Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Getting rid of attractive students

The dankprofessor has argued that at the core of banning student professor sexual relationships is an anti sexual dynamic, a dynamic that is often stated in rather stark terms which puts such relationships in a child molestation framework with the professor being the sexual predator and the student being the innocent child or childlike female student. Some times the framework is closer to a rape framework with the professor being an adult rapist and the student an adult or near adult rape victim. Whatever be the specifics of the framework, the outcome is the same- the female student is unable to give consent. This sounds pretty outlandishly anti-sexual . However, some have argued that this sexual banning really is not anti-sexual, and that the reason for such bans is to protect the grading process, to eliminate the possibility that the enamored professor will prejudicially grade the loved one. To put the argument in a nutshell, professors are committed to non-prejudicial grading and sacrificing the rights of students and professors from loving each other in a grading context is a necessary sacrifice. On the surface this sounds like a reasonable argument. However, the overwhelming predominant academic reality is that professors provide only lip service to the sacredness of the grading process; lip service since professors generally do not emotionally invest themselves in grading; “good” grading does not help one get hired, promoted or tenured. Investing oneself in good grading, emphasizing how one is a committed non-prejudicial grader will not help one advance in academia. At whatever university and in whatever discipline, valued and remembered professors will be remembered as good teachers or good researchers or good scholars and not as outstanding non-prejudicial graders.

And given the lack of value put on grading, there is little or no emphasis on the prevention of prejudicial grading. There are no workshops on the prevention of prejudicial grading. There is much rhetoric in contemporary academic life about matters relating to race, gender and class, but nothing of a formal or informal nature directed toward professors as to how to avoid race, class and gender biases as such effect the grading process, whether the grading relates to grading a student one likes or one dislikes. One can politically and ideologically bond with students, one can fight and demonstrate with students to take back the night, but hardly anyone argues that one cannot grade these same students. Of course, students frequently complain that professors engage in prejudicial grading, that so and so students received a high grade because the professor liked him or her. But such talk is seen by almost all professors as just talk, certainly no talk that would lead one to take some sort of action or to lead the talked about to take a self-inventory.

If professors were really concerned about prejudicial grading, they would overtly demand that faculty deal with what heretofore has been unmentionable- that faculty, both male and female faculty, both married and unmarried faculty, both feminist and sexist professors are sexually attracted and sometimes very sexually attracted to some of their students some of the time. Every person who has ever professed knows this to be true and every professor know that being differentially attracted to students can lead to differential grading to some degree based on said attractiveness. Of course, we all know that the the physically attractive, the beautiful people are advantaged in just about all sectors of everyday life.

Robert Cialdini, in Influence: Science and Practice, summarizes the dynamic in these terms-

“Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence (for a review of this evidence, see Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, & Longo, 1991). Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process. Some consequences of this unconscious assumption that “good-looking equals good” scare me. For example, a study of the 1974 Canadian federal elections found that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates (Efran & Patterson, 1976). Despite such evidence of favoritism toward handsome politicians, follow-up research demonstrated that voters did not realize their bias. In fact, 73 percent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance; only 14 percent even allowed for the possibility of such influence (Efran & Patterson, 1976). Voters can deny the impact of attractiveness on electability all they want, but evidence has continued to confirm its troubling presence (Budesheim & DePaola, 1994).

A similar effect has been found in hiring situations. In one study, good grooming of applicants in a simulated employment interview accounted for more favorable hiring decisions than did job qualifications – this, even though the interviewers claimed that appearance played a small role in their choices (Mack & Rainey, 1990). The advantage given to attractive workers extends past hiring day to payday. Economists examining U.S. and Canadian samples have found that attractive individuals get paid an average of 12-14 percent more than their unattractive coworkers (Hammermesh & Biddle, 1994).

Equally unsettling research indicates that our judicial process is similarly susceptible to the influences of body dimensions and bone structure. It now appears that good-looking people are likely to receive highly favorable treatment in the legal system (see Castellow, Wuensch, & Moore, 1991; and Downs & Lyons, 1990, for reviews). For example, in a Pennsylvania study (Stewart, 1980), researchers rated the physical attractiveness of 74 separate male defendants at the start of their criminal trials. When, much later, the researchers checked court records for the results of these cases, they found that the handsome men had received significantly lighter sentences. In fact, attractive defendants were twice as likely to avoid jail as unattractive defendants. In another study – this one on the damages awarded in a staged negligence trial – a defendant who was better looking than his victim was assessed an average amount of $5,623; but when the victim was the more attractive of the two, the average compensation was $10,051. What’s more, both male and female jurors exhibited the attractiveness-based favoritism (Kulka & Kessler, 1978).

Other experiments have demonstrated that attractive people are more likely to obtain help when in need (Benson, Karabenic, & Lerner, 1976) and are more persuasive in changing the opinions of an audience (Chaiken, 1979)…”

And the dankprofessor asks, are there any believers that such is different in the academic world, that physical attractiveness plays no role in grading and in academic gamesmanship in general?

If professors were really honest about this dynamic and at the same time committed to non-prejudicial grading, what might they do to minimize prejudicial grading? Might they recuse themselves from grading attractive students? Not possible. Might the university have dual classes, one class for the attractive and the other for the non-attractive? No way. But what about bringing about what had been not a rarity in the past in academia and that is the introduction of a student dress code. And the dress code would be that students dress in an absolutely uniform and bland manner, and that code be strictly enforced by administrators who have been specially trained to create and enforce dress codes. Unquestionably, there would be misdirected faculty and students who would hold such a code to be in violation of student civil liberties and rights. But the sacrifice of such rights would be a small sacrifice to make in the pursuit of fair and non-prejudicial grading. And, of course, students and professors have been asked (demanded) that they sacrifice the right to have sex with each other, the right to romance each other, the right to love each other all in the supposed name of protecting fair and non-prejudicial grading. And if as has been pointed out by banning advocates that students have not fully developed the ability to consent in sexual matters why would one assume that these same students have developed the ability to decide how to dress on an everyday basis? Better to let the specially trained to decide how you dress as long as you are a student at our university.

OK, for the distraught students who believe that they just can’t accept a dress code, they better get with the code or they will get a public dressing down. And remember Big Brother and Big Sister loves all students equally in all their surface blandness and sameness. No need to fret about the physically attractive getting an unfair better deal. Right?

More to follow in upcoming posts.

—–
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 2008

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January 18, 2008 - Posted by | attractive students, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, grading, higher education, love, recusal, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating

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