More complete story from Charleston Gazette on firing; must scroll down linked page for story.
Following is a comment in response to a comment I had on the
D’Souza blog –
Dear Barry Dank:
You miss the point completely. It is not merely the age difference as it is a difference in power. A young college girl is going into the ‘real world’ for the first time and the potential for manipulation is too great. Anyone who has ever been a boss knows this is true. I have never gotten involved with anyone from my work because the potential for workplace romance-related disaster is just too great. Clergy, bosses, teachers have as much sway over a young woman as a rock star! It just isn’t right.
Keith J. Mohrhoff at 8:04AM on Aug 27th 2007
The response of mine which Keith did not like focused on age issues since so many persons who had comments on the D’souza blog argued for a student-prof ban because of the alleged age differential between students and professors. None of the respondents assumed that there might not be an age differential or that the professor might be younger than the student which was the case in my relationship which led to marriage. Protection is assumed to be paramount; protection of young women from the older male. When I stated that persons so offended by a significant age differential might wish to consider a ban on age differentiated relationships, no response was forthcoming. Of course, this attitude may be a result of the student-teacher labels which for many imply adult-child relationships. If such is the case, the professor is seen as a predatory molester, and there can be no discussion or debate, issue closed. I think the professor-student as adult-child functions as a default assumption for many.
As Keith notes, “it is not merely the age difference as it is a difference in power.” What Keith fails to understand is that the position he and others advocate functions to take away the power of young women; they are held to be incapable of consent. In this framework, the power goes to the so-called protector- the chair, the dean, the sexual harassment officer; protectors who are all too often zealous feminists who can now asssume Big Sister roles in exerting power/abuse over male professors and who view consenting female students as non-existent since in their view differential power precludes consent.
In more direct terms, the female dissenting student just doesn’t count. Big Sister counts; of course, Big Sister is wrapped in a therapeutic language of caring and concern; caring and concern which is coercive; coercive caring, what a great concept. It still amazes me that so many people are so easily seduced by
the Big Sister rhetoric which stripped down is just old fashioned authoritarian rhetoric.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
A dissenting viewpoint which asserts that Craig’s behavior appears not to be criminal; such may be the case. But there are two bottom lines here- he pled guilty to a lesser charge, and his behavior as described is morally reprehensible, particularly for a person in a leadership position, i.e, to secret himself in a public restroom either to solicit or be solicited for impersonal sexual behavior. In addition, he obviously puts himself at risk and many other people who have put their faith in him. Whatever one may have thought of Clinton, he engaged in a sexual relationship in private with a person who was known to him. Soliciting a stranger for impersonal sex by a person in a position of public trust is dangerous behavior, dangerous to self and potentially to many others.
Watching Senator Craig opine “I am not gay” was surreal. If Senator Craig believed that he was gay, it is quite likely that he would not have ended up in a tearoom cruising scenario and become a part of a sting operation. For those who wish to maintain a heterosexual facade and are same sex attracted, mens rooms have functioned for persons of this genre as a psuedo public and pseudo private cruising ground. As pointed out by Laud Humphreys in his infamous study TEAROOM TRADE, heterosexually married homosexually attracted men have found such scenes particularly attractive for impersonal sex in a same sex setting in which any man can enter with no implication concerning ones sexuality. Bathrooms in transient settings, such as roadside bathrooms and airport restrooms facilitate said impersonality. Of course, the Senator has put not only his career at risk but also his his friends, relatives and wife to whom he probably lied to about who he is in his attempt at passing. Of course, the Senator Craigs of this world have lived lives via passing in a breastplate of righteousness; they did not flaunt their homosexuality but rather denied and repressed, a denial and repression that was a product of homophobia. How tragic! I remember when I was doing research in the 1970s on heterosexually married homosexually attracted men, I was particularly taken by one man who I had interviewed- he was about 50 at the time of the interview, and had accepted himself as being homesexual for the last 5 years. Prior to that time he had denied to himself he was homosexual, had heterosexually married and was the father of two children. At the time of his arrest in a mens room for soliciting sex, he had been a minister for some 20 years. The woman he had married who he had always loved and always lied to was traumatized and humiliated by his arrest; she saw her primary role in life as being the minister’s wife. Unfortunately, she dealt with the situation by taking a gun and killing herself. Her husband when I interviewed him was overwhelmed with guilt and bemoaned the fact he could not have come to terms with his homosexuality at younger age so that he would not have involved an innocent woman who married him and believed in him. At the time of the interview he was giving all the support he could to his son who was gay and was a president of a university gay students union. What a difference a generation made. Of course, the irony being he did whatt the dominant society wanted him to do- pass as straight, providing homage to the powers that be. Now those powers will be morally outraged, will distance themselves from this disgusting pervert believing that they had nothing to do with how this man ending up living his life, living a life of lies; I guess such a life is not all that much at odds with living the political life.
Per request for the link for the article Forbidden Love which I co-authored, now it is just one click away.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
Now in the CHE footnoted blog. Once there, scroll down to find romance round 2 .You will find yours truly comments, amongs others.
Your dankprofessor aka Barry M. Dank , email@example.com
D’souza had a blog column on right to romance book with numerous commentaries. I contributed a comment which occurs at the very end of the comments column.
Also Abahamson contributed a comment which I could not find on their comments log. He sent me the commentary which follows-
REPLY TO D’SOUZA
How ironic. Dinesh D’Souza advertises himself as a careful reader of the Constitution; yet he dismisses my legal argument about faculty-student romance on the basis of a one–page interview in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Volume 53, Issue 50, page A8) about my forthcoming book “Romance in the Ivory Tower: The Rights and Liberty of Conscience” (MIT Press). He concludes: “The whole concept is a legal absurdity. Professor Abramson is certainly entitled to cruise the bars of Los Angeles looking for love if he wants to. I just think [he] should leave his copy of the Constitution behind”.
Lord Robert May (a member of British Parliament, former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister, and Professor at Oxford), interestingly, had a different opinion. After reading the entire book, Lord May concluded: “Make no mistake. Paul Abramson’s book is a serious and thought-provoking examination of the extent to which institutions should proscribe individual actions. Although I do not endorse all of the conclusions, I strongly recommend this book”.
My advice? Wait until the book is published (October 2007). If, at that point, Mr. D’Souza (or anyone else) would like to start a serious debate, that is a discussion I’d welcome.
A colleague has written me taking me to task in regards to my comments that recusing oneself from grading a student with whom one is having a romantic relationship is not advisable. Such recusal was advocated by Professor Abramson in his CHE interview. A third party would be doing the grading. My colleague writes- “There will always be situations- unforeseen and unforeseeable- in which recusal is necessary, or at least advisable. Recusal is never considered differential treatment, legally, quasi legally or ethically even though factually it plainly is.” He writes further “that he suspects that this is so because as human beings we have to have a way out, a way to acquit ourselves honorably when nothing else works, and that has always been to do nothing. That is the essence of recusal.”
Of course, the professor should have foreseen the definite possibility that he or she would be unable to dispassionately grade a student who he or she is romantically involved with. If this is the case, such should have been communicated ahead of time to the student and if such involvement occurs then the student would be treated differentially and would not have the same grader as all the other students have in class. Recusal in this sort of situation does not appear to me to be an honorable way to acquit oneself; such is not honorable since the relationship is violated and as well as the student. This would be the case if the relationship was based on mutuality, mutual respect for each other. One simply does not unilaterally exile a student into never-never land. Any such decision should be based on a mutual ethical engagement of the issue. If this is to be done, the student-professor relationship is no longer a private one and will end up being subsumed under the mantel of insitutional authority. If there is differential treatment, it should of the last resort and is indicative that the professor is now in deep trouble as well as the student.
In addition, it does become relevant that recusal from grading in a university is almost unheard of. Of course, in legal situations recusal is frequently employed. In my 35 years of university teaching I never heard of a situation of recusal occurring or being contemplated. Also, in said 35 years, I cannot recollect being privy to any discussion of the issue, nor receiving any official university notifications about the issue. Is the recusal process referred to in Faculty Handbooks? Feedback on this would be most appreciated. On the other hand, many times during my career I heard faculty disparage in severe terms other faculty and students and who in my opinion could not dispassionately evaluate the disparaged colleague or student, and in these situations recusal never to my knoweledge ever came up.
As for myself, I never felt recsual was called for. Let me give but one example. After the end of a Fall semester, I began to date an ex-student who had been in one of my Fall classes. I continued to date the student and our dating evolved into a serious long term relationship. Come the next Fall semester, she indicated she wanted to take another class from me. My position was that it was her decision to make, and if she took the class she would be treated the same as all other students. She knew that such would be the case. The fact was that amongst students I was known as a passionately impersonal grader. It wasn’t easy to give a poor grade to students who I liked, but such was the case.
The 8/17 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by Robin Wilson on a new book by Paul R. Abramson, THE RIGHT TO ROMANCE IN THE IVORY TOWER; THE RIGHTS AND LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE. The book will be published in the Fall. It is a rare book or essay these days that recognizes any rights regarding student-faculty association. It merits serious attention. When I saw that Robin Wilson was doing the article/review I doubted that such serious attention was forthcoming. She generally does a hatchet job on anyone moving toward a rights perspective on this issue. In any case, most of the article deals with a transcript (I assume edited transcript) of the interview. I will present excerpts of the interview with my response; one needs a password to read the article—-
Q. Have you ever dated a student?
A. “I was 26 when I came to UCLA. I dated students, I dated faculty, I dated staff. I can’t remember if I dated students who were in a class of mine. … Psychology classes always have 300 to 400 students in them. Professors don’t do the grading. All of that is done by teaching assistants. If I did date a student I was grading, I would have used the conflict-of-interest strategy, which would have meant either recusing myself or having a third-party evaluator. Now I’m 57. With the average age of students being 22, dating students is basically an irrelevant issue to me. I’m more likely to conjure images of father or grandfather, than a potential romantic choice.”
My major problem in this interchange is with Abrahamson’s response. He indicates that if he was dating a student in his class he would recuse himself from grading the student or having a third party grade the student. The problem here, of course, is that he now is treating the student differentially; all other students get the same grader except for 1 student. If one is involved in a mutual romantic relationship in this context and are on the fringe of sensitive issues such as grading, one should commit oneself to absolutely no differential treatment in the classroom experience. If the prof feels he cannot grade the student in a non-prejudicial manner, the student should not be in the class. Or in more general terms, if many profs believe that they cannot treat students they like or not like or are friendly with or not friendly with, in the same manner, they should not be in the classroom at all. Or given this example, if a feminist professor favors feminist versus non-feminist students in the classroom, she should not be in the classroom at all. Dispassionate grading should encompass the entire grading process irrespective of specific emotional involvements.
Q. How effective have campuses been in stopping relationships between professors and undergraduates?
A. “I think what’s more likely is a professor dating a grad student. Or a teaching assistant dating an undergraduate. That’s where romance is likely to occur. And those are pervasive throughout the university, despite the rules. The relationships are more clandestine now and anxiously initiated. People go through all the disfigurements to keep it quiet: changing the way we look at each other, the way we touch each other, the way we walk.”
Of course, no one definitively knows what is happening on campuses in this area. It is now shifted underground; the relationships become closeted. And this is what the powers that be in general want- out of sight, out of mind. The predominant ethos is the same as it was in the past in the gay world- dont’t flaunt it, don’t put it in my face. Of course, having to hide, being forced to hide ones relationships is a form of degradation; choosing to hide is another matter. Given a situation when there is a large number of women in their 20s and men in their 30s-40s who are eligible, there will be a lot of fraternization, particularly at a place where many people share common intellectual interests.Universities are unable to effectively controlso many people. So underground flourishing is to be expected. Ultimately, a major issue becomes whether the university is willing to use third party reporters and/or reports by persons who have a need to hurt the prof and/or student. More on this in later posts
Q. So all of these professors and teaching assistants are breaking the rules?A. Yes, with the potential for termination. Love is a very powerful emotion, and that propels one forward. Think of it in terms of gay rights: All the prohibitions did nothing to preclude the clandestine pursuit of one’s love interest. What these policies are doing now is creating a very chilling effect on romantic pursuit, if not precluding it. They’re just forcing it underground.
Q. That sounds like a dangerous situation for professors who are involved in such relationships.
A. If you’re doing something that is illegal, you’re basically giving someone a justification for firing you. So, for example, let’s say you start doing research on Charles Dickens, and I hate Dickens and I don’t think he belongs in the academy, and you come up for tenure. And I say, Prof X is sexually involved with a student; I think we should get rid of her. The real reason we want to get rid of you is your work. But by having the relationship, you’re making yourself vulnerable to dismissal.
I agree, but it becomes further complicated in situations where a relationship is not taking place, but such a relatisnhip is perceived to be taking place due to the fact that it is a close relationship. Such is what I would consider to be one of the most negative effects of banning student-professor relationships- that it puts a chill on profs and students having close relationships. The chilly air passes thru open office doors that do not respect private conversations between students and professors.
Q. You talk about lofty principles being at stake here, Constitutional rights. What are they?
A. For me, this is not an issue about who’s sleeping with whom. It’s an issue about where the power to make the choice resides. Is it something that resides in an institution like a business or a university, or is this in that sphere of personal autonomy over which only you get to choose? We make choices over things that are exceedingly intimate: who to love, what to believe in, the character of our writing and speech. These are part of the fundamental nature of who we are, and they represent the autonomous way we relate to the world. What’s more fundamental to an adult than making a choice about who to love?
Probably nothing more fundamental. Taking away said right
and giving it to a dean or some other campus functionary reflects the essence of absurdity.
Q. Describe how you believe the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution protects, as you put it, “the right to romance.”A. In the first eight amendments, you have explicit rights that are enumerated or described. To preclude the government from saying: ‘Anything that’s not on this list we control,’ Madison created the Ninth Amendment. It says despite all those rights enumerated above, you cannot deny or disparage rights that are still retained by the people. Madison is saying, despite all the things we’ve described, the people still retain their fundamental rights. The right to reproduce is one of these. So one of the inherent rights of humanity is the right to reproduce, and you have to choose who you are going to reproduce with, who you are going to romance and love.
Q. How are university policies banning relationships between professors and students any different from policies that companies have developed to prevent relationships between employees and the workers they supervise?
A. In industry they’re referred to as nonfraternization policies. They say, I don’t want you to date anyone here. But industry is up front about it because they say, You guys could get angry at each other, and sue each other or us. We don’t want to deal with that, so we’re stopping it. But universities don’t do that. Universities present themselves as if they’re taking this moral high road that they are trying to protect students. I believe this is disingenuous. What they’re really trying to do is reduce their liability. That’s reasonable, but I want them to be honest about it.
Well, the effect of honest bans would be no difference in effect than dishonest bans. The interviewer implies that the university should apply the corporate model; if corporations ban, then universities ban. However, I think that most academics believe that the university world should be different than the corporate world even given that the corporate mentality is increasingly found
in the university world. Does the interviewer believe that
tenure should be abolished since it does not exist in the corporate world? Does she believe that universities should increase pay differentials between univ presidents and faculty since the corporate world has higher pay differentials between CEOs and line employees?
Q. What should universities be doing instead, then, particularly if they want to limit their liability?
A. I’d say to the university, OK, you don’t want to be vulnerable to litigation, but professors don’t want our rights to be trampled here. What’s the middle ground? One of the things I suggest is a “romance release.” Every professor and student would say they’d hold the university harmless if they fell in love. I’m very sympathetic to the university’s vulnerability to civil litigation and to the extent it’s an economic threat. But we wouldn’t prohibit people’s right to believe in God if that produced civil lawsuits as well.
A “romance release”; interesting idea; I will try to get Professor Abrahamson to elaborate on this.
Q. Naomi Wolf, the feminist writer, published a piece in New York magazine several years ago in which she wrote about how devastating it was to her self-confidence when one of her professors put his hand on her thigh when she asked him to read her prose. If relationships between professors and students had been outlawed at Yale back then, wouldn’t that have stopped the professor from doing what he did?
A. These policies don’t target that kind of foolish behavior. They’re not going to stop it. I would argue one needs to enact policies about a hostile working environment to stop that. You don’t need to legislate against touching the leg, because that’s sexual harassment and it’s covered. With Naomi Wolf, these two weren’t romantically involved. She felt that being sexually harassed by a professor was humiliating, and undoubtedly so.
A good effective response to a stupid question. Robin Wilson knows that his book deals with consenting relationships, but switches off to sexual harasment issues.
Q. Lots of universities put these policies in place because students were accusing their professors of sexual harassment. Isn’t that a valid concern?
A. A professor and a student get involved in a relationship; it goes great guns for eight months. They’re fabulously in love; they think they’ll get married and have kids. Then it somehow implodes. One or the other wants to continue the relationship and keeps pressuring the other. Eventually the one who wants out feels they’re being harassed and says, Look you continue with this, and I’m going to sue you. It is basically love gone awry that universities are afraid will turn into civil litigation. Therefore, universities will cut out love completely with these policies in order to protect themselves.
Well stated. It would be similar to attempting to ban rape by banning all sexual relationships.
The fact that a couple might break up should have no relevance to the university albeit student-faculty breakups or faculty-faculty breakups. In fact, universities hire married couples being fully aware that the marriage might end in divorce.
Q. Some parents might wonder whether they should be paying 40-grand a year to provide professors with a well-stocked pool of potential dating partners.
A. We allow any male or female to join the Army and Marines and fight in Iraq at 18. If that 18-year-old can make that decision about giving life for their country, that 18-year-old can make a decision about who they’re going to have romance with. People always ask me, How would you feel if your daughter had a relationship with a 40-something professor? My response has been, it’s her choice to make.
In fact, I know that parents might be quite supportive of such relationships. I can speak to this based on personal experience.
I had excellent relationships with the parents of students who I dated; I would have valued them as in-laws.
Of course, Ms. Wilson fails to note that professors have parents too and the case may be that a faculty parent may disapprove. In any case, so what? One more personal note. Unbeknownst to me I started dating a daughter of a prof at my university. Of course, I quickly found out such was the case, and ended up having a close friendship with her father.
Q. Don’t rules that prohibit sexual relationships between professors and students protect professors as much as students? It is tempting for a 40-something faculty member to fancy himself the romantic partner of an undergraduate woman. But before university rules banned these relationships, there were lots of stories of professors doing and saying ridiculous things with students in the name of “love.”
A. I think that’s a moralistic crusade under the guise of paternalism. It’s always important to make conscientious choices in one’s life. But to legislate that in any venue is absurd.
People make foolish sexual choices. People who are religious leaders, how many of them have fallen from grace because of their foolish sexual choices? To me that’s testament to the power of love and sex. Sexuality is an enormously powerful motive, and people are going to make foolish choices because of the power, but we don’t preclude it. We give freedom of speech despite the rubbish and crap that people air because it’s so essential to our survival to protect the freedom of speech. It’s essential to our pursuit of happiness and well-being to protect sexual rights, knowing full well people are going to make foolish choices.
If you wish, write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
OK, my first post. So this post will function as a partial intro to me and the blog as I envision it. Who am I in this present moment? Retired emeritus prof of sociology, cal state long beach living in the southern arizona village of Tubac. A few of my upcoming posts may deal with Tubac and its environs, but most of my posts will deal with issues relating to sexual and political correctness issues in university life with an expected focus on student professor romantic relationships. I say expected since this has been my focus for the last 15 years or so. I am also editor of the academic quarterly, SEXUALITY AND CULTURE , published by Springer NYC. However, as specific sexual politics issues develop outside ot the university, I may choose to deal with said issues. Of course, this blog will not follow a particularly scholarly or academic framework, but will be freewheeling. Input is expected and hoped for from others who share my concerns. Input is particularly sought from others who have been victimized by Big Brother and Sister policies of their universities. I expect that this blog will be appreciated by those who value individual liberty, personal responsibility and privacy that are worth preserving even in our contemporary universities .
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
- academic freedom
- Anita Bryant
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