ln its editorial supporting prohibitions of student professor intimate relationships, the student newspaper KALEO notes that many universities have enacted such bans and such is part of a nationwide trend. If trendiness is the issue then KALEO is right on target. But trendiness should have no relevance in regards to taking away the rights of individuals to date whomever they wish to date or mate. Isn’t this the issue that in essence the Supreme Court just voted on in regards to same sex marriage?
But Kaleo does not find student professor romantic relationships “suitable” just as opponents of homosexual relationships did not find said relationships suitable. The Kaleo editorial goes on to cite examples of professors engaging in sexually coercive and humiliating tactics in regards to their students. Of course, such should not be invoked in the prohibiting of all student professor relationships, just as rape should not be invoked to prohibit all sexual relationships. To cite the few in order to prohibit the many should be considered absurd on its face.
And then the editorial states that by “being proactive, Mānoa can save itself from the embarrassment and costly lawsuits that come with cases like those.” If embarrassment is the key issue here, I would suggest that UH administrators find a job elsewhere, universities should be the last place where policies are based on dealing with feelings of embarrassment. And as far as costly lawsuits are concerned, I know of no successful lawsuit taken against a university which did not ban consensual student professor relationships.
But there is more, the editorial writers are worried about the peace of mind of young students and third parties who are worried about these consensual relationships. As the writers state:
“Prevention of amorous relationships also protects third parties. Instead of worrying over someone else having unfair advantage or disadvantage, people neutral to a relationship can have a peace of mind because their performance is evaluated fairly and on an equal footing with everyone else’s.”
The aforementioned represents other worldly thinking, it is utterly absurd to argue that this one ban would really lead to everyone believing that everyone in academia is on equal footing. Many students receiving poor grades will continue to believe that the grading had nothing to do with their performance but rather with the myriad prejudices of the professor.
The editorial does note some complicating circumstances regarding such bans, but makes short shrift of them when it notes- “All the same, times have changed and morals have moved on. To keep current, we need to move with them.”
Of course, keeping current is more of a polite term for keeping trendy. And keeping trendy or current ultimately is used as a cover to avoid dealing with the systematic invasion of the private sexual lives of both students and professors at UH.
Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even His freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.
The Young Unicorns
You have to feel a little sorry these days for professors married to their former students. They used to be respectable citizens—leaders in their fields, department chairs, maybe even a dean or two—and now they’re abusers of power avant la lettre. I suspect you can barely throw a stone on most campuses around the country without hitting a few of these neo-miscreants. Who knows what coercions they deployed back in the day to corral those students into submission; at least that’s the fear evinced by today’s new campus dating policies. And think how their kids must feel! A friend of mine is the offspring of such a coupling—does she look at her father a little differently now, I wonder.
It’s been barely a year since the Great Prohibition took effect in my own workplace. Before that, students and professors could date whomever we wanted; the next day we were off-limits to one another—verboten, traife,dangerous (and perhaps, therefore, all the more alluring).
- My Title IX InquisitionWhat’s the good of having a freedom you’re afraid to use?
Of course, the residues of the wild old days are everywhere. On my campus, several such “mixed” couples leap to mind, including female professors wed to former students. Not to mention the legions who’ve dated a graduate student or two in their day—plenty of female professors in that category, too—in fact, I’m one of them. Don’t ask for details. It’s one of those things it now behooves one to be reticent about, lest you be branded a predator.
Forgive my slightly mocking tone. I suppose I’m out of step with the new realities because I came of age in a different time, and under a different version of feminism, minus the layers of prohibition and sexual terror surrounding the unequal-power dilemmas of today.
The fiction of the all-powerful professor that’s embedded in the new campus codes appalls me.
When I was in college, hooking up with professors was more or less part of the curriculum. Admittedly, I went to an art school, and mine was the lucky generation that came of age in that too-brief interregnum after the sexual revolution and before AIDS turned sex into a crime scene replete with perpetrators and victims—back when sex, even when not so great or when people got their feelings hurt, fell under the category of life experience. It’s not that I didn’t make my share of mistakes, or act stupidly and inchoately, but it was embarrassing, not traumatizing.
As Jane Gallop recalls in Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (1997), her own generational cri de coeur, sleeping with professors made her feel cocky, not taken advantage of. She admits to seducing more than one of them as a grad student—she wanted to see them naked, she says, as like other men. Lots of smart, ambitious women were doing the same thing, according to her, because it was a way to experience your own power.
But somehow power seemed a lot less powerful back then. The gulf between students and faculty wasn’t a shark-filled moat; a misstep wasn’t fatal. We partied together, drank and got high together, slept together. The teachers may have been older and more accomplished, but you didn’t feel they could take advantage of you because of it. How would they?
Which isn’t to say that teacher-student relations were guaranteed to turn out well, but then what percentage of romances do? No doubt there were jealousies, sometimes things didn’t go the way you wanted—which was probably good training for the rest of life. It was also an excellent education in not taking power too seriously, and I suspect the less seriously you take it, the more strategies you have for contending with it.
It’s the fiction of the all-powerful professor embedded in the new campus codes that appalls me. And the kowtowing to the fiction—kowtowing wrapped in a vaguely feminist air of rectitude. If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.
I’ve done what I can to adapt myself to the new paradigm. Around a decade ago, as colleges began instituting new “offensive environment” guidelines, I appointed myself the task of actually reading my university’s sexual-harassment handbook, which I’d thus far avoided doing. I was pleased to learn that our guidelines were less prohibitive than those of the more draconian new codes. You were permitted to date students; you just weren’t supposed to harass them into it. I could live with that.
However, we were warned in two separate places that inappropriate humor violates university policy. I’d always thought inappropriateness was pretty much the definition of humor—I believe Freud would agree. Why all this delicacy? Students were being encouraged to regard themselves as such exquisitely sensitive creatures that an errant classroom remark could impede their education, as such hothouse flowers that an unfunny joke was likely to create lasting trauma.
Knowing my own propensity for unfunny jokes, and given that telling one could now land you, the unfunny prof, on the carpet or even the national news, I decided to put my name down for one of the voluntary harassment workshops on my campus, hoping that my good citizenship might be noticed and applauded by the relevant university powers.
At the appointed hour, things kicked off with a “sexual-harassment pretest.” This was administered by an earnest mid-50s psychologist I’ll call David, and an earnest young woman with a master’s in social work I’ll call Beth. The pretest consisted of a long list of true-false questions such as: “If I make sexual comments to someone and that person doesn’t ask me to stop, then I guess that my behavior is probably welcome.”
Despite the painful dumbness of these questions and the fading of afternoon into evening, a roomful of people with advanced degrees seemed grimly determined to shut up and play along, probably aided by a collective wish to be sprung by cocktail hour. That is, until we were handed a printed list of “guidelines.” No. 1 on the list was: “Do not make unwanted sexual advances.”
Someone demanded querulously from the back, “But how do you know they’re unwanted until you try?” (OK, it was me.) David seemed oddly flustered by the question and began frantically jangling the change in his pants pocket.
“Do you really want me to answer that?” he finally responded, trying to make a joke out of it. I did want him to answer, because it’s something I’d been wondering—how are you supposed to know in advance? Do people wear their desires emblazoned on their foreheads?—but I didn’t want to be seen by my colleagues as a troublemaker. There was an awkward pause while David stared me down. Another person piped up helpfully, “What about smoldering glances?”
Everyone laughed, but David’s coin-jangling was becoming more pronounced. A theater professor spoke up, guiltily admitting to having complimented a student on her hairstyle that very afternoon (one of the “Do Nots” involved not commenting on students’ appearance) but, as a gay male, wondered whether not to have complimented her would have been grounds for offense. He mimicked the female student, tossing her mane around in a “Notice my hair” manner, and people began shouting suggestions about other dumb pretest scenarios for him to perform, like sexual-harassment charades. Rebellion was in the air. The man sitting next to me, an ethnographer who studied street gangs, whispered, “They’ve lost control of the room.” David was jangling his change so frantically that it was hard to keep your eyes off his groin.
I recalled a long-forgotten pop-psychology guide to body language that identified change-jangling as an unconscious masturbation substitute. If the leader of our sexual-harassment workshop was engaging in public masturbatory-like behavior, seizing his private pleasure in the midst of the very institutional mechanism designed to clamp such delinquent urges, what hope for the rest of us?
Let’s face it: Other people’s sexuality is often just weird and creepy. Sex is leaky and anxiety-ridden; intelligent people can be oblivious about it. Of course the gulf between desire and knowledge has long been a tragicomic staple. Consider some notable treatments of the student-professor hookup theme—J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace; Francine Prose’s Blue Angel;Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections—in which learning has an inverse relation to self-knowledge, professors are emblems of sexual stupidity, and such disasters ensue that it’s hard not to read them as cautionary tales about the disastrous effects of intellect on practical intelligence.
The implementers of the new campus codes seemed awfully optimistic about rectifying the condition, I thought to myself.
The optimism continues, outpaced only by all the new prohibitions and behavior codes required to sustain it. According to the latest version of our campus policy, “differences in institutional power and the inherent risk of coercion are so great” between teachers and students that no romance, dating, or sexual relationships will be permitted, even between students and professors from different departments. (Relations between graduate students and professors aren’t outright banned, but are “problematic” and must be reported if you’re in the same department.) Yale and other places had already instituted similar policies; Harvard jumped on board last month, though it’s a sign of the incoherence surrounding these issues that the second sentence ofThe New York Times story on Harvard reads: “The move comes as the Obama administration investigates the handling of accusations of sexual assault at dozens of colleges, including Harvard.” As everyone knows, the accusations in the news have been about students assaulting other students, not students dating professors.
The climate of sanctimony about student vulnerability has grown impenetrable. No one dares question it lest you’re labeled antifeminist, or worse, a sex criminal.
Of course, the codes themselves also shape the narratives and emotional climate of professor-student interactions. An undergraduate sued my own university, alleging that a philosophy professor had engaged in “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” and that the university punished him insufficiently for it. The details that emerged in news reports and legal papers were murky and contested, and the suit was eventually thrown out of court.
In brief: The two had gone to an art exhibit together—an outing initiated by the student—and then to some other exhibits and bars. She says he bought her alcohol and forced her to drink, so much that by the end of the evening she was going in and out of consciousness. He says she drank of her own volition. (She was under legal drinking age; he says he thought she was 22.) She says he made various sexual insinuations, and that she wanted him to drive her home (they’d driven in his car); he says she insisted on sleeping over at his place. She says she woke up in his bed with his arms around her, and that he groped her. He denies making advances and says she made advances, which he deflected. He says they slept on top of the covers, clothed. Neither says they had sex. He says she sent friendly texts in the days after and wanted to meet. She says she attempted suicide two days later, now has PTSD, and has had to take medical leave.
The aftermath has been a score of back-and-forth lawsuits. After trying to get a financial settlement from the professor, the student filed a Title IX suit against the university: She wants her tuition reimbursed, compensation for emotional distress, and other damages. Because the professor wasn’t terminated, when she runs into him it triggers her PTSD, she says. (The university claims that it appropriately sanctioned the professor, denying him a raise and a named chair.) She’s also suing the professor for gender violence. He sued the university for gender discrimination (he says he wasn’t allowed to present evidence disproving the student’s allegations)—this suit was thrown out; so was the student’s lawsuit against the university. The professor sued for defamation various colleagues, administrators, and a former grad student whom, according to his complaint, he had previously dated; a judge dismissed those suits this month. He sued local media outlets for using the word “rape” as a synonym for sexual assault—a complaint thrown out by a different judge who said rape was an accurate enough summary of the charges, even though the assault was confined to fondling, which the professor denies occurred. (This professor isn’t someone I know or have met, by the way.)
What a mess. And what a slippery slope, from alleged fondler to rapist. But here’s the real problem with these charges: This is melodrama. I’m quite sure that professors can be sleazebags. I’m less sure that any professor can force an unwilling student to drink, especially to the point of passing out. With what power? What sorts of repercussions can there possibly be if the student refuses?
Indeed, these are precisely the sorts of situations already covered by existing sexual-harassment codes, so if students think that professors have such unlimited powers that they can compel someone to drink or retaliate if she doesn’t, then these students have been very badly educated about the nature and limits of institutional power.
In fact, it’s just as likely that a student can derail a professor’s career these days as the other way around, which is pretty much what happened in the case of the accused philosophy professor.
To a cultural critic, the representation of emotion in all these documents plays to the gallery. The student charges that she “suffered and will continue to suffer humiliation, mental and emotional anguish, anxiety, and distress.” As I read through the complaint, it struck me that the lawsuit and our new consensual-relations code share a common set of tropes, and a certain narrative inevitability. In both, students and professors are stock characters in a predetermined story. According to the code, students are putty in the hands of all-powerful professors. According to the lawsuit, the student was virtually a rag doll, taken advantage of by a skillful predator who scripted a drunken evening of galleries and bars, all for the opportunity of some groping.
Everywhere on campuses today you find scholars whose work elaborates sophisticated models of power and agency. It would be hard to overstate the influence, across disciplines, of Michel Foucault, whose signature idea was that power has no permanent address or valence. Yet our workplaces themselves are promulgating the crudest version of top-down power imaginable, recasting the professoriate as Snidely Whiplashes twirling our mustaches and students as helpless damsels tied to railroad tracks. Students lack volition and independent desires of their own; professors are would-be coercers with dastardly plans to corrupt the innocent.
Even the language these policies come packaged in seems designed for maximum stupefaction, with students eager to add their voices to the din. Shortly after the new policy went into effect on my campus, we all received a long email from the Title IX Coordinating Committee. This was in the midst of student protests about the continued employment of the accused philosophy professor: 100 or so students, mouths taped shut (by themselves), had marched on the dean’s office (a planned sit-in of the professor’s class went awry when he pre-emptively canceled it). The committee was responding to a student-government petition demanding that “survivors” be informed about the outcomes of sexual-harassment investigations. The petition also demanded that the new policies be amended to include possible termination of faculty members who violate its provisions.
There was more, but my eye was struck by the word “survivor,” which was repeated several times. Wouldn’t the proper term be “accuser”? How can someone be referred to as a survivor before a finding on the accusation—assuming we don’t want to predetermine the guilt of the accused, that is. At the risk of sounding like some bow-tied neocon columnist, this is also a horrifying perversion of the language by people who should know better. Are you seriously telling me, I wanted to ask the Title IX Committee, that the same term now encompasses both someone allegedly groped by a professor and my great-aunt, who lived through the Nazi death camps? I emailed an inquiry to this effect to the university’s general counsel, one of the email’s signatories, but got no reply.
For the record, I strongly believe that bona fide harassers should be chemically castrated, stripped of their property, and hung up by their thumbs in the nearest public square. Let no one think I’m soft on harassment. But I also believe that the myths and fantasies about power perpetuated in these new codes are leaving our students disabled when it comes to the ordinary interpersonal tangles and erotic confusions that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point in life, because that’s simply part of the human condition.
In the post-Title IX landscape, sexual panic rules. Slippery slopes abound. Gropers become rapists and accusers become survivors, opening the door for another panicky conflation: teacher-student sex and incest. Recall that it was incest victims who earlier popularized the use of the term “survivor,” previously reserved for those who’d survived the Holocaust. The migration of the term itself is telling, exposing the core anxiety about teacher-student romances: that there’s a whiff of perversity about such couples, notwithstanding all the venerable married ones.
These are anxious times for officialdom, and students, too, are increasingly afflicted with the condition—after all, anxiety is contagious. Around the time the “survivor” email arrived, something happened that I’d never experienced in many decades of teaching, which was that two students—one male, one female—in two classes informed me, separately, that they were unable to watch assigned films because they “triggered” something for them. I was baffled by the congruence until the following week, when the Times ran a story titled “Trauma Warnings Move From the Internet to the Ivory Tower,” and the word “trigger” was suddenly all over the news.
I didn’t press the two students on the nature of these triggers. I knew them both pretty well from previous classes, and they’d always seemed well-adjusted enough, so I couldn’t help wondering. One of the films dealt with fascism and bigotry: The triggeree was a minority student, though not the minority targeted in the film. Still, I could see what might be upsetting. In the other case, the connection between the student and the film was obscure: no overlapping identity categories, and though there was some sexual content in the film, it wasn’t particularly explicit. We exchanged emails about whether she should sit out the discussion, too; I proposed that she attend and leave if it got uncomfortable. I was trying to be empathetic, though I was also convinced that I was impeding her education rather than contributing to it.
I teach in a film program. We’re supposed to be instilling critical skills in our students (at least that’s how I see it), even those who aspire to churn out formulaic dreck for Hollywood. Which is how I framed it to my student: If she hoped for a career in the industry, getting more critical distance on material she found upsetting would seem advisable, given the nature of even mainstream media. I had an image of her in a meeting with a bunch of execs, telling them that she couldn’t watch one of the company’s films because it was a trigger for her. She agreed this could be a problem, and sat in on the discussion with no discernable ill effects.
But what do we expect will become of students, successfully cocooned from uncomfortable feelings, once they leave the sanctuary of academe for the boorish badlands of real life? What becomes of students so committed to their own vulnerability, conditioned to imagine they have no agency, and protected from unequal power arrangements in romantic life? I can’t help asking, because there’s a distressing little fact about the discomfort of vulnerability, which is that it’s pretty much a daily experience in the world, and every sentient being has to learn how to somehow negotiate the consequences and fallout, or go through life flummoxed at every turn.
Here’s a story that brought the point home for me. I was talking to a woman who’d just published her first book. She was around 30, a friend of a friend. The book had started at a major trade press, then ended up published by a different press, and I was curious why. She alluded to problems with her first editor. I pressed for details, and out they came in a rush.
Her editor had developed a sort of obsession with her, constantly calling, taking her out for fancy meals, and eventually confessing his love. Meanwhile, he wasn’t reading the chapters she gave him; in fact, he was doing barely any work on the manuscript at all. She wasn’t really into him, though she admitted that if she’d been more attracted to him, it might have been another story. But for him, it was escalating. He wanted to leave his wife for her! There were kids, too, a bunch of them. Still no feedback on the chapters.
Meanwhile he was Skyping her in his underwear from hotel rooms and complaining about his marriage, and she was letting it go on because she felt that her fate was in his hands. Nothing really happened between them—well, maybe a bit of fumbling, but she kept him at a distance. The thing was that she didn’t want to rebuff him too bluntly because she was worried about the fate of her book—worried he’d reject the manuscript, she’d have to pay back the advance, and she’d never get it published anywhere else.
I’d actually once met this guy—he’d edited a friend’s book (badly). He was sort of a nebbish, hard to see as threatening. “Did you talk to your agent?” I asked the woman. I was playing the situation out in my mind, wondering what I’d do. No, she hadn’t talked to her agent, for various reasons, including fears that she’d led the would-be paramour on and that her book wasn’t any good.
Suddenly the editor left for a job at another press, and the publisher called the contract, demanding a final manuscript, which was overdue and nowhere near finished. In despair, the author finally confessed the situation to our mutual friend, another writer, who employed the backbone-stiffening phrase “sexual harassment” and insisted that the woman get her agent involved. Which she did, and the agent negotiated an exit deal with the publisher by explaining what had taken place. The author was let out of the contract and got to take the book to another press.
What struck me most, hearing the story, was how incapacitated this woman had felt, despite her advanced degree and accomplishments. The reason, I think, was that she imagined she was the only vulnerable one in the situation. But look at the editor: He was married, with a midlevel job in the scandal-averse world of corporate publishing. It simply wasn’t the case that he had all the power in the situation or nothing to lose. He may have been an occluded jerk, but he was also a fairly human-sized one.
So that’s an example of a real-world situation, postgraduation. Somehow I don’t see the publishing industry instituting codes banning unhappily married editors from going goopy over authors, though even with such a ban, will any set of regulations ever prevent affective misunderstandings and erotic crossed signals, compounded by power differentials, compounded further by subjective levels of vulnerability?
The question, then, is what kind of education prepares people to deal with the inevitably messy gray areas of life? Personally I’d start by promoting a less vulnerable sense of self than the one our new campus codes are peddling. Maybe I see it this way because I wasn’t educated to think that holders of institutional power were quite so fearsome, nor did the institutions themselves seem so mighty. Of course, they didn’t aspire to reach quite as deeply into our lives back then. What no one’s much saying about the efflorescence of these new policies is the degree to which they expand the power of the institutions themselves. As for those of us employed by them, what power we have is fairly contingent, especially lately. Get real: What’s more powerful—a professor who crosses the line, or the shaming capabilities of social media?
For myself, I don’t much want to date students these days, but it’s not like I don’t understand the appeal. Recently I was at a book party, and a much younger man, an assistant professor, started a conversation. He reminded me that we’d met a decade or so ago, when he was a grad student—we’d been at some sort of event and sat next to each other. He said he thought we’d been flirting. In fact, he was sure we’d been flirting. I searched my memory. He wasn’t in it, though I didn’t doubt his recollection; I’ve been known to flirt. He couldn’t believe I didn’t remember him. I apologized. He pretended to be miffed. I pretended to be regretful. I asked him about his work. He told me about it, in a charming way. Wait a second, I thought, was he flirting with me now? As an aging biological female, and all too aware of what that means in our culture, I was skeptical. On the heels of doubt came a surge of joy: “Still got it,” crowed some perverse inner imp in silent congratulation, jackbooting the reality principle into assent. My psyche broke out the champagne, and all of us were in a far better mood for the rest of the evening.
Intergenerational desire has always been a dilemma as well as an occasion for mutual fascination. Whether or not it’s a brilliant move, plenty of professors I know, male and female, have hooked up with students, though informal evidence suggests that female professors do it less, and rarely with undergraduates. (The gender asymmetries here would require a dozen more articles to explicate.) Some of these professors act well, some are jerks, and it would benefit students to learn the identifying marks of the latter breed early on, because postcollegiate life is full of them. I propose a round of mandatory workshops on this useful topic for all students, beginning immediately.
But here’s another way to look at it: the longue durée. Societies keep reformulating the kinds of cautionary stories they tell about intergenerational erotics and the catastrophes that result, starting with Oedipus. The details vary; so do the kinds of catastrophes prophesied—once it was plagues and crop failure, these days it’s psychological trauma. Even over the past half-century, the story keeps getting reconfigured. In the preceding era, the Freudian version reigned: Children universally desire their parents, such desires meet up with social prohibitions—the incest taboo—and become repressed. Neurosis ensues.
These days the desire persists, but what’s shifted is the direction of the arrows. Now it’s parents—or their surrogates, teachers—who do all the desiring; children are conveniently returned to innocence. So long to childhood sexuality, the most irksome part of the Freudian story. So too with the new campus dating codes, which also excise student desire from the story, extending the presumption of the innocent child well into his or her collegiate career. Except that students aren’t children.
Among the problems with treating students like children is that they become increasingly childlike in response. The New York Times Magazinerecently reported on the tangled story of a 21-year-old former Stanford undergraduate suing a 29-year-old tech entrepreneur she’d dated for a year. He’d been a mentor in a business class she was enrolled in, though they’d met long before. They traveled together and spent time with each other’s families. Marriage was discussed. After they broke up, she charged that their consensual relationship had actually been psychological kidnapping, and that she’d been raped every time they’d had sex. She seems to regard herself as a helpless child in a woman’s body. She demanded that Stanford investigate and is bringing a civil suit against the guy—this despite the fact that her own mother had introduced the couple, approved the relationship every step of the way, and been in more or less constant contact with the suitor.
No doubt some 21-year-olds are fragile and emotionally immature (helicopter parenting probably plays a role), but is this now to be our normative conception of personhood? A 21-year-old incapable of consent? A certain brand of radical feminist—the late Andrea Dworkin, for one—held that women’s consent was meaningless in the context of patriarchy, but Dworkin was generally considered an extremist. She’d have been gratified to hear that her convictions had finally gone mainstream, not merely driving campus policy but also shaping the basic social narratives of love and romance in our time.
It used to be said of many enclaves in academe that they were old-boys clubs and testosterone-fueled, no doubt still true of certain disciplines. Thanks to institutional feminism’s successes, some tides have turned, meaning that menopausal women now occupy more positions of administrative power, edging out at least some of the old boys and bringing a different hormonal style—a more delibidinalized one, perhaps—to bear on policy decisions. And so the pendulum swings, overshooting the middle ground by a hundred miles or so.
The feminism I identified with as a student stressed independence and resilience. In the intervening years, the climate of sanctimony about student vulnerability has grown too thick to penetrate; no one dares question it lest you’re labeled antifeminist. Or worse, a sex criminal. I asked someone on our Faculty Senate if there’d been any pushback when the administration presented the new consensual-relations policy (though by then it was a fait accompli—the senate’s role was “advisory”).
“I don’t quite know how to characterize the willingness of my supposed feminist colleagues to hand over the rights of faculty—women as well as men—to administrators and attorneys in the name of protection from unwanted sexual advances,” he said. “I suppose the word would be ‘zeal.’” His own view was that the existing sexual-harassment policy already protected students from coercion and a hostile environment; the new rules infantilized students and presumed the guilt of professors. When I asked if I could quote him, he begged for anonymity, fearing vilification from his colleagues.
These are things you’re not supposed to say on campuses now. But let’s be frank. To begin with, if colleges and universities around the country were in any way serious about policies to prevent sexual assaults, the path is obvious: Don’t ban teacher-student romance, ban fraternities. And if we want to limit the potential for sexual favoritism—another rationale often proffered for the new policies—then let’s include the institutionalized sexual favoritism of spousal hiring, with trailing spouses getting ranks and perks based on whom they’re sleeping with rather than CVs alone, and brought in at salaries often dwarfing those of senior and more accomplished colleagues who didn’t have the foresight to couple more advantageously.
Lastly: The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method. And in that sense, we’re all the victims.
Laura Kipnis is a professor in the department of radio, television, and film at Northwestern University and the author, most recently, of Men: Notes From an Ongoing Investigation (Metropolitan Books).
Correction (3/3/2015, 2:40 p.m.): This article originally stated that several lawsuits brought by a student at Northwestern University had been thrown out of court. Only one such suit was thrown out. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.
Clarification (3/30/2015, 10:45 a.m.): This article originally stated that a philosophy professor at Northwestern University sued, among others, a former graduate student of his whom he had previously dated. It would be more accurate to say that he had dated her according to his complaint. The article has been updated to reflect this clarification.
When we speak of people coming out, I think such generally implies that one is coming out of some sort of “closet”. One has been closeted since one fears that being known would lead to one being hurt in some sense.
Apparently Republicans at the University of University of Iowa have been living in fear and have been closeted. So some UI Republicans have called for a coming out on campus at specific times and places via sending a coming out announcement to all university personnel.
Such has raised quite a ruckus at the University of Iowa. Even a UI Women’s Studies professor engaged in some very foul language regarding the coming out announcement. Even the President of UI has issued a statement on the issue.
Following is a detailed report as to the situation at UI and Iowa City.
A University of Iowa professor who studies same-sex relationships was so upset by a mass email from a campus Republican group promoting “Conservative Coming Out Week” that she fired off a vulgarity aimed at all Republicans.
Ellen Lewin, a professor of Anthropology and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies in the Department of Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies, responded to the email by writing, “F*** YOU, REPUBLICANS” from her official University of Iowa email account.
Lewin’s message prompted a flurry of e-mails in response, all of which were published on The Iowa Republican, a GOP news website.
UI student and Chairwoman of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans Natalie Ginty demanded an apology from Lewin’s supervisors.
“We understand that as a faculty member she has the right to express her political opinion, but by leaving her credentials at the bottom of the email she was representing the University of Iowa, not herself alone,” Ginty wrote to James Enloe, the head of the Department of Anthropology.
“Vile responses like Ellen’s need to end. Demonizing the other party through name-calling only further entrenches feelings of disdain for the other side. I am sure you understand that nothing is ever accomplished by aimless screams of attack,” Ginty wrote.
Lewin later wrote back to explain, “This is a time when political passions are inflamed, and when I received your unsolicited email, I had just finished reading some newspaper accounts of fresh outrages committed by Republicans in government. I admit the language was inappropriate, and apologize for any affront to anyone’s delicate sensibilities. I would really appreciate your not sending blanket emails to everyone on campus, especially in these difficult times.”
In a later email to the group, Lewin wrote the following:
“I should note that several things in the original message were extremely offensive, nearly rising to the level of obscenity. Despite the Republicans’ general disdain for LGBT rights you called your upcoming event ‘conservative coming out day,’ appropriating the language of the LGBT right movement. Your reference to the Wisconsin protests suggested that they were frivolous attempts to avoid work. And the ‘Animal Rights BBQ’ is extremely insensitive to those who consider animal rights an important cause. Then, in the email that Ms. Ginty sent complaining about my language, she referred to me as Ellen, not Professor Lewin, which is the correct way for a student to address a faculty member, or indeed, for anyone to refer to an adult with whom they are not acquainted. I do apologize for my intemperate language, but the message you all sent out was extremely disturbing and offensive.”
UI President Sally Mason responded in an email to the university community:
“Dear Members of the University Community:
The University of Iowa encourages freedom of expression, opposing viewpoints, and civil debate about those opposing viewpoints. This is clearly articulated in our core values of Diversity and Respect. Because diversity, broadly defined, advances its mission of teaching, research, and service, the University is dedicated to an inclusive community in which people of different cultural, national, individual, and academic backgrounds encounter one another in a spirit of cooperation, openness, and shared appreciation.
The University also strongly encourages student engagement in such discussions and supports students acting on their viewpoints. Student organizations are sometimes formed along political lines and act on their political beliefs. Even if we personally disagree with those viewpoints, we must be respectful of those viewpoints in every way. Intolerant and disrespectful discord is not acceptable behavior.
The original e-mail from the College Republicans was sent out under the university’s mass email policy, in which campus groups can e-mail all or parts of campus so long as the message is approved by UI Student Services:
From: UI College Republicans
Subject: [NonAcadStudorg] Conservative Coming Out Week
Conservatives in Iowa City it is now time to come out of the closet!
I know at times it feels like you are the only person that disagrees with this liberal town, but you are not alone! We are asking all Republicans, Independents leaning right, or just anyone slightly frustrated with the current one party controlling every level of Johnson County, and some levels of Iowa and U.S. government to STAND UP!
Conservative Coming Out Week will be April 18th – April 22nd. Here is the schedule of events that will be going on throughout the week:
Monday: Whose Conservative Anyway? Guess which athletes, movie stars, and performing artists are Republican. 11-1 on Kautz Plaza off of the T. Anne Cleary Walkway.
Tuesday: Red vs. Blue Blood Drive from 2 to 6pm at the Carnival Room in Burge. Competition between the Republicans and Democrats for a good cause!
-College Republican meeting that night at 8pm in 71 Schaeffer Hall with showing of “Journey’s with George” in honor of President George W. Bush.
Wednesday: Come pick up your Doctors’ Notice to miss class for “sick of being stress”, just like the Wisconsin public employees during the union protests from 11 to 1 on the Pentacrest.
Thursday: Red vs Blue games! Beat the UDems in kickball and flag football from 4-6 in Hubbard Park. Wear your respective political parties color!
Stick around for a Animal Rights BBQ at 6 p.m.
Friday: Wear RED Day! Come out of the closet and show your true colors!
Should be a great week! Lets come out!
The Daily Telegraph engages in shoddy journalism when it stated the following about the Yale embroglio-
As the Ivy League alma mater of five U.S. presidents, 18 Nobel laureates and countless captains of industry, Yale has one of the loftiest names in education.
But the $40,000-a-year university has found its reputation being dragged through the mud by a sex scandal that threatens to leave a stain on 300 years of academic excellence.
Oh, please, a stain on 300 years of academic excellence. The antics of some fraternity chaps at Yale has nothing to do with academic excellence. Academic excellence and fraternity mischiefs both have long histories at Yale and I expect at all so-called Ivy League colleges. They co-exist in their own separate realities.
And as for the Daily Telegraph assertion that there is a sex scandal at Yale, the dankprofessor asks “What sex scandal?” Filing complaints about frat boy pranks does not make a sex scandal unless one is a sexual obsessive.
Sexual harassment, so-called hostile environment sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape continue to be conflated as indicated by a the complaint of 16 Yale students to the Dept. Of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (the OCR) and the public responses to said complaint.
As dissident feminist Wendy Kaminer points out the group’s complaint
“reportedly includes testimony about sexual assaults, but the hostile-environment charge against the university rests as well on a litany of complaints about offensive exercises of First Amendment freedoms. A December 2010 draft complaint letter, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), focuses on these “incidents”: In 2006, a group of frat boys chant “No means yes, yes means anal” outside the Yale Women’s Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women’s dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women’s Center holding signs saying, “We love Yale sluts.” In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers “it would take to have sex with them.”
It is these public incidents that have engaged the public’s attention and brought forth a condemnation of sexual harassment/assault by Vice President Biden. But what some call sexual harassment boils down in the dankprofessor terms as obnoxious and offensive behavior. And the terms used are of import since offensive and obnoxious behavior are constitutionally protected and university sexual harassment codes, particularly of the hostile environment genre, may impinge on constitutionally protected speech.
For example, take the “Yale Sluts” sign which was held up by a group of Zeta Psi Fraternity members in front of the Yale Women’s Center and then the circulation of this imagery in the wider campus community. In response to this incident the Women’s Center called for “an overhaul of the University’s sexual-harassment and assault education policies, increased regulation of fraternities, disciplinary actions against Zeta Psi members…” The Center’s board indicated they will continue in their ongoing quest to end the “fraternity-sponsored or enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape” they had observed on campus.
So putting it in rather blunt terms condemning the Zeta Psi actions as offensive is not enough; the problem according to the Women’s Center is that the Zeta Psi members are rape enablers. And the dankprofessor surmises that those who assert that the actions of the Zeta Psi members are constitutionally protected, they too are at risk of being labeled as rape enablers.
What was and is needed at Yale is some form of conflict resolution between fraternities and women’s organizations. But based on my information in the three years since the 2008 incident, there has been no communication at Yale between Zeta Psi and organizations such as the Women’s Center.
Name-calling whether it be sluts or rape enablers is puerile. The basic problem at Yale is one of civility. The problem of civility will not be ameliorated by taking this situation into an adversarial legal system, and using the media as a means of demonizing the “other side”.
The Smith Report has a pretty good post on student professor sexual relationships with a focus on Iowa State. The article gets the dankprofessor’s seal of approval and this is the first news from Iowa I have had on this subject which was not University of Iowa based; so there is life in Iowa beyond Iowa City.
The only thing Elizabeth Esther gets right in her article, “BYU, It’s Not About Sex It’s About Honor“, occurs when she states “I’m just not a fan of prolonged punishment and public humiliation”.
BYU basketball player Brandon Davies goes to the BYU authorities and tells them in private of his violation of the honor code. Then BYU morally violates him by putting him thru a public degradation ceremony. Such also impacts on his teammates ability to function as a cohesive winning unit.
Why couldn’t BYU wait until the end of the semester to punish Davies? Why did they need to go public? What is not stated in the article is that not only was Davies immediately suspended as a basketball player, but also suspended as a student. The BYU mentality reflects a mob rule mentality. It reflects a mentality of immediate gratification.
BYU acted in a dishonorable manner in the way they treated Brandon Davies who as a student has now learned how a so-called religion treats young adherents who may have strayed from their moral code.
What BYU did to Davies has nothing to do with religious values but rather the values associated with authoritarianism.
Basketball player Bandon Davies suspension from BYU supposedly resulted from his violation of BYU’s Honor Code, a code which all BYU students must sign.
So supporters of this code argue that the suspension was all about “honor” and honor in this specific case is living a chaste life, a life which precludes pre-marital sex.
Or to put it in dankprofessor terms, BYU in essence argues that all sex outside of marriage has no value and brings dishonor to those engaging in such sex. So not suspending Davies would bring dishonor to BYU. Such is patently anti-sexual and patronizing. It reduces students to children who must obey the codes of their elder parents. To become a student member of BYU, one must sign an oath that reduces the signatories to that of children who have no personal autonomy, no zone of privacy and intimacy. Such represents a form of totalitarianism, a form of totalitarianism that has no place in college athletics and certainly no place in NCAA sports competition.
The BYU punitive public response to Brandon Davies so-called code violation becomes a public degradation of a young talented athlete. Certainly, BYU authorities could have handled their sexual bigotry in a discreet manner; dealing with what most people consider a private manner in a private and personal way.
The dankprofessor says shame on BYU and calls for the NCAA to consider sanctions against BYU for abusing a student athlete.
And I understand that others may see this quite differently. For example, some BYU supporters hold that BYU is beyond secular regulation and that the team is on a “mission from God.”
To gain some historical perspective on this, I present the following.
The Brigham Young University’s so-called Honor Code is given some historical perspective in the following passage from BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY; A HOUSE OF FAITH by Gary Bergera and Ronald Pridis-
Early Rules and Enforcement
Brigham Young University is perhaps best known for its proscriptions against alcohol, coffee and tea, tobacco, premarital sex, coeducational housing, long hair, and short dresses. But only since the late 1960s have specific rules regarding behavior and dress become institutionalized as permanent standards of student conduct. Although previous BYU presidents had emphasized or de-emphasized adherence to moral standards according to their particular ideological bent, the trend during the 1960s towards greater regimentation was largely a reaction of President Ernest L. Wilkinson to developments on other American college campuses during the same era, when traditional western values were being questioned by students nationwide. Initially, officials at Brigham Young Academy offered relatively little supervision for undergraduates outside of school, which was an unusual approach to discipline for the period, especially in view of the average age of the student body–fourteen years–and the fact that many students were away from home for the first time (Smith). The academy’s 1876 Prospectus contained only a vague warning that “every student shall, in and out of school, cultivate a gentlemanly or lady-like deportment, and avoid all unbecoming associations that might reflect discreditably upon [themselves] or the institution [they have] the honor to attend.” Students were told that if they committed acts of delinquency, they would be “reprimanded by the principal,” and that in serious cases a note would be sent home to their parents. Otherwise, students were apparently free to do as they pleased off campus. Such an approach reflected BYA principal Karl G. Maeser’s European upbringing and education, where the closely supervised dormitory system of British and American schools was untried. In fact, compulsory dormitories originated in seventeenth century England, where undergraduates enrolled in college at the age of fifteen, and gradually disappeared in the late nineteenth century as the age of entering students increased to nineteen years.1
[p. 94] As steeped as Maeser was in the Saxon method of leaving after-school discipline to students’ parents, after three years as principal he came to realize that because “the students behaved so badly” off-campus, additional measures would be necessary to guarantee his pupils’ moral safety and to protect the good name of his academy. Maeser thus devised a housecheck program, christened the Domestic Organization, which provided that students would be “visited in their residences at stated intervals by [faculty] representatives.” Furthermore, one student per house was to be appointed to “act as Senior,” to attend meetings with the principal, and to encourage conformity to BYA standards among peers. Defending his Domestic Organization at an 1880 assembly, Maeser answered critics, “Some may think it none of my business where they are or what they do when out of school, but that is the law of the academy, and if they wish [it] to be none of my business, all they have to do is leave.”2
During the Domestic Organization’s first year, 1881-82, Maeser forbade “vulgar language, profanity, or obscenity in any form, smoking, [and] the use of strong drinks.” Three years later, Maeser’s pupils were forbidden from attending “public or private parties without a written permit from the principal.” In February 1885, twenty-two-year-old chemistry instructor James E. Talmage was appointed “assistant to the principal over giving permission to go to parties and [over] receiving excuses for being away from home after academy hours,” defined as eight o’clock on week nights and ten o’clock on weekends. The previous year, faculty also advised students against “attending the skating rink” and loitering near stores, on street corners, or near the train station.3
Although these and other regulations appeared extensive, students soon discovered that enforcement of Maeser’s rules would be minimal. Students learned, for example, that faculty assigned to visit their boarding rooms visited them only for “counseling and advising,” not for “espionage or individual surveillance.” Maeser kept his 1880 promise to the students, when the Domestic Organization was first introduced, that they would be “on their honor” to confirm or deny accusations made against them and that “any student who [wanted] to make himself smart by disobeying the rules without being found out [was] perfectly welcome to all the honor and glory resulting from such a course.”4
Besides being privately reprimanded by the principal, students who were observed–or admitted to–violating Domestic Organization rules could also be placed under “house arrest.” But as one faculty member recalled, “House arrest was too formal and did little to retard the natural exuberance and instincts of normal young men” (Swensen). House arrest and curfew both proved simple enough for enterprising students to circumvent by sneaking out of back windows. The BYA [p. 95] Studentnewspaper joked that “since the subject of marriage was considered in Brother Keeler’s theology [class], domestic visitors complain that they can’t find the boys at home. Probably the young ladies can tell where they spend their time.” In 1895, under Maeser’s progressive successor, Benjamin Cluff, Jr., the Domestic Organization was reorganized so that students were assigned to visit fellow students, thus relieving the faculty of this largely unwanted chore. Determining and enforcing rules, according to the school catalog, was placed “as much as possible in the hands of the students, with the view of developing in them the power of self-government.” “The greatest liberty possible [is] allowed the students,” Cluff added the following year, “until by some overt act they demonstrate that they are not able to use that liberty with wisdom and discretion” (“President’s Report”). Specific rules were eventually eliminated in favor of the general statement, “Students who are irregular in their habits, keep late hours, have improper associates, or visit any place of bad or questionable repute, are liable to be placed under special restrictions and regulations” (Circular).5
Although Cluff had little tolerance for adolescent mischief, he considered it futile to try to coerce students to behave–a viewpoint he probably acquired while studying at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. When at Cluff’s invitation, acclaimed liberal educator John Dewey delivered ten lectures at the BYA Summer School in 1901, he told his audience that “the reason for giving [children] freedom . . . is to be found in the fact that only through freedom can [they] develop responsibility.” Too many educators, he added, “carry the entire burden of the school themselves, leaving the children barbarians and savages–unable to face any responsibility of life when it comes.”6
Under Cluff’s replacement, George H. Brimhall, the university gradually reverted to increased regimentation and administrative surveillance. The 1910 Quarterly instructed students that within the limits of “honor and personal righteousness demanded of good citizens and consistent Latter-day Saints,” they would be given “the fullest freedom.” Brimhall’s interpretation of this broad statement included a ban on “pool halls and bowling alleys,” which had not been specifically forbidden since Maeser’s time. Furthermore, students were told, “the president of the university may announce additions to these rules at any time.” Brimhall asked theology teachers in 1911 to make periodic inquiries into student behavior and to “hand in to the presidency a list of students violating the regulations.” The Domestic Organization was converted into a student court, through which students were encouraged to try classmates for such infractions as “profanity, persistently idling away time, use of tobacco or intoxicants, and frequenting places of questionable repute” (Quarterly, 1919-20). Those found guilty were required to apologize for their behavior, pay [p. 96] a small fine, or renounce their student body privileges. An adverse judgment from the student court often also resulted in a further hearing with the BYU Administrative Council, where penalties included suspension and expulsion. Besides establishing a student court, the faculty/student Board of Control, which oversaw student government, suggested the establishment of a “student police force,” with a “chief of police” and “secret service men.” The board finally settled for a “Social Service Committee,” which sounded less clandestine but probably served the same purpose (WB, 16 Feb. 1915). Another innovation of the Board of Control was a 1916 staff of “student disciplinarians,” who were responsible for “clear[ing] the halls and radiators of loafers” at the beginning of each class period.7
When Brimhall was succeeded by Franklin Harris, BYU experienced yet a third shift in discipline, this time towards the former, more lenient policies of Benjamin Cluff. Harris assured students that during his tenure there would be “no particular rules to live up to except to be men and women in the real sense” (YN, 26 Sept. 1923). He reported the following year that the university took pride in being “an institution practically without rules,” adding, “We simply expect every student to be a gentleman or a lady, and [we] leave largely to each individual [the] responsibility for doing this as best he [or she] can.” Six years later in 1930, Harris again emphasized, “Brigham Young boasts that it gets along without disciplinary rules of conduct for the students,” reiterating that the school “merely requires that students shall be Latter-day Saint ladies and gentlemen.” In 1925, at the recommendation of Dean of Women Ethel Butt, Harris authorized a curfew for coeds–11:00 on week nights and 12:30 on weekends–which was subsequently expanded to include men, but the curfew was never conscientiously enforced. Butt later successfully pushed for a regulation prohibiting men and women students from living in the same house or building (YN, 15 Sept. 1930). With these two exceptions, however, Harris held to his promise of keeping rules to a minimum and of leaving their enforcement to students. Only when he was abroad for the 1939-40 school year, overseeing the establishment of an Iranian department of agriculture, did the faculty Attendance and Scholarship Committee break a twenty-year tradition and enunciate a list of specific regulations for students. The committee’s “Standards and Rules Governing Student Conduct at BYU” prohibited the use of tobacco and “intoxicating liquor,” required that students “maintain order in all buildings of the institution,” and stipulated that “women are not permitted to enter the living quarters of men except when properly chaperoned.” Despite the committee’s best intentions, however, their list did not last long and was never printed in the school catalog
The sex toy publicly induced orgasm at Northwestern University seems to be getting even more bizarre.
Initially, the Northwestern administration issued a statement indicating there was no problem with the classroom demonstration. Then the President of NW states he is disturbed by the event and orders an investigation.
The professor J. Michael Bailey initially indicated that there was no reason to apologize and then issues an apology but states there is no reason for said apology.
Professor Bailey stated the following–
“Those who believe that there was, in fact, a serious problem have had considerable opportunity to explain why: in their numerous media stories on the controversy, or in their various correspondences with me…But they have failed to do so. Saying that the demonstration ‘crossed the line,’ ‘went too far,’ ‘was inappropriate’ or was ‘troubling’ convey disapproval but do not illuminate reasoning.
If I were grading the arguments against what occurred, most would earn an ‘F.’
Yes, but maybe the University’s investigation will find out what the basis of the disapproval may be; may find out why the President of the University was so disturbed.
Clearly, the University seems to be oblivious to the Supreme Court decision last week regarding the usage of hateful and degrading rhetoric at military funerals by members of the so-called Westboro Church. In that decision, Chief Justice Roberts stated: “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears, of both joy and sorrow- as it did here- inflict great pain. We cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”
The dankprofessor accepts the notion that the post classroom orgasm demonstration falls under the mantle of the Supreme Court’s protected speech. The orgasm demonstration does not come close to promulgating anything relating to hate and degradation. And those in attendance at the demonstration were their by their own freedom of choice; they were not forced to endure anything like those who were subject to the rantings of the Westboro cadre.
And as Professor Bailey states those demanding some type of redress never state what was the nature of the problem other than embracing the notion that it was in bad taste.
And the dankprofessor asks is bad taste an adequate reason for banning and/or investigating anything at a university that embraces a liberal arts education? Certainly a discussion and examination of what constitutes bad taste may be of some educational value. But basing action on the belief that something represents bad taste should be given no consideration.
Or putting it in other terms, the “icky” factor may be a reality. But ickiness should not be the basis for a President of any university issuing formal statements and calling for an investigation.
But then again, some student could yell sexual harassment, could feel that a hostile learning environment was created, could feel that one did not engage in informed consent as to what was to occur. Such would trump issues of freedom of speech, issues of taste. Such could very well occur given the nature of the modern university in contemporary America.
In response to the public usage on Northwestern University campus of a sex toy which induced an orgasm by a prone female, the President of Northwestern issued a statement indicating he was “troubled and disappointed” by what happened after the sexuality class of Professor Bailey. He said the professor used poor judgement and ordered an investigation of the incident.
What troubles the dankprofessor is exactly what will be investigated. The consensual nature of the act as well as the consensual presence of the students are not in dispute.
Maybe the President is projecting his troubled feeling on to others and wishing to determine if others have been similarly troubled and disappointed. On the other hand university presidents are almost always troubled; they are paid to deal with troubles and disappointments. And to date the President is the only person who has publicly confessed to being troubled.
There must be more. Maybe, just maybe, the sex toy is being fraudulently advertised. Maybe the so-called sex toy induced orgasm was faked by the woman. Whether the woman really had an orgasm might merit an investigation.
Investigating whether the orgasm was real shouldn’t be difficult since Faith Kroll who was the subject of the orgasm stated she had no shame and would be happy to do it again. Of course, she could end up faking it again, if such be the case. What we need is a scientific controlled study with experts independently evaluating the alleged orgasm. And the experts would have to be screened to insure that the observers would not be troubled and disappointed.
Bottom line for the dankprofessor is that Faith Kroll says she is satisfied. Now if some people are troubled by her satisfaction, such should simply be their problem and outside of the purview of university presidents who all too often can’t get no satisfaction.
So some George Washington University students have launched a campaign to have Charlie Sheen as their commencement speaker. How keen, how witty, how grand, it’s almost like falling in love.
But to take commencement speakers beyond the ordinary, beyond the absurd into the extraordinary, how about seriously committing to the goal of having Gabrielle Giffords as the commencement speaker in 2012 at the University of Arizona.
Many college students want commencement speakers who are famous and some new student groups and Facebook pages suggest any kind of fame will do. George Washington University already has a commencement speaker for this year (New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg). But students at the university have started a campaign to get Charlie Sheen as the 2012 commencement speaker, attracting considerable support on Facebook and Twitter (typical comment: “I don’t want some stiff-ass politician boring me to death as I graduate”). The GW Hatchet, the student newspaper, has declared the movement “a satirical ploy.” But the idea may be spreading. Other Facebook pages want Sheen to speak at commencement at the University of Georgia, the University of Missouri at Columbia and West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
Well, why not? Charlie Sheen on campus as seen on TV. He could end up competing with Oprah or Barbara Walters. The dankprofessor looks at it this way, Sarah Palin is in demand to speak at the six figure level at just about anywhere. Well, she appears to entertain the notion that she could be president. Whatever delusional thinking Sheen may have about himself, it is on a low level as compared to Palin’s delusional thinking.
But no matter, ultimately it comes down to another segment of reality TV.
And why should there be controversy. The demonstration occurred after class, it was optional and apparently involved only consenting adults. And the dankprofessor finds it to be a breath of fresh air when the professor stated he had no regrets, after all he stated his students are open minded adults rather than fragile children. Let us hope that the student as child obsessed are able to control their obsessive thinking, unlikely but not impossible. Following is the text of the article-
More than 100 Northwestern University students watched as a naked 25-year-old woman was penetrated by a sex toy wielded by her fiancee during an after-class session of the school’s popular “Human Sexuality” class.
The woman said she showed up at the Feb. 21 lecture in the Ryan Family Auditorium in Evanston expecting just to answer questions, but was game to demonstrate. The course’s professor on Wednesday acknowledged some initial hesitation, but said student feedback was “uniformly positive.”
And Northwestern defended the class and its professor.
“Northwestern University faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial and at the leading edge of their respective disciplines,” said Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for University Relations. “The University supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge.”
The optional, non-credit demo followed psychology Prof. John Michael Bailey’s sexuality class. Nearly 600 students are in Bailey’s class this quarter, and most didn’t stick around for the after-class show, which featured four members of Chicago’s fetish community describing “BDSM,” or bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism.
“I didn’t expect to see a live sex show,” said Justin Smith, 21, a senior economics and political science major who was in the after-class session. “We were told we were going to have some people talk to us about the fetish world and kink.”
Smith said it took him awhile to process what happened, but he doesn’t object to the way the material was presented.
“It was for me academic like everything else,” he said.
He told his grandparents about the class.
“My grandma was like, wow, Northwestern is a little bit different then when I went there,” he said.
In a statement, Bailey said he hesitated briefly before allowing the public sex act.
“My hesitation concerned the likelihood that many people would find this inappropriate,” he wrote. “My decision to say ‘yes’ reflected my inability to come up with a legitimate reason why students should not be able to watch such a demonstration.”
After the demonstration, several students tried a different sex toy that gave a “titillating” but not painful shock, testing it out on their arms, said Ken Melvoin-Berg, who narrated the after-class lecture. Melvoin-Berg said the school paid him between $300 to $500 for his appearance.
Faith Kroll, the woman who stripped, was laying down on a towel when she was penetrated. When she arrived, she thought she just would be answering students’ questions and showing off sex toys they brought, including whips, paddles and a clown wig.
An “absurd, clinical” video and subsequent discussion about various aspects of female orgasm led Faith and her partner Jim Marcus, 45, to prove to the class that female orgasm is real.
Faith said she was not coerced in any way and students were repeatedly warned it was going to get graphic.
“One of the students asked what my specific fetish was and mine is being in front of people, having the attention and being used,” she said. “The students seemed really intrigued.”
In his statement, Bailey said student feedback was “uniformly positive.”
Marcus, a musician who said he has worked as a sex educator, said he thinks it is “smart and important” for students to be learn about sexuality.
“It’s really scary for young people who want to get involved in the BDSM community who don’t understand issues regarding consent and safety,” he said.
Melvoin-Berg said he met Prof. Bailey through a swinging couple who previously spoke to the class. Melvoin-Berg runs the “Weird Chicago Red Light District Sex Tour,” which has participants playing games like “spot the ho” as they travel the city looking for prostitutes. He also teaches “Networking for Kinky People,” a 3-hour version of the one hour lecture he gave at Northwestern.
Melvoin-Berg said the sex toy used was BDSM, but was “not like a pain thing…we wanted to make it poignant.”
“I did mention this was going to be the best money their parents had spent on their education,” he said.
Bill Yarber, a researcher at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and author of the textbook Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, said he’s never heard of a naked woman being brought to orgasm in front of a class of students.
“The way you present it there is very unconventional,” he said. “There’s certain boundaries of things, I think, that are acceptable and that would certainly be pushing that.”
This isn’t Bailey’s first brush with controversy. His 2003 book, “The Man Who Would Be Queen,” sparked hostile debate in the transgender community by claiming that there were more reasons for men to become women then simply that biology trapped them in the wrong body. Several transgender women who spoke with Bailey claimed they did not consent to being used for research and accused him of practicing psychology without a license.
Bailey said in his statement Wednesday that during the Feb. 21 after-class lecture, “I was not in a mood to surrender to sex negativity and fear.”
“Do I have any regrets?” he wrote on Wednesday. “It is mostly too early to say. I certainly have no regrets concerning Northwestern students, who have demonstrated that they are open-minded grown ups rather than fragile children.”
On the Tucson Massacre
By Barry M. Dank
The mantra of too many people weighing in on the Tucson killer is the idea that such persons and their acts are inexplicable, random acts of madmen. Any invocation that Jared Loughner’s behavior has any sort of political or social underpinning is discarded.
However, it would be preposterous to say that killers of the Laughner genre are not influenced by words. Whether we like it or not they are a part of the same human condition of which we are a part. People who engage in mass or serial killings have been influenced by toxic environments which function to both create and focus feelings of anger, hostility, worthlessness and powerlessness.
For some, homicidal ideation and fantasies never lead to lethal behavior. Simple possession of guns, even an arsenal of guns may serve as a power gratification which may never lead to any lethal behavior. However, whether one goes beyond fantasy thinking may very well depend on the social context of which one is a part.
For Laughner it appears that he developed a grudge toward Gabrielle Griffins in 2007; yet it was not until 2011 that said grudge was apparently activated into an act of violence. It therefore becomes relevant to ask what were the environments that Laughner was exposed to in recent years.
I suggest that the environment of the 2010 campaign for congress between Jesse Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords might have lead to a violent reaction by Laughner. During October 2010 until the November election, Giffords was subject to a continual barrage of degrading rhetoric from Jesse Kelly. Such reached a crescendo when on October 9 Kelly stated to a rally of Tucson Tea Partiers- “Aren’t you tired of having people spit in your face. You know what we do about people who spit in your face; we make them unemployed in November. (To fully appreciate the Kelly tirade against Giffords, please click the link.)
People of the psyche of the Tucson killer are likely to have felt that people have spat in their face their entire lives. Kelly creates Giffords as a symbol of the degrading other. The rhetoric of Kelly could have functioned to legitimize and intensify Laughner’s irrational hatred of Giffords.
But Kelly did present a way out for people like Laughner who feel disenchanted and alienated. Their way out was the election of Jesse Kelly; Kelly promised that if elected they would never be left out.
Such was not to be since Kelly lost the election. In late November Laughner bought an automatic weapon. And Laughner used his first opportunity to shoot Giffords and anybody else in her vicinity on January 8.
The scenario presented is of a speculative nature, but certainly not beyond the realm of possibility, not beyond the mind of the delusional and unstable. And certainly not a part of a well thought out political agenda.
It should be made clear that I do not think that Jesse Kelly and others of his political genre have any legal responsibility for the shooting, but I believe that Jesse Kelly and all politicians have a responsibility in the moral sense of creating a climate which is inhospitable to haters.
Nor should censorship ever be invoked in political campaigns.
What should be invoked is self-restraint and a moral condemnation of persons who engage in irresponsible rhetoric.
SEX MATTERS has a powerful post in part on how the holding of Assange in the UK is part of using sex and the protection of women as a convenient strategy to attempt to neutralize men such as Assange. SEX MATTERS – puts it this way-
Who after all can object to steps being taken to “protect” women? Well, hopefully, women.
Because time and time again, when politicians talk about women in this way, the last thing on their mind is protection. Rather, it is in their interests to co-opt women to otherwise dubious causes and to shelter behind the excuse of “looking after” the “weaker” sex.
Its pretty revolting. But absolutely to be expected.
Yes, it is pretty revolting that the Swedes probably at the beckoning of the US are attempting to hold Assange in detention to protect Swedish women. It is also sad that the UK goes along with this mythology by holding Assange under house arrest after holding him in prison for so-called Swedish justice for one week. If the Swedes are intent on questioning Assange who has not been charged with any criminal offense, then let them come to London to question him. Such should not be a problem. Certainly less of a moral problem than forcing Assange to raise $300,000 so he could be put under house arrest.
Arguing that Assange should be under any form of arrest so that Swedish women could obtain justice is analogous to arguing that Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican House so that justice for Lewinsky could be obtained, even if she really didn’t want justice.
This whole Swedish scenario is similar to what occurs on too many American university campuses. After all, who could possibly object to protecting women college students from falling into consensual sexual relationships with professors. Of course, said women could object. But no matter for the powers that be, these women, no matter what their age, need to be protected from these so-called predatory professors. And, of course, no matter that the student may have been the one who was “predatory.”
What would be good for justice at universities is for university police aka administrators to have their veils of secrecy discarded. No more- that this is a confidential personnel matter. University diplomacy needs to be fully exposed.
More than ever, we now need to think of love as ennobling resistance to what already is, modeling the idea that difficult things are worth the effort. Love may be the last sanctuary for the idea that struggle can be rewarding.
By Rob Horning
“Hugh Hefner has been good for us’” is the title of a recent article by Roger Ebert on Hugh Hefner. Obviously, Ebert likes Hefner; he considers Hefner’s Playboy Philosophy to be a major contributing force to sexual liberation in the 60s. Anchoring Ebert’s analysis is a series of videos on which Hefner is interviewed. Unquestionably, the most valuable of these videos is from William Buckley’s FIRING LINE in which Buckley interrogates Hefner on just about all aspects of Hefner’s philosophy. The kind of interchanges dealing with sexuality between Buckley and Hefner has been a rarity on American television. Buckley does his best to defend the traditional view that pre-marital sexuality is immoral and unacceptable and that Hefner is in essence perverting/undermining the dominant and only acceptable sexual ethos in America.
From the dankprofessor’s perspective the series of the five video segments of the Buckley/Hefner interchange provides the viewer with the anti-sexuality background of our contemporary ethos. Of course, in the 60s the acceptability of student prof sexual relationships was nil; they were effectively closeted in the context of their being no discussion of the matter and no bureaucratic apparatus designed to repress such relationships and to persecute those who were party to these relationships. Now that has all changed. The very survival of universities has been held to be at risk if such relationships flourish; such was similar to the fear that homosexuality if not criminalized would function to destroy society. Such was also similar to the dynamic of fear that led to the passage of the Mann Act in the United States and the hysteria to save our young women from pre-marital sex and being seduced into prostitution.
Ebert puts the contribution of Hefner and Playboy in therse terms:
Hefner and Playboy have been around so long that not everyone remembers what America used to be like. It was sexually repressed and socially restrictive. College students were expelled for having sex out of wedlock. Homosexuality and miscegenation were illegal. Freedom of choice was denied. McCarthyism still cast a pall over the freedom of speech. Many people joined in the fight against that unhealthy society. Hefner was one of them, and a case can can be made that Playboy had a greater influence on our society in its first half-century than any other magazine.
Take the time and view the the Buckley/Hefner interchange. The dankprofessor guarantees you won’t regret doing so.
Who can possibly block gay marriage from becoming a legal reality in California? Steve Cooley is committed to the implementation of Prop 8 and if he his elected as Attorney General of California, he would be in a position of going forward with an appeal of the recent judicial judgement that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. Presently, Attorney General Brown and Gov Schwarznegger won’t appeal.
So Cooley could not successfully get Polanski back into the country so hPolanski be persecuted. Of course, Cooley should never be counted out, not when he could impinge on the rights of millions of gay men and women. If Cooley is elected as Atty General for California, anything is possible. I would not put it beyond him to broker a deal via which h Polanski would return to California in exchange for Cooley not blocking the implementation of Prop 8.
I wish it wasn’t so, but wishes do not reflect the reality of a university administrator using students as servant/slaves. Now one of her lawyers stated that the student duties were just the normal duties of a work study student. The lawyer’s comment is damning because it may be true and if this ends up being her defense she will have to prove it. This case could blow the cover of administrator largess and exploitation of students. There should be a huge outcry re this case, but it will not likely occur since there appears to be no sexual component.
In any case, the dankprofessor says again and again do not automatically trust administrators. They are generally so overpaid that many feel that they can get away with anything. Following is the NY Times article-
A former administrator at St. John’s University accused of embezzling about $1 million from the college in Queens has now been charged with far more lurid crimes: forcing students to clean, cook and act as her personal servants to keep their scholarships.
The ex-administrator, Cecilia Chang, who served as a dean and vice president at the university, was charged with forced labor and bribery, according to a complaint made public by federal prosecutors on Thursday.
As the dean of the Institute of Asian Studies at St. John’s, Ms. Chang had the authority to grant 15 scholarships a year. The recipients, most of whom were from overseas, were told they had to work 20 hours a week under her supervision.
The students thought they would be doing work related to the university. Instead, according to the prosecutors, she forced them to perform menial tasks at her home in Jamaica Estates, Queens.
One of the students had to drive Ms. Chang’s son to the airport at 3 a.m., the complaint says, and another had to deliver cash to her at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut.
And she made it clear that if the students did not perform their extracurricular duties, they would lose their scholarships, which were worth at least $5,000, the complaint says. The loss of the scholarships might have forced some of the students to drop out, it adds.
“In addition to the outrageous way she treated her students, in exchange for scholarships, she had them falsify documents,” Charles Kleinberg, an assistant United States attorney, said at Ms. Chang’s bail hearing in Federal District Court in Brooklyn.
Ms. Chang, 57, did not enter a plea or speak during the one-hour hearing, but she stood shaking her head as prosecutors argued that she was a flight risk because she holds a passport from Taiwan, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
Her lawyers argued that by surrendering on Thursday morning, Ms. Chang demonstrated that she would not flee. They added that she was already wearing an electronic monitoring device as part of the bail conditions in the embezzlement case, a 205-count indictment filed by the Queens district attorney’s office in September.
In that case, Ms. Chang is accused of stealing about $1 million from St. John’s. Prosecutors say she used the money to pay for lingerie, casino trips and her son’s tuition.
After three decades at St. John’s, Ms. Chang was suspended when the embezzlement allegations came to light in January, and she was fired in June.
Magistrate Judge Joan M. Azrack set Ms. Chang’s bail at $1.5 million, to be secured by two homes belonging to friends, one in Hempstead, N.Y., and another in Yonkers. If convicted, Ms. Chang faces at least 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.
After the arraignment, Ron Rubenstein, one of Ms. Chang’s lawyers, said that the students’ duties, which never totaled more than 20 hours a week, were a normal part of the St. John’s work-study program.
Many of those tasks were to help with Taiwanese dignitaries visiting Ms. Chang’s house, where she frequently entertained out-of-town guests for fund-raising purposes, Mr. Rubenstein said.
“The fact that this is even a crime is shocking,” he said outside court. “Cooking a meal doesn’t sound at first blush like work-study, but wait till the trial. I’m not going to give you the defense now.”
According to the complaint, one student, identified only as CI1, “drove Chang to the hair salon, to restaurants and to the airport.”
“As a driver,” it adds, “CI1 was also responsible for taking out the garbage and shoveling snow at Chang’s residence.”
St. John’s officials said that the students who worked under Ms. Chang did not have to worry about losing their scholarships.
“If these allegations by federal authorities are true,” Dominic Scianna, a spokesman for St. John’s, said in a statement, “Ms. Chang’s treatment of some students and the environment she created are shocking and in complete violation of all this university stands for.”
A for-sale sign was posted outside Ms. Chang’s house on Thursday; an Internet listing puts the price at $2.89 million, or for rent at $5,800 a month
The focus of the dankprofessor blog is on consensual sexual relationships between students and professors. Occasionally I look beyond the university to see how consensual relationships are handled in other contexts. What is presently happening in Texas as regards the client lawyer relationship definitely is of interest.
Attorneys working on behalf of the Texas Supreme Court and State Bar of Texas have proposed the state’s first rule prohibiting lawyers from engaging in sexual relationships with clients.
• Lawyers won’t condition representation on having a client engage in sexual relations.
• Lawyers won’t solicit sex as payment of fees.
• Lawyers won’t have sex with someone the lawyer is personally representing unless the sexual relationship is consensual and began before the attorney-client relationship began or if the attorney and client are married.
Now this looks quite reasonable to the dankprofessor and could possibly represent a viable compromise that could be applied to the student professor situation. However, I do have a major caveat regarding this proposed policy and that regards the automatic exemption from regulation if the attorney and client are married. Problem is that marriage in Texas is not open to same sex couples so the policy appears to end up discriminating against gay couples. I say appears since the policy exempts from regulation couples who had an ongoing relationship prior to the client/attorney relationship. So the marriage reference could be dropped without reference to marriage.
Even with the aforementioned change, there is a whole array of problems that could come into play. How does one prove that a sexual relationship occurred prior to the attorney/client relationship? Might such proof function as an invasion of privacy of the client? Who can initiate said investigation, etc? I trust that these procedural matters will be discussed as the policy consideration proceeds.
It also should be pointed out that the lawyer/client relationship is more like the psychotherapist/patient relationship than the student professor relationship. In both of the aforementioned relationships the relationship generally occurs on a one to one basis in a private setting, a setting in which it is of paramount importance that the client be able to be completely open with the lawyer. Both the patient and the client usually enter the relationship in a situation of high anxiety; both are in a situation of dis-ease. Such is not ordinarily the situation of students taking a class in a public setting in which revelation of personal intimate information is generally not required.
In addition, the client does not become a part of the legal community. The student does become a part of the university community. And the student is not paired with a particular professor in which the pair is in an adversarial relationship with another professor.
Although there are things we can learn from the Texas proposal, in no way do I want the university campus to become similar to a court room and more similar to the legal profession. If anything, too many university campuses have become torn asunder under the tutelege of dueling lawyers.
Hugo Schwyzer and myself have had an interesting interchange on his last posting. I want to share with my readers one of our last interchanges(I expect there will be more) since this interchange really gets down to some basic issues. I also would like to note that Professor Schwyzer is one of the very few academics who engages this issue in an open and dispassionate manner. Bravo to him!
As my regular readers know, Barry, I’ve written a bit about student attraction to professors. (I have an archive called student crushes, and I stand by that term, though I know your problems with it.) Many of the women with whom I had unethical, albeit “consensual” professor-student relationships made their attraction very clear to me. I took advantage of that attraction, but that doesn’t render me any less culpable. Lots of folks get mad crushes on their therapists, but we know what that is, and have a good term for it: transference. And you know what, Barry? I haven’t been at this gig as long as you, but I have been teaching for nearly twenty years and have taught well over 10,000 studnets — and I am convinced to my core that most of the attraction to me was basic transference. It wasn’t about me, it was about where that young student was in her process. What got me voted America’s hottest professor in 2008 was less about my looks (I’m not hideous, but I’m no model) but a teaching style that struck a chord with certain students. That some of them sexualized or romanticized that chord was a normal part of their developmental process. It was not an invitation to fuck them.
As I wrote a long time ago:
…we don’t just get crushes on people whom we want, we get crushes on people whom we want to be like! Students don’t get crushes on me because they want to go to bed with me or be my girlfriend or boyfriend; they get crushes on me because I’ve got a quality that they want to bring out in themselves. They’re externalizing all of their hopes for themselves. And rather than encourage the crush to feed my ego, my job is to turn the focus back on to the student, encouraging him or her to take their new-found curiosity or enthusiasm or passion and use it, run with it, indulge it, let it take them places!
I have no reason to doubt the honesty of your analysis of the transference process as to how it applied to some of your students and how it may have facilitated a sexual relationship with some of your students. Of course, as you point out apparently all of your students were young and such should not be surprising since you teach at a two year college which predominantly attracts young students. However, the problem becomes applying this to students and professors in general. You very well know that the genre of policies you advocate apply to middle age graduate students as well as to young professors. I am sure you know that “your” policies apply to student teaching assistants who may end up dating students where there is hardly any age difference. And, in my case, my wife who I met when she was a student has always been two years older than myself. I resent the implication that we should have been barred from dating because of some transference process or because someone may feel offended by such a relationships. Your insistence of using the term “crush” strongly implies that you do not take any of these relationships seriously. Can’t you accept the fact some student prof couples experience “authentic” love, not just a passing crush? Can’t you accept the possibility that some marry and have children and some of these children may end up in your classes as you lecture on how the student was a product of a crush, etc. etc. Do you ever give consideration to said possibility? Have you ever considered the possibility that I myself MAY have been the offspring of a student professor couple.
If your analysis has relevance to some student and professor couples and I believe it does, it also has relevance to non-student and non-professor relationships, to many people from various walks of life.
The social psychological dynamics leading to coupled relationships are a varicolored thing, but whatever the dynamic such does not justify the banning of psychologically “unacceptable” relationships.
At least it does not justify it in a free society, in a totalitarian society, yes; in a Big Brother society yes, but not here. Unfortunately, many of our values relating to freedom and civil liberties have historically been thrown out of the window in regards to sex because our society has been saturated with anti-sexual perspectives. It is hard to get beyond said perspectives. Supporting anti-sexual values has been the ability to control and coerce others who may give sexual offense. My problem with you, Hugo, is not your willingness to engage people on vital educational and sexual issues, but your willingness to coerce others who deviate from your or societal sexual norms. Sexually consenting adult couples should never be coerced or persecuted or prosecuted
I usually do not blog on matters relating to K thru 12 but I will make an exception this time.
Turns out that a NYC teacher had at one time been a NYC hooker but had successfully transcended from hooker to teacher. Now she has gone public as to her past via the internet. Some want her fired because they hold she is not a good role model for children. From what I know about her she could be viewed as a “good” role model since she made the transition to conventional straight life.
Click here for the FOX video on this.
OK, I will begin my reply post to Hugo Schwyzer’s response to me by picking a bone with him as to how he presents me. He indicates that at Cal State Long Beach I had built a name for myself “as a consistent (some would say relentless) advocate for legitimizing sexual relationships between teachers and students”. If the good professor had done his homework on me, he would have known that I built a name for myself in the area of legitimizing sexual relationships starting in the late 1960s when I relentlessly opposed discrimination against gays, wrote “Coming Out in the Gay World” which came to be regarded as a classic article in the sociology of homosexuality, created the first officially recognized undergraduate course on homosexuality in 1969, and worked to help create the first officially recognized GSU in California at CSULB and last but not least I wrote an article against Anita Bryant and her campaign against homosexuality which was reprinted throughout the United States and helped to defeat the Briggs initiative in 1977, and led to numerous threats against my life, see that article by clicking here. Post my involvement in the gay rights campaign, I became involved in issues regarding interracial dating and marriage and helped to found the Interrace Association at CSULB.
So prior to my getting involved in the student professor issue I had an extensive background regarding transcending sexual boundaries, standing up for sexual freedom and consent. In this area I was relentless and remain relentless. Such relentlessness was not stifled by the small mindedness of too many of my opponents and their attempts to objectify and demonize me. For example, Schwyzer states that I celebrate student professor sexual relationships. I do not celebrate any form of consensual sexuality. What I celebrate is the right of consenting adults to engage in sexual fraternization no matter how offensive such fraternization is held to be by others. What offends me are those who engage in coercion of consenting others who happen to violate their sexual “ethic”.
And as for Schwyzer not being able to see the similarities in the dynamics of those opposing interracial relationships and those opposing student professor relationships, I suggest that he is suffering from a form of cultural blindness. I suggest that he read Lillian Smith’s book KILLERS OF THE DREAM and then he may understand the southern “ethic” that embraced the notion that a white woman/black man relationship can never be consensual, such always precluded consent, that such always represented rape, and that white men were protective of “their” white women who could not consent for themselves and were in essence children or childlike. Of course, any dissident black man faced a sentence of death via hanging and/or burning for the sin of loving the wrong person. Of course, today’s sexual dissidents who engage in academia’s love that dare not speak its name do not face being physically killed but rather being socially and psychologically exiled from academia since they have violated the sacred principle of “differential power precludes consent”. Safer for them to remain in the closet which has historically been the home of the sexually persecuted or those in support of the sexually persecuted.
In response to me, Schwyzer states-
I’m not incapable of drawing distinctions between behavior which is criminal and behavior which is merely unethical. But I also think that folks like Dank fail to recognize three things:
1. College students in their late teens and early twenties are still developing intellectually and emotionally, as this New York Times Magazine article made clear recently. Many young people are in a space between, as the old saying goes, “the Already and the Not Yet.” They are already legal adults and are in many ways fully responsible, but in other key ways continue to need more time to develop the complete capacity for impulse control and moral reasoning. As the Times article put it, the only ones who “got it right” about how long it takes young people to grow up are the car-rental companies, who often refuse to rent their vehicles to drivers under the age of twenty-five. While nineteen year-olds may be ready for sexual relationships with their peers, they are vulnerable to exploitation (whatever protestations may be made to the contrary) by those who are substantially older.
Schwyzer continues to focus on students as young people, apparently teens or just post teenager. Such reflects Schwyzer’s hangups or possibly his complete immersion in the world of PCC. To assume that university students are young and immature is absurd.
To assume that being young reflects immaturity is absurd. To assume that being old reflects maturity is absurd. To assume nothing and treat and respect the individuality of the other is not absurd. Such reflects in Buberian terms the willingness to employ an I-thou framework. Schwyzer employs an I-it framework which makes coercing others so much easier.
Then comes his point 2-
2. The power imbalance between a professor and a student, regardless of the latter’s age, makes it impossible for the student to give consent as long as the professor is in a position to evaluate (or recommend) him or her. You can’t trust a “yes” unless the person who says the “yes” also feels free to say “no” in the confidence that there will be no deleterious consequences. And as long as a student is in any position to be evaluated professionally by their professor/lover, they can’t have that knowledge that a “no” will be safe. That’s not infantilizing; that’s common sense.
Here he states it really is not about age, but about power imbalance in general. He holds it axiomatic that students cannot give consent (such assumes of course that the student is not the initiator and the professor is the one consenting). Such represents the end point of his argument- students cannot consent so we will not allow the student to be in such a position. What he fails to note is that now he and his chosen colleagues are now in the power position and they have taken away the ability to consent of both students and professors. Both students and professors must consent to the will of the all powerful bureaucrat. Schwyzer and his confereres end up calling for what all authoritarians call for- OBEDIENCE, obedience to them. And as for his comments about possible deleterious consequences, freedom always represents the possibility of deleterious consequences; lack of freedom always represents the reality of deleterious consequences.
And now to his third point-
3. The damage that professor-student sexual relationships do to the broader academic community is enormous. I’ve written that some of the students with whom I had sexual relationships remembered what we shared fondly; otherssuffered lasting negative consequences for which I take full responsibility and a profound sense of guilt. But leaving aside the essential question of the impact of these relationships on young women’s lives, I can say with certainty that these affairs are impossible to keep secret. Campus gossip made them widely known. Not only was I labeled a lecher, but the legitimacy of the entire college was in some sense compromised. I’ll never know how many young people grew a bit more cynical, a bit less trustful of the system, a bit more suspicious of older men as a result of my sadly well-deserved reputation in the mid-to-late 1990s on this campus.
Is Schwyzer referring to PCC here being damaged in some way by his relationships with young women? I speculate that he is projecting his own sense of damage and guilt on to the wider academic community. He is seeing his campus world thru his guilt tinged lenses. He ends up dealing with his guilt by coercing others to be “better” than he was; he ends up being an authoritarian do-gooder. And as for campus gossip, my advice to him is to just get beyond the rumor mongers; do what you consider to be right and don’t focus on the opinions of others. And, of course, it will often be the case that no matter what one does, one can end up becoming rumor subject matter.
As for recommended pieces regarding this issue, he neglects the most powerful published essay written by then graduate student Cristina Nehring. You can find it on my blog, of course. I can’t reprint the whole article, but I have reprinted enough to capture the essence of her argument, and do read the recent student comments on this posting. Of course, you can read a couple of my pieces by clicking here and here as well as reading SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND CONSENT which I co-edited. Daphne Patai’s book although somewhat tangential gives a pretty good portrait of how campuses are becoming less free. And, of course, anything written by Dick Skeen, material based on his doctoral dissertation, should be required reading.
And I bemoan the loss of community on too many campuses. The implementation of these fraternization rules make informal interaction between students and professors problematic. Fear too often now structures student professor interaction; fear that there may be a sexual imputation. Schwyzer never mentions this; never mentions that many campus regulations prohibit both sexual OR amorous relationships. On a personal note, I became a professor already a part of academic life since I had married a professor’s daughter and took for granted the camaraderie, the informality that was a part of the community of learners, no matter what the age. It’s basically gone now; replaced by an impersonal bureaucracy, paid bureaucrats making sure things are under control which de facto means keeping things in the closet.
I also want to make clear that I do not condemn or disrespect Schwyzer for his attempt to come to terms with his past sexuality. His guilt feelings I do not doubt are real; his need for redemption is real. What I question that in his need for redemption or expiation he ends up advocating the coercing of others for engaging in consensual sex he disapproves of. In the dankprofessor’s framework he commits the sin of coercion which represents his own unacknowledged arrogance.
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