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?
In an August 13, 2009 article the naplesnews.com reported in some detail on the Florida Gulf Coast University administration’s investigation of Professor Patrick Davis’s alleged involvement and upcoming marriage to a former student. This article is required reading for anyone who is seriously interested in how a consensual relationship between a student and a professor in which neither the professor nor the student is the complainant ends up being subjected to investigation.
In the situation under consideration, third party informants were the source of the complaints. I have previously argued that third party informants play a crucial role in the revealing of consensual student professor relationships. In the present case, allegations about capricious grading are brought up. The allegations should of course be investigated irrespective of whether there was a related sexual component. However, as to be expected, it appears that the sexual component is treated as the primary component. As the dankprofessor has repeatedly pointed out, universities should concern themselves with fairness in grading not what they may consider to be fair or foul sexual relationships.
The naplesnews.com article in passing cites the university’s non-harassment and anti-discrimination policy, which states that a conflict exists “when an individual evaluates or supervises another individual with whom he or she has, or desires to have, an amorous or sexual relationship.”
Now this is a new one for the dankprofessor- a supervising individual is in violation of a non-harassment policy if said individual simply has a desire to have an amorous or sexual relationship with the supervised. Not acting on the desire is not enough; simply having the desire is adequate for disciplinary action.
So what is a desiring professor to do. The only ethical action in this absurd scenario is for the professor to recuse himself or God forbid herself from supervising the student. The conforming prof could simply screen out attractive students from his classes. Or in other words, get rid of attractive students.
I guess Florida Gulf Coast University reputation as a university that has sexually run amok is merited.
Professor Lindsey then concludes with the following-
Keith Reader in his commentary on external examiners in the UK elucidates on his position that external examiners may be the way to go to avoid potential conflict of interest situations when a student to be graded is in a sexual relationship with the professor. Alan Clements in his article, “Strengths and Weaknesses of the External Examiner Mechanism” describes the process as operating in the following manner:
An external examiner is appointed to monitor a course. External examiners are normally senior academics who are paid a modest honorarium for their work during their fixed term appointment (usually 4 years). External examiners must be disinterested with no links with the university they are examining and with no conflicts of interest (e.g., a relative studying at the university they are examining). A typical university may employ 300 external examiners to cover all its courses.
The external examiner takes part in the development of a course as an advisor and is consulted whenever rules are changed. The external examiner’s principal role is in quality control and the monitoring of the exam procedure. A professor in the USA may create an exam paper on Monday, give it to the students on Tuesday, and grade it on Wednesday. In an English university, a teacher sets an exam with a marking scheme that provides sample answers together and an indication of how the marks are to be allocated. This exam is handed in to the secretary responsible for exams. The exam office sends the exam and its marking scheme to another member of the faculty for checking. This teacher returns the exam with corrections and suggestions and the person who set the exam creates a new version.
Having been checked internally, the exam paper is now sent to the external examiner who looks at the paper from the point of view of accuracy, conformity to the curriculum and quality. The external examiner would, for example, consider whether the assessment examines all parts of the unit and whether it is capable of discriminating between poor, good and very good students. The external examiner the returns the exam paper with comments and suggestions. These are passed to the unit leader who is expected to make the appropriate changes.
Clearly, such a long and involved process of setting an exam means that it is difficult to fine-tune an exam to a class because the exam is set months before it is taken. Equally, it is impossible to set several exams per unit because of the lead time and the bureaucratic overhead.
The role of the external examiner does not end with the checking of exams. After the students have taken the exam, the external examiner visits the university and attends the unit and progress boards. The external examiner has the right to comment on any aspect of the department’s work and assessment procedures. The external examiner scrutinizes work that has been graded (on a sampling basis) and may even interview students and staff. The external examiner signs final pass lists to validate them.
After the exam boards have met, the external examiner returns to his or her own university and writes a report. This report is sent to the other university’s registry as well as to the head of department. The department is expected to implement any suggestions made by the external examiner and to report back to them. Ignoring an external examiner’s comments is not an option.
Assuming that this system as it operates in the UK is successful in terms of abolishing potential conflict of interest impacting on course grading by insuring uniformity/standardization of course content and course grading, such would obviate any need to give special attention to student professor sexual relationships. Certainly the UK external examiner process would veto the call for banning student professor sexual relationships since conflict of interest is not a problem. However, as outlined by Reader, such is not the case since he indicates that the renouncing of these relationships is part of this UK process. But why? Why should they be renounced? Of course, such renouncing has occurred and will occur in the context of moral and sexual outrage or offense.
What disturbs the dankprofessor and I expect would disturb most American academics is that the UK process standardizes courses and exams and grading to such a degree that the professor almost becomes an irrelevancy. Ones course is no longer ones course but rather the university system’s course; the professor simply becomes a cog in the educational mechanism. For the dankprofessor, such represents dehumanization to the nth degree. And, of course, such can also be viewed as a steppingstone to the impersonal world of online education. This becomes an education with no teacher passion, no love of knowledge leading to the knowledge of love. How sad, how utterly pathetic that in order to eliminate the personal in education we might end up creating a Brave New World of Education.
But if this is to occur in America, it will not come about tomorrow. Students enrolled in one section of a course are unlikely to find that they are experiencing the same course that students are experiencing in another section. There will continue to be good courses and bad courses; good graders and bad graders. And there will continue to be classes in which what happens in class is important to the learning process. There will continue to be courses in which it would be impossible for an external grader to engage in fair grading unless the grader attended all sessions of the class. And there will continue to be courses in which students are graded on what happens in class-class participation, class presentation as well as being graded on term papers and special projects. Will the external examiner read all the 50 or so term papers to insure that there is fairness in grading? And, of course, in the UK, the US and Canada or any other country, the usage of external graders would be highly problematic in disciplines such as art and theatre arts and dance.
An expansion of the educational bureaucracy in order to eradicate student faculty romance should be considered to be out of order. The only persons who would end up profiting from such a process would be the bureaucrats and their allied entrepreneurs. In our age of moral entrepreneurship, it may be a pipedream to call for a laissez faire policy in higher education re matters of the heart. But such will continue to be the calling of the dankprofessor.
I have posted and reposted and probably posted too much on the Mark Bourrie’s commentary on student professor sexual relationships. But just when the dankprofessor feels finished with Bourrie, something comes up. And what has come up is a commentary by Keith Reader on the Bourrie strand; here it is-
Keith Reader said…
UK policy – all but universally accepted and applied – is conflict-of-interest based and thus requires any faculty member involved in an intimate relationship to renounce *all* professional contact with the student concerned. The issue of favouritism in marking etc. seems to me paramount, and it may be worth noting that in UK universities all assessed work is seen by a second marker as well as in borderline cases by an external examiner. Work is also submitted anonymously (it bears the student’s matriculation number and not his/her name). All very labour-intensive, but worth it in my judgement to obviate allegations of malpractice. I certainly do not criticise such relationships en bloc and in principle (I know many people who are in long-term partnerships with their former students), but share Dr Bourrie’s concerns about their potential for abuse, and believe that a recusal/disclosure approach is the besy way of forestalling this. And I don’t post anonymously …
And here is the dankprofessor’s response-
Keith Reader states that he shares Dr. Bourrie’s concern about the potential for abuse in regards to student prof sexual relationships. I suggest that Reader reread Bourrie’s comments- for Bourrie there is something more than potential for abuse; Bourrie finds these relationships to be inherently damaging to the university and to be mind-boggling. In his terms and in the terms of most of those who vigorously advocate for the abolition of student professor sexual relationships, these relationships are not simply another example of conflict of interests; they are something more. They are condemned and
special policies are promoted because they are dealing with sexual matters and sexual outrage.
Mr. Reader feels that the UK way of handling these cases is good since
“UK policy – all but universally accepted and applied – is conflict-of-
interest based and thus requires any faculty member involved in an intimate relationship to renounce *all* professional contact with the student concerned.”
Renouncing professional contact with the student seems quite medieval to me since the student appears to end up being of the genre of leper. Is such renouncing public? If not, why not? Does the renounced have any grounds for appeal? If the renouncing is private/confidential, just another personnel matter, how does the university monitor both the student and the professor as to their adhering to the renouncing. And since the policy allows personal interaction, but not professional, how is it possible for the university to know that in the context of an intimate relationship professional matters are not discussed. In the dankprofessor’s opinion, the policy as outlined by Reader is patently absurd.
But then Reader goes on to state:
“The issue of favouritism in marking etc. seems to me paramount, and it may be worth noting that in UK universities all assessed work is seen by a second marker as well as in borderline cases by an external examiner.”
If favouritism in marking is the paramount issue, then it should be paramount in all cases of professors marking students. But the reality as described by Reader is that it only becomes paramount in borderline cases. Of course, Reader makes no attempt to differentiate borderline from non-borderline cases. If all cases were treated the same, all cases would have an external examiner, then the problem is solved. No one is treated differentially, no need for a sexual investigation, no need for a renouncing, etc. Problem solved! Uniformity and fairness in grading becomes affirmed.
But I really doubt that Reader and Bourrie would go for this. For Bourrie, no moral outrage, everything uniform, just doesn’t fit the Bourrie profile. I expect that Reader will elaborate on why having an external examiner for all would not be a good way to go.
Finally, the dankprofessor wishes to bring up the question as to who would occupy the position of external examiner, and what would be the qualifications of said examiners. Certainly said examiners would not be members of the faculty, too many prejudicial factors would then enter into the situation. And, of course, faculty do not like to have their grading judgments routinely questioned so said examiners may end up in rather tenuous situations. And presently, does one know who are the external examiners? Might Mr. Reader know? Might Mr. Reader be an external examiner? Might someone refer me to an external examiner so I can become more conversant as to the problems facing external examiners? Or is the reality that no one knows anything about external examiners, that no one knows any one who is or was an external examiner, that no ones knows how one can become an external examiner?
Well once again Professor Mark Bourrie’s response to the dankprofessor is a non- response.
Here it is unexpurgated, uncensored.
I’ve answered your worthless critique many times.
All you seem to care about is rationalizing your seduction of your students. You are scum”
Bourrie’s usage of the scum rhetoric strips away his cloak of professionalism. No attempt to use professionalism here as a rationalization for his attitudes toward professors who have been intimate with their students. No attempt here for Bourrie to engage in any minimal form of academic or polite or enlightening discourse. His tactics are those of a hatemonger- objectify and dehumanize those who are on the other side. “Create” them in whatever terms the hatemonger wishes. No matter that Dank has never seduced anyone, Bourrie can still create and communicate Dank as a seducer without any need to cite supporting evidence since Dank is a creation of Bourrie’s imagination. Bourrie can imagine Dank and other professors who are intimate with students in what ever terms he wishes. Of course, such tells us more about Bourrie than it tells us about Dank, et .al. The fact that he homogenizes us, makes us all the same, allows no possibility that some of us seduce and some do not, is quite damning of Bourrie. As the philosopher Martin Buber would likely state, Bourrie lives in an I/it world, a world of impersonal categories, a world that is never allowed to transcend into an I/thou framework, a framework where there is personalization, where individuals are experienced as unique beings, where relationships are explored, where people can be appreciated and even loved. It is also a world that has been described by the anthropologist Mary Douglas, as a world of dirt and pollution and scum; a world infected by those who have engaged in violations of what is considered to be sacred.
In this world which Bourrie has created, there is no love. Bourrie along with many others
whose opposition to student professor relationships mainly has an anti-sexual dynamic, cannot comprehend that there can be a loving relationship between a student and a professor. The idea that a mutual love of knowledge can lead to love, a passion for each other is out of their world. The idea that some of these relationships become long term and lead to marriage, and even marriage at times without divorce is not considered. I think that I am on pretty firm ground when I believe that Bourrie has never given any consideration to the possibility that some of the professors and administrators he riles against at Concordia for not advocating student professor bans may very well have fallen in love with and married a student. And I am also quite sure that Bourrie has never entertained the possibility that some of his students may very well be the children of persons who were once in student professor relationships.
The mundane world of love, marriage and children is not there for Bourrie as applied to student professor relationships. Well, this mundane world is and was part of my world, and Bourrie’s writing me off and others like me as scum is not just beyond good taste, it reflects a descent into indecency and degradation. It reflects an attempt to pull his readers into his pornographic imagination.
And more must be said about love. It is striking that Mark Bourrie and his confreres say nothing about love, and nothing about falling in love. Such is striking since their often avowed goals is to preserve fairness and objectivity when it comes to grading. But never once does Bourrie say that the professor who has fallen in love with a student, a love which may be only known to the professor, should recuse oneself from grading the loved student or go to his supervisor to insure said love should not bias the grading process.
And as for barring student professor relationships that entail friendship without sex, Bourrie in his recent posting discounts such relationships as being different, not applicable. But, if ones goal really is to protect fairness in grading, one must know that at times close friendships, loving friendships can produce bonds that could threaten the fairness of the grading process. But Bourrie and apparently many others do not care about love and friendship interfering with grading. What they care about is sex and furthering their anti-sexual agenda. The fairness in grading appeal helps them to rationalize their goals, and that is too stamp out sex between students and professors.
As long as universities are not replaced by online education, there will be love and sex between students and professors. Such has become and will unfortunately continue to be at least into the near future, the love that dare not speak its name. And dankprofessor blog readers can be assured that the dankprofessor will continue to speak its name. Such is my pledge.
Mark Bourrie’s response to my blogging merits a reply. His response follows-
No, Dank, I want professors to act professionally, in the context of the power inequity that exists, the disruptive aspects of these affairs to the rest of the students, the possibility of litigation, the real and perceived conflicts re: marks, scholarships, internships, references, etc. You need not put words in my mouth. I have made myself very clear. The legal profession views clients as adults, and it bans sexual relationships between lawyers and clients because of the power imbalance and the coercive power that comes from the lawyer/client relationship. I believe this is the same type of power imbalance that exists between profs and students.
Of course, I agree with Dr. Bourrie that we should all be concerned about the disruptive aspects of these affairs if there be any. Of course, if affairs of any kind are introduced into the classroom and such is disruptive of the class agenda, remedial action should be taken. Remedial action should be taken in terms of any kind of disruptive behavior, such as students talking to others during lecture, or persistently interrupting others, being rude to to others, etc. However, I expect that we would agree that students do not have a right not to be offended in the classroom. If we systematically avoid dealing with subjects that we fear would be offensive to some students, then education would be reduced to a form of pablum.
As for the possibility of litigation in regards to consensual student professor intimate relationships, the dankprofessor knows of no successful litigation that has been taken in this area. At least I know of none that has taken place in the United States. Maybe the situation is different in Canada. Maybe, Dr. Bourrie can give me some examples of successful litigation in regards to consensual student professor intimate relationships. And, of course, I am not referring to sexual harassment lawsuits in which there might have previously been a consensual relationship. I will not defend persons who are a party to sexually harassing another. I will hold that the behavior of persons who engage in mutual consent in the present situation under consideration should not and do not fall within the purview of litigation; such should be considered basic and elementary.
As for real and perceived conflicts of interests in regards to grading, etc., if I could wave a magic wand and remove all sexual interaction between students and professors, perceived conflicts of interests would remain rife in the university. It is par for the course for students to believe and often state that another student received a higher grade than oneself because the professor liked him or her or the professor does not like me as much as him or her. Students usually use this technique or psychological ploy to avoid attending/dealing with their own work; it is often a way of refusing to accept criticism and it is widespread in academia. Of course, any prof who feels he/she cannot objectively evaluate any student should recuse him or herself from evaluating that student. Unfortunately, such is unlikely to occur; said recusing prof would probably be stigmatized or even terminated.
Problems relating to prejudicial grading should be at the forefront of university concern, e.g, how to avoid prejudicial grading when the professor finds the student exceptionally physically attractive, reminds one of ones ex-girlfriend, etc., or is repelled by the appearance of the student. Nothing on this in the university. These sorts of grading issues usually only come up by those who suffer from a “keen” interest in the sexual behavior of others, whether it be of a professional or non-professional nature. If so-called professionalism rationalizes or justifies such an interest, such is most unfortunate. In my opinion, in general terms, terms like professionalism often function to cover up the real underlying interests. Such is my non-professional but professorial opinion. The dankprofessor also has an opinion as to why charges of prejudicial grading are never lodged against womens studies professors who hold that they should bond with their female students or who have overtly expressed hateful comments about men. But I will withhold my opinion on this. Maybe Bourrie can help us out on this one.
As for the university adopting policies similar to those adopted by the legal profession or the lawyering class being held out as a model for the professor class, God help us. Yes, there are many ethical problems and other problems in the university world, particularly plagiarism by both students and professors and administrators, but such I believe dwells into insignificance as to the the ethical problems of the lawyering class. Putting ethics and lawyers together is often considered to be an oxymoron. In any case, the lawyer client relationship is simply not analogous to the student professor relationship.
Mark Bourrie on his Ottawa Watch Blog responds to my critique on his wanting to ban student prof intimacies at Concordia University. He states-
An American university professor/blogger doesn’t get it. He says I want to “coerce” people. Actually, no. I want them to act professionally. I don’t want them to come on to, date and/or sleep with someone, then grade their work, decide on their scholarships, etc.
Of course, Dr. Bourrie is playing words games. He wants to coerce them if they act in a manner that he finds unprofessional. If they act like he wants them to act, if they act like him, no problem. Nothing new here, particularly in the area of sexuality. Follow my sexual standards or else! Nothing new here in reference to authoritarianism, just follow the ethic handed down from above, and all will be OK.
And then there is Bourrie’s naivete or is it verbal manipulation? Note his statement- “I don’t want them to come on to, date and/or sleep with someone, then grade their work, decide on their scholarships, etc.” This is sexism to the nth degree! Male active, female passive. A female student coming on to a male prof is nothing unusual, such has never been unusual and will never be unusual. Maybe the case is that female students do not find Bourrie attractive but such does not mean that they do not find other male profs attractive. I know this to be a fact based on my 35 years of experience as a professor as well as based on the experiences of many other professors and the many female students who have contacted me in regards to their love of their professor. And if Bourrie is unaware of male profs and female students marrying, such is other worldly. If female students were not attracted to male profs then the issue of consensual relationships would not be an issue.
Then Bourrie states-
“If sex between profs and students is so right, why do the profs involved keep it a secret? I figure anything that can’t take public scrutiny tends to be illegal, immoral or fattening. U of T gets that aspect, too, and it’s a good start.”
I ask Bourrie and his confreres, if in the past homosexuals believed their homosexuality right, then why did homosexuals keep their homosexuality secret? Why were homosexuals so closeted? Any person with some degree of common sense knows the answer to these questions. Being in the closet, keeping such things secret, does not mean that the secreted believe they are wrong, but often means that they do not want to be harassed, stigmatized and fired. As persons without power, they do not want to be subject to the power abuse of bureaucrats, police and various agents of moral zealots; moral zealots who act self-righteously in the name of their morality , their professionalism, etc.
And in more general terms about Bourrie’s feeling that “anything can’t take public scrutiny tends to be illegal, immoral or fattening.” Very funny if one does not believe in the right to privacy, in this case the right to privacy by consenting adults. I assumed that even so-called professionals believe sexual relationships between adults in private was OK. If the Concordia prof and student came out publicly, I guess Bourrie would feel OK about this rather than feeling that they were flaunting their relationship. I believe most people who are opposed to student professor relationships want them to be in the closet, not out in public for all to see, not engaging in marriage ceremonies, etc.
Bourrie then cites the University of Toronto policy in he following terms-
Here’s U of T’s policy. At least they recognize the conflict and say the affair must be disclosed, but look at the weasel word “should” in the first paragraph. I would prefer “must”:
University policy does not prohibit sexual relations between consenting adults. However, if you form any kind of intimate personal relationship with someone who teaches you or otherwise makes academic decisions affecting you, that teacher has a conflict of interest. She or he should disclose the conflict of interest to their academic supervisor – usually the Chair of the department or the Dean of the faculty – and should ensure that your work is graded by a colleague.
If your teacher does not disclose the conflict of interest, s/he is not simply in breach of University policy: s/he is showing a negligent disregard for your academic interests, and placing the legitimacy of your academic accomplishments in question.
Has Dr. Bourrie really thought thru the implications and possible consequences of policies of this sort? If not, I suggest that the good professor put himself in the position of the involved student and the professor who is committed to following university rules. One day, you as the student are removed from the classroom and theoretically put in another class for your own good. (Sometimes the student may not be physically removed from the class, but graded by another prof, no matter whether she stays or goes, the problems remain essentially the same.) And, in addition, you know that the university administrators who are “helping” you, know of your sexual activity that led to your removal. And then you will have to deal with the reality that it is your special professor who informed on you and has helped to remove you from his class. What kind of professor would do this? What kind of professor would do this to a woman who he supposedly loved? And for the involved professor his life goes on, no serious disruption since the disclose dispose policy, as some call it, has been implemented. I ask Dr. Bourrie, who professes to be a person who believes in this policy, have you ever given one iota of thought to the exiled student? Or was she simply a non-person who was disposed of? And this policy is implemented by some to correct a power imbalance; this is power imbalance at its worst.
But, of course, there is more, much more which is damning about this sort of policy. Supposedly the student is removed from class so that differential non-prejudicial grading can take place. But once the student is removed one can be assured that differential grading will take place since all the students but one will have the same grader. For the professor who is committed to fair and objective grading, the professor grades all the students using the same standard irrespective of whether the prof likes or dislikes the student.
However, dealing with the possible reality of the student being removed from class, who will be the grader and will the grader be able to grade this student as the regular prof grades all of the other students? How can it be assured that a colleague of the “special” professor will grade the student objectively, that his or her feeling about the special prof or the student, will not interfere with the grading? Will the grader be told that the student is the lover of the prof? And what if the grade is based on an in class project, on class participation, how will this be dealt with? And what if the student is taken out of an art or music or theatre arts or sports class? How can the prof deal with this? Shouldn’t the grading prof be forced to sit thru the entire class and then grade the student?
It is amazing that so many people, so many academics, are taken in by a policy that after a bit of thought one cannot help but label said policy as a sham. Academics often have knee jerk responses to these policies. Why? Because most academics give little thought to the intricacies, complexities and ethics of grading. Grading is at the bottom of the academic totem pole. Tell me about one professor at Concordia or UT who was hired in part because of their grading practices. Tell me about any university that has workshops for new or old faculty on grading practices. Of course, many faculty don’t grade, they ship out grading to teaching assistants. So much for the importance of grading.
Bottom line is that the policies that Bourrie, et. al., advocate are not based on a commitment to good grading but are rather based on rooting out those who they see as sexual deviants. In the dankprofessor’s opinion the irony regarding Bourrie and his concern for his daughter at the hands of a so-called predator professor is that his daughter would probably be at much greater risk if she becomes involved in the hookup and drinking culture associated with all too many colleges than if she became involved with her English or Theatre Arts professor. As the dankprofessor has indicated previously-
the love of knowledge can lead to the knowledge of love. Such passions simply cannot be destroyed or regulated by campus bureaucrats or professionals of any kind.
The University of Southern Maine student newspaper, the Free Press, had a February 11 article on student professor dating. What differentiated this article from the run of the mill student newspaper articles on this subject is that there was an interview with a female student who reports to be in a relationship with a university professor. Also included was an interview with a third party student observer. Of course, the article did not omit input from the relevant university administrators.
There were a number of statements worth noting in this article and the one that got the immediate attention of the dankprofessor came from student third party observer, Jeremy Knee, a USM senior. Mr. Knee reported on his suspicions that an unnamed female student was in a relationship with an unnamed male professor. As for his being uncomfortable if such a relationship was in fact occurring, he stated- “While it wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable because they were involved, the faculty was limited in his availability to other students. And I had the thought that if I was a girl who looked like her, I’d be getting a better grade.”
Of course, the reason invoked by Mr. Knee are the same reasons often invoked by university administrators for the banning of such relationships, that they threaten the integrity of the grading process, that they undermine academic integrity. Of course, Mr. Knee’s student reaction is the same old same old student reaction when another student gets a higher grade than oneself, ones lower grade becomes the fault of the professor or of the favored student; the distraught student denies that ones grade can accurately reflect ones course work. It’s called copping out or, if you will, scapegoating. Of course, there is an additional innuendo in this situation and that is that the female student may be prostituting herself for a high grade or in more general terms, the female student is just another gradedigger.
But Mr.Knee had more on his mind when he stated: “If I had the ability to manipulate someone who had power over me, I might.” So this is it. It is all about the manipulation of power, not about love, or romance, or closeness or even passion. It is just about premeditated manipulation by a gradedigging female student. Of course, this view is not unique to Mr. Knee. The dankprofessor regards it as representing hardcore cynicism, and in a weird way it represents the thinking of cynical feminists but in an inverse manner. The cynical campus feminist regards the male professor as being the predatory power manipulator of the female student; the male observing student regards the female student as being the predator manipulating the male professor. So here one can easily pick the most psychologically suitable stereotype.
And when it comes down to university administrators, too many pick a stereotype, and we know the one that is usually picked is the stereotype of the cynical campus feminist as well as the one that states that student professor relationships undermine academic integrity, and their evidence for this belief are persons of the genre of Mr. Knee. How sad! How sad that they embrace the view that represents thinking the worst of people, which represents hardcore cynicism. Does such thinking become a necessary outcome of being a university administrator? Is such thinking indicative of embracing a police cynicism where everyone is suspect, no one is to be trusted since everyone has their con?
Or maybe it is the dankprofessor who has a major problem? Might it be that I suffer from a romantic view of the world that censors out the omnipresence of cynical manipulators? Might I suffer from a naivete when I profess that student professor couples should be just left alone, that it is more harmful to intrude into the lives of these couples than to do nothing?
More to come on this article in future postings.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the
same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
The dankprofessor has argued that at the core of banning student professor sexual relationships is an anti sexual dynamic, a dynamic that is often stated in rather stark terms which puts such relationships in a child molestation framework with the professor being the sexual predator and the student being the innocent child or childlike female student. Some times the framework is closer to a rape framework with the professor being an adult rapist and the student an adult or near adult rape victim. Whatever be the specifics of the framework, the outcome is the same- the female student is unable to give consent. This sounds pretty outlandishly anti-sexual . However, some have argued that this sexual banning really is not anti-sexual, and that the reason for such bans is to protect the grading process, to eliminate the possibility that the enamored professor will prejudicially grade the loved one. To put the argument in a nutshell, professors are committed to non-prejudicial grading and sacrificing the rights of students and professors from loving each other in a grading context is a necessary sacrifice. On the surface this sounds like a reasonable argument. However, the overwhelming predominant academic reality is that professors provide only lip service to the sacredness of the grading process; lip service since professors generally do not emotionally invest themselves in grading; “good” grading does not help one get hired, promoted or tenured. Investing oneself in good grading, emphasizing how one is a committed non-prejudicial grader will not help one advance in academia. At whatever university and in whatever discipline, valued and remembered professors will be remembered as good teachers or good researchers or good scholars and not as outstanding non-prejudicial graders.
And given the lack of value put on grading, there is little or no emphasis on the prevention of prejudicial grading. There are no workshops on the prevention of prejudicial grading. There is much rhetoric in contemporary academic life about matters relating to race, gender and class, but nothing of a formal or informal nature directed toward professors as to how to avoid race, class and gender biases as such effect the grading process, whether the grading relates to grading a student one likes or one dislikes. One can politically and ideologically bond with students, one can fight and demonstrate with students to take back the night, but hardly anyone argues that one cannot grade these same students. Of course, students frequently complain that professors engage in prejudicial grading, that so and so students received a high grade because the professor liked him or her. But such talk is seen by almost all professors as just talk, certainly no talk that would lead one to take some sort of action or to lead the talked about to take a self-inventory.
If professors were really concerned about prejudicial grading, they would overtly demand that faculty deal with what heretofore has been unmentionable- that faculty, both male and female faculty, both married and unmarried faculty, both feminist and sexist professors are sexually attracted and sometimes very sexually attracted to some of their students some of the time. Every person who has ever professed knows this to be true and every professor know that being differentially attracted to students can lead to differential grading to some degree based on said attractiveness. Of course, we all know that the the physically attractive, the beautiful people are advantaged in just about all sectors of everyday life.
Robert Cialdini, in Influence: Science and Practice, summarizes the dynamic in these terms-
“Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence (for a review of this evidence, see Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, & Longo, 1991). Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process. Some consequences of this unconscious assumption that “good-looking equals good” scare me. For example, a study of the 1974 Canadian federal elections found that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates (Efran & Patterson, 1976). Despite such evidence of favoritism toward handsome politicians, follow-up research demonstrated that voters did not realize their bias. In fact, 73 percent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance; only 14 percent even allowed for the possibility of such influence (Efran & Patterson, 1976). Voters can deny the impact of attractiveness on electability all they want, but evidence has continued to confirm its troubling presence (Budesheim & DePaola, 1994).
A similar effect has been found in hiring situations. In one study, good grooming of applicants in a simulated employment interview accounted for more favorable hiring decisions than did job qualifications – this, even though the interviewers claimed that appearance played a small role in their choices (Mack & Rainey, 1990). The advantage given to attractive workers extends past hiring day to payday. Economists examining U.S. and Canadian samples have found that attractive individuals get paid an average of 12-14 percent more than their unattractive coworkers (Hammermesh & Biddle, 1994).
Equally unsettling research indicates that our judicial process is similarly susceptible to the influences of body dimensions and bone structure. It now appears that good-looking people are likely to receive highly favorable treatment in the legal system (see Castellow, Wuensch, & Moore, 1991; and Downs & Lyons, 1990, for reviews). For example, in a Pennsylvania study (Stewart, 1980), researchers rated the physical attractiveness of 74 separate male defendants at the start of their criminal trials. When, much later, the researchers checked court records for the results of these cases, they found that the handsome men had received significantly lighter sentences. In fact, attractive defendants were twice as likely to avoid jail as unattractive defendants. In another study – this one on the damages awarded in a staged negligence trial – a defendant who was better looking than his victim was assessed an average amount of $5,623; but when the victim was the more attractive of the two, the average compensation was $10,051. What’s more, both male and female jurors exhibited the attractiveness-based favoritism (Kulka & Kessler, 1978).
Other experiments have demonstrated that attractive people are more likely to obtain help when in need (Benson, Karabenic, & Lerner, 1976) and are more persuasive in changing the opinions of an audience (Chaiken, 1979)…”
And the dankprofessor asks, are there any believers that such is different in the academic world, that physical attractiveness plays no role in grading and in academic gamesmanship in general?
If professors were really honest about this dynamic and at the same time committed to non-prejudicial grading, what might they do to minimize prejudicial grading? Might they recuse themselves from grading attractive students? Not possible. Might the university have dual classes, one class for the attractive and the other for the non-attractive? No way. But what about bringing about what had been not a rarity in the past in academia and that is the introduction of a student dress code. And the dress code would be that students dress in an absolutely uniform and bland manner, and that code be strictly enforced by administrators who have been specially trained to create and enforce dress codes. Unquestionably, there would be misdirected faculty and students who would hold such a code to be in violation of student civil liberties and rights. But the sacrifice of such rights would be a small sacrifice to make in the pursuit of fair and non-prejudicial grading. And, of course, students and professors have been asked (demanded) that they sacrifice the right to have sex with each other, the right to romance each other, the right to love each other all in the supposed name of protecting fair and non-prejudicial grading. And if as has been pointed out by banning advocates that students have not fully developed the ability to consent in sexual matters why would one assume that these same students have developed the ability to decide how to dress on an everyday basis? Better to let the specially trained to decide how you dress as long as you are a student at our university.
OK, for the distraught students who believe that they just can’t accept a dress code, they better get with the code or they will get a public dressing down. And remember Big Brother and Big Sister loves all students equally in all their surface blandness and sameness. No need to fret about the physically attractive getting an unfair better deal. Right?
More to follow in upcoming posts.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008
On November 6, I published a post entitled, “The professor as THE sexual outsider”. This post focused on a post by Kentucky Youth Pastor Kyle McDanell which was published on his blog. The focus of the Pastor was on Paul Abramson and the content of his recent book. I was quite critical of the pastor’s posting and now Pastor McDanell has responded to my post. And it is the dankprofessor’s pleasure to respond to this intemperate and misdirected attack on me.
Pastor McDanell was particularly distraught with the following passage from my post which read as follows-
So when the pastor thinks of student professor relationships he thinks of child adult sex. The professor becomes the child molester because the student cannot be an adult. I believe that this is the default assumption held by many persons going way beyond Christian evangelicals. It goes back to our childhood when the teacher is always the adult and the student is always the child. Many persons just can’t get beyond this framework. No matter that the student is 25 or 35 or 55; the student is always a child and always a victim. The idea of student and professor studying and learning together as two adults and loving each other as two adults and as marrying each other as two adults and parenting as two adults just goes beyond the mental capacity of those holding this hardcore default assumption.
So then the pastor states-
“For one, I never said such a think, and two, he only proves everything I have just said. First, let’s deal with the whole child-sex thing. I never said that, and he is simply misinterpreting my own words. Apparently, he thought he saw something that was between the lines that wasn’t there. I am not that dumb to think that most college students are under 18. I am a college graduate and am currently working on my masters, I know what a college student looks like, and how many varying ages there are. I never said that the professor was a child molester, and the further comments that he makes on this false assumption are ludicrous at best.”
Unfortunately for the pastor somehow he bypasses his own key sentence which I indicated reflects that he embraces a default assumption that equates student professor sexual relationships with child adult sex. The sentence read as follows- “He (Abramson) doesn’t want to be told that sex between a student and adult are wrong.” Obviously, this sentence represents a characterization of the professor as an adult and the student not an adult and not an adult is equivalent to being a child. Default assumptions are not easily recognized by those holding them; the holder often is unable to see them and if questioned, one often becomes perplexed in the manner in which the pastor is perplexed. He cannot “see” the default assumption; he cannot find it in his text, but it is there in his text, out in the open so to speak, for all readers to see.
The pastor also characterizes my thinking in the following terms-
“And here lies where Dankprofessor and I differ. He sees my common sense view on human nature “extreme.” Because I argue in favor of traditional morality, common sense, and (oh my gosh) Biblical standards, I am apparently too extreme for our society. I wonder if Dankprofessor ever sees his own views extreme. Probably not, which is typical of closed-minded leftist. They can preach about Conservative Christians like myself being intolerant and closed-minded without even seeing their own bigotry. I would argue that professors like Abramson and Dankprofessor are themselves extreme. But something tells me that I won’t get the fanfare that the left gets.”
But the good pastor will get fanfare and from all places it will come from close-minded “leftists” since it is usually authoritarian feminist leftists who are intolerant and close-minded when it comes to my viewpoint on student professor relationships. In fact, in the 14 years that I have been involved in this issue, this is the first time I have been labeled as a leftist! So be it; such effectively demonstrates the absurdity of throwing around labels rather than focusing on the issue. And as far as my being upset about his traditional morality and his Biblical standards, I have no trouble in accepting that the pastor believes what he believes. What I find troubling is when the pastor takes his views and wants them to be mandated as part of public policy, when he advocates for the abrogation of the rights of adults to engage in consensual sexual relationships.
And the pastor continues-
“Many of Abramson and Dankprofessor’s own arguments prove this point. It doesn’t matter if what they argue makes no sense, the important thing is to just love one another and make sure it’s consensual. I’m all for love and being consensual, but I am also in favor of marriage and commitment. Chances are the student will likely split once they get that passing grade. so much for consensual sex!”
Now I must confess to being insulted, insulted when he implies that I am not in favor of marriage and commitment. Nothing could be farther from the truth since I am married and I am committed to my wife who I met when she was a student of mine in 1998, and then we married in 2000. And I have supported her through her battles with a number of life threatening illnesses as she has supported me. In illness and in health we have been there for each other. And to imply, as he clearly does, that female students who are involved with professors are prostituting themselves for grades is, of course, insulting not only to female students but to females in general. Believing that female students are gradediggers is similar to believing that females in general are golddiggers and reflects the sexual fantasies of the holder of such views. The reality here is that the pastor ends up pornographizing student professor relationships which might very well represent a form of psychological projection.
If the pastor knew anything at all about student professor relationships, he would know that often such relationships are formed in the context of a mutual love for a particular subject matter- of literature, or of history or of sociology, etc. Such love can become transformed from a love of knowledge to a knowledge of love. What I find ironic is that such love is so alien to what is so prevalent on today’s university campuses- hookup sex, often in the context of binge drinking and then more drinking and then more sex…Of course, the pastor may not find there to be any significant differences between hookup and committed non-marital relationships since he apparently holds all pre-marital sex to be equally sinful, no matter the form of said sex.
And the pastor continues-
“Secondly, the argument that Dankprofessor lays out here proves my previous points. Notice the Utopian worldview. It seems just normal to him, apparently, that a college student can walk into class, fall in love with the professor, and they go off and get married and have “consensual” sex, and none of that would affect the professors professional opinion of the student. Somehow he can make the assumption that the two can be both sexual partners and then be unbias in grades and favoritism in the classroom. Such a world doesn’t exist!”
If as the pastor claims that I am Utopian, I would counter claim that he is confusing utopianism with an ethical commitment. As a professor, I was ethically committed to treating/grading students as students equally. No matter whether I personally liked or disliked the student; no matter whether the student was a child of committed evangelical Christians; no matter whether the child of Christian or a Jew or an atheist. I know that few professors actually have such a commitment, however this was not the case for me. As a professor, I frequently engaged in questioning and self questioning not only in regards to the grading process but in regards to my life in general. As for conflicts of interest, I find it interesting that conflicts of interest are rife on campus, but it is often only so-called sexual conflicts of interest that receive the attention of more than a handful of faculty. In any case, I do not believe for a second that the pastor’s predominant interest in this area is one of non-prejudicial grading or conflicts of interest. His interest in this issue is because it is a sexual issue. Take the sexual component out, and I think that the good pastor will ask to be excused.
And last but not least the pastor concludes-
“Finally, what my argument against Dr. Abramson’s book have to do with homosexuality, I have no idea…
Apparently it is also extreme to oppose homosexuality. Apparently what is “mainstream” to him, and how the typical liberal like himself would define freedom, is liberation from all shackles of morality. That is, except for the morality that he defends, like opposing extremist like me. That is the moral thing to do apparently.Again, how he goes from me being against student-professor relationships to anti-homosexuals is unclear to me. Perhaps he could clarify for me. But I hope that it is obvious how right I was in my original posts concerning Professor Abramson and how Dankprofessor has only proven me right. I stand by my first post, and I welcome others to a friendly debate.”
Well, as requested, here is my clarification. The pastor is clearly opposed to adult consensual sexual relationships which offend his version of morality. The problem as I see it occurs when the pastor wishes to impose his moral shackles in the framework of coercive institutional regulations to consenting adults; in the first case he wishes to coerce consenting students and professors and in the second case he wishesto coerce persons engaging in same sex consenting sexual behavior. And as I stated previously, true believers who view themselves as fighting what they consider the good fight against sexual “debauchery” and sexual predators often “see themselves standing at the abyss…fighting The sexual outsider united in a stand that they believe will save our children.”
And, in conclusion, for the knowledge of the pastor, I spent a good part of my academic life working with Christian campus ministries in the engagement of ethical issues. However, in these partnerships I never dealt with Christians who wished to impose their morality on others. Rather the Christians I worked with were characterized by a humility and a communication of love. Such as I was told was compatible with the teachings of Jesus who never embraced any form of institutional formal religion and never practiced authoritarianism in any form.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2007
I am pleased to post this guest commentary by Professor John Bonnell on the grading issue.
“One of the more significant hypocrisies in academe is this notion of the sanctity of grades. In the humanities, to be sure, subjectivity reigns supreme—and that is exactly how it must be. Any idea of introducing and enforcing standards of judgment, unanimity of value, and reliably measured “outcomes” is fanciful in the extreme. Perhaps this can be accomplished in the teaching of mathematics and the natural sciences. (I doubt it, of course.) Perhaps a “C” in a Gary, Indiana high school means the same thing as a “C” in an Ivy League college. More likely, that is a pious wish leading to equally sanctimonious lies.
About thirty-five years ago, I and three dozen of my colleagues engaged in “grading” the same “student” essay. These English teachers produced a nice bell curve, with results ranging from A to F, with a preponderance of C’s. The rationales, the “standards,” the arguments were all over the range of possibility. My department discreetly shelved this embarrassing experiment, never to try it again. And since the “student” whose work was being graded remained anonymous, all the numerous other factors besides grammar, spelling, coherence, unity, and rhetorical emphases—factors such as gender, looks, race, age, ethnicity, et cetera, et cetera—did not enter into the grading “outcome.” Yet, these factors always introduce, or threaten to introduce, strains and biases into the psyches of even the most objective professionals. And this is exactly what one must expect from highly variegated human beings whose only certifiably common denominators are their titles and the letters scripted after their names. If anything, there is significant danger that a professor who finds a student attractive, or even has a romantic relationship with him, will be inclined to be more harsh in her assessments, her grades, to prove to herself that her objectivity remains intact. Sort of like the coach who is more demanding of her daughter playing on the team than she is of other athletes, lest anyone accuse her of bias, of favoritism. This, of course, is “unfair”—an unfairness only exceeded by barring the daughter from the team.
I have never assumed that the grades I have assigned are comparable to any other teacher’s. They are an act of communication between me and any given student, an act of communication that has varying degrees of impact and appreciation. That others in academe or industry believe, or pretend to believe, that a grade assigned by me has implications they can base their own presumptions upon is a fiction that most of us prefer to live by. And the fiction is harmless enough, except when, as in the present issue of romantic alliances, it is used to infantilize adults in a milieu where it should be most unwelcome.”
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Anna Moore is one of a very few academics who has directly confronted the prejudical grading issue, and she confronts it directly in personal terms in her article which I now present to you. Anna also understands that prejudicial grade issues often relate to liking or not liking specific students, and that this phenomenon is systematically not studied or written about by professors. Thank you, Anna for writing this article.
Michael Nelson in the October 5 issue of The Chronicle Review has an excellent essay on the Duke U lacrosse fiasco entitled STEREOTYPE, THEN AND NOW. And one of the constituencies that on the whole embraced stereotypes and groups labels in determining guilt or innocence was the Duke faculty.
As Nelson notes-
“As for Duke’s faculty members, they either rushed to condemn the students (speaking as the so-called Group of 88) or stood by silently for months while their colleagues did. On April 6, 2006, shortly after some protesters banged pots and hoisted banners (the largest read “CASTRATE!!”) outside the lacrosse captains’ house and others hung “Wanted!” posters around the campus with photos of team members, the Group of 88 ran a full-page ad in the student newspaper. The ad thanked “the protesters making collective noise … for not waiting and making yourselves heard.” So much for critical thinking based on weighing evidence.
A week after the Group of 88’s ad appeared, one of its authors, the literature professor Wahneema Lubiano, wrote an essay describing the students on the lacrosse team as “almost perfect offenders” because they are “the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus.” Her colleague Houston Baker had already weighed in on March 29 with an open letter to Duke’s provost, Peter Lange. Baker demanded that Duke order the “immediate dismissal” of the students and coaches of the lacrosse team because they embodied “abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken, white male privilege loosed amongst us.”
Of course, Duke professors routinely evaluate students in terms of course grading. So theoretically they are experienced professionals when it comes to evaluating students, evaluating students in an objective and dispassionate manner. If such be the case, when it comes to evaluating students and others concerning more weighty matters, matters than can lead to freedom or imprisonment, one could expect/hope that said professors would be even more objective and dispassionate in their evaluation of the accused students. But we know such was not the case at least in general terms. We also know that the President of Duke remained in office after functioning as a cheerleader for faculty and others in his condemnation of the accused students and the lacrosse team. President Brodhead did not resign just as none of the faculty who engaged in muckraking behavior resigned, and to my knowledge none of these faculty have recanted or have recused themselves from grading members of groups they have openly condemned.
Of course, professorial voluntary recusal is unheard of in the academic world. If faculty, such as the Duke faculty, were ordered to recuse themselves, they would be up in arms and undoubtedly would have great support throughout the academic world. Forced recusal in the academic world is not politically correct except for the exceptions, eg, professor dating a student in ones class. Then recusal is OK because prejudicial grading cannot be tolerated. What utter hypocrisy! Prejudicial grading is widely tolerated in the academic world and faculty hardly ever recuse themselves because given the hierarchy of professorial values, grading is not in the upper echelon.
I wish to make it clear that I believe recusal should be a viable option for the ethical professor but recusal from above, forced recusal does not represent engaging in an option. I wish that more professors would seriously confront the possibility that they are at risk of prejudicial grading. On the other hand, it has been argued that “The only way to ensure impartial grading is never to learn yours students names.” I doubt that any of us academics would want to embrace the impersonality of nameless students which in such a highly impersonal environment would also probably mean that the faculty remain nameless as well. Nameless faculty evaluated by other nameless faculty who were hired to educate and grade nameless students. No romance here. No love. Anonymity would be the norm although some of the nameless might embrace such an environment in their search for anonymous sex.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007
Continuing on the grading issue which I have in part addressed in two recent posts.
More needs to be said about grading since grading is held by student-professors romantic ban advocates to be sacrosanct. Sacrosanct in that it is held at such a sacred level that it trumps other values that are held in high regard by almost all persons who take the following values seriously-freedom of association, privacy, and the autonomy of the individual in regards to decision making, such as choice of romantic partners, choice of husband/wife etc. What I mean by trumps is that if a student is enrolled in professor Y’s class and dates professor Y while in class, such dating must be immediately stopped since non-prejudicial grading is held to be impaired. And it must be stopped at all costs, at the cost of the privacy of the student and the right of the student to remain in class.
Caroline Forell, a University of Oregon law professor, who played a major role in creating the University ofOregon Law School policy on this issue, puts it in the following stark terms-“If such a relationship occurs, the faculty member must disclose it to a supervisor and relinquish authority over the student.
Violating the policy could result in sanctions, ranging from a written reprimand to reassignment or dismissal.
Universities need such clear-cut policies to prevent abusive relationships.”
For Forell, abusive relationships include consensual relationships which she holds cannot really occur since the student is incapacitated by the power differential. So for Forell, a professor informing on a student about a student’s personal and private relationship without the student’s consent is not only good but is mandated by the university and if the professor does not inform, he or she may be sanctioned, may be terminated. Of course, it should be apparent to any fair minded person that it is the student who is being abused by persons such as Professor Forell and administrators who implement such policies However, and here we get to the nub of the matter, Professor Forell is not opposed to all student-professor relationships, only relationships in which the relationship and the class are occurring at the same time. It is the supreme value of grading that the good professor professes to be protecting; without such protection prejudicial grading will occur and the student in her terms becomes at risk of abuse.
Of course, I am opposed to prejudicial grading; students should be graded on the merits of their work, nothing else matters in terms of fairness. I was a university teacher/professor for some thirty plus years and I always adhered to this principle. However, I also wish to make it clear that I did not regard my grading component as the supreme component in my professorial role; the supreme component was that of being a teacher. And clearly, because one is a good teacher one is not necessarily a good grader, a good exam writer, etc. In terms of being a grader, I never met a colleague who entered the professoriate because of the desire to write exams and grade students and held education to simply be a byproduct of exams and grading. And now we get to the core of my argument which is that throughout academia professors almost always do not psychologically invest themselves in exams and grading, and spend little or no time dealing with matters relating to prejudicial grading. In fact, many of the best teachers delegate much of the grading responsibilities to their teaching assistants. Student assistants are held to be competent and fair-minded graders; persons with the least professional educational experience are assigned to do this sacred work. Of course, if it was sacred, if it was of supreme value, professors would never delegate this responsibility to others. Such delegation would represent a lack of concern about prejudicial grading. And such is my argument that professors on the whole give lip service to the importance of non-prejudicial grading except when it becomes a part of political cant, except when in today’s academic world it becomes a part of a political or sexual correctness.
What I find to be ironic is that it has been feminist professors, particularly women’s studies professors, who have been atthe forefront of the movement to ban student-professor intimate relationships. This movement came into being in full force in the 1990s. What is ironic is that in the prior decade of the 1980s the feminist academic cant was that women faculty should bond with their students, such was particularly strongly advocated by women’s studies faculty. However, few persons (one notable exception being Daphne Patai) within or outside of women’s studies raised questions as to how such bonding may impact on impartial grading, how such bonding may impact on impartial grading of those students who did not bond with their professors, and how such bonding which was always put in a female to female framework could impact on the impartial grading of male students. The risk of prejudicial grading simply was considered to be irrelevant. And do note that in the situation under discussion such bonding became central in the educational experience, became a central dynamic in the classroom while those such as myself who speak out against banning student-prof relationships hold that student-prof relationships should never impact on the classroom dynamic, they should never be of any relevance to what is happening in the classroom. Of course, women’s studies faculty in the context of the bonding process engage in joint student professor political activism, literally marching to the same tune, the same flag, the same slogan. It may be that the people who march together are more likely to stay together, become one with each other. And, of course, one may ask the question, what has non-prejudicial grading have to do with it? Absolutely nothing. To invoke any kind of academic intervention strategy to deal with the effects of classroom bonding would be an abuse, would be in violation of the rights of students and professors. Except, of course, when the intervention is seen to be in support or defense of a feminist cause.
I hope that I have been able to effectively communicate my point that impartial grading in academia is very low in the academic value totem pole. It is all too often used as a smokescreen to attack student/professor relationships; it is used as smoke screen to excommunicate professors and students who have violated academic sexual taboos. Of course, now the purview of grading has widened to include students grading professors. And many professors arguing that such evaluations are all too often based on how the professors have graded their students and how such leads to grade inflation. Such is the nature of contemporary academic degradation.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007
In my prior posting on attractive students and attracted professors, I did overlook a major point I should have made. And that is when it comes to the student-professor relationship while in an ongoing class, the point is made over and over again by critical professors that such a situation should not be allowed since it would lead to prejudicial grading, and prejudicial grading should be avoided even if it would involve not allowing the student in the classroom or removing the student from the classroom or having some other prof grade the student. What irks me about this situation is that the complaining professors overlook other situations that are rife in academe and could lead to the dreaded prejudicial grading. One such situation is the situation of being physically attracted to a particular student; no one ever advises profs who are attracted to students to not grade these students since the grading may be prejudicial. Of course, prejudicial feelings also may enter when the prof finds a particular student to be physically repulsive or when a student reminds the professor of a person whom one may have intensely negative or positive feelings. The potentiality of prejudicial grading is hardly ever considered when one may have a friend enrolled in the class, or a friend of a friend enrolled or a child of a friend, etc. etc. I could go go on and on. My ultimate point here is that opposition to student-prof relationships while the student is enrolled in the profs class is not really about the possibility of prejudicial grading, prejudicial grading is often a smoke screen for opposition to professors being involved sexually/romantically with their students. It is the sort of reaction one has when some strong taboo has been violated, such as an incest taboo, a feeling of repulsion, a feeling that the offender has violated us and is not now a part of us. In higher education, the student-prof relationship is now all too often seen or felt as equivalent to an incest taboo violation. Such is the reason that there is so little dispassionate discussion of this issue. Dispassionate discussion cannot take place in the context of hysteria. And it is those suffering from hysterical thinking that are the major promulgators of these taboos. Of course most faculty stay essentially on the sidelines, nodding in agreement with those who pornographise student-prof relationships. Of course, there is much more that can and should be presented about this visceral reaction against student-prof relationships. And such will be forthcoming in future blog postings.
And some ending observations on the potentiality of prejudicial grading whatever the source may be of said potentiality. Ethically engaged professors in all aspects of their professorial activities should engage in self-inventories, self-questioning about the ethical implications of their work. Such self-questioning and self-inventory taking should be a sort of a taken for granted process when it comes to grading and evaluating. Grading students or grading anyone else for that matter is an activity that profs should be ethically invested in. But in the real world of academia such work, such investment, is almost always held to have little value. In the academic hiring process, teachers are hired, scholars are hired, writers are hired, researchers are hired but no one is hired because they are accomplished graders!
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007
In the previous posting on recusing, I responded to the comments
of an anonymous other. He has invoked the option to respond to
my comments; his response follows. I will give a relatively brief
response after his comment.
“A big, big problem with blogs is that it
is virtually never possible to be short and that replies never end.
Even a short published note can only garner a published reply if a
gatekeeper cannot foresee good answers to the reply.
In this instance, Professor Dank did not interpret recusal as I
would–or as anyone would–and so he ends up with knocking down a
nonsensical position that, as he notes, no one in the academy actually
In a legal or quasi-legal setting, recusal is a formal action, often
announced with an opinion, and with some other authority making the
decision as to the replacement judge.
In the ethical setting, recusal is an inaction, not announced, and not
handed over to come campus authority. The professor simply goes to a
trusted colleague who grades like he does and asks–informally–for an
opinion; that opinion becomes the student’s grade. This type of thing
happens all the time in academe for many reasons, although the formal
variety does not and yes would only create problems and conflicts.
Let me respond to a few select remarks within Professor Dank’s text:
“Of course, the professor should have foreseen the definite possibility
that he or she would be unable to dispassionately grade a student who
he or she is romantically involved with. If this is the case, such
should have been communicated ahead of time to the student and if such
involvement occurs then the student would be treated differentially and
would not have the same grader as all the other students have in
class. Recusal in this sort of situation does not appear to me to be
an honorable way to acquit oneself; such is not honorable since the
relationship is violated and as well as the student.”
No; the relationship is not violated; the colleague need not even be
told why his opinion is being sought. Nor is the student
violated–unless Professor Dank feels uniquely situated as *the* Grader
par excellence. There are many equally competent faculty members, are
there not? Moreover, I am sure this was foreseen and discussed with
the student in *this* case. My point was that since recusal is needed
when things are not foreseen or are not foreseeable, it cannot be right
that it is *per se* unethical to recuse one’s self.
“One simply does not unilaterally exile a student into never-never
Why does Professor Dank consider a Grader other than himself a form of
exile? And why are all other faculty “never-never land”? The student
stays in the class, takes the test with the class; the grading is not
done in-class anyway. Where does exile come in?
“If this is to be done, the student-professor relationship is no longer
a private one and will end up being subsumed under the mantel of
insitutional authority. If there is differential treatment, it should
of the last resort and is indicative that the professor is now in deep
trouble as well as the student.”
Here, the formal version of recusal is assumed. And, the deep trouble
may simply be a heated romance.
“In addition, it does become relevant that recusal from grading in a
university is almost unheard of. Of course, in legal situations
recusal is frequently employed. In my 35 years of university teaching
I never heard of a situation of recusal occurring or being
contemplated. Also, in said 35 years, I cannot recollect being privy
to any discussion of the issue, nor receiving any official university
notifications about the issue. Is the recusal process referred to in
What I meant is not a “process” and would never be in a Book of
“It wasn’t easy to give a poor grade to students who I liked, but such
was the case.”
There is equal alarm at a self-imposed backlash resulting in a harsher
grade. A neutral arbiter (not “arbitrator”, the legal equivalent) is
THE DANKPROFESSOR RESPONDS-
Albeit a brief response. I did not consider myself THE grader or a star grader or an outstanding grader. I did think of myself as a dispassionate grader. To be honest, I did not become a professor because of the grading component, because of my love of grading or because I wanted to do to others what had been done to me over and over again. I do not know if my former colleagues were more competent or less competent graders than myself. Grading was simply not discussed. Hiring committees did not seek out candidates who were outstanding graders. The fact of the matter is that in higher ed, students are interested in grading and seek out those who they consider to be “outstanding” graders. The chasm between students and professors as to the importance of grading is huge.
In any case, I never liked to grade students. I wish I could have farmed out grading to others, such as TAs or grading machines. But I could not do this since I was the one who taught my students, I had to be the one to grade my students. I knew what happened in the class better than any other potential grader; I was there all the time, and there was no one who could be interchangeable with me. In the first session of most of my classes, I told my students that if you want to get a poor grade do not come to class regularly; you are conning yourself if you think otherwise. I would have been conning myself and my students if I had a professor grade any of my students who had not attended all of my class lectures.
My respondent writes of grading exams and one grader being equal to another. His concerns are just not germane to my situation which was in part outlined above. I generally did not give exams, and when I did, in-class material was a major component of the exam. I could not ask a colleague to grade such an exam. Grades were to a significant degree based on papers and other projects. Asking another prof to grade a particular student would not work; one could only grade what one was familiar with. Asking a colleague I should not be asking to do all this work while giving no reason why this student merits such special attention is other worldly. By my own standards, I could not give a student special attention since I was committed to not having any dating relationship impact on the class; the relationship had nothing to do with the class. My special other may be special in many ways, but she is not a special student. Treating her as a special student would be a betrayal of my ethics. Professors are entitled to a private life free of institutional surveillance. Subjecting ones significant other to special treatment in class subverts privacy and invites institutional surveillance.
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