Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Female student speaks of her relationship with a professor

Returning to the University of Southern Maine student newspaper story about student professor consensual sexual relationships, the story focused on the experiences of Rebecca, a student, who is in a four year relationship with a professor.

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“When I walked into class, it was like, ‘this guy is my teacher,’ and it’s different than outside,” she said. “He never gave me preference, and since I was very good at the subject anyway, I knew, and it was obvious to everyone else, that I earned my grades.”

Her relationship, which began four years ago, has gone unreported to anyone of supervisory power over the professor, because by the time their friendship had evolved into something bigger, the couple saw no need for the ‘mediation’ provided by the university’s policy-they had already established boundaries for themselves, and she was no longer his student.

While she says that the relationship is great, she still struggles, because she has been forced to lie about it for so long: “It sucks to connect something I’m so uncomfortable about to something that makes me happy.”

It has affected her friendships and family relationships, because she is never able to be fully open about her life – even her two best friends don’t know about it.

“My time with him and the rest of my life are completely separate realities,” she says, “When they cross, it’s really uncomfortable, and I get paranoid.” She has also come to realize the affect it has had on her college experience, removing her from the social situations that most students traditionally become a part of.

The secrets have been painful. Her friendships, old and potential, have suffered, and there’s a constant paranoia ­­– for his sake — that it will somehow come out.

“But at the same time,” she says, “I’ve had a blast! You think about it, he’s my boyfriend. I love him. And four years! That’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had.”

Rebecca puts a knuckle between her teeth and tugs at her collar with the other hand, looking at me with a sideways glance that is almost coy, “I was just sort of taken by him, his looks, and his intelligence – sometimes I think the bad outweighs the good, but, I’m still with him. I mean, he’s awesome, he’s the best!”

She pauses and smiles, straightening her neck. After a minute, she begins again, “The biggest thing is that I still have a lot of respect for professors – if anything, it has made me realize that really, they have the same issues everyone else has, they’re just people.”

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What the dankprofessor finds most disturbing about this relationship is the secrecy. Neither the professor nor the student feel they have the option of integrating this relationship into the rest of their lives. Possibly, they are misjudging the reactions of others. During my 35 year career as a professor I dated many students and former students, and I met many of these students’ parents and siblings. And never did I find that parents were not accepting of their daughter’s relationship with me. Such was the case even when there was a significant age differential. Not one parent objected to the fact that their daughter was dating a professor. In fact, the reaction was just the opposite to rejection, it was enthusiastic acceptance. The reality was that I often found myself dating a very interesting woman and befriending her very interesting parents. It was a plus plus situation.

But universities which have these problems are not interested in hearing about parental acceptance. Advocates of these relationships do not want them to exist and if they do, they want them to be in the closet.

At the University of Southern Maine, an administrative apparatus has been set up which investigates complaints relating to student professor dating. As reported in this article: “Any concerns about sexual harassment or preferential treatment stemming from student-faculty romance are taken to the Office of Campus Diversity and Equity, which investigates all discriminatory complaints at USM. For the past couple years, the office has not received any complaints of this nature. The 2004-05 school year saw three complaints, and in 2003-04 there was only one.”

Obviously the parties to these relationships do not report to the appropriate authorities since it is likely that both parties to these relationships do not feel they need administrative regulation and do not feel that the administration is their to help them navigate thru the terrain of university life.

However, USM administrator Daryl McIlwain disagrees with my analysis, according to him “probably most issues are not reported, for fear of the grade or because they don’t want to cause problems for the faculty member or draw embarrassing attention to themselves.”

However, the dankprofessor believes it is the fear of administrators such as Daryl McIlwain which leads couples not to report. And based on the input I have received from couples around the nation, I would advise couples never to report. Better to deny than to report to the campus authoritarians. I have heard too many stories of couples feeling utterly betrayed by the powers that be who end up violating the confidentiality of the relationship and often demean both the student and professor.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

February 14, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, secrecy, sexual policing, sexual politics, student professor dating, student-prof dating, Uncategorized, University of Southern Maine | 3 Comments

Gradedigging or romance at the University of Southern Maine

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 dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the
same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

February 12, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, grading, higher education, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, University of Southern Maine | Leave a comment

   

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