Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Middlebury College

Middlebury College is in the process of developing a policy regulating student professor consensual relationships and the  following op ed article by Tracy Himmel-Isham who is the Assistant Director of Career Services and Jon Isham who is the Luce Professor of International Environmental Economics present arguments in favor of adopting a policy at Middlebury.  Following are key excerpts from this article accompanied by my comments.

“Consider the negative effects when a professor and a student whom s/he supervises are engaged in a romantic and/or sexual relationship. Multiple conflicts are bound to arise because of the power differential. Fellow students are justified in questioning, “What has happened to the mutual trust in this classroom?” Departmental colleagues of the professor should ask: “How will this relationship affect our professional reputation?” And if the College turns a blind eye, parents of Middlebury students have the right to demand “What kind of a community is this?!””

Of course the advocates of the ban know with certainty that there will be negative effects of a student professor relationships  and said effects are bound to impact on mutual trust in the classroom.  For some reason, they appear to believe that the intimate aspects of the relationship takes place in class rather than outside of class.  Why would a professor integrate his or her personal intimate relationships into the class framework?  If such is the case, it is inappropriate not because the relationship is between a student and professor but rather because one of the parties in the relationship is an exhibitionist.  If a professor engages in verbiage unrelated to the class relating to the beauty of his girl friend or how evil was his mother, such a professor should be warned that such behavior is inappropriate.  For some reason, the writers believe that professors involved in such relationships are adolescents who cannot control their behavior and will exhibit their conquest to others in the classroom.  Such is absurd,; of course all stereotyping is absurd.  Might the embracing of this stereotypical imagery by highly educated persons   possibly represent a reflection of the writers projecting their own feeling on to these professors who they severely condemn?   Could such condemnation represent a form of self-flagellation? 

As to effecting the professional reputation of Middlebury, such is unlikely to occur, and as far as I know has not occcurred.  I say such is unlikely to occur since so few student professor relationships ever receive public attention.  Again, the people involved in these relationships are not exhibitionist, are not celebrities seeking the attention of the masses.  It would be fair to characterize their relationships as pedestrian, eligible men and women seeking to be loved in the context of meeting in a university community.  Often the couple meets in the context of the love of knowledge, sharing the similar intellectual passions, which in time may be transformed in part into a knowledge of love.  These two writers simply seem unable to understand that loving and learning can go together.  Nothing extraordinary or perverted about that ?

Then the writers express concern about the parents of Middlebury students and their right to demand.  It is unclear what they have the right to demand.  I gather that the writers believe that they have the right to demand the the university control their children as to whom their children are intimately associated.  Such is a type of control many parents would like to have, but should not have in the university since at the university their children are not the children of the university but are adult students attending Middlebury.  In any case, as stated previously, in the real world many parents are delighted that their daughter has affiliated with a university professor, has escaped the hookup culture and the binge drinking which are often a part of student culture.  As I have indicated previously, I personally have never met a parent who disapproved of my dating their daughter; being welcomed into their family was the norm.

The banning advocates continue by invoking Carleton College as being a model for Middlebury as to their consensual relationships policy.

“The well-being of the learning and teaching community at Carleton College depends upon the existence of a relationship of trust, respect, and fairness between the faculty and the students. Romantic and/or sexual relations, even if consensual, between faculty members and their students (those whom they currently teach, advise, supervise, coach, or evaluate in any way) violate the integrity of the student/teacher relationship as described above. Such relations are therefore prohibited by the College and constitute grounds for disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

This language gets it exactly right. Trusting, respectful and fair relationships between faculty and students are central to a college’s academic mission. Indeed, the teacher-student relationship, as celebrated in the recent launch of the Middlebury Initiative, defines our community.”

Carleton nor the Middlebury advocates present an iota of evidence that the integrity of the academic enterprise is affected or been affected by consensual student professor relationships  The reality is that such relationships have become the boogeyman of academia.  If the writers are concerned about integrity I suggest that they focus on student cheating, both faculty and student cheating; plagiarism, both faculty and student plagiarism.  These are issues dealing with academic integrity, not ones dealing with whom one dates.

I do agree with the writers that there should be trust, respect, and fairness between the faculty and students.  Of course, such should also entail trust between faculty and faculty.  Intruding into the personal lives of professors and students does not reflect trust, it reflects meddling. As for fairness, fairness in this case is not treating professors differentially based on who they choose to date but rather fairness is professors treating students the same in the classroom irrespective of any other relationships they may have regarding any particular student, eg, whether any particular student be a son or daughter of a colleague or of an administrator or if they like or dislike a student, or if they find a particular student attractive or unattractive, etc., etc.

“Note that the Carleton policy does not – repeat, does not – forbid all sexual relationships between faculty member and student. Specifically, it acknowledges that some romantic and/or sexual relationships do not “undermine the trust, respect, and fairness that are central to the success of Carleton’s educational mission.” This is an essential part of such a policy. A respected colleague of ours recently told us: “I have been at Middlebury for a long time, and I have seen loving relationships develop between professors and students, relationships that have become strong, long-lasting marriages.” At the same time, this colleague pulled no punches: “Of course, sexual relations between a faculty member and a student whom he or she currently supervises are indefensible.”

I can’t help but imagine if the aforementioned colleague checked out each of these couples determining with certainty that the relationship did not begin with the student in class or continued with the student in class.  If the professor pulls no punches, such would mean he would have thoroughly checked out these couples and become a meddling ogre in the context of defending the integrity of  Middlebury.

“We wonder about those who might object to Middlebury adopting a version of Carleton’s “Statement on Consensual Relations.” Perhaps some might think that it violates a tenured faculty member’s freedom of expression. But consider the following: if you are reading this article and somehow object to the Carleton Policy, then would you be willing to speak up for its converse?”

Well,  the dankprofessor is not at Middlebury and am speaking up for its “converse”.  What the policy does is violate both the students’ and professors’ freedom of association, of ones freedom to choose ones date and/or mate.

“We encourage all members of our community ­- students, faculty, staff, parents, alums, and trustees – to ask: “What kind of a community does Middlebury want to be?” Should our community dismiss sexual relationships between faculty and students as just one more privileged expression of academic freedom? Or, just as Carleton College did five years ago, should we declare support for “trust, respect and fairness” and therefore prohibit sexual relations between a professor and a student whom s/he supervises? Faculty council not only needs to take this issue seriously: they should recommend a policy that reflects the aspirations and moral integrity of our community.”

Yes, it is a decision as to what sort of community there is at Middlebury.  I would hope that the Middlebury community does not want to dismiss any consensual relationship.  Relationships between students and professors are not a “privileged expression”; they are expressive of basic rights of adults.  One can dismiss children, but not adults.  Those who take away such rights, no matter for what principles, end up demonizing others, infantilizing students and turning over the private lives of students and professors to administrators who are free of sexual biases and prejudices, who gain no gratification from controlling the sexual lives of others.  Getting beyond this fantasy thinking, it is more likely that professors and students who simply wanted to be left alone are now put in the hands of Big Brother and Big Sister administrators who simply are into power and control in the name of protecting the integrity of Middlebury.

Unfortunately I must end now since I want to keep up with the mass arrests of political dissidents in Pakistan, arrests which are, of course, being made to protect the integrity of the democratic process in Pakistan.  Let the elections begin.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2007

November 9, 2007 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, Middlebury College, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating

1 Comment »

  1. […] Middlebury’s developing policy on student-faculty relationships has made its way to Arizona. DankProfessor, a blog written by Barry Dank, emeritus professor of sociology at California State University, Long […]

    Pingback by DankProfessor Responds to Student-Faculty Relationships at Middlebury « Midd Blog | November 10, 2007 | Reply

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