Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Sex, grading and external examiners

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?

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Canada, consensual relationships, ethics, grading, higher education, Mark Bourrie, outing students, privacy, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, United Kingdom | 2 Comments

Student professor intimate relationship attacked, pt. 2

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.

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Canada, coercing women, Concordia University, consensual relationships, ethics, grading, higher education, hooking-up, love, outing students, passion, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, the closet, University of Toronto | 1 Comment

Student professor intimate relationship attacked

Mark Bourrie of the Ottawa Watch blog has complained to the Dean of Arts of Concordia University about a fellow university instructor who allegedly is having an intimate relationship with a Concordia student.  Bourrie does not name the professor or student in his letter of complaint to the dean.
He states that his concerns relate to unprompted conversations he has had with eleven of his female students.  He goes on to state that “The alleged affair is common knowledge among students in one of the university’s departments.”
 
The problem that Bourrie has is that a consensual sexual relationship between a student and professor is not prohibited at Concordia University.  The Concordia Dean of Arts responded to Bourrie in these terms-
 
“Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. You should be aware that “Concordia does not forbid intimate [consensual] relationships between faculty and students”. We recognize that such relationships are intrinsically problematic, and strongly advise both students and faculty members against engaging in them, but they are not forbidden.”
 
The fact that the alleged relationship falls outside of the purview of regulation by the Concordia administration and treats students and professors as having the right to engage in autonomous decision making in regards to choice of romantic partners does not impress Dr. Bourrie.  Far from it , he responds to said policy in these terms-
 
“That’s outrageous. Your answer is completely unacceptable. The power imbalance between a professor and a student is such that sexual relationships cross the boundaries of exploitation.  I will bring this matter to the attention of the president of the university. Quite frankly, the conduct and attitudes of administrators and professors at Concordia borders on the bizarre.”
 
So Bourrie knows that in the alleged current situation, boundaries of exploitation have been crossed; he knows that such is the case since he believes that there is a power imbalance in any student professor sexual relationship and such crosses the boundaries of exploitation.  Of course. Bourie ends up thoroughly objectifying and dehumanizing any student professor relationship.  He doesn’t have to talk to the parties involved; he has already defined the parties in his cartoon world imagery.   As for the female student, no matter that she may feel that she is not being exploited, no matter that she may see herself as an adult who has consented to the relationship, Bourrie knows her mind better that she knows her mind.
 
Bourrie goes on and the dankprofessor believes that he eventually tells us what is the dynamic fueling his opposition to student professor relationships-

“I am quite scandalized by this. The idea of, say, a 40-year-old prof and an 18-year-old student having a “relationship” just boggles the mind. I have a 14-year-old daughter. In four years, she could be “dating” some prof at Concordia. Quite frankly, I have found academia to be the most disfunctional and downright corrupt thing I have ever come into contact with… Apparently, the Senate of Concordia has considered the issue, and it’s OK for profs to have sex with students. Guess where my kids aren’t going…”
 
Bourrie’s story is the same old story for many of those opposing student professor relationships.  The story is about protecting ones children or others peoples children from the evil adult predatory professors.
Of course, what Bourrie wants is the administration to represent authoritarian parents in helping them regulate the lives of their children.  Viewing college students as adults is simply out of the question.  Entertaining the notion that some students are older adults and wish to date professors who are also younger adults of a similar age is also out of the realm of possibility for Bourrie.  Of course, at many universities many students are well beyond their teens, many are in their twenties thirties and forties and even some beyond.  And, yes, I met my wife to be when she was a student of mine and in her fifties.
 
But as far as age is concerned, younger students deserve the same rights as older students.   They have a right to be free of the power control and abuse of more powerful abusers, whether the abusers be authoritarian parents or administrators.  The irony for Bourrie and likeminded others is that in the name of attacking a so-called power imbalance between students and professors they want a power imbalance in which they want absolute control.  What utter hypocrisy!
 
Now the dankprofessor wishes to make it clear that he is not opposed to Bourrie, to university administrators providing their advice to students or to whomever they wish to provide advice.  What the dankprofessor opposes is Bourrie and university administrations having the right to coerce others in
terms of romantic choice.  Concordia University provides advice to their students and professors in this area.  The problem is that they provide bad advice.  The remainder of this post is devoted to presenting and critiquing said advice. 
 
Presented below is the official university advice on student professor relationships; the text of this statement is highlighted.  The dankprofessor’s comments appear unhilighted in the text of the statement.
 
Concordia does not forbid intimate relationships between faculty and students that are consensual. However, such relationships are fraught with danger and the recommendation from the Advisor is that it is better to avoid them.

There are several reasons for this recommendation, not the least of which is the observation that when such relationships sour – and they often do – it is the student who usually loses, not the faculty member. Offices that provide services to students often hear these tales, and know that, more often than not, the student drops out of a course, a program or even the university. Professionally speaking, faculty should be encouraging students to learn, not taking risks with their academic futures.

 Of course, consistent with this advice is that persons never take risks in context of romantic and sexual relationships.  In all relationships there are risks of relationships terminating; in marriage there are risks in marriages ending in divorce.  In all human endeavors, there are risks of failure.  Of course, no evidence is presented in the Ottawa statement that student prof relationships are more risky than other relationships.  And the writer of this statement very well knows that when one goes to counseling services, one almost always hears “tales” of woes.  If the observer/researcher can’t get out of his office and observe the myriad world of relationships, such represents laziness and incompetence.  The statement is also insulting to faculty implying that the faculty psyche is beyond frailty and they do not experience loss when a relationship with a student ends.  The last sentence-  “Professionally speaking, faculty should be encouraging students to learn, not taking risks with their academic futures” – is particularly absurd and insulting.  The notion that if the faculty member is romantically involved with the student he or she cannot encourage the student to learn is beyond the pale.  In fact, I would argue based on the experience of many others, that the situation is just the opposite, that the prof is devoted to student learning.  As the dankprofessor has pointed out- the love of knowledge can very well lead to the knowledge of love.

 What faculty members may not realize is that they also place themselves and the University at risk by crossing this particular boundary. If a student who has entered a relationship with a professor decides, upon its termination, to file a complaint of sexual harassment, the case will turn on the issue of consent. There is a view that, given the considerable power differential between student and professor, a student’s consent to a relationship is always compromised. Whether one subscribes to this argument or not, human rights tribunals have supported it. The question becomes, is it worth the risk?

The dankprofessor would like to see the citations of so-called tribunals that there cannot be consent when there is a power differential between a student and a professor.  If so, then Concordia is de jure governed by these cases and by definition there can be no such consensual relationships between students and profs.  In any case, if all consensual relationships ended tomorrow, sexual harassment cases will continue unabated at universities.  To conflate sexual harassment and consensual relationships does a disservice to those who are attempting to combat sexual harassment on campus and ends up trivializing sexual harassment.

There are other, less controversial legal arguments that suggest that faculty refrain from such relationships, namely breach of trust and conflict of interest. Here too, human rights tribunals and arbitration boards have found against faculty members. Faculty have a duty to avoid conflict of interest and to exercise their power over students only in the students’ interests, not in their own interests.

Again, it is presumptuous that faculty involved with students do not take the interests of students seriously.  Conflict of interest issues deserve attention in respect to all aspects of university life.  Given this, there is no special need for a category regarding student prof relationships.  Campaigns against such relationships are sexually based, have an anti-sexual basis, and are generally not conflict of interests based

Faculty members should be mindful of Concordia’s own Code of Ethics, which defines the conflicts of interest that arise when there is a personal relationship between a faculty member and a student.

The requirement is that if the relationship cannot be avoided, the faculty member should excuse him- or herself from any supervisory or evaluative role with regard to the student concerned. It is not necessary to declare the reasons for the conflict. So at the very least, if you cannot avoid the relationship, you should declare it.

And declaring it, is this in the interest of the student?  Shouldn’t the student have a say in the matter? Declaring the relationship makes the relationship a public relationship and now will fall officially within the purview of university administration decision making.  My advice is to never declare these relationships to the university.  By doing this the danger to both the student and prof goes way up.

As for students, the advice given by a student quoted in a University Affairs article is: “Do not have sex with anyone you sometimes have to call Mister, Doctor or Professor” – it may cost you dearly.

OK, lets get down to the nitty-gritty, the fear here is that the title will be replaced by the first name or darling or my love, or love, etc, etc.  Such opposition to terms of endearment might represent a fear of undermining the university stratification system.  And in terms of authoritarian structures or states, love is always the enemy.

See update.

April 5, 2009 Posted by | Canada, Concordia University, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, outing students, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | Leave a comment

A view from Canada

U-news of Canada has a collection of recent essays, including one by the dankprofessor, on student professor relationships.  Most of the essays are indicative of the retarded thinking on this issue.   A close reading of the Dalhousie pamphlet on helping their professors and students could lead one to become diagnosed as paranoid.  Ultimately, it is fair to state that these policies are driven by a fear of sexuality.  Until said fears are overcome, the campus fear mongers will continue to rule the day with their cadre of campus police and lawyers.

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Canada, consensual relationships, Dalhousie University, ethics, higher education, outing students, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Warwick University | Leave a comment

Outing students

The dankprofessor has repeatedly argued  but to no avail that university regulations that require a professor who is in a sexual relationship with a student to report said relationship to the appropriate university administrator is a gross violation of the student’s privacy.  In terms of this policy, there is no requirement that the student must give permission to the professor to report their relationship to the University. 

My advice to professors who are in such a situation is to not report unless there is student consent.  More generally my advice is that if the professor does report to the administration, the probability is that said relationship will become known to the university community.  In effect, the professor will be outing both himself or herself and the student.

In terms of the Warwick case, the outing of the student was disastrous for the student.  She has framed it in the following manner-

“To be frank, this story has never been newsworthy and should never have come to light. Aside from the fact that the details disclosed have been of a deeply personal nature, the widespread disclosure of this has proved very upsetting. It really has.”

And the University World News has reported the following:

When Professor Istvan Pogany, 57, began a consensual relationship with one of his students at Britain’s University of Warwick, he did what many would consider ‘good practice’ and informed his line manager. But the student, who is in her 30s, then fell pregnant and her subsequent anguished decision to have an abortion led to lurid headlines that raised the question again whether intimate relationships between academics and students should be more strongly discouraged, or even prohibited.

Of course, the University World News didn’t get it quite right.  The Warwick case raises the question as to whether professors should be forced to report on their students and their intimate relationships.  If privacy had been respected at Warwick, there is little likelihood that this would have become a media story.  Laissez faire in terms of intimate relationships between adults may at times be problematic, but it is far better than forcible intrusion by government authorities and university administrators into the sex lives of those who they consider to be their subjects.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, outing students, privacy, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Uncategorized, Warwick University | Leave a comment

   

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