consent or dissent.  Long has the power at Yale and he engages in power abuse par excellence in the area of sexuality.

The Yale undergraduate as child has no right to dissent when it comes to authoritarian Yale administrators. No matter that Yale students are considered cream of the crop, are widely held to be part of an intellectual elite.  These Yale students do not become full adults until they are Yale graduates.  The Yale mantra becomes wait until you graduate which effectively replaces the old traditional mantra of wait until you are married.

And no place in the new Yale policy is there any “grandfathering” clause.  A student and professor who are in an ongoing relationship which was consonant with the old policy now are in violation under the new policy. Breaking up may be hard to do but it is the only thing to do if one wants to stay in good graces at Yale.  OK, the student can drop out or the prof can resign.

And then there are those who say none of these dreaded things will come to be since the effect of the Yale policy will be to simply drive these people into the closet and in the closet they will be left alone.  Such represents the thinking of pipe dreamers.  The realists know that there is no shortage of Linda Tripps at Yale.  And they are waiting patiently for their right Yale professor and the right Yale student.  The “good” that these diligent informants can do is monumental; and all can be done in secret.  And I expect that Deputy Provost Long is prepared for the informants and the false chargers.  Or will he spare himself  by taking a flight into retirement?

April 10, 2010 Posted by | consensual relationships, feminism, grading, higher education, sex, sexual rights, student professor dating, Yale University | 1 Comment

Emma Thompson and Roman Polanski

Although I support the efforts of Roman Polanski not to be extradited to the United Sates, I am also generally sympathetic to those who speak out against any differential treatment  of  celebrities.  

Celebrityhood should not make celebrities qualified for any kind of special treatment.
But we all very well know that such is not the case in America.  Too many Americans worship their stars.  Some do so to such a degree that if anything bad happens to one of their heavenly bodies they become psychologically unglued.    Such was recently demonstrated when Michael Jackson died; there was massive mourning throughout the United States, and a media frenzy that even surpassed the trials and tribulations of OJ Simpson.

And now we have Emma Thompson, an accomplished actress and humanitarian, who has caused many people on the feminist left to go into seizures of despair and heartbreak, particularly see the Jezebel and Shakesville blogs.

And what did Emma Thompson do that caused such distress- she signed the Bernard Henri Levy petition in support of  freedom for Polanski.  Here we have one actress and one signatory of the petition.  But what we also have is too many feminists treating Thompson as being the Ultimate one.  She is treated with adoration  just as all “true” celebrities are treated.  Her falling from her scared superior position has caused much suffering by her worshipers.
But according to the Shakseville blog, all has not been in vain- 

Last week, a reader named Caitlin e-mailed Shakesville blogmistress Melissa McEwan — who had written about being heartbroken by Thompson’s decision to sign — with a proposal. Caitlin is a student at Exeter University, where Thompson was scheduled to speak last night, and knew she’d have the opportunity to meet the actor. In her e-mail, Caitlin wrote: “I have set up a petition online, in the hopes that I can hand her a list of names and comments next week from the online community (and my own university, hopefully) showing our dismay at her decision to sign the Roman Polanski petition.”
The petition got 410 signatures and numerous comments, which Caitlin brought to her meeting with Thompson last night. In a follow-up e-mail to Shakesville, Caitlin writes:
Emma did not have much time between meetings, but she gave me all of the time that she had. I asked her why she had signed the petition, and she explained about how well she knows Polanski, how terrible his life has been, and how forgiving the survivor of the rape all those years ago now is. She said she thought the intentions of the judge were unclear, as were the intentions of those who arrested him recently. She told me that a lot of her friends had rung her up asking her to sign the petition, so there had been a certain amount of pressure. She said that she had already been thinking a lot about the petition, as others had expressed their dismay at her signing it.
I handed her our petition and the comments. She read them both through thoroughly, and came back to me. She said, while she supported Polanski as a friend, a crime is a crime. I don’t know whether she had realised the extent of Polanski’s crime, but she is now fully aware. She will remove her name from the petition – in fact, she said she would call today and sort it out. Even though, she stressed, Polanski has had some truly terrible experiences in his lifetime, experiences that we couldn’t even imagine and which should not be taken out of the equation, she agreed that she could not put her name to a petition asking for his release.
Assuming that she will be true to her word, her name will be removed in the very near future. Hopefully the press will pick up on it.
She left me with this, to pass on to everyone who has signed the petition/raised awareness of this issue: “Know that I will remove my name because of you, and all of the good work that you have been doing. I have read your petition. I have heard you. And I will listen.”
If she follows through, hooray for Thompson — and either way, hooray for Caitlin, who had the guts to use a brief meeting with a celebrity to do what many of us have wanted to over the last month: Ask what the fuck went through her head before she signed. And it sounds like the usual — he’s suffered, he’s charming, the victim wants it dropped, judicial shenanigans, all the cool kids are signing — minus any thought of what he actually did to the victim in 1977, before fleeing the country. Lévy conveniently left any mention about that out of his petition, but Caitlin did not. And that information is rather crucial to making a decision about whether to call for leaving poor old Polanski alone. I’ve been wondering the whole time how many of his supporters have taken a good look at it, and how many just got a phone call saying, “It’s a witch hunt — sign this” and agreed.
Here’s hoping not only that Thompson makes that call, but that her change of heart gets enough real media attention for other celebrity signatories of the Free Polanski petition to think twice about who and what, exactly, they agreed to stand up for.

Of course the Jezebel blogger comes out patronizing both Emma Thompson and all other signatories.  They just couldn’t know what they actually signed.  I signed the petition and I knew just about all aspects of the Polanski case that have become public.  And I assume that such was also the case for many of the other signatories.
What I find so terribly depressing is that apparently so many, (see the comments on the Shakesville blog )are so dependent on any power figure.  Doesn’t such dependency represent the antithesis of what feminism is all about?

Speaking only for myself, if Harrison Ford decided to remove his name from the petition I would be unfazed.  What does Harrison Ford have to do with me? I speak for myself; Harrison Ford speaks for himself.  Why should I or any body else petition Harrison Ford? If such petitioning would occur as it has occurred in reference to Emma Thompson, it just demonstrates the dependency and vulnerability of the petitioners.

NOTE: EMMA THOMPSON HAS NOT PUBLICLY CONFIRMED THAT SHE HAS WITHDRAWN HER SUPPORT OF POLANSKI. IF SHE DOES SO, I WILL WITHDRAW THIS NOTE.

November 4, 2009 Posted by | celebrities, Emma Thompson, feminism, rape, Roman Polanski, sex, sexual politics, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Oxford as a “sexist little dump”

Ruth Padel was elected to the position of Oxford Professor Of Poetry after Derek Walcott withdrew as a candidate once allegations surfaced that Walcott had been involved in sexually harassing students.  But now Padel has resigned from the professorship after serving for only 9 days.  Such was the case after Padel admitted that she played a role in having the press cover Walcott’s sexual harassment history.

A number of the British literati were disturbed by the resignation.

Novelist Jeanette Winterson said: “It’s a pity she has been backed into a corner. What she has done is so much more ­trivial than her contribution to poetry. This feels malicious and nasty. We ought to be able to look beyond the woman to the poetry. This is a way of reducing women; it wouldn’t have happened to a man. But then Oxford is a sexist little dump.”

Now wasn’t this in essence what the defenders of Walcott had said- that we ought to look beyond the man to his poetry; that what he had done is so much more trivial than his contribution to poetry; that this would not have happened to a woman. 

But when Winterson characterizes Oxford as “a sexist little dump” such goes beyond the poetic fringe.  In the dankprofessor’s opinion,  the Oxford debacle represents a form of poetic license, of poets running amok.

May 25, 2009 Posted by | ethics, feminism, higher education, Oxford College, poets, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, United Kingdom | 1 Comment

Daphne Patai on academic affairs

Daphne Patai has written a powerful critique of university policies on student professor relationships and on sexual harassment policies in the context of writing a review essay on six novels dealing with university life.  Following are excerpts from her essay focusing on Roth’s THE DYING ANIMAL which has been adapted as a movie under the title, ELEGY and Prose’s BLUE ANGEL.  All six novels are listed at the end of the essay.

Excerpted from Daphne Patai, “Academic Affairs,” SEXUALITY AND CULTURE, vol. 6, No. 2, June 2002, pp.65-96.

The original publication of this review is located at

 http://springerlink.com/content/hj6jjrqdtnvap5gy/?p=e3ff6bef91634fcea27e677c48ed6989&pi=0

DOI- 10.1007/s12119-002-1004-0

 
While academic bureaucrats busied themselves in the 1990s with a

quixotic but persistent attempt to regulate both speech and personal interactions on their campuses, a group of creative writers struck blows against such a narrowing of our lives by providing us with delicate and nuanced, or satirical and scathing, imaginings of the complexities of actual relationships between real (though fictional) persons who find themselves caught up in the new vigilantism.

Their novels demonstrate that the politically correct script of male/professorial power and female/student powerlessness is a pathetically thin distortion which negates the texture of human life and produces little but propaganda tracts ranting against a purported patriarchy and its hapless victims. In the hands of a spirited and talented writer, the resources of fictional narrative–its potential for shifting points of view, for negotiating huge jumps in time and sudden reversals, for interior monologues and musings, startling imagery and evocative turns of phrase—can at least attempt to do justice to the dense inner life and complex events that define human existence, in the academy and out of it.

The novels under discussion here take for granted a reality so simple

and obvious that it has somehow escaped the notice of many social

critics. People meet each other, and that is how relationshipsbegin.

Many of these encounters take place in schools and workplaces,

where people spend most of their waking hours. Given

thesecircumstances, it is likely that many of the ensuing interactions

will be tainted by one or another kind of “asymmetry,” since no two

humans are exactly alike or occupy precisely the same

positions.What makes the concept of asymmetrical relationships

resonate so negatively in the minds of those who would govern

personal interactions is, of course, the obsession with power.

Asymmetrical relations are bad–so this line of thinking goes–

because no romantic or sexual intimacy should exist where one

person has power over another. Such power imbalances are

inherently evil to those for whom a simplistic conception of

“equality” has become the standard of justifiable social relations.

This phenomenally narrow viewpoint ignores the obvious fact that

the “power” people act out in their relationships is of many and

varied types, and that one person’s predominance in one sphere is

often matched by the others in another sphere. Who has more

brains? More charm? Morebeauty? More vigor? Greater emotional

resources? Better health? Better taste? Not to mention more wealth,

status, and all the other material aspects of life? Might a professor’s

ability to give a bad grade not be countered by his student’s

opportunity to write him a

damaging evaluation? And is not virtually all professorial omnipotence

these days trumped by the threat that the “weaker” party (ostensibly

the student) might initiate a complaint against some

supposedly offensive word or gesture that may or may not have

actually occurred? A mere moment’s reflection reveals that the usual

critique of asymmetrical relations relies on a stunted and feeble

definition that is stacked–and of course is meant to be against

men.

Sex is power, yes; but so are brains, charm, wealth, status, and,

as Philip Roth teaches us over and over again, health and youth.

But since it’s patently absurd to try to outlaw relationships defined

by all or any of these inequalities, the new academic vigilantes

go for the broadest possible category and thus simply target

all personal interactions. For who is there on campus who is not

hierarchically differentiated from some other individual one way

or another? The overly broad definitions of “sexual harassment”

that have ensued, which invariably include “verbal acts” that may

make someone uncomfortable, allow all other imbalances to be

covered, by implication. And the stigma resulting from a charge

of sexual or verbal harassment is so great (and the financial stakes

of potential law suits so high) that, these days, a charge of harassment–

a mere accusation, however flimsy, however transparently

fabricated–may well cost the accused his (for men are the primary

target) job.

Unable to do away with “power” altogether (and without even

considering seriously whether it would be desirable, let alone remotely

possible, to do so), we scurry to regulate relationships. For

the Church fathers’ view of women as representing sexual danger,

capable of luring men from their higher concerns, we have substituted

an opposing view that now dominates our secular society: of

men as a threat to women, compromising, impeding, and exploiting

them at every turn. And since the pattern of young women

seeking out older and more accomplished men does not seem to be

retreating in the face of feminist critiques, what can we hope to do

but discourage those relationships as best we can by stigmatizing

flirtation, invitations, stares, touches, jokes (all of these explicitly

addressed by the latest sexual harassment policy of my own university)

even when they have nothing to do with sexual extortion

or coercion but are merely incidents of ordinary human interaction?

Fortunately, the current preeminence of sexual harassment specialists

and other micromanagers of collegiate life is not without

challenge, as the novels under discussion here demonstrate. True,

these literary works (and others of similar tenor) are small in number-

nothing to compare to the thousands of sexual harassment

codes the vigilantes have composed and are attempting to enforce,

egged on by the federal government and fortified by some rulings

signed into law by, ironically, Bill Clinton. But long after sexual

harassment codes are gone, these novels will be read both as reflections

of American life in the late twentieth century and as examples

of the unique abilities of fiction to reveal the human condition

in all its subtle intricacies and embroilments…

The Human Stain is the third novel in what Roth (in a New York

Times interview conducted with Charles McGrath, May 7, 2000)

described as a “thematic trilogy, dealing with the historical moments

in postwar American life that have had the greatest impact

on my generation”–the McCarthy era, the Vietnam War, and the

impeachment of Bill Clinton each story told through the mediating

perspective of Nathan Zuckerman, whom Roth has referred to

as his “alter brain” The first work in the trilogy was American

Pastoral, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, followed a year later

by I Married a Communist. The Human Stain, in turn, was succeeded

by a short novel once again taking up a character-narrator

we have met before. The Dying Animal, Roth’s most recent novel,

ressurrects David Kepesh, first introduced in 1972 in a Kafkaesque

novel The Breast, and narrator as well of Roth’s controversial 1977

novel The Professor of Desire. Now 70 years of age, Kepesh, in

The Dying Animal, relates the story of his affair, eight years earlier,

with Consuela Castillo, a 24-year-old Cuban-American student of

his, possessed of enormous “erotic power” that is both “elemental

and elegant” (p. 98). Roth does not directly address the issue of

current attempts to regulate professor-student relations except

to ironically note Kepesh’s habit of avoiding involvement with

his students till the semester is over and grades are turned in, at

which time he typically invites them all for a party at his house and

notes which ones stay late. Who is pursuing whom in his various

relationships is never entirely clear. But some of these studentteacher

liaisons persist in the form of lasting friendships, as we

learn near the novel’s end.

Kepesh speaks in a monologue to an unidentified interlocutor

whose questions and comments are implicit in Kepesh’s answers,

but who only on the novel’s very last page (just as in Portnoy’s

Complaint) responds and, indeed, is given the last word. No longer

a professor in The Dying Animal, Kepesh is now a well-known

culture critic and media personality. In laborious detail, on an occasion

that is revealed only at the novel’s end, he tells the story of his

obsession with Consuela, whose voluptuous beauty–and especially

her gorgeous breasts–enraptured him. A year and a half into

their affair, she breaks it off in anger over his failure to put in an

appearance at her graduation party. Recalling this episode, Kepesh

says:

The smartest thing I did was not to show up there. Because I had been

yielding and yielding in ways that I didn’t understand. The longing never

disappeared even while I had her. The primary emotion, as I’ve said, was

longing. It’s still longing. There’s no relief from the longing and my sense

of myself as a supplicant. There it is: you have it when you’re with her and

you have it when you’re without her. (pp. 94-95)

But Kepesh by his own account then spent three more years

longing for her, and a few years beyond that she suddenly re-enters

his life, bringing not joy but tragedy as she tells him she has breast

cancer and not great odds for survival. Kepesh is not particularly

admirable (nor does Roth attempt to make him so) as he confesses

his dismay at the thought of her soon-to-be “mutilated” body, which

undoes his sexual desire even as his heart breaks with tenderness

for her plight (p. 138). Why has she come back? Apparently to ask

Kepesh to photograph, before her surgery, the breasts he so adored.

In recounting his affair, Kepesh delineates his indefatigable efforts

to avoid emotional entanglement and to hang on to physical

lust as the wellspring of manly energy, always contrasted to the

death-in-life that he considers marriage to be. Roth even subjects

Kepesh to some scathing analyses by a disgruntled middle-aged

son (from a failed early marriage that he’d walked out of), telling it

as he sees it, and often quite on target about his father’s many faults

and shortcomings:

Seducing defenseless students, pursuing one’s sexual interests at the expense

of everyone else–that’s so very necessary, is it? No, necessity is

staying in a difficult marriage and raising a little child and meeting the

responsibilities of an adult. (p. 90)

But none of this sensible criticism detracts from the compelling

narrative Kepesh weaves, with its topsy-turvy version of who’s

really in control in this affair between an older man, who sees the

end in sight, and an exuberantly beautiful much younger woman

who shouldn’t have to face her mortality but does, out of season.

Time, Kepesh says, for the young is always made up of what is

past; but for Consuela, sick with breast cancer,

time is now how much future she has left, …Now she measures time counting

forward, counting time by the closeness of death …. her sense of time is

now the same as mine, speeded up and more forlorn even than mine. She,

in fact, has overtaken me. (p. 149)

It is Kepesh’s intimate friend, George O’Hearn, who, in analyzing

Kepesh’s predicament after the affair with Consuela ended,

evokes the earlier novel’s image of Kepesh as “the professor of

desire” (p. 99). Recognizing that Kepesh will “always be powerless

with this girl” (p. 98), O’Hearn urges him to avoid all contact

with her. Lust and life are one thing; love quite another, and O’Heam

worries that Kepesh is “failing in love” Far from restoring a Platonic

unity to the lovers, O’Hearn argues, love is a danger, because,

“love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked

open” (p. 101).

But if it is Consuela’s “erotic power” that has kept Kepesh in

thrall to her, the only power he, by contrast, held over her, Kepesh

believes, was his pedagogy, his ability to instruct her in music and

literature (p. 101). Most importantly, orgasm, for Kepesh, meant a

momentary end to the sickness that is desire. It is in this context that

he cites Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” from which the novel takes

its melancholy title, alluding to the process of aging:

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is. (p. 103)

Even a dying animal, however, can retain some sense of propriety.

“Ridiculousness” to Kepesh, is relinquishing one’s freedom

voluntarily (p. 104). While fully recognizing this, he had not been

able in his relationship with Consuela to avoid it and had experienced

emotions unbearable to him: jealousy and attachment: “No,

not even fucking can stay totally pure and protected, “Kepesh says

(p. 105), in lines similar to those spoken by Faunia Farley in The

Human Stain. What makes his suffering touch the reader is that

Kepesh doesn’t even know just what he’s longing for: “Her tits?

Her soul? Her youth? Her simple mind? Maybe it’s worse than

that–maybe now that I’m nearing death, I also long secretly not to

be free” (p. 106).

In a nasty review of The Dying Animal feebly entitled “Tedium

of the Gropes of Roth” (The limes [London], 27 June 2001), Elaine

Showalter dismisses the novel as “cowardly, sterile, and intellectually

shallow.” She can muster no sympathy for Kepesh’s insistence

on his “freedom” as being the fulfillment of American individualism.

Showalter considers the novel’s ending to be its protagonist’s

one shot at being a “mensch” a shot we’re not sure he’ll take. But

the novel’s focus on a man who uses sex as a weapon against his

mortality is no reason to despise it, unless we are prepared to judge

all works of art on the basis of whether their civic message is one

we wish to endorse. Showalter quotes with disdain Roth’s line about

the “astonishing fellators” found in this generation of young women

(~ la Lewinsky). Another reviewer, Anthony Quinn, refers to

Kepesh’s obsession with Consuela’s gorgeous breasts as “just a bit

creepy and objectifying” (“An Old Man’s Fancy,” The Times [London],

24 June 2001). It appears that critics are not very eager to

hear what Roth is really saying. We seem to want our aging men to

be heroes, mature and wise. We don’t like seeing them as vulnerable

individuals not yet finished with sexual desire, as Roth insists

on representing them.

To immerse oneself in Roth’s bold and erotic prose is to confront,

however unwillingly, the habitual denigration of eroticism in

American society, which celebrates the marriage-and-commitment

narrative despite its notorious failures in our time. Roth’s Kepesh

wants never to pay any price for his sexual indulgences and egocentric

behavior. But his protest against age and infirmity, his insistence

that desire continues, that sex can be an affirmation of life

against the inevitability of decay and loss–all these are worth hearing,

even coming from a character as complicatedly unsympathetic

as David Kepesh…

Starting with his first novel, Goodbye, Columbus, and ending

with The Dying Animal, his latest one, Philip Roth has, over a 40

year period, lavished an unflagging energy on the effort to dissect

the sexual and emotional lives of male protagonists who often resemble

himself (Jewish author/professors with little talent for marriage

and a great taste for self-analysis). What is at times referred to

by critics as his “misogyny” is, it seems to me, rather a willingness

to probe the heart of the egocentricity and lust that drive his male

characters. It takes courage to do this in Roth’s unabashed way, to

celebrate–as he does in The Dying Animal–”the charm of the

surreptitious” and to make such provocative statements as: “Marriage

at its best is a sure-fire stimulant to the thrills of licentious

subterfuge” (p. 110). Roth does not allow us to see his narrators

and protagonists as unproblematic or admirable exemplars. Nor

does he–like critics such as Bell Hooks and Jane Gallop defend

“asymmetrical” relationships on the self-congratulatory grounds that

brilliant professors and their best students are naturally attracted to

one another and that these associations are crucial to the intellec

tual and creative development of both. He insists that such relationships

need no academic defense. He makes no pretense that there

is a cerebral or pedagogic value to them. Life and lust are their own

justification. Nor does he, on the other hand, idealize the ensuing

relationships. Far from it, he exposes their seaminess and comic

aspects, but also the passion and vulnerabilities from which they

spring, above all the vulnerability of older men confronting their

fear of aging and death, susceptible to female sexual power in a

manner that is presented poignantly and, I suspect, realistically…

Quite a different emphasis governs Francine Prose’s latest novel,

Blue Angel, a darkly comic story of a besotted 47-year-old writing

professor and the talented and ambitious 19-year-old student who

causes his downfall. In a witty and biting third-person narrative

confined strictly to the point of view of her protagonist, Ted

Swenson, Prose exposes the smelly little orthodoxies (as Orwell

put it, in quite another context) of the contemporary academic scene.

Because this novel of a professor ruined by sexual harassment

charges is of particular relevance to the travesties of justice actually

being played out on many university campuses today, it is worth

considering it in some detail.

Ted Swenson, a writer-in-residence at Eust,on College in northern

Vermont, has been married for twenty-one years and is still in

love with his wife, Sherrie, and capable of, as she puts it, “leering”

at her. As a professor in contemporary America, however, he knows

the rules, and the narrative gives us his thoughts about them:

Such are the pleasures of intimacy: he can look [at Sherrie] as long as he

wants. Given the current political climate, you’d better be having consensual

matrimonial sex with a woman before you risk this stare. (p. 16)

At his college’s obligatory meeting to review the sexual harassment

policy, Swenson thinks heretical thoughts:

What if someone rose to say what so many of them are thinking, that

there’s something erotic about the act of teaching, all that information

streaming back and forth like some…bodily fluid. Doesn’t Genesis trace

sex to that first bite of apple, not the fruit from just any tree, but the Tree of

Knowledge? (p. 22, italics in original)

Devoted to his wife and daughter, Swenson acknowledges that

“teacher-student attraction is an occupational hazard” and has therefore

avoided entanglements with his students, though over the years

several have made overtures to him. And he’s well aware, too, of a

case at the State university (where his daughter Ruby studies), involving

a professor who, while showing a classical Greek sculpture

of a female nude, had commented “Yum” Accusing him of

“leering” his students charged that he’d made them uncomfortable.

Suspended without pay, the professor had taken his case to

court. Swenson is wary of a similar climate at his own college, and

of the increasing power of the “Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance”

waiting to pounce on any male word or gesture. And he is suspicious

of a colleague who is head of the Alliance and is also the

English Department’s “expert in the feminist misreading of literature?’

For reasons he can’t fathom (but guesses it’s a “testosterone

allergy”), she seems to want him dead.

How, then, after so many years of sound judgment, does it happen

that he falls into the role of Professor Rath to his student’s Lola

Lola (as in the classic film The Blue Angel, from which the novel

takes its title)? Prose’s autopsy of Swenson’s fall is a bracing work,

funny and sly and politically incorrect at every turn, right up until

the end when Swenson realizes that the movie he should have been

watching was not The Blue Angel but All About Eve.

Can a talent for writing be a seducer? In the case of Ted Swenson,

decades of teaching “creative writing” to mediocre students (whose

stories, often involving bestiality, we get to sample), along with ten

frustrating years of never quite getting around to working on his

long-awaited third novel, have left him fatally vulnerable to talent,

no matter how unlikely its source.

Angela Argo is far from the best looking young woman in

Swenson’s class at Euston College. In fact, she has sat for weeks

squirming and sighing instead of speaking, calling attention to herself

primarily by means of her abundant face piercing, the orange

and green streaks in her hair, and the black leather motorcycle jacket

with theme-related accouterments that covers her skinny body.

But poor Swenson has few defenses against the spark of talent

that Angela reveals to him after seeking a meeting in his office.

And his first reaction to her work is the very thing that today gets

professors in trouble: differential treatment. Wanting to protect her

talent from the ritual hazing that his class has turned into as students

savage one another’s writing week after week, he agrees to

read and comment on Angela’s work in private. Thus begins the

special relationship–initiated by Angela at each successive stage–

that will eventually cost him his reputation, his job, and his marriage.

Interwoven into this realistic tale of a contemporary campus liaison

is a sympathetic portrait of the plight of writing teachers and of

writers, especially those stuck in a dry season that can last a decade.

The novel captures perfectly Swenson’s enraptured response

to the discovery of Angela’s talent. It is a generous, tender response.

Swenson is alert to the students’ ambiguous attitude toward him:

“He’s the teacher, they’re the students: a distinction they like to

blur, then make again, as needed” (p. 10). But this sensibility and

foreknowledge won’t save him from enthusiastically gravitating

toward the genuinely talented. And as Angela feeds him chapter

after chapter of her novel, Swenson falls into the very mistake he

constantly warns his students against: taking the story as autobiography.

Thus, he begins to imagine that he himself is the teacher Angela’s

protagonist is enamoured of, and that her first-person narrative is really

a confession, made to him privately, of her troubled life.

It doesn’t help matters much when a colleague who teaches poetry

tells him about the graphic sexual poems Angela had written

for that class. Soon the sexual content of Angela’s writing and her

intense anticipation of Swenson’s reactions week by week lead

him to sexual fantasies about her. When she says that she thinks all

the time about his reactions to her writing, what he hears is that

“she thinks about him all the rime” (p. 158). So they lurch from one

encounter to the next, each less clear than the last. Everything in

their relationship initially revolves around her writing–her eagerness

for his reaction; her computer’s collapse, which leads her to

ask him to take her shopping for a new one, and in turn leads to his

presence in her dorm room whose door (he finds out later) she’d

locked as soon as they had entered.

Francine Prose explores with great subtlety Swenson’s seduction

and betrayal. She does not present him as a total innocent. As

a man in mid-life, he is aware of his mortality and the appeal of

glowing youth all around him. “Age and death–the unfairness of

it, the daily humiliation of watching your power vanish just when

you figure out how to use it” (p. 145). But Angela’s rapid transformarion

after their brief escapade is no joke; she begins demanding

more of his attention to her writing, berating him when he doesn’t

provide it quickly enough. “What happened to the worshipful student

who hung on his every word” Swenson wonders. “Now that

she’s let Swenson sleep with her she doesn’t respect him anymore”

(p. 187). Prose shows the reversal of all the traditional rules and

values, as Angela quickly moves in for what turns out to be her real

goal: getting him to show her novel to his agent. But still Swenson

argues with himself about her motives:

Does Angela–did she ever–have a crush on him, or is she just using him

for his professional connections? Is Angela blackmailing him, or simply

asking a favor? What does a favor mean when you have the power to wreck

someone’s life? (p. 190)

By coincidence, a woman colleague also wants the same favor:

“This is really too much. Two women in twenty minutes cozying

up to Swenson as a way of getting next to his editor” (p. 191). And

to make matter worse, he must face the open resentment of his

other students when he, with complete sincerity, praises Angela’s

writing in class.

Angela’s fury when she learns that Swenson hadn’t fought for

her book with his agent finally makes her clarify her behavior: “The

only reason I let you fuck me was so you would help me get this

novel to someone who could do something” (p. 236). And next

thing he knows, she’s charged him with sexual harassment, taken a

tape of this last conversation to the dean, and is threatening to sue

the college. The dean immediately urges Swenson to resign.

Reviewing his own responsibility, Swenson thinks:

He knew about the power differential between teacher and student. But

this wasn’t about power. This was about desire. Mutual seduction, let’s say

that at least, lie’s too embarrassed to let himself think, This was about love.

(p. 245)

Barred from his classroom, dangerously indifferent to his school’s

sexual harassment proceedings (not a “court of law”), Swenson

insists on a hearing instead of resigning quietly.

When he tells his wife, in a restaurant, about the trouble he’s in,

she blames him entirely and informs him that Angela spent half her

time at the school’s medical clinic (where Sherrie is a nurse), ostensibly

because she’s suicidal–but actually, Swenson realizes, because

Angela was pumping the staff for details about his life to

work into her novel.

The couple sitting beside them seems to have gotten up and left. At some

point when he and Sherrie were at once so engrossed and distracted, the

lovers must have retreated into their cocoon of protection and light and

grace, of chosenness, of being singled out and granted the singular blessing

of being allowed to live in a world in which what’s happening to

Sherrie and Swenson will never happen to them. (p. 256)

As the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance demonstrates against

him, and Swenson rents the film of The Blue Angel (a film he knows

Angela too has seen), he realizes at last that “there’s no chance of

winning, of proving his innocence” (p. 266).

The night before the hearing, he lies in bed composing and revising

speeches about what he thought he was doing, about his respect for Angela’s

novel, about the erotics of teaching. And the dangers of starting to see

one’s student as a real person. (p. 267)

But he is totally unprepared for the actual hearing process, in

effect a trial in which he faces six colleagues, one of them the head

of the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance (p. 270). As “agreed”

upon (but not by him), witnesses are called, but no cross-examination

of them is permitted, since this “is not, after all, a trial” (p.

273). So much for due process.

When Angela appears, parents in tow, at the hearing, Swenson

notes her changed appearance. Her hair is now a

shiny, authentic-looking auburn . . . . And how bizarrely she’s dressed–

bizarre, that is, for Angela. Neat khakis, a red velour sweater, ordinary

college-girl “good” clothes. For all he knows, the piercing and the black

leather were always the costume, and this is the real Angela, restored to her true

self. For all he knows. He doesn’t know. All right. He gets that now. (p. 272)

In a particularly subtle scene, Swenson, having deluded himself

for so long, having somehow managed to avoid noting that Angela’s

real interest was in promoting her writing, not in him, finds at his

“trial” that he would rather play the “sullen guilty lecher” that his

colleagues think he is, would rather confirm their “image of him as

the predatory harasser” than admit “to the truer story of obsession

and degradation, the humiliating real-life update of The Blue Angel”

(p. 273).

Colleagues and students come forth to testify. A brave student

from Swenson’s writing class, initially showing far more discernment

than his elders, tries to argue: “I can’t see what the big deal is.

Shit happens. People get attracted to other people. It’s not that big a

deal” (p. 284). But Swenson watches the change that comes over

the student as he realizes that what Swenson is charged with is

having extorted sex from Angela in return for showing her work to

his editor in New York. The student’s face shows his perception of

unfairness warring with his sense of loyalty to his teacher: “Swenson

wants to tell him that the real unfairness involves the distribution of

talent and has nothing to do with whatever happened between him

and Angela Argo” (p. 285). Bravely, the student tries to stick to his

principles:

But nothing has prepared him to resist the seduction of having the dean of

his college calling him a writer and a half-dozen faculty members hanging

on his every word. How can he disappoint them? How can he not offer up

any scrap of information he can recall. (p. 286)

Francine Prose gets the details of all this just right: the banality

and venality of academic vindictiveness and piety; the stereotypical

assumptions about professorial misconduct; the eagerness to

find sexual wrongdoing; the unavoidable small-minded

Schadenfreude as colleagues and students get to revisit old grievances

and slights, and the sheer cynicism of faculty and administrators

claiming to be concerned with students’ welfare. When Claris,

the class beauty, testifies that he took no inappropriate actions toward

her, Swenson can see that no one believes her. Or they think

Swenson is insane.

How pathetic. What is wrong with him? He never even entertained a sexual

thought about Clads and spent months mooning over Angela Argo? How

abject, how ridiculous. He isn’t a normal male. (p. 288, italics in original)

Another student testifies that they all knew something was going

on because all their work was criticized, while Angela’s was

not. No one is interested in discussing the other possible reasons

for admiring a student’s work. “Swenson’s learned his lesson.

He’ 11 never criticize another student. Not that he’ll get a chance”

(p. 291).

Finally, Angela gets to speak–if she feels “strong enough to

address the committee” (p. 296). “As she moves [toward the table],

Swenson thinks he can still see sharp angles of sullen punkhood

poking through the fuzzy eiderdown of that Jane College getup”

(p. 296). Following the familiar ritual, Angela is praised for her

courage in coming forward, and spared the ordeal of listening

to the tape she had orchestrated to make it sound as if Swenson

had indeed persuaded her to trade sex for showing her book to

his agent.

On her face is that combustive chemistry of wild irritation and boredom so

familiar from those early classes, but now it’s become a martyr’s transfixed

gaze of piety and damage, lit by the flames of the holy war she’s waging

against the evils of male oppression and sexual harassment. (p. 297)

Throughout Angela’s distortions and deceptions; Swenson tries

to keep “his grip on the truth—-on his version of the story….A grip

on recent history…. On reality” (pp. 298-299). The committee, he

sees, is ready to believe the worst because he asked to see more of

a student’s writing. Yet, he admits to himself, her testimony isn’t all

made up:

Well, there is something sexy about reading someone’s work: an intimate

communication takes place. Still, you can read…Gertrude Stein, and it

doesn’t mean you find her attractive …. Once more, the committee’s version

of him–the scheming dirty old man–seems less degrading than the

truth. (p. 301)

Prose avoids turning her story into a postmodern narrative in

which we can never hope to learn the truth. Earlier episodes have

shown us what took place, and we recognize Angela’s lies in her

testimony before the committee, her insistence that the sexual initiatives

were his. But the author’s voice gives us a different perspective

on where the harm really resides:

How pornographic and perverted this is, a grown woman–a professor–

torturing a female student into describing a sexual experience to a faculty

committee, not to mention her parents. Swenson could have slept with

Angela on the Founders Chapel altar, and it would have seemed healthy

and respectable compared to this orgy of filth. Meanwhile he has to keep

it in mind that Angela started all this. Angela chose to be here. (p. 303)

Only at her father’s urging that she share her “good news” does

Angela admit to the assembled group that Swenson’s editor in fact

wants to publish her novel (p. 305). Swenson thinks:

Len Currie is publishing Angela’s novel. So what is this hearing about?

Angela should be kissing Swenson’s feet instead of ruining his life. As she

must have decided to do when she still believed that Swenson, her white

knight, had failed to get her manuscript published. If that’s when she decided.

Who knows what she did, and why? (p. 305)

On cue, Angela describes the lingering effects of the whole

wretched experience, her nightmares, her distress. As Angela’s testimony

draws to a close, the women’s studies professor once more

congratulates Angela and commiserates with her:

“Angela, let me say again that we know how tough it was for you to

come in and say what you did. But if women are ever going to receive an

equal education, these problems have to be addressed and dealt with, so

that we can protect and empower ourselves”

“Sure,” Angela says. “You’re welcome. Whatever.” (p. 307)

When it is finally Swenson’s turn to speak, he knows what he

should do is apologize—but of the many things he is sorry for,

breaking the college’s rules about professor-student relationships is

not one of them:

He is extremely sorry for having spent twenty years of his one and only

life, twenty years he will never get back, among people he can’t talk to,

men and women to whom he can’t even tell the simple truth. (p. 308)

And then, in an entirely predictable almost last-straw moment,

Swenson’s daughter’s boyfriend tells the committee that Ruby told

him her father had sexually abused her when she was a child.

Swenson watches his colleagues’ reactions:

they have taken off their masks. Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather,

Torquemado. Swenson’s crime involves sex, so the death penalty can be

invoked. No evidence is inadmissible. They’re hauling out the entire

arsenal for this mortal combat with the forces of evil and sin. (p. 310)

Thus, at novel’s end, Angela’s career is starting and Swenson’s

careerwalong with his marriage is ending. Sounding somewhat

like one of Philip Roth’s heroes, Swenson finally recognizes the mystery

of femaleness, acknowledging that he can never fathom Angela’s

motives. Only she will ever know the truth. As he hears the campus

bells tolling, he wonders why they’re ringing now, at 5:25 p.m.

Then, gradually, it dawns on him. It’s the Women’s Alliance, announcing

their triumph over another male oppressor, one small step along the path

toward a glorious future. He’s glad to be out of that future and headed into

his own. (p. 314)…

Does it take a woman writer, a Francine Prose, to unabashedly

demonstrate the stupidity of the current shibboleths regarding male

professors’ “power” and female students’ “powerlessness”? To protest

the prurient attitude that lies behind the apparent obsession with

sexual relations on campus? To delineate so scathingly a young

woman’s methodical and self-serving manipulation of her professor?

When men writers do this (e.g., David Mamet in his play

Oleanna), their work is often dismissed with the presumptively

devastating charge of “misogyny.” Francine Prose’s novel is an

effective rejoinder to this canard. It is both touching and true: written

in a melancholy self-deprecating style befitting her protagonist’s

essential decency and ironic awareness, and at the same time profoundly

insightful into the mechanisms of academic life at the present

time.

Philip Roth presents us with a scathing portrait of the harm unleashed

by the stupidity of vigilantism of language and personal

relations in today’s America. In novel after novel, he offers a celebration

(sardonic and pathetic though it often is) of the erotic power

of young women and the deep conflicts of the men who love and

fear them. Nicholas Delbanco portrays a costly and enduring love,

which comes in guises and moments that defy academic proprieties,

and he leaves no doubt that the price is worth paying. Francine

Prose details the seductiveness of talent and the egocentric drives

that motivate women as much as men, despite all the lies currently

circulating on this subject. Eric Tarloff, writing in a far lighter vein

than these three, opts for happy endings as the essential sanity of his

protagonists somehow prevails. Perhaps, indeed, he is the most idealistic

of the group. But all four are writers of great skill, opening our

eyes to the hidden dimensions and potentialities of those “asymmetrical”

relationships conventionally viewed today as merely sordid

or exploitative on the professor’s part, deprived of life, forced into caricatured

tableaux in which all roles are set out in advance according to

the position–in terms of race, sex, and status of the protagonists.

One turns from these works of fiction, these portraits of academic

life at the end of the twentieth century, back to the everyday

reality of sexual harassment officers, codes, and committees, threats,

and public displays of virtue, with a profound sense of wonder.

How can it be that rules and guidelines that should be an embarrassment

to any sensible society now govern every school and

workplace? How have the supposedly powerless so successfully

altered the terms of everyday interactions that the supposedly powerful-

who, we are constantly told, prey on them–are now so

vulnerable, so much at their mercy? Is this some demented dream

from which we’ll soon all wake up? Not, I fear, in the short run.

But the commitment of writers such as these four to the craft of the

novelist rather than to the cant of current ideologies gives us reason-

however fragile–for hope.

Philip Roth, THE HUMAN STAIN; Philip Roth, THE DYING ANIMAL; Philip Roth, THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE; Nicholas Delbanco, OLD SCORES; Francine Prose, BLUE ANGEL; Eric Tarloff, THE MAN WHO WROTE THE BOOK

May 9, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, Daphne Patai, ethics, feminism, Francine Prose, fraternization, higher education, Philip Roth, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 1 Comment

Attacks continue on Lisa Chavez at UNM

The UNM Daily Lobo reports in an article of September 9 that the new director of UNM’s Creative Writing Program Julie Shigekuni attempted to do the right thing when she brought together the Creative Writing Faculty in order to get faculty beyond the politics that has divided them relating to the controversy of English Professor Lisa Chavez engaging in an online S&M performance.

Shigekuni emphasized that she was interested in the welfare of the department and not department politics.  She called upon the department to focus on the needs of the students.  She characterized the present situation of the program in the following terms.
“I think that situations such as the one that we’re in are harmful,” she said. “They harm the program. I think that it’s an unfortunate situation, but I also think that the program is harmed by people who do not want to be
here and are still here.”

Shigekuni’s comments were consistent with the UNM administration which has supported no retribution or sanctions being imposed on Chavez and urged faculty to focus on the needs and welfare of the students.

But it is to be expected that politics will trump reconciliation.  The Daily Lobo went to refer to resigned Creative Writing Director Sharon Warner who continued in her diatribe against Chavez-

Warner said the investigation was not sufficient because Chavez’s actions  after the Web site was discovered were not examined.

Chavez put a student’s career in jeopardy in an effort to protect her own, Warner said.

Warner said Chavez suspected her assistant Carrie Cutler knew about the  pictures posted on the Web site and told faculty members about them.

Warner said Chavez blamed Cutler for the investigation into her extracurricular activities.

“The first thing that Lisa did was to drop her as her dissertation advisee so that Carrie didn’t have a director any more,” Warner said.

Cutler declined to comment.

Chavez said she could not comment because she is still pursuing legal action against the University in response to the discrimination she experienced during what she called “the serious mishandling” of the case.

Of course, Warner’s comments are all about Warner in her crusade to get Chavez.  Absolutely no comments from Cutler; Warner is apparently her self- designated representative.

The Daily Lobo then went on to quote students who are less than friendly toward Chavez.

Micaela Seidel, a creative writing graduate student, said she and other graduate students are astounded by the shortcomings of the University’s investigation.

Seidel said it is inappropriate for the University to allow Chavez to continue teaching.

“A lot of people feel that it’s a little sketchy to have her teaching undergraduates who are the most vulnerable of all, especially 101 and 102 students who are just entering the University,” she said. “That seems
extremely inappropriate, since it seems that Lisa apparently doesn’t have good boundaries.”

Lucy DuPertuis, a teaching assistant for the English department, said the University is setting a dangerous precedent by ignoring the problems in the
creative writing department.

“Sending students back to that same level – when they didn’t have recourse, when they didn’t have defense against professors doing things that were
harmful to them both emotionally, physically and sexually – is wrong,” she said.

Valerie Santillanes, a graduate student in the creative writing program, said students have suffered because of the controversy.

“I feel very neglected,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m getting the attention that I want and deserve and pay for in this program. I want the faculty to stop paying attention to Lisa Chavez and each other and start
paying attention to me – and maybe a few other students as well.”

Of course, Sharner Warner, et. al., have not presented one iota of evidence that any student has been harmed by Lisa Chavez.  If anyone knows of a person who has been harmed “both emotionally, physically and sexually” by Chavez said person should some forward and present their information to the UNM administration.

But no person wll come forward.  Since it has become quite apparent that if there has been hurt here it is in the context of Sharon Warner and some of her colleagues being offended.  And the dankprofessor sees the bottom line as being that professors have no right not be offended.

Warner, et. al., should get over it and get back to teaching.  The most irresponsible action in this whole scenario has been engaged in by Sharon Warner who resigned from her position as Creative Writing Director.  Such resignation was not a creative act, not an act in support of students but rather an act of a person who is self possessed and simply is unable to handle things unless one gets their own way.

September 10, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sexual politics, University of New Mexico | 1 Comment

The coupling of McCain and Palin

When it comes to mate selection, John  McCain certainly does not engage in any pretentious behavior.  He doesn’t spend very much time personally wooing a prospective mate.  All the pre-selection stuff is handled by his staff.   His first glance and his very first gut reaction most likely tells him whether or not this is the one.  No personal courtship is needed; one date is enough to find the good mate.

So the fact that the good senator immediately wanted Sarah Palin as his running mate should come as no surprise.  He could tell she had what it takes to please him and his base.  She could help him get what he wants.  No need to vet her about Pakistan or Georgia.  McCain knows that politics is in part about love and romance and so the whirlwind began.

There is an uncanny similarity relating to his choice of his other mate, Cindy McCain.  With Cindy it was also love at first sight; he knew right away that she was his wife to be; the complicating problem for him was that he already had  a wife.  This situation was resolved via divorce and then a John and Cindy marriage.
 
And the fact that both John McCain’s mates were beauty queens should come as no surprise.  Being surrounded by beauty never hurts.   Beauty is power and power is what all politicians want.  Being surrounded by beautiful women affirms for self and many others that one has the power.

And it should not be surprising that both Cindy and Sarah are significantly younger than the senator; Cindy by 18 years and Sarah by 27 years.   Surrounded by beauty and youth one can feel “eternally ” young at heart.  Such may be the case why McCain apparently is unable to give serious consideration to the possibility that his VP selection will become President if he should die.  For McCain it may be that his whole life affirms that he transcends death; he is the survivor par excellence.

I do not mean to indicate that there is no cynical manipulation going on here.  Politics is most often a combination of cynicism and romance.  Certainly John McCain believes that Sarah Palin can help him get a higher percentage of the women’s vote.  But if he thinks that this will help him gain the vote of Hillary supporters and feminist women in general, McCain is engaging in unrestrained pipe dreaming.

For many feminists, a John and Sarah pairing symbolizes their dreaded male patriarchy- that of the older male being in the power position with the younger woman being in the subordinate position.  Nothing new here; it’s the same old same old.  In fact, the more radical feminists might very well argue that this pairing is not a consensual one since for them where there is differential power, there can be no consent.  In other words, they could hold that the Governor was unable to say “no” to the Senator.

What may be even more galling to feminists is that Sarah apparently holds herself up as a replacement for the displaced Hillary.  Of course, Hillary can no longer be a yes woman to anyone. Sarah playing the role of yes woman to John is the antithesis of feminism. 

As for the conservative base, such is entirely another story.  The older male/younger female is a traditional acceptable pairing.  No matter that Palin is inexperienced in national and international affairs. The good VP and the good wife follow traditional values.  And in this framework all that Sarah has to do is to follow the wishes of her running mate who will then become her President.  And just as the devoted wife who loses her husband thru death often inherits the wealth and status of her husband, such would be the case for the devoted VP who then becomes President Palin.

Of course, when it comes to love and politics, one knows that one does not know.  McCain could dump Palin before election day.  Of course, it has happened before.  It was the the Democratic candidate in 1972 George McGovern who dumped his VP choice Tom Eagleton when Eagleton was no longer seen as useful to his candidacy.   And the case of Spiro Agnew illustrates that in dire circumstances a VP can be forced to step down so that a Spiro Agnew cannot become President.

So if the McCain/Palin ticket becomes the winning ticket and then President McCain becomes seriously ill, it could be that Palin is forcibly removed from office and then if McCain dies, Nancy Pelosi will become President Pelosi.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

August 29, 2008 Posted by | feminism, John McCain, Sarah Palin, sexual politics | Leave a comment

Lethbridge professor to be reinstated

Congratulations to Psych Prof Gregory Bird for winning his legal challenge against Lethbridge College.  A Canadian court judge has ordered that Bird to be reinstated as a psych prof at Lethbridge.  Lethbridge had suspended Bird on the grounds that he had sex with three female students.  No harassment charges had been filed against Bird, and Lethbridge College had no policy banning student prof sexual relationships.   Based on my knowledge of the situation, the relationships were consensual and two of the relationships were established prior to the women becoming students at Lethbridge.   Prior to the Court decision, an arbitration board had ruled that Lethbridge must reinstate Bird.  The Court ruling in effect affirmed the arbitration board’s decision.
 
Rick Buis, vice-president of corporate and international services for the college, stated “We’re disappointed it didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but obviously we have to comply with the justice’s decision.”
 
However, the court’s and the arbitration board’s decisions put constraints on Bird’s affairs.  His return is conditional on him not having sex with any student of the college.
 
But Lethbridge is apparently committed to implementing the court decision while at the same time undermining it since the college does not see his reinstatement as necessarily including a teaching component. According to Buis, “Our requirement is to assign a workload that is appropriate for a faculty member, that can include teaching, research, curriculum development and distance education.”

So Lethbridge is apparently going to implement their version of sexual morality by barring him from  classroom teaching.  So they are reinstating a teacher but at the same time may not allow him to teach.  If Lethbridge bars Bird from teaching, it becomes incumbent upon Lethbridge to indicate that the reason for barring him from teaching is based on something more than the application of their sexual moral judgments.

In the Canadian press story, the writer goes beyond Lethbridge to understand the basis of barring him from the classroom by interviewing a sexual harassment adviser for the University of Calgary, Voyna Wilson.  Choosing to interview Wilson seems to the dankprofessor to be a poor choice since Wilson’s area is sexual harassment, not consensual relationships.  My speculation is that they interviewed Wilson since she gives the same old puritanical feminist cant as she told the press that the imbalance of power between student and professor entering a relationship can lead to disastrous results. Of course, such relationships may also lead to good results.  In the Lethbridge case, there were no disastrous results for students but the results were disastrous for the anti-sexual zealots at Lethbridge.

Voyna Wilson then went on to state that faculty members are also risking permanent damage to their reputation by such behavior.

I suggest to Ms. Wilson that she not worry about the the reputation of faculty members such as Bird.   Wilson apparently sees herself as a sort of mother figure, albeit an authoritarian mother figure, who should warn faculty about the reputational effects of their behavior. Then Voyna Wilson warned all faculty to steer clear of sexual relations with students.

Clearly Voyna Wilson unabashedly embraces an authoritarian agenda as she attempts to put her faculty (children) in their place.  But there are still some faculty who believe that as adults they have autonomy, specifically sexual autonomy, and that they will resist authoritarian policies which attempt to recreate them as children.

In addition, when you have university administrators warning faculty about their sexual behavior, obviously, in Wilson’s terms, this also represents an imbalance of power.  But she is not concerned with this imbalance since she is the one on top with the power to engage in institutionally legitimatized abuse.  It is persons of the genre of Voyna Wilson that faculty should be warned about and to speak out against their abuses of power.

 —–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™

© Copyright 2008

 

June 13, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, Lethbridge College, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, University of Calgary | Leave a comment

Feminist bell hooks on erotic student/faculty relationships

Following are key excerpts from an article by feminist author Bell Hooks, “Passionate Pedagogy; erotic student/faculty relationships,” Z MAGAZINE, March 1996, 45-51. This is one of the best articles written on this subject and I urge readers to savor and critically scrutinize this article.

————————————————————-

When I became a professor I was amazed at the extent to which students, male and female, approached me for romantic and/or sexual encounters. Like many unattached female professors in the academy, I was constantly the subject of student gossip. Often the students I loved the most did the most talking. When I complained to them about their obsession with my sex life, they simply responded by telling me to get a grip and accept that it goes with the turf. They wanted to understand female sexual agency. They wanted to know how women professors are coping with working in patriarchal institutions, and how we were juggling issues of sexual desirability, agency, and careerism. They saw us as charting the path they will follow. Many of these students were more than hip to the dangers of getting involved with someone older and more powerful.

Contemporary feminist movement has usefully interrogated the way men in power within patriarchal culture often use that power to abuse and sexually coerce females. That necessary critical intervention is undermined when it obscures recognition of the way in which desire can be acknowledged in relationships between individuals where there is unequal power without being abusive. It is undermined when any individual who is in a less powerful position is represented as being absolutely without choice, as having no agency to act on their own behalf. As long as young females are socialized to see themselves as incapable of choosing those situations of erotic engagement which would be most constructive for their lives, they will always be more vulnerable to victimization. This does not mean that they will not make mistakes, as countless female students did when they chose to have disappointing nonproductive romantic liaisons with professors. Everyone I interviewed for this piece had no regret about these liaisons. We all knew they did not have to be negative. The point is that we were not embracing a psychology of female victimization that would have been utterly disempowering. There is clearly a connection between submitting to abuse and the extent to which any of us already feel that we are destined to be victimized.

The vast majority of women who are heterosexual in this society are likely to be in intimate relations with men at some point in their lives who have greater status and power, however relative, given the nature of capitalism and patriarchy. Clearly, it is more important to learn ways to be “just” in situations where there is a power imbalance, rather than to
assume that exploitation and abuse are the “natural” outcome of all such encounters. Notice how such logic fixes those in power in ways that deny their accountability and choice by assuming that they act on behalf of their interests exclusively. And that their interests will always be antithetical to the interests of those who are less powerful.

Contemporary focus on victimization tends to leave very little cultural space for recognition of the erotic as a space of transgression that can undermine politics of domination. Rather than perceiving desire between faculty and students as always dangerous, negative and destructive, what does it mean for us to consider the positive uses of that desire, the way the erotic can serve to enhance self-actualization and growth. We hear much more about the way in which individuals have abused power in faculty/students relations where there is erotic engagement. We rarely hear anything about the ways erotic desire between teacher and student enhances individual growth. We do not hear about the affectionate bonds that spring from erotic encounters which challenge conventional notions of what is appropriate behavior.

Most professors, even the ones who are guilty, would acknowledge that it is highly problematic and usually unproductive to be romantically involved with students you are directly working with, either in the classroom or on a more individual basis. Yet, prohibitions, rules and regulations, will not keep these relationships from happening. The place of vigilance is not in forbidding such encounters but having a system that effectively prevents harassment and abuse. At every college campus in this country there are individual male professors who repeatedly harass and coerce students to engage in sexual relations. For the most part, even when there have been ongoing complaints, college administrators have not confronted these individuals or used the already institutionalized procedures governing harassment to compel them to stop abusive behavior. Even though everyone seems to be quite capable of recognizing the difference between those professors who abuse their power and those who may have a romantic relationship with a student that is consensual, by imposing rules and regulations that would effect all faculty and students they deny this difference. Some folks want to argue there is no difference that the student is always more vulnerable. It is true that relationships where there are serious power  imbalances  can be  a  breeding ground for victimization. They can begin with mutual consent yet this does not ensure that they may not become conflictual in ways that lead  the more powerful party to become coercive or abusive. This is true in all relationships in life.  Power must be negotiated.   Part  of maturing is learning how to cope with conflict. Many of the cases where students cite serious exploitation on the part of  professors involve graduate students and professors. It is difficult to believe that any graduate student is not fully aware of the risks when they become erotically involved with a professor who has some control over their career.  Concurrently,  sexism and misogyny have to be seen as factors at   work, when individual powerful male professors direct their attention at exceptionally smart female graduate students who  could easily become their competitors.  If campuses really want to effectively address the problems of abuse in faculty-student relations then we should be socializing undergraduates to be realistic about the problems that can arise in such encounters.

The Time magazine story on romantic relations between students and faculty begins with this confession: “During the three months in 1993 when she was sleeping with her English professor, Lisa Topol lost 18 pounds. She lost interest in her classes at the University of Pennsylvania, lost her reputation as an honor student and wondered if she was losing her mind. If she tried to break up, she thought, he could ruin her academic career. Then she made some phone calls and learned a bit more about the professor she had come to view as a predator.” If one took out the words academic and professor this would read like the troubled narrative of anyone involved with someone on the job who is their supervisor. The problem with this story is not that it does not tell the truth but rather that it tells a partial truth. We have no idea why Lisa Topol entered this relationship. We do not know if it was consensual. We do not know how or why the male involved became abusive. We do know that he did not become abusive simply because he was her professor. The problem here does not lie with faculty-student relations but with this individual male, and the large numbers of men like him who prey upon females.  The cultural context that condones this abuse is patriarchy and male domination. Yet most men and women in the academy, like society as a whole, are not engaged in activism that would target patriarchy. There are many faculty-student romances that end in friendship, some that lead to marriage and/or partnership. The professors in these relationships are able to conduct themselves in a way that is not exploitative despite the imbalance of power. There are many more male professors involved with students who are not abusive than those that are.

Realistically, our pedagogy is failing both inside and outside the classroom if students have no awareness of their agency when it comes to choosing a relationship of intimacy with a faculty member. Some folks oppose faculty/student erotic bonding because they say it creates a climate of favoritism that can be deeply disruptive. In actuality, any intimate bonding between a professor and a student is a potential context for favoritism, whether or not that intimacy is erotic. Favoritism often surfaces in the classroom and has nothing to do with desire. For example: Most professors are especially partial to students that do assigned work with rigor and intellectual enthusiasm. This is as much a context for favoritism but no one is seeking to either eliminate, question, or police it. Young females and males entering college are in the process of claiming and asserting adult status. Sexuality is as much a site where that evolution and maturation is registered as is the classroom.

A college environment should strengthen a student’s ability to make responsible mature decisions and choices. Those faculty members who become involved in romantic relationships with a student (whether they initiated it or responded to an overture by the student) who are not exploitative or dominating will nurture this maturation process. In my teaching career I have had a relationship with one student. Although he was a student in my class, I did not approach him during the time that he studied with me because I did not want to bring that dynamic into the classroom or into my evaluation of his work. He was not an exceptional student in my class. When the course ended, we became intimate. From the start we had conflicts about power. The relationship did not work yet we became friends. Recently, I shared with him that I was writing this piece. I wanted to know if he thought I had taken advantage of him. He reminded me of how shocked he was that I desired him because he primarily thought of me as this teacher that he admired and looked up to. He shared his perspective: “I did not feel in any way coerced. I found it intriguing that I would be able to talk to you one on one about issues raised in the class. I was happy to have a chance to get to know you better because I knew you were this smart and gifted professor. We all thought you were special. I was young and inexperienced and even though it was exciting that you desired me, it was also frightening.” Our romance failed. We had our share of miserable conflictual moments. Our friendship has deepened over the years and is grounded in respect and care.

Student devotion to a teacher can easily be a context where erotic longings emerge. Passionate pedagogy in any setting is likely to spark erotic energy. It cannot be policed or outlawed. This erotic energy can be used in constructive ways both in individual relationships and in the classroom setting. Just as it is important that we be vigilant in challenging abuses of power wherein the erotic becomes a terrain of exploitation, it is equally important to recognize that space where erotic interaction is enabling and positively transforming. Desire in the context of relations where hierarchy and unequal power separate individuals is always potentially disruptive and simultaneously potentially transformative. Desire can be a democratic equalizing force—the fierce reminder of the limitations of hierarchy and status—as much as it can be a context for abuse and exploitation. The erotic is always present, always with us. When we deny that erotic feelings will emerge between teachers and students, this denial precludes the recognition of accountability and responsibility. The implications of entering intimate relations where there is an imbalance of power cannot be understood, or those relations handled with care in a cultural context where desire that disrupts is seen as so taboo that it cannot be spoken, acknowledged, and addressed. Banning relations between faculty and students would create a climate of silence and taboo that would only intensify dynamics of coercion and exploitation. The moment power differences are articulated in a dialogue where erotic desire surfaces, a space is created where choice is possible, where accountability can be clearly assessed.

June 1, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, passion, secrecy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized, victimization | 6 Comments

Sex and the university in the United Kingdom

The London Times Higher Education section of May 22 has an extensive and on the whole excellent article on student professor sexual relationships with the focus being on relationships in UK universities.  It is interesting to see the differences between American and British attitudes on the subject.  Following are presented key sections of the article with the dankprofessor’s comments in the text.  This article definitely merits reading in its entirety by anyone who is seriously interested in the subject; click here for the full text.  My comments are highlighted in blue.
 

When dramatist Stephen Lowe took up a post as visiting writer at Dartington College of Arts, he expected the job to boost his theatre career. What he hadn’t anticipated was that he would meet his life partner. Lowe, then 31, fell for his 21-year-old undergraduate student Tanya Myers. After 27 years, the pair still live and work together and are the parents of two children.

It may sound like the contrived plot of a campus novel, but Lowe’s story is not unique. Despite widespread concern about abuse of power and conflicts of interest, sexual relationships between tutor and student often flourish within academe.

“I have altogether too much experience of teachers engaging in sexual relations with students, both their own students and (those of) their colleagues,” remembers Alan Ryan, now warden of New College, Oxford. He looks back on his early career at Keele University with fond memories of the relationships that began between young academics and their students. “In my misspent youth, my ability to resist temptation was not great, and since I started teaching in the early 1960s, and new faculty were mostly only a couple of years older than the finalists, the discovery of sexual pleasure was a shared experience,” he says.

“Of the affairs I remember, an awful lot turned into highly successful marriages, though a good many were simple flings,” he says. “There were, of course, spectacular characters who weren’t like this at all. Freddie (A.J.) Ayer (the philosopher) fell into bed with everyone who was remotely willing, and an awful lot of young women were very happy to tick him off on the list of famous professors they had laid.”

Attitudes are beginning to harden, however. Like their US counterparts, which have historically been stricter on campus relationships, British universities are starting to crack down on such liaisons. Policies are being drafted to deal with relationships and the inevitable conflicts of interest that can follow – as one might put it, “an A for a lay”. Questions of morality and responsibility, sexuality and pedagogy are being raised.

But however an institution chooses to tackle the problem, it’s certainly not going to disappear. As Ryan points out: “The availability of partners is a geographical matter; if you are cooped up on a campus, who are you likely to fall into bed with?”

It is hard for the dankprofessor to imagine an American university administrator speaking so openly about this issue and ones prior involvements with students as Alan Ryan, warden of New College, Oxford.  Ryan’s final observation that it is a matter of geography is completely correct- eligible men and women “cooped up on a campus” cannot be prevented from fraternizing no matter how hard university moralists and administrators try to eliminate these relationships.  The only way to eliminate these relationships is to eliminate campus life as we know it and replace it with so-called online education.

In the UK, attitudes towards relationships in academe are changing rather more slowly. In 2005, figures revealed after a Freedom of Information Act request by Times Higher Education showed that 50 out of 102 institutions had no policy requiring staff to declare sexual or other relationships with students that might give rise to a conflict of interest. Of those that did, few appeared to apply them: just 17 universities had any current records on file.

In the same year, 18 per cent of respondents to a poll conducted by the Teacher Support Network said that they had had a sexual relationship with a student. Despite this, only 73 relationships were officially recorded and just five of these were defined as sexual or romantic. Many respondents, 62 per cent, said they did not know whether or not their university had a protocol on such matters.

Nevertheless, attitudes among academics have already shifted. “Many more of my colleagues now teach one to one with the room door open. I also know that there are people who avoid teaching certain topics,” says Mary Beard, professor of Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge. “That can’t be a good thing.”

She remembers two personal stories of close but non-sexual relationships that flourished at the university. While an undergraduate, Beard regularly spent long weekends with her tutor, who was decades her senior. Although the relationship was purely pedagogical, she admits that his motives may have been rather different from hers. Similarly, as a tutor, Beard formed a friendship with a young male student who eventually helped teach her to drive, sitting as her passenger regularly while she practised and improved.

“In the Oxbridge of the Twenties and Thirties, students went on holiday with their tutors,” she says. “It wouldn’t happen now. It’s hard to know where the barrier lies between institutional rules and a change in the culture. I think it’s very hard to know which is which,” she adds.

“In some ways we have to accept that there is an erotic dimension to pedagogy. If you take a traditional Oxbridge-style tutorial system, that’s one thing that students love and it’s some of the most interesting teaching when you really get to know someone. That doesn’t mean it’s about feeling someone up, but it is passionate. The difficulty is that that’s a terribly sexy experience; two people sitting together really talking through how Latin love poetry works. How do you desexualise that?”

Of course, you can’t desexualize it.  But no matter the moralists on and off campus will do their damnest to repress it. The dankprofessor has often speculated that those who are so involved in sexual repression may very well find their repressive activities to be quite sexually gratifying.  

“I think it’s a tricky moral dilemma,” Beard says. “I think it’s undeniable that some students and staff have been hurt by these kinds of relationships. I think it’s also undeniable that there have been people who have gained from them.”

But for some, whatever the age of the two individuals, the power relationship inherent between tutor and student means that sexual contact is tantamount to abuse of that power.

A decade ago, Paul Norris, then a social sciences lecturer at Southampton Institute (now Southampton Solent University), caused controversy when he left his wife for a student. He had previously been disciplined by the institution in 1992 for having a sexual relationship with a student on a course he both taught and assessed. His wife, who vowed to set up a support group for other women in her position, claimed that lecturers “perceive sex with students as a perk of the job”. “It seems common to me, and universities seem very blase,” she stated.

 Yes, the Norris case was a notorious one in the UK.  It was made notorious in part by his wife who set up a support group of wives who were left by their professor husbands for a younger student. Of course, banning older married men from having sex with younger women may very well be a fantasy for women such as the wife of Paul Norris.  No question that in the competition between women for mates, younger women generally have a competitive edge. 

 One senior lecturer working in London says she has seen too many young people distressed by the break-up of such relationships. When she conducted a straw poll among a group of colleagues and students, only two people felt it was wrong for a tutor to have a relationship with a student – a figure she cannot understand. She says relationships are formed because tutors prey on the naivety of students or because knowing young men and women use a member of staff for their own ends.

Now this prior paragraph certainly represents the Americanized purity feminist approach on this subject

In their book The Lecherous Professor, Billie Wright Dziech and Linder Weiner comment: “Few students are ever, in the strictest sense, consenting adults. A student can never be the genuine equal of a professor insofar as his professional position gives him power over her … Whether the student consents to the involvement or whether the professor ever intends to use his power against her is not the point. The issue is that the power and the role disparity always exist.”

And here is the hardcore attitude.  Billie Dziech has done more than any academic to facilitate the banning of these relationships by arguing ad nauseum that few students can ever be consenting adults when it comes to relationships with professors.

Brian Martin, lecturer in the department of science and technology at Wollongong University, Australia, agrees. He has written on the issue on numerous occasions, citing his concerns at the lack of action being taken by universities on the matter.

“University teachers hold positions of trust. They are expected to design teaching programmes and carry out their teaching duties to help their students develop as mature thinkers … for impressionable young students, the boundaries between intellectual development and personal life may easily become blurred,” he says.

“Even if academic evaluations are kept completely independent of personal involvements, it is likely that there will be an appearance of bias in the eyes of other students. When a key academic, who should be a mentor, shows a keen interest in a student’s body, it often sends a signal that their intellect is of secondary importance. The impact on the student’s self-confidence can be devastating.”

He is also dismissive of the value of formal institutional policies. “I don’t think policies on their own make a lot of difference,” he says. “Many policies exist, but I’m not aware of any studies examining whether they are enforced.”

Yes, I also know of no studies relating to the enforcement of these sexual codes or the effectiveness of said enforcement. Such should not be surprising since enforcement is usually in secret and secret police aka administrators hardly ever want their practices evaluated.  Secrecy gives license to the the enforcers to do what they want to do.

The potential for abuse of power is certainly an important issue, and one that is well recognised and well understood. Nevertheless, most personal relationships entered into by people in all walks of life involve some basic balancing of power and control. One should perhaps not expect relationships that grow within academe to be immune or exempt from these concerns.

Universities UK says that it is up to individual institutions to decide what their policy is on such “sensitive” areas and to implement those. There are no broad guidelines available to UK universities to help them draft a policy, but nationally the Office of the Independent Adjudicator can pick up cases where, for example, sexual harassment is claimed and the university itself is unable to resolve the case.

“They will consider extenuating circumstances that a student claims affected their performance and the institution didn’t adequately respond to – this could include a relationship with an academic,” a UK spokesperson confirmed.

This kind of careful “monitoring” of relationships leaves many academics cold, but while threats of sexual harassment cases loom there seems little alternative for universities. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that most individuals would not choose to begin a sexual or romantic relationship in their workplace or with a person for whom they have direct managerial or pedagogical responsibility. As Lowe comments of his own experience: “It’s a difficult place to have a relationship. It’s embarrassing whatever you do.”

With that in mind, academics advocate a soft approach to the enforcement of the rules. “I think the institution has to look out for people and make sure everybody looks out for each other,” Beard states. “I think a kind of police state where everybody is sniffing out to see how close X is getting to Y is wrong.

“It’s a lot like smoking. You can’t get people to give up unless you recognise that sometimes it’s pleasurable.”

I love this bottom line by Mary Beard.  Of course, people are not going to give it up since to the dismay of the moralists it is all too often too pleasurable.  And yes, Beard appropriately uses the concept of “police state”.  Once we understand that all too many universities are heading in the direction of sexual police states, more persons will oppose these policies.  What Beard fails to mention is that these policies cannot be effective to any degree without secret informants, third party informants of the genre of Linda Tripp.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

 

May 24, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, passion, secrecy, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, United Kingdom | 1 Comment

College runs amok

The dankprofessor makes few recommendations re particular colleges and universities, but here comes one of the few. If one is seeking to attend a college of the absurd, Colorado College of Colorado Springs should be on the top of your list.

I just published a post on how Colorado College had demeaned and degraded two of their hockey players in regards to these students alleged violation of their so-called sexual misconduct policy.

Now the powers that be at CC have found two students guilty of violating their policy on violence. Finding these students guilty of violating their violence policy is absurd since these students did not engage in any act of violence. This latest Colorado College absurdity is spelled out by FIRE in their recent press release. Fortunately FIRE has come to the assistance of the two students. Components of this farce are presented in the context of the following excerpts from the FIRE press release.

Two students at Colorado College were found guilty of violating the school’s conduct code regarding “violence” after they distributed a satirical flyer mocking a publication of the Feminist and Gender Studies program. As part of their punishment, student Chris Robinson and a second student have been required to hold a campus forum discussing issues brought up by their satirical publication…

In early 2008, Colorado College’s “Feminist and Gender Studies Interns” distributed a flyer called “The Monthly Rag.” The flyer included a reference to “male castration,” an announcement about a lecture on “feminist porn” by a “world-famous prostitute and porn star,” an explanation of “packing” (pretending to have a phallus), and a quotation from The Bitch Manifesto.

As a parody of “The Monthly Rag,” Robinson and a second student, who wishes to remain nameless, distributed a flyer in February called “The Monthly Bag” under the pseudonym “The Coalition of Some Dudes.” The flyer included references to “chainsaw etiquette,” the shooting range of a sniper rifle, a quotation regarding a sexual position from the website menshealth.com, and a quotation about “female violence and abuse” of men from the website batteredmen.com.

Shortly thereafter, Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste sent out a campus-wide email about “The Monthly Bag,” stating that “The flyers include threatening and demeaning content, which is categorically unacceptable in this community… Anonymous acts meant to demean and intimidate others are not [welcome].” The e-mail asked the authors of “The Monthly Bag” to come forward. When they did less than an hour later, they were charged with violating the college’s values of respect and integrity…

Two weeks after their hearing before the student conduct committee, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds finally wrote to the “Coalition of Some Dudes” students on March 25, stating that they had been found guilty of “violating the student code of conduct policy on violence” and that as a punishment, they would be required to hold a forum to “discuss issues and questions raised” by “The Monthly Bag.” Although Edmonds acknowledged that the intent of the publication was to satirize “The Monthly Rag,” he wrote that “in the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence-or implied violence-of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus.” Apparently, according to Edmonds, “the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality” in an anonymous parody made students subjectively feel threatened by chainsaws or rifles.

“Not only has Colorado College wrongly punished students for expression that any reasonable person would easily recognize as parody that threatens no one, but according to Edmonds’s standard, countless movies, songs, and other artistic endeavors that ‘juxtapose weaponry and sexuality’ are inappropriate for the adult students of Colorado College,” Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said. “Colorado College must live up to its own promises of free expression and allow its students to engage in robust debate and satire-even when some members of the campus community may feel offended.”

The dankprofessor’s read on this is that one can’t speak of violence unless there has been a victim of violence. And if one has been violently victimized then one should contact the criminal justice system, i.e., call the police. Obviously, the CC administration has conflated being offended with being violently violated. Taking their belief system seriously opens up a Pandora’s box when it comes to issues of freedom of speech; freedom of speech simply would no longer be.

But one should not view the CC perspective as if it was idiosyncratic. Such is not idiosyncratic since advocates of anti-sex puritanical feminism have advocated just such a perspective. Such was the advocacy of feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon particularly when a writer wrote about fantasies of raping MacKinnon and Mackinnon equated it with actual rape. Such blatantly conflated words and deeds. Or more precisely text and deeds. To get a more complete picture of Mackinnon’s ideas on words and deeds, see her book ONLY WORDS.

Bottom line for students and for sane faculty- stay away from Colorado College.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

April 1, 2008 Posted by | Colorado College, ethics, feminism, higher education, rape, sex, speech, violence | 1 Comment

Israeli court bans consensual sex in the workplace

In what the dankprofessor considers a bizarre ruling, the Israeli National Labor Court found that a sexual relationship between an employer and employee can never be considered consensual even if the employee was the initiator and seducer. And if the relationship was purely sexually focused, the employer has engaged in sexual harassment.

The court stated- “in cases of a relationship that is in essence opportunistic sexual relations in the workplace, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the superior, even if it proven that the subordinate seduced him.”

According to the Jerusalem Post, women activists and experts in work relations have welcomed the court decision even though the relationship was voluntary and mutual and may have been initiated by the subordinate.

Attorney for the plaintiff, Sigal Pa’il stated “there must be a clear and unequivocal message regarding the norms of conduct in hierarchical relations at the workplace to turn it as much as possible into a sterile place free of intimate relations between employer and employee. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law imposes extra responsibility on the employer to prevent sexual harassment, especially inside the workplace.”

A panel of five judges awarded damages to a 43-year-old woman who maintained a sexual relationship with the chief engineer of the company.  As reported by the Jerusalem Post-

The chief engineer was head of several departments, including the one in which the plaintiff worked. The relationship was entirely sexual and took place in the office, in the car on the way to or from work and at the beach. Each was married when they met.

The district court accepted the man’s claim that the woman had flirted with and tried to seduce him. It also ruled that the plaintiff was obliged to provide stronger proof to back her charges than she would in ordinary civil suit.

Nonetheless, National Labor Court Judge Varda Wirth Livne wrote that “I place the main burden of responsibility on the person who had the authority and attribute less responsibility to the employee who worked under him.

“This is the precedent which I would like to bring to my decision. When we are talking about a relationship that entails nothing more than occasional sex in the security room of the work place, and when, even according to the superior’s version, the relationship did not include anything more than sex, all the responsibility falls on the superior and there is no relevance to the fact that the employee tried to seduce him by wearing provocative clothes or acting in a certain way.” Wirth Livne added that “the aim of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law is to convey a message to employers and superiors that sexual-intimate relations between a superior and an employee which includes no more than sexual acts in the work place should be perceived as inappropriate behavior which should be regarded as sexual harassment while exploiting one’s authority.”

So if one is to take Judge Varda Livne seriously, then a relationship in the workplace between an employer and employee involving both love and sex would be “acceptable”. Some how I doubt that love would be allowed to trump sex.

 The dankprofessor also doubts the Jerusalem Post’s characterization that “women activists and experts in work relations have welcomed the court decision”. Have women activists in Israel really reached a level where they would eagerly embrace such a convoluted decision?

The attorney for the plaintiff did get it right when he stated that this decision will help to turn the workplace as much as possible into a sterile place free of intimate relations. And the consequences of this decision and similar court decisions do lead to sterile workplaces and when applicable to sterile university places. The tragedy and the absurdity is that too many people welcome such sterility although the welcoming may very well be for other people and not for themselves.

ADDENDUM- Some how the dankprofessor missed, but what should have been obvious, is that the court embraced the campus feminist cant that differential power precludes consent.  Unfortunately, this genre of American feminism has found a home in Israeli courts.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 29, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, corporate dating bans, ethics, feminism, Israel, litigation, love, office romance, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics | 1 Comment

University of Chicago law prof ignores civil liberties of student and professor couples

Professor Martha Nussbaum has continued her posting re the the Spitzer case on the University of Chicago Law School Faculty blog. Her latest post deals with the question “Is Sex Special?” and it is in this context that towards the end of the post she comments on issues relating to student and professor consensual sexual relationships.

Professor Nussbaum ends up conflating sexual harassment and student professor consensual dating since in her terms such relationships may start up as consensual ones but “…may evolve in a way that puts undue pressure on the weaker party.” Such would be similar to arguing that heterosexual intercourse should be banned because some of the time it may end up in a rape situation. Or that marriage should be banned since ultimately it may put one party to a relationship being the weaker party. Such is often the case in a myriad of relationships. If one wants to regulate situations of sexual harassment one could do so without banning consensual relationships.

Of course, once these policies come into being it does not matter whether there is sexual harassment. Such is the case since a third party informant can then bring down the consenting couple and trump all concerns about privacy and consent. Professor Nussbaum is obviously naïve about such situations. On the other hand, she may look up to persons such as Linda Tripp when she informed on her “friend” Monica. Does Professor Nussbaum believe that such was a righteous informing since as a White House intern, Monica was the “weaker” party in the relationship?

Naivete also enters when Nussbaum states that Professor Lande’s future need not have been compromised in the context of his dating a particular student. She states: “He could simply have arranged things so that he did not supervise this particular graduate student’s work. That happens all the time.” I do not know that it happens all of the time, but I do know that it is not simple when it does happen. Terming this situation simple obscures the fact that almost always this involves the violation of the student’s privacy, and puts her educational fate in hands of professors and university bureaucrats who now see her as the girlfriend of so and so. Does Professor Nussbaum really think this situations helps the student?

Professor Nussbaum indicates that the aforementioned situation may be impossible

“and suppose Landes had indeed been deterred by the existence of such policies: then, as he says, “I would have been a big loser.” Nonetheless, as Landes himself acknowledges, it is still possible that the overall benefits of such policies (Landes mentions “reducing coercion by men”) exceed their costs.”

Well, it may not have been only Professor Landes who ends up being a big loser; the student could have ended up even being a bigger loser. And there is no escaping the coercion factor. In the Landes scenario both he and the student could very well end up being coerced by the university sexual police which may very well have no interest in civil liberties and due process and in their framework other legal niceties.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 26, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, student professor dating, University of Chicago | Leave a comment

Sadomasochistic posing professor found fit to teach

The Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday that University of New Mexico professor of English Lisa Chvez* was found fit to teach by the UNM Deputy Provost Richard Holder. Provost Holder reported to the English department faculty that he determined that the faculty member had posed on a sadomasochism website with at least one of her graduate students, and that Professor Chvez should not have to face a faculty ethics inquiry.

In a March 10 letter to English department faculty, Deputy Provost Richard Holder said he thinks associate professor Lisa Chvez used poor judgment in participating in the Web site’s activities with one of her students.
But, Holder goes on to say, “In my mind this participation did not rise to the level of calling into question her ‘unfitness for duty.’ ”

Holder’s decision isn’t sitting well with some English department faculty members, 13 of whom had signed a petition calling for the Faculty Senate Ethics and Advisory Committee to review Chvez’s conduct. The petition expressed “serious ethical questions” about Chvez posing with a graduate student who was enrolled in one of her classes at the time.

“It’s not a faculty rights issue, I don’t think. It’s not an academic freedom issue. It is a faculty conduct issue,” professor Gary Scharnhorst said. “I believe that she crossed the line having inappropriate relationships with graduate students.”

Scharnhorst said none of his colleagues are angry that she posed on the Web site.
“What everyone finds troublesome is the fact that she was involved with graduate students,” he said.

Another English faculty member, Anita Obermeier, stated that the issue had “pullled the department apart” and that the non-referral of the matter to the Ethics Committee “was a huge slap in the face.” (double entendre intended?)

The university had hired an attorney to investigate the professor’s behavior and the investigator determined-

Chvez had been moonlighting for People Exchanging Power, a group based in Albuquerque that advertises conversation for cash. The group specializes in fetish exploration…
The investigation determined that “no crimes were committed, that no faculty member engaged in undue influence over any students or created a hostile learning environment, and that there was apparently no use of University-owned computers or telephone equipment.”

“The investigation revealed that the PEP website involvement of two graduate students preceded the involvement of Professor Chvez, and that both she and a third graduate student learned of the PEP website from the graduate students whose involvement preceded their own,” Holder states.

“All four of these adult women reported that their activities were consensual, and all disclaimed any recruitment, solicitation, or coercion.”

Holder said faculty members are free to appeal his decision to the provost.

The dankprofessor finds the UNM decision to be at odds with the present campus trend that embraces a feminist orthodoxy that when it comes to student professor relationships in some way involving sex such means that differential power precludes consent no matter what the student or students might state. Rather than accepting carte blanche that these students could not consent, the University of New Mexico did the right thing by looking into the particulars of the situation. The university did not engage in any a priori assumptions. Findings of no undue influence, no hostile environment, no use of university facilities means in the dankprofessor’s opinion, that there is no case against the professor. Bravo to the University of New Mexico administration for doing the right thing.

However, the dankprofessor is not naïve. It is not over. Offended faculty are likely to appeal. The offended faculty will be spurred on by some offended alumni, and I am sure a myriad of others. And if the appeals are unsuccessful and the good professor returns, she will be faced with a very hostile environment, no collegiality for her and I am sure no preferred teaching schedule, and she will be held under a microscope by faculty attempting to find that she has violated some university rule. Such may sound terribly cynical to many of the dankprofessor’s blog readers. However, for those believing I am embracing cynicism, the dankprofessor’s response is that it is realism that I am embracing. No pipedreams from me when it comes to contemporary university life.

For updates on the Chavez story, click here and here.

*In the originating article, the professor’s name was incorrectly spelled as Lisa Chvez; the correct spelling is Lisa Chavez

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If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 17, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sexual politics, University of New Mexico | 2 Comments

Accuracy of post “Rape on film at Yale”

Presca Ahn has emailed a request to the dankprofessor concerning the dankprofessor post of March 6, 2008
on Rape on Film at Yale. Ms. Ahn who was quoted in that post has questioned the accuracy of the article that relied on the Yale Daily News article of February 18. At her request I am publishing the original Yale Daily News article. She has also requested that I publish her opinion piece that appeared in the Yale Daily News; her opinion piece follows the news article.

Yale Daily News

February 18, 2008

VIOLENT PORN FLICK PROMPTS APOLOGY

By Samantha Broussard-Wilson
Staff Reporter

Sex Week at Yale ran into more controversy Saturday night when porn director Paul Thomas, on campus to participate in the event, screened a graphic porn film that featured violent sado-masochism.

Coordinators said they were appalled by the film – which they had not watched before it was aired in front of an audience of over 200 students – but members of the gender-balanced crowd did not appear upset by the movie and reacted with disappointment when the Sex Week team ended the film early.

On Sunday night, Sex Week coordinators emphasized that they do not support the practices displayed in the film, which depicted fantasy rape, bondage and piercing. Colin Adamo ’10, Sex Week event coordinator, called the screening a grave mistake.

“We really dropped the ball on this one,” he said. “No one watched the movie before Paul showed it to the audience.”

But Sex Week Director Joe Citarella ’08 said he thinks the event was positive overall because it gave people the opportunity to speak out against violent pornography and the effect it can have on the public’s conception of women.

“Part of Sex Week is to challenge what’s being done,” he explained. “And I questioned Paul as to whether these graphic, violent images are OK, knowing that there is someone on the other end who is enjoying it.”

During the question-and-answer period that followed the screening, Adamo described the images as sexually unhealthy and disrespectful to women. But Thomas’ response insinuated that he was a prude and just needed to watch more porn, Adamo said after the screening.

Adamo said several students in the crowd booed when he made his comment, and during the screening there was a “sense of revelry” in the images being displayed among some audience members.

William Wong ’09, who was involved with the Sex Week tech team but not with events planning, said the crowd’s reaction was mostly supportive of the film. He said the vocal members of the audience were not offended by the material and appeared to be enjoying it. Like Adamo, he said the crowd was fairly diverse and was almost evenly divided by gender.

Wong said he himself was not shocked by the material in the film but was slightly taken aback that the Sex Week coordinators had chosen to screen that particular movie.

“It’s really the team’s fault for not pre-screening,” Wong said. “And I think it’s probably difficult for Paul Thomas to judge what’s appropriate and what is not because he’s been in the business so long.”

Wong said he thinks the debate is really over whether it is right or wrong to use those kinds of violent images for sexual satisfaction, rather than whether screening the film was a responsible decision on the part of Sex Week organizers.

Shazan Jiwa ’09, who attended the screening, said Thomas was unfairly attacked by members of the audience. Thomas’ intent was to showcase aspects of the porn industry that people are not familiar with, Jiwa said, and the director had provided a disclaimer before the screening in which he said the audience should be prepared for graphic images.

“He was trying to show us that not all porn is about happy sex or has a happy atmosphere,” Jiwa said.

Jiwa said it would have been interesting to hear the motive behind the movie rather than listening to Thomas defend himself.

The last Sex Week events will be held today.

————————————————————————

Yale Daily News
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

For Sex Week at Yale, pullout method fails
By Presca Ahn

On Saturday night, as part of a pornography-themed day, Sex Week at Yale held a porn screening in the Law School auditorium. The featured pornography was a series of trailer-type clips, chosen by director Paul Thomas from among his own films. The Sex Week team, however, didn’t preview all the footage Thomas chose. This is why, partway through the showing, graphic rape fantasies began to play onscreen.

Rape fantasies, bondage, the piercing of a woman’s nipples and the labeling of a woman as a “slut” who “deserved” violent sexual degradation – this was some of the footage played at one of Sex Week’s final events. Its inclusion, from the Sex Week organizers’ point of view, was an embarrassing mistake, and a potential public relationns disaster.

So damage control came quickly. After a panicked powwow out in the hall, the Sex Week organizers stopped the screening and moved directly into the scheduled Q & A session. The next day, one Sex Week organizer asked to meet with the Women’s Center board to explain how it could be that rape pornography was shown as part of the program. He said there would be a panel discussion on Monday night led by the Sex Week team, which would address those shocked by the screening. He apologized, saying the Sex Week team had had a tiring week – if the organizers had vetted the film, they would never have allowed the rape scenes to be played.

I could only think that this Sex Week organizer had completely missed the point.

The lesson of the Sex Week pornography screening is not that the Sex Week organizers should have edited out the rape footage. The lesson is that editing jobs are necessary to make pornography – even the “high quality,” “mainstream” pornography touted by Vivid Entertainment – look inoffensive.

Better minds (read: Dworkin, MacKinnon) have addressed the far-reaching harm caused by the porn industry and the dubious empowerment that porn stars are claimed to, or claim to, attain. The conversation that we should be having at Yale is one that Sex Week failed to frame for us: how pornography and pornographic cultural products affect the way we have sex.

Debates involving porn stars and Q & A sessions with porn directors are not good ways to start this conversation. Besides, the question of “porn or no porn” is a fallacious one. Pornography is inevitable; to ban it is “censorship.” What we need to understand is the scope of pornography’s influence. Porn isn’t just what teenage boys watch in locked bedrooms (or, in this enlightened age, what lots of people watch on YouPorn.com). Porn and the sexual expectations it propagates – those of big penises and big breasts, violent intercourse, massive orgasms and so forth – infiltrate our culture, and our sex lives.

The overwhelming amount of Sex Week that was devoted to pornography created a false equivalence between porn and sex. Here’s the thing: Porn is not sex.

Sex Week glamorized pornography. Advertised via e-mail to all Yale students (subject line: “Day O’ Porn”), Saturday’s screening was followed by the Sex Week at Yale dance party, where (said the e-mail) you’d “[d]ress as a pornstar, party like a pornstar, with the porn stars.” The e-mail promised free Vivid DVDs and the chance (for “40 Lucky Yalies”) to pre-game with the “Vivid Girls.” Suddenly, you were invited into a context sexier than your own – the glamorous world of porn stars, who definitely have better sex than you do.

Pornography decontextualizes sex. Drawing the line between pornography and “racy” films with “sexy” content involves this realization: that in porn, the act of sex – including, but not limited to, intercourse – is translated into an alternate reality, or a distorted one. In porn, sex is not a normal, healthy part of normal, healthy lives; it’s fetishized, exaggerated or embellished. Porn isn’t honest. We need to talk honestly about it: It hurts women.

Presca Ahn is a junior in Branford College. She is the Amy Rossborough Fellowship Coordinator of the Yale Women’s Center.

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If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 15, 2008 Posted by | ethics, feminism, higher education, rape, sex, sexual politics, Yale University | Leave a comment

“Vag Club” depicts giant vagina at Harvard

The Harvard’s College Women’s Center is presenting an art exhibition which focuses on body issues. The Harvard Crimson reported that the “largest piece in the show is an over-sized photograph of a vagina, complete with pubic hair and a manifesto. The work, entitled “The Vag Club,” connects final clubs to the vulva and is just one of the many works that illuminates how art can address social issues at Harvard.”The dankprofessor was not surprised to learn that of all the art exhibited, “The Vag Club” has received by far the most attention. In fact, it is apparently quite difficult to avoid. As the Harvard Crimson reports-

“The Vag Club,” for instance, is not a reiteration of hackneyed sentiments about the body. As people walked by the over-sized photograph of a vagina, they expressed shock, enthusiastic approval, and understanding. Jenna M. Mellor ’08, who created the piece in response to an assignment for Visual and Environmental Studies 65: “Tactics-Art, Politics and Performance,” admits that she wanted her work to border on absurdity. “Vaginas do not always treat vaginas nicely. In fact it seems as though vaginas hate vaginas,” one manifesto statement reads. “Non vaginas promise to bring the vagina lots of wet vaginas with big tits,” another asserts. These strong declarations help elicit the reflective reactions that the artist had intended.

“I was shocked to see a vagina that big in my face. It’s not something that we’re used to seeing,” says Natasha Alford ’08, who calls “The Vag Club” her favorite piece. “But as somebody who frequents final clubs, I never really made that explicit connection, how body and spaces are connected. It was really thought-provoking.”

The “Vag Club” manifesto creates a linkage between the Harvard elite final clubs with their very restrictive membership which is sex segregated and predominantly male to the very restrictive policies regarding entry into vaginal space. As the Harvard Crimson puts it: “Both are exclusive sites to which access is desired by many but granted to few.”

However, it is unclear as to how far “The Vag” manifesto wishes to take this comparison. There has been much opposition to the sex segregation as practiced by the Harvard final clubs and some discard these final clubs as archaic fraternal organization, or to put it more bluntly, they are fraternities wrapping themselves in a pseudo-sophisticated rhetoric. In other words, final clubs should be demystified and discarded.

If one takes the vaginal comparison seriously then one could argue that vaginas should be demystified and be open to pedestrian entry. If such be the case, “Vag Club” art and/or manifesto is not really needed since pornography often effectively functions to demystify and pedestrian vaginal entry is considered to be axiomatic in the porn world.

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If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 13, 2008 Posted by | ethics, feminism, Harvard University, higher education, pornography, sex, sexual politics | Leave a comment

Harvard coeds to go nude

(For an update, 11/18/09/, on this story click here. And for a post relating to a Harvard coed and her  sexual relationship with a Harvard TF, click here.)

Harvard women prepare to go nude in the new online magazine Diamond to be published by Harvard student Matthew M. Di Pasquale. Di Pasquale began to solicit Harvard coeds for nude photo opportunities via the Dunston House email list in February. The Harvard Crimson reported yesterday that “Harvard women posing nude alongside their theses just might be the way Diamond magazine wins over feminists.”

On Thursday evening Diamond founder Di Pasquale and Harvard student H Bomb editor Brandon Perkovich (H Bomb is an ongoing sexually orientated publication at Harvard) met with a dozen Harvard undergraduates at the Harvard Women’s Center to discuss the sexually orientated publications. The discussion was sponsored by the Radcliffe Union of Students.

Much of the discussion put Di Pasquale on the defensive. He told the crowd numerous times that Diamond’s purpose is to allow women to “express themselves” in a pro-sex light-not to objectify them-and that he understands their concerns about typical pornography.

“One of the ideas behind Diamond is that [the models] are not just sexy girls, but intelligent, smart, successful, Harvard girls,” he said. “I want the reader to understand who they are what they’re doing in their lives. I read the interviews in Maxim.”

While H Bomb received praise-Julia T. Havard ’11 said that it was “artistic expression” with “a message behind it”-some of those present feared that Diamond would be less like H Bomb and more like mainstream pornography.

“[Pornography] perpetuates the idea in society that it’s okay to see women on a page, that it’s acceptable in society to objectify women in terms of sexual attractiveness,” said Shanti S. Kris ’11, who identified herself as a feminist.

“In rape, you’re objectifying women through a violent action, so the danger is that it makes it acceptable to look at women as objects,” she said.

But despite the fact that the discussion became spirited at times, the conversation ended on a positive note, with those present praising the rise in sexual publications on campus.

Di Pasquale indicated that the premiere issue of Diamond will be on May 12. “Di Pasquale said that day will be a celebration of women and pornography-and perhaps the start of a profitable, enjoyable business venture.”

In a February article, the Harvard Crimson reported that the then  Harvard student editor of H Bomb, Michelle E. Crentsil, supports the efforts of Di Pasquale. “I think artistic magazines involving the way people think about their bodies is always a great thing,” Crentsil said.

DiPasquale did not dispute the reference to Diamond as an artistic magazine.

“Diamond will be more mainstream-”more Hollywood”-à la Maxim or Playboy, he said. Diamond will feature nude female models and possibly shirtless males, but not explicit sex acts, he said.

He said that he sees potential in Harvard women to make Diamond a “really sexy magazine.”

Not everyone is excited about Diamond’s debut. Leo J. Keliher ‘10, co-president of the premarital sexual abstinence group True Love Revolution said he believes that anything that allows men to look at and fantasize about women “just objectifies women.”

But campus sex blogger Lena Chen ‘09 gave her nod of approval to Diamond. “I think that any increase in dialogue about sex on campus is certainly positive because Harvard is kind of Puritanical,” she said.

Maybe somewhat Puritanical but not as puritanical as Yale. The dankprofessor cannot imagine the Yale Women’s Center hosting a discussion with the editor of a campus publication which was recruiting Yale female students to pose nude. We have two different worlds here. In fact, the Yale Women’s Center ultimatum to the Yale administration to respond to their demand for corrective action by March 7 regarding the Yale fraternity “I love Yale sluts” imbroglio did not pass  without notice.  Click here for an update.

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If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 8, 2008 Posted by | ethics, feminism, Harvard University, higher education, nudity, pornography, sex, sexual politics, Yale University | 1 Comment

Rape on film at Yale

It was only a couple of weeks ago, February 13 to be exact, that the dankprofessor blogged on the escalating rhetoric at Yale regarding male fraternity members holding up a “Yale sluts” placard in the front of the Women’s Center; the Women’s Center Board characterized the placard incident and photos of the incident being circulated on email “as fraternity- sponsored or enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape”. Certainly, the fraternity members use of this placard was untoward, but the statement that the placard in essence sponsored rape seemed to the dankprofessor as inflammatory, and ultimately functions to “trivialize” rape. Name-calling should not be conflated with rape; words should not be conflated with actions. Social scientist know based on decades of research that words are not predictive of deeds.

Presently Yale is having its annual “Sex Week at Yale”. The dankprofessor was not surprised to learn that a component of sex week was on pornography. As reported by L. Brent Bozell on on the Media Research Center blog, the sex week organizers invited Paul Thomas of Vivid Entertainment to show films and have a question and answer period. The Vivid films were shown without any pre-screening by the sex week organizers. “Some of the footage shown by Thomas included graphic rape fantasies and the labeling of a woman as a “slut” who “deserved” violent sexual degradation.”

Before the films excerpts were completed, feminists from the Yale Women’s Center entered and “Presca Ahn, who is the “fellowship coordinator” there, declared: “In porn, sex is not a normal, healthy part of normal, healthy lives; it’s fetishized, exaggerated or embellished. Porn isn’t honest. We need to talk honestly about it: it hurts women.” Then the session went right into Q and A.

The Yale Daily News reported that Colin Adamo, Sex Week event coordinator, called the screening a grave mistake. “We really dropped the ball on this one,” he said. “No one watched the movie before Paul showed it to the audience.” But the Vivid representative “insinuated that he (Adamo) was a prude and just needed to watch more porn.”

The dankprofessor has no comment on the prudishness characterization of Adamo; certainly Adamo can be characterized as naïve. To assume that Vivid porn DVDs would not cause offense to some of those in attendance is naïve. I would also consider it to be naïve that holding a sex week which would not be offensive to some of the Yale students some of the time is extremely naïve. To have a completely inoffensive sex week one would have to go back to the American tradition of sex censorship. To really deal with the offensiveness issue, Yale would have to prohibit sex week.

As for the Yale Women’s Center rep indicating that porn “hurts women”, such is a problematic characterization. What we do know about porn is that porn leads most of the time to viewer masturbation. Just about everyone knows this, the producers, the actors, the observers, the condemners, the viewers. So if one holds that male masturbation hurts women then the Yale Women’s Center rep has a point.

However, solitary “consensual” masturbation, or mutual consensual masturbation is now ofen viewed as safe sex. But obviously some hold that so-called safe sex is actually hurtful sex. And when it comes to masturbation from an historical perspective, those believing in the hurtful scenario carry the day.

So I do not think I am going out on a limb when I state that too many campus feminists, too many Yale campus feminists, too often engage in traditional anti-sexual Puritanism, an anti-sexual Puritanism that has not been unknown in Yale’s home state, Connecticut.

(Click here for an addendum on this post.)

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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 6, 2008 Posted by | ethics, feminism, higher education, masturbation, pornography, rape, sex, Yale University | 2 Comments

Writing right about rape and Heather Mac Donald

University of Virginia student, Patrick Cronin has an op ed piece, THE RIGHT RAPE STATISTICS, in today’s LA Times. It should come as no surprise that this op ed was primarily devoted to attacking Heather Mac Donald’s earlier LA Times piece on the campus rape crisis myth. As for right rape statistics which the title implies the column is all about, the dankprofessor ended up disappointed since Cronin did not write about right rape statistics. Almost all of the column was a rehash of previous criticisms of Mac Donald, many of which have already been commented on by the dankprofessor. So I will only take a couple of excerpts from this column and keep my commentary to a minimum and hopefully avoid engaging in redundancy.

Cronin states-

Mac Donald makes several false assumptions when constructing her argument. First, she assumes studies on campus rape are irrelevant because many survivors do not call their experience rape. She later blames the victims, citing their behavior as a contributory factor to their experience. Such victim-blaming has a direct and obvious effect on reporting. If people like Mac Donald stigmatize a survivor as a promiscuous, irresponsible alcoholic, is there really much incentive to come forward? And if a victim convinces himself or herself that no assault took place, why use the resources available?

I don’t think that Mac Donald characterized campus rape victims as promiscuous irresponsible alcoholics. She simply indicated that putting oneself in a highly sexualize environment in which alcohol is being consumed by self and many others can put women at risk of being sexually victimized. To indicate that Mac Donald’s cautionary rhetoric represents a form of stigmatization is in the dankprofessor’s opinion other worldly thinking.

Acknowledging having been assaulted can be a very difficult first step toward recovery. That’s why sociologists performing these studies ask if a person experienced what’s defined as rape or sexual assault without putting those words into the questions. As a result, these studies catch people who were raped or assaulted according to the legal definition, even if they do not recognize their experience as such. Mac Donald asserts that this style of questioning undermines the validity of these studies, but, in fact, it exposes the difficulty and trauma of reporting.

If the alleged victim of rape does not recognize, or psychologically construct her experience as rape, it does not matter how a researcher may characterize the verbiage of the respondent. It only matters if one does not consider the woman’s definition of the situation to be paramount. As for these studies exposing the difficulty and trauma of reporting, almost all crimes are underreported, whether they be violent or non-violent crimes. As far as I know, there is no trauma reporting syndrome. In fact, it is usually the opposite, telling others of ones experiences is usually therapeutic. And one could go even one step further and argue that if potentially violent persons had the opportunity to verbalize to others their violent feelings and inclinations, there would probably be less violence. The dankprofessor finds it interesting that there are suicide hotlines for potential suicide offenders but no homicide or rape hotlines for potential violent offenders.

There are those in our society who choose to ignore rape and sexual assault because of its gravity, frequency and complexity. They choose to blame the survivor, dismiss the statistics or question the political motivation of those who try to end rape and sexual assault and mitigate the life-altering consequences of its occurrence. They rely on antiquated notions of drunken frat boys and promiscuous young women looking to “have a good time.” I know plenty of the people Mac Donald chooses to define based on these stereotypes. None has ever asked to be raped. Some have been raped anyway.

The dankprofessor agrees that stereotypes do play a role in rape and sexual assault. But I would argue that both men and women have to free themselves of stereotypes such as “these guys are not the type of guys who would commit rape”, “college guys are cool, no need to worry” or “women wouldn’t be acting and imbibing if they really didn’t want sex” if we are going to decrease rate of rape and sexual assaults.

And Cronin doesn’t do anything to improve the “sexual climate” when he ends his essay on this note: “None has ever asked to be raped. Some have been raped anyway.” Using nonsensical word play is no way to deal with rape or any other form of violence.

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If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 4, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, Heather Mac Donald, higher education, rape, sex, sexual politics | 1 Comment

Heather Mac Donald responds to critics of her ‘campus rape crisis myth’ article

In a March 2 City Journal article Heather Mac Donald responds to the feminist criticisms of her prior article on the campus rape crisis myth.

Key excerpts of the current article follow.

Let me propose a thought experiment. An unapprehended rapist has assaulted two women in a particular area of State University’s campus-.04 percent of the female undergraduate population. Would the State University administrators tell girls to stay away from the area until the rapist is caught? Or would they remain silent about whether girls should continue to frequent that area of the campus, because “rape is never a woman’s fault”? The first, of course, because students’ safety is the administrators’ paramount concern, regardless of whether female students have a “right” to frequent that dangerous area at night.

Campus rape researchers and advocates, modifying Koss’s statistic slightly, say that they believe that a whopping one-fifth to one-quarter of college women are raped by their fellow students. Virtually all of these alleged rapes could be avoided if the girls took certain steps: don’t get into bed with a guy when you are very drunk, don’t take off your clothes, don’t get involved in oral sex, and so on. Such advice is fully consistent with female empowerment. It recognizes that girls have the power to stop “campus rape.” It treats them as moral agents able to control their fates.

But when I suggest to campus sexual assault administrators that they could stop what Koss calls the “rape pandemic” overnight if they persuaded girls to exercise more prudence, I inevitably receive responses like the following (these are my interlocutors’ actual words): “I am uncomfortable with the idea of ‘recommending that female students exercise more modesty and restraint’-this indicates that if they are raped it could be their fault-it is never their fault.” Or: “Yes, modesty would have a certain impact, but who’s responsible?”

There are two possible reasons why the administrators refuse to take the most efficacious, practical action to end campus rape-counseling sexual prudence. Either they know in their heart of hearts that what is happening on campuses is not really rape, but something much more ambiguous and also much less traumatic than real rape. Or-and this possibility is too horrible to contemplate-these self-professed women’s advocates really do believe that a drunken hookup is rape, and yet are withholding from women the simplest, surest way to prevent being raped, simply in order to preserve the principle of male fault. If the latter situation actually prevails, I conclude that the campus rape movement is purely political, interested solely in casting men as the evil perpetrators of the patriarchy rather than in most effectively protecting potential victims of a traumatic crime.

In her response, Koss says that “Men are supposed to know that [it is] wrong to have sex with a woman who is unable to consent due to intoxication.” Some men may know that; others may not. By all means, try to educate as many as you can. But the point is, if you want to protect women right now, the surest way of doing so is persuading them to avoid risky sexual encounters, rather than hoping that the drunken men with whom they have gotten into bed have a solid sense of ethics. What if a man knows that it is wrong to have sex with a very drunk woman but is himself too drunk to act on that knowledge-who’s going to protect the woman then? It is certainly ironic that feminists are relying on men to protect women when the women are perfectly able to determine whether a drunken night ends in intercourse. Moreover, if drunkenness cancels a woman’s responsibility for her actions, why does a drunken man who has sex that he may regret the next day nevertheless remain responsible? Are women less responsible for their actions than men?

If it were the case that millions of rape victims graduated from college each year with serious emotional trauma, we’d have heard about it. Their parents would have demanded that colleges prevent this crime “pandemic.” Alternative academic institutions would have sprung up, guaranteeing a safe place for women to study and learn. None of this has happened, because the millions of women whom campus rape researchers designate as victims don’t suffer serious emotional trauma and don’t think of themselves as victims. You would have thought that that would be celebrated as a sign of strong womanhood.

Putting the above argument in part in the dankprofessor’s terms, what Mac Donald is saying is that the feminist campus anti-rape movement is cynically using female students as a means to an end, as a means to hit back at men; that this movement is fueled by sex hatred and effective rape prevention is of secondary concern. Empirically demonstrating this argument is, of course, an impossibility. What can only be addressed is whether Mac Donald’s argument makes sense of the “facts”.

Such does make sense for me in terms of my engagement of essentially the same campus activists in regards to the campaign to prohibit consensual sexual relationships between students and professors. In the student/professor context, the campus feminist activists present male professors who are sexually involved with students in the most dehumanizing terms. They are presented as de facto rapists since it is held that female students can never give consent because differential power precludes consent. In their terms, female students do not count; if they protest that they consented to the relationship, they are ignored. Campus activist feminists reduce dissenting female students to the status of being children, and view themselves as their Big Sister protectors and all too often this protection means getting these students to do and to believe what they want them to do and to believe. Interesting, in a sense the anti-rape movement feminists may be similar to campus rapists- wanting to control women for the sake of their own power.

What the dankprofessor believes is at play here is authoritarianism. Authoritarians attempting to exert their control over others. Too many campus feminists have created an authoritarian sisterhood, a sisterhood that is merciless on women who dissent from their orthodoxy, one such woman being Heather Mac Donald. Yes, there has been some polite critiques of Mac Donald’s first article on campus rape. But to my knowledge, no feminist, no member of the campus anti-rape movement has come forward chastising their feminist confreres who name call and heap abuse on Mac Donald. The restraint Heather Mac Donald has demonstrated in response to this abuse has been admirable.

In addition, the dankprofessor wishes to recommend two books by Daphne Patai which provide tremendous insight into authoritarian campus feminism- HETEROPHOBIA; SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND THE FUTURE OF FEMINISM and PROFESSING FEMINISM: CAUTIONARY TALES FROM THE STRANGE WORLD OF WOMEN’S STUDIES.

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If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 3, 2008 Posted by | coercing women, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, Heather Mac Donald, higher education, rape, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Review of ROMANCE IN THE IVORY TOWER

Out of the Campus Closet: Student Professor Consensual Sexual Relationships

Review of Paul R. Abramson: Romance in the Ivory Tower: The Rights and Liberty of Conscience, MIT Press, 2007, 176 pp

Reviewed by Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor

The original publication of this review is located at www.springerlink.com

doi:10.1007/s12119-007-9016-4

http://springerlink.com/content/h0p31881164gx627/?p=6a5651624c114ad6a292692d97422be2&pi=0

Forthcoming in SEXUALITY AND CULTURE, Vol. 12 #1, March 2008, pp. 68-70

Might one be engaging in utopian thinking if one believes that universities, particularly American universities, are places where matters relating to conscience and liberty and freedom of association are taken very seriously? The answer is unequivocally yes since most American universities are no longer a refuge for persons believing in and wanting to act on these values, values which have been integrally linked to the American ethos. Rather than being a refuge for these values, American universities have embraced authoritarianism with a vengeance, discarding freedoms that have been held by many as taken for granted freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

Nowhere have these constitutional rights been more flagrantly violated than on American campuses where there have been concerted efforts, and generally successful efforts, to formally ban intimate sexual and romantic relationships between students and professors. Hardly any of the campus advocates for these bans have given any credence or recognition to the possibility that their agendas represent violations of civil liberties in any form. They have effectively disguised their attack on basic freedoms as a form of protectionism with their feminist engendered slogan that differential power precludes consent, which comes to be equated with the idea that students, particularly female students, are unable to consent to any form of sexual relationship with almost any professor since professors always are in a higher power position. Even if a female student should protest that her consent was given freely, the campus authoritarians believe that they know the mind of the student better than the student does, and that their will must replace the will of the incapacitated student.

The disputation of such views has not facilitated an open and polite exchange of ideas. Rather dissenters have been usually viewed as lecherous professors, whether they are male or female, who wish to have free rein for their alleged predatory behavior. In one way or the other campus sexual code dissenters are considered to be morally suspect while the sexual code advocators and promulgators are held to be above suspicion. Or, to put it in other terms, sexual banning supporters are held to be academic insiders while the banning dissenters are held to be dissident outsiders, outside of the post-modern, feminist ideologies of the day.

With the authorship of Romance in The Ivory Tower: The Rights and Liberty of Conscience, UCLA psychology professor, Paul R. Abramson, has fully entered into this fray as an outsider holding that campus predation has run amok in the form of academics discarding basic constitutional guarantees in their quest to “protect” and control both students and professors. Professor Abramson argues that the control they want is to prevent adults on university campuses from choosing whom they date, whom they love, whom they choose as romantic partners. In his words, “Choosing who we love, even on a university campus, is no less a fundamental part of choosing how we live.” And such is a choice that cannot in principle be taken away by university authorities since the power to make the choice resides in the parties directly engaging in the choosing. He notes that “For all intents and purposes, many universities throughout the United States have determined that the power is theirs to wield. This book challenges that assumption, arguing instead that the power is unquestionably within the province of the individual…”

For Abramson, taking away the individual rights of conscience is a direct attack on the autonomy of the individual. Rights of conscience go beyond matters of religion and “…can be extended to all matters of substance that require serious deliberations about right and wrong, consensual sex and romance included.” In Abramson’s view, this individual right of conscience should protect the “…right to make romantic choices without interference or refutation by governmental and institutional authorities.” And very importantly, the author argues that this right is embedded in the Constitution in the form of the Ninth Amendment which holds that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” And Abramson holds that the right to romance is one such important right that is protected by the Ninth Amendment. For those who might argue that the right to romance does not reach the level of importance meriting constitutional protection, he responds in the following terms: “Romance…is a quintessential right retained by the people. It is no less essential to our well-being and happiness, I assert than freedom of speech. It is hard to imagine liberty without either right. Furthermore the right to choose a romantic partner is a prerequisite right to romance itself. Romantic choice is therefore the vehicle via which we exercise romantic freedom.”

In terms of defending this interpretation of the Ninth Amendment, Abramson heavily relies on the writings of our nation’s founders, particularly Jefferson and Madison with the greatest emphasis put on Madison. For Madison, the protection of unenumerated rights of the people via the Ninth Amendment is of crucial import. If such was not the case, the governmental authorities can do just about anything to their subjects unless such was specifically forbidden by the Constitution. And for Madison and Abramson and for this reviewer, the people should not be subject to the unrestrained arbitrary impositions of a government without constitutional authority. In essence, Abramson takes seriously the notion that citizens are not subjects to be experimented upon, that their will to decide, reject or consent cannot be removed from above. And throughout this volume, the author is ethically engaged as he hopes that the citizenry in general be ethically engaged since for him it becomes axiomatic that an ethic imposed from above is a form of authoritarianism and such authoritarianism should not be employed to mandate what people believe or how people act.

Nor does Abramson hold that matters of individual liberty and autonomy are without ethical and legal constraints. Conduct harmful to others is not protected conduct. Abramson embraces John Stuart Mill’s perspective “…that society should only protect its citizens from harms that violate rights. Liberty prevails until someone’s rights have been violated.” Abramson does recognize that the boundaries defining what behaviors actually represent harmful behavior in the Millsian sense can be quite ambiguous. But for Abramson when it comes down to the issue at hand, there is no question that dating, including, of course, dating between students and professors is a “fundamental life choice.” And that “Most serious romantic relationships, in fact, begin with a date. It is therefore a necessary prerequisite to the intimate side of life.”

Of course, no matter how elegant he is in the presentation of this viewpoint, and in this reviewer’s opinion, he is quite elegant, almost all persons advocating banning student professor sexual relationships will not be impressed since generally they are not impressed by any sort of intellectual dissenters from their ordained truth. What Abramson is facing when it comes to this issue are many persons who are on a moral crusade, and will attempt to deal with him not simply by trashing his ideas but by trashing his very personage. The Chronicle of Higher Education was one of the first media sources to provide pre-publication coverage of the Abramson book and presented an interview with Abramson which functioned on the whole to provide an accurate depiction of his forthcoming book. But what the CHE also did was to publish an adjacent full-page picture of Professor Abramson. Initially I was perplexed as to why the CHE devoted so much space to Abramson’s picture; after all, Abramson was not a celebrity, much less an academic celebrity. But then I learned what I believed to be the reasons for the picture publication, and my learning was based on the reader forum that followed said publication in which so many readers were not concerned with the content of the interview but rather were concerned with the picture of Abramson which came to represent for them Abramson as a predatory and lecherous professor or as one reader commented “…looks like a letch right out of central casting.” This photo was enough for all too many of the CHE readers to simply dismiss Abramson and whatever he had to say. Unfortunately, appearances do count when they should not, and all too often trump the possibility of intellectual analysis and critical thinking.

Pre-publication dismissals of Abramson’s book have generally not reflected any careful scrutiny of the issue, but rather have generally been based on snap judgments and intensely visceral reactions. For example, one blogger wrote that Abramson will apparently do everything to justify sex between students and professors. “Thus, man will do everything to rationalize, normalize, legalize, and excuse everything; such as having sex with a professor…He (the professor) does not want to be told that sex between a student and an adult are wrong.” Of course, Abramson is not telling anyone that sex between and adult and child is right, morally or legally. However, the dilemma facing Abramson is that many persons in the general population and in universities will engage in a default assumption translating student into child, professor into adult and therefore feel that they are dealing with sex that cannot be consensual, since one party to the “relationship” is always a child; no matter what the age, student is equated with child. Such thinking most likely goes back into childhood when the teacher is always the adult and the student is always the child. Many persons just cannot get beyond this framework. This is also reflected by the tendency of some professors and some administrators referring to students as “kids” or “my kids,” regardless of age.

Abramson is aware of the stereotype of the student professor sexual relationship as representing “the lecherous male professor seducing gullible female undergraduates.” He is also aware of the writings and influence of Catherine Mackinnon and her thinking that all workplace romantic relationships represent sexual harassment. What Abramson does fail to represent is that the notion of the female student unable to provide consent was originally popularized by Billie Dziech and Linda Weiner in their 1984 book The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus. It was this book that became the sacred book for campus feminists and part of the often repeated rant that differential power precludes consent. It was in this context that campus feminists fueled the banning movement in the framework of repeatedly infantilizing female students and presenting female students as victims in the same sense that children are victims of adult male predators. It was this feminist vision that fueled the banning movement and was ultimately combined with the assertion that when professors teach or supervise a student and engage in a sexual relationship with a student then it becomes a conflict of interest.

Abramson does attempt to deal with the conflict of interest issue in the context of the professor engaging in impartial grading of a student with whom he has a sexual involvement. In order to preserve the appearance of impartial grading, Professor Abramson suggests that a colleague may be asked to intervene to provide a third party evaluation of the student. I consider third party evaluation to be problematic since the sexually involved student ends up being treated differently than all other students who are graded by the same professor. In principle, in terms of the course requirements and course process, students should not be treated in any way differentially based on their relationship, sexual or otherwise, with the professor. Invoking matters of appearances is not an adequate rationale for differential treatment. Also, in many cases the usage of a third party evaluator is an impossibility since grading is often in part based on what happens in class, such as class participation, in-class projects, etc. Abramson does not go beyond suggesting third party involvement. As Professor Abramson indicates, some universities operate under a coercive disclose and dispose policy which means that the professor must inform the appropriate administrator of the situation, and said administrator then disposes of the situation with absolutely no consideration given to the privacy and the right of the student to non-disclosure.

But conflicts of interest issues are not the core fueling the banning movement. Professor Abramson knows that professors in general are not wracked out over conflict of interest issues. Professor Abramson also indicates that professors engage in myriad forms of favoritism that are not at all emotionally tinged. For example, students enrolled in a professor’s class may be a daughter or son of a colleague or even one’s own son or daughter or a friend or a relative of a friend, or a professor may preach feminist sister solidarity or racial solidarity while grading students who are not part of his or her group or a professor may engage in out of class political demonstrations with likeminded students and prejudicial grading hardly ever becomes an issue. Professors emotionally committed to banning student professor relationships are not conflict of interests obsessed; they are sexually obsessed; obsessed with stopping other professors from engaging in what they consider to be sexual abuse of female students/children. And therefore all of the good legal and historical analysis by Professor Abramson becomes an irrelevancy for them because they see the subjects of these professors as being in an incapacitated state, a state where consent is an impossibility, a state where the subjects must be removed from the power of the offending professor and taken out of the classroom and where the demand is that the lecherous offending professor be removed from all classrooms.

Professor Abramson bemoans the fact that so few professors have spoken out against such sexual banning, particularly the lack of public professorial critiques of the impending UC policy which was passed in 2003, and banned romantic relationships by professors with students who they supervise (teach) and students who are in academic areas in which there is some likelihood that the professor may be their teacher at some future time. Abramson in his 2003 Los Angeles Times Op Ed piece was one of the few UC professors publicly speaking against the impending policy. Abramson notes that student and faculty protest against the UC policy did not even occur at UC Berkeley where protests are almost a fact of everyday life. However, he does fail to note that UC Berkeley Professor of English Catharine Gallagher did initiate a protest of this policy after its passage and was joined by other UC Berkeley faculty in petitioning the UC Berkeley Provost, but the Gallagher protest and petition was too little and too late.

Professor Abramson understands that one of the major reasons there were so few faculty voices raised in protest is that “dissenting” professors are on the whole afraid, afraid of being treated as suspect, afraid of being treated in sexually objectified terms in the manner similar to how Professor Abramson has been treated. And, in fact, I believe that untenured professors at UCLA or at whatever university, whether it be an elite or not so elite university, are extremely unlikely to speak out. Even as a tenured professor and as professor who has strongly spoken out against these sexual bans, Abramson still has some trepidation about being presently identified as a sexual code violator as indicated by his publicly stating that he is out of the dating game, that he leads a staid married life and that at one time, 20 or so years ago, he did have a couple of relationships with students, but now he is beyond that, therefore he is OK. If Abramson takes his ideas seriously, he would be eager to state I am OK now and I was OK then. And I do understand the dilemma that if a UCLA professor wrote a book of the sort of book Abramson wrote and he stated that he presently dated students and such was OK, he would then end up being investigated and probably charged with violation of the UC sexual code.

However, even if there has been minimal response by academics critiquing these fraternization policies, and few persons doing empirical research on faculty student sexual/romantic dyads, Professor Abramson should still have done a more thorough review of this literature and reported on the highlights of this literature and indicated what he considers to be most germane to his concerns. For example, in the area of research on faculty student relationships, he could have cited two important empirical studies of student professor relationships (Bellas and Gossett 2001; Skeen 1983) as well as citing numerous scholarly critiques (Dank and Alberquerque 1998; Dank and Fulda 1998; Hooks 1996; Kincaid 1999, 2000; McWilliam 1996; Nehring 2001; Olivero 1994; Patai 1998, 2002; Pellegrini 1999; Pichaske 1995; Refinetti 2001; Tittle 1998).

Abramson rejects the notion that at the core of the movement to prohibit professor/student relationships is an emotional sexual dynamic which is fueled by an underlying child, adult sexual predator imagery. Rather Abramson embraces the idea that “The real reason for these prohibitions…is that universities want to further reduce their liability in civil lawsuits-no sex and romance means no negligence.” Such represents the idea that this movement to ban student professor relationships simply is an instrumental, rational based policy to save universities money. I do not deny that some academics support the banning policy for this reason, but the supporters of banning at UC have not cited any case in which UC was sued in whole or in part relating to a consensual relationship between a student and a professor. And Abramson does not cite such a case. And as Professor Abramson indicates the case employed by ban supporters to get this policy adopted dealt with an off campus sexual assault against a student by the dean of the UC Boalt law school. The invocation of the UC Boalt law school case demonstrates the mental gymnastics that UC ban supporters had to go through to implement their policy; as Abramson notes there were sexual assault laws on the books in California via which the dean could have been prosecuted. The bitter reality is that to get this policy implemented, the supporters had to assault the idea that sexual consensual relationships between adults and sexual assaults are not interchangeable.

For academia as a whole and for the population as a whole, if one takes the sexual out of this anti-sexual policy, interest in the policy would become just about nil. But the sexual component cannot be taken out of this policy. Sexual meddlers and crusaders would not tolerate it. Just as the prohibition of prostitution has never been about the state saving money, nor the prohibition of homosexual acts between consenting adults has ever been about the State saving money, the prohibition of student professor relationships has never been just about universities saving money.

Ultimately the issue is what can save our universities from the moral crusaders, no matter what causes and ideologies the crusaders may embrace. In his book, Professor Abramson has taken an important initial step in terms of elucidating the importance of adhering to basic constitutionally guaranteed sexual civil liberties and sexual rights in American universities. Vigilance in the area of civil rights and liberties is crucial if authoritarian interventionists are to be prevented from controlling the most intimate aspects of persons’ lives. But such vigilance must also be combined with an understanding of the social psychological dynamics propelling true believers to seek to control the sexual lives of others. If we are to succeed in affirming and protecting the value of conscience and liberty, those opposing these values cannot be allowed to pass themselves off as feminists just trying to protect those who supposedly cannot protect themselves, or university administrators just engaging in fiscal savings; they must be confronted and critiqued at every possible opportunity and exposed as authoritarians whose power and control agendas are antithetical to the ideals of higher education.

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References
Bellas, M. L., & Gossett, J. M. (2001). Love or the lecherous professor: Consensual sexual relationships between professors and students. The Sociological Quarterly, 42, 529-558.

Dank, B. M., & Alberquerque, K. (1998). Banning sexual asymmetry. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 1.

Dank, B. M., & Fulda, J. S. (1998). Forbidden love: Student-professor romances. Sexuality and Culture, 1, 107-130.

Hooks, B. (1996). Passionate pedagogy: Erotic student/faculty relationships. Z Magazine, Mar 1996 (pp. 45-51).

Kincaid, J. (1999). Power, bliss, jane and me. Critical Inquiry, 25(3), 610-616.

Kincaid, J. (2000). Critical response. Critical Inquiry, 26(3), 615-618.

McWilliam, E. (1996). Touchy subjects: A risky inquiry into pedagogical pleasure. British Educational Research, June 1996 (pp. 305-307).

Nehring, C. (2001). The higher yearning: Bringing eros back to academe. Harper’s Magazine, Sept 2001.

Oliviero, T. H. (1994). Strange bedfellows, thoughts on the bans against faculty-student relations and how they can hurt us. Radical Teacher, Winter 1994.

Patai D. (1998). Heterophobia: sexual harassment and the future of feminism. Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield.

Patai, D. (2002). Academic affairs. Sexuality and Culture, 6, 65-96.

Pellegrini, A. (1999). Pedagogy’s turn: Observations on students, teachers and transference-love. Critical Inquiry, 25(3), 617-625.

Pichaske, D. (1995). When students make sexual advances. Chronicle of Higher Education, 24 Feb 1995 (pp. B1-B2).

Refinetti, R. (2001). Sexual correctness in academia: The case of the professor. Sexuality and Culture, 5(2), 91-94.

Skeen, R. E., & Nielsen, J. M. (1983). Student-faculty sexual relationships. Qualitative Sociology, 6(2), 99-117.

Tittle, P. (1998). On prohibiting relationships between professors and students. Sexuality and Culture, 1, 131-149.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 2, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, ivory tower romance, reviews, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student-prof dating | 4 Comments

The feminist and rapist rhetoric of hate

The dankprofessor has previously pointed out that the response to the Heather Mac Donald LA Times article on on the campus rape crisis myth has too often been characterized by dehumanizing and degrading and angry rhetoric directed toward Heather Mac Donald and her defenders. I was subject to the super asshole label on the Astraea’s Scales blog. Ms. Scales and the dankprofessor did have an exchange on her comment section. The exchange follows.

The dankprofessor stated-

What the dankprofessor finds ironic is that the writer of this post has an attitudinal framework which is similar to the psychological framework of many rapists. Rapists attempt to psychologically degrade their victims. If such degradation is successful, the rapist ends up creating victims in their own image- victims who feel angry, hurt, powerless, guilty, fearful and vengeful. Such is often called passing the sting.

It is no easy task to transcend this vicious cycle of degradation. If victims are to get beyond their victimage, such is more likely to occur in a situation of empathy, and empowerment, not one characterized by anger and hostility.

Another rapist dynamic is impersonality and dehumanization. For rapists, their victims are faceless; they use their victims for their own psychological gratifications; any personal knowledge of the victims is irrelevant. A victim is just another asshole. And for the writer of this Astraea’s Scales blog, there is no need to know the dankprofessor; I am faceless, just another asshole; just another rape enabler.

I suggest that the writer of the Scales blog consider the possibility that her rhetoric is a rhetoric of rape.

Astraea’s responds-

I think the fact that the dankprofessor compares a feminist woman to a rapist while criticizing MY lack of reasoned debate speaks volumes.

The dankprofessor responds-

I did not compare you to a rapist; I indicated that you engage in a rape rhetoric. Rapists engage in degrading and demeaning words and deeds. In their rape mentality, their victims are dehumanized and faceless. For them women simply exist as things to be used for their gratification. And, as I stated previously, the effect of the rape on their victims often leads to creating victims who reflect the the rapist mentality- anger, fear, powerlessness.

The fact that you simply made short shrift of my previous comment either means that you know little or nothing about rape and its effects or you are in denial about said effects.

The fact that you wrap yourself in a feminist label is irrelevant. Don’t fret about labels, fret about being open to the truth.

The dankprofessor also wishes to indicate that I do not see these posts on the response to the Heather Mac Donald piece to be unrelated to the focus of the dankprofessor blog- the campus repression of student professor consenting sexual relationships. Such repression is often advocated by those wrapping themselves in a feminist garb and using the most degrading and angry rhetoric directed at their opponents. It is the same rhetoric and garb that is used in this campus rape imbroglio. It is something more than righteous indignation; it is righteous hatred.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

February 29, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, Heather Mac Donald, higher education, rape, sexual politics | 1 Comment

A “feminist” rape rhetoric

The intemperate attack on Heather Mac Donald for her LA Times and City Journal articles on the campus rape crisis myth continues unabated. Typical characterizations of Heather MacDonald and/or her writings have been stupid, disgusting and “asshole”. Now the dankprofessor has become the subject of this tirade. Such is indicated in the following posting from the Astraea’s Scales blog.

The disgusting editorial by Heather Mac Donald in the LA Times has been making the rounds and is being used by rape apologists already. All the more reason to write the LA Times and tell them how irresponsible it was to give a rape apologist so much space in a major newspaper.

Some examples (not linking, you can see for yourself and challenge them if you’re braver than I):

Asshole Michael of 2blowhards.com uses it to justify his anti-feminism in a January 26th post:

It’s funny, isn’t it, the way some people claim that Political Correctness (or Sexual Correctness) never existed, isn’t it? Of course it did. I’m reminded of the way some people, when thinking back to (or remembering) ’70s-style feminism, say, “Oh, it wasn’t so bad.” Sure it was.

And super asshole dankprofessor at dankprofessor.wordpress.com twists it around to a rather creepy personal issue in a Feburary 25th post:

Ignoring of women’s own interpretations of their experience sounds quite familiar to the dankprofessor. Such is familiar since in the feminist framework regarding student professor sexual relationships, the student is never able to consent since the feminist axiom is that differential power precludes consent. In this framework students are never asked if they consented. Their interpretations are of no import unless they reflect a feminist orthodoxy. Female students who protest that they did consent are simply ignored.

The campus rape myth and the predator professor/female student myth come from the same source – anti-sexual campus feminists.
This is exactly why giving legitimacy to people like Heather Mac Donald – who works for a conservative think tank and has no previous experience with sexual assault or rape issues – is so dangerous. It reinforces widespread misconceptions about rape and gives rape apologists ammunition.

So such is the manner in which too many campus feminists deal with their critics, name-calling and degradation. No place for reasoned debate here.

What the dankprofessor finds ironic is that the writer of this post has an attitudinal framework which is similar to the psychological framework of many rapists. Rapists attempt to psychologically degrade their victims. If such degradation is successful, the rapist ends up creating victims in their own image- victims who feel angry, hurt, powerless, guilty*, fearful and vengeful. Such is often called passing the sting.

It is no easy task to transcend this vicious cycle of degradation. If victims are to get beyond their victimage, such is more likely to occur in a situation of empathy, and empowerment, not one characterized by anger and hostility.

Another rapist dynamic is impersonality and dehumanization. For rapists, their victims are faceless; they use their victims for their own psychological gratifications; any personal knowledge of the victims is irrelevant. A victim is just another asshole. And for the writer of this Astraea’s Scales blog, there is no need to know the dankprofessor; I am faceless, just another asshole; just another rape enabler.

I suggest that the writer of the Scales blog consider the possibility that her rhetoric is a rhetoric of rape.

*I want to make it clear that I am not indicating that rape victims have anything to feel guilty about. Survivor guilt is a common feeling of survivors of violence- whether the survivors be rape survivors, Holocaust survivors, military combat survivors, et. al.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

February 27, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, Heather Mac Donald, higher education, rape, sex offenders, sexual politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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