Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Fear rules at Indiana University

Indiana University has played a pivotal role in the history of sexual behavior in the United States since at IU is located the famous Kinsey Institute.  Of course,  IU functioned as the headquarters for the sex research of Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s.  Since that time some of the most respected sex researchers have become IU professors due to the fact that the Kinsey Institute is located on the IU campus.  Such would have never occurred if in the 1940s and 1950s, IU had the student professor consensual sexual relationships policy that is currently existent at Indiana University. Given this policy, Kinsey would have been dismissed for unprofessional conduct due to his relationships with students and research assistants.

In any case, since there are so many scholars at IU with an interest in sexual behavior and sexual policy issues, one would expect that sexual policy regulations would be presented in a manner that is empirically grounded and adhere to the rules of logic.  To determine if such is the case, presented below is the IU consensual relationships policy; the dankprofessor’s criticisms are presented in blue in the text of the policy.

Policy on Consensual Relationships
Academic Handbook: (A. Right and Responsibilities, I. General Statement : Relations with Students)
With regard to relations with students, the term “faculty” or “faculty member” means all those who teach and/or do research at the University including (but not limited to) tenured and tenure-track faculty, librarians, holders of research, lecturer, or clinical appointments, graduate students with teaching responsibilities, visiting and part-time faculty, and other instructional personnel including coaches, advisors, and counselors.

The University’s educational mission is promoted by professionalism in faculty/ student relationships. Professionalism is fostered by an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Actions of faculty members and students that harm this atmosphere undermine professionalism and hinder fulfillment of the University’s educational mission. Trust and respect are diminished when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their power. Those who abuse their power in such a context violate their duty to the University community.

Of course, professionalism is not defined; it is presented as a given even though there has been much argumentation over what is professional or non-professional.  Whatever professionalism is,  it must be a good thing since mutual trust and respect are good things; even the dankprofessor is for mutual trust and respect. And I am also against diminishing trust and respect when authority abuses power or appears to abuse power.  But nowhere in this document is abuse of power defined and I am quite sure that I would not equate abuse of power with the appearance of the abuse of power.  Might I raise the following questions- Is it  OK to equate murder with the appearance of murder? To equate adultery with the appearance of adultery?  To equate crime with the appearance of crime?

To equate appearances with reality certainly should not be an accepted policy in the halls of academia.  In theory, professors have learned to engage in critical thinking, have learned to teach critical thinking, but now they become a party to the IU statement that passes off the conflating of fact with fiction as being OK.  Well, the dankprofessor says it is not OK, and that any university which is against the abuse of both students and professors would make the effort of separating appearances from reality. We all should know the danger of not doing so as represented by the actions of Duke University in their persecution of the Duke lacrosse team members who appeared to the powers that be at Duke and too many Duke faculty as having engaged in rape.

Faculty members exercise power over students, whether in giving them praise or criticism, evaluating them, making recommendations for their further studies or their future employment, or conferring any other benefits on them. All amorous or sexual relationships between faculty members and students are unacceptable when the faculty member has any professional responsibility for the student.

The two prior sentences represent a non sequitur.  A statement that X has power over Y does not necessarily mean that X and Y are incapable of having a consensual sexual relationship.  Of course, there are some academics who embrace cant and rant such as “Differential power precludes consent.”  If this cant is accepted, such means that when persons of differential power engage in a sexual relationship, the situation becomes one of rape.  The dankprofessor holds that such is utter poppycock and is indicative of a form of heterophobia, possibly homophobia as well, or may be it is more accurate to state that such represents a fear of sex or is sex phobic.

Such situations greatly increase the chances that the faculty member will abuse his or her power and sexually exploit the student.

The sex phobia is illustrated in the prior sentence since the sex phobic always feels that sex in some form or the other will lead to harm and abuse.  It is always better to be abstinent.  In fact, this sort of thinking comes right out of the Bush sponsored sex abstinence sex education agenda.

Voluntary consent by the student in such a relationship is suspect, given the fundamental asymmetric nature of the relationship.

Again, back to the assumption that differential power precludes consent, and even if it does not preclude consent, it is still bad since it makes the “relationship suspect”.  The dankprofessor asks do real persons in the real world of love and romance and marriage and parenthood, and divorce and dissolution really believe that if one person is seen as having greater power than ones partner that the relationship is seen as suspect?  Of course, there are many persons who exist with fear being omnipresent; such persons have fully embraced a paranoid world view.  The fearful and weak-minded may be the subject of such rhetoric, but attempting to pass this off on the Kinsey sophisticates at IU is just too much for the dankprofessor to handle.

Moreover, other students and faculty may be affected by such unprofessional behavior because it places the faculty member in a position to favor or advance one student’s interest at the expense of others and implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors.

About the possibility of other students being affected, of course, it should be pointed out that there are also many other students who would not be affected or offended.  And offended is the word that should be used here; IU is arguing that students should be protected from offense.  The possibility of the right to offend is simply ignored.  The IU argument is a dangerous argument, an argument that could be used to ban or criminalize just about anything.  The California Supreme Court recently dealt with this in overturning arguments to ban same sex marriage just as in a prior decision the California Supreme Court made short shrift of the arguments in support of banning interracial marriage.

And as for the rest of the statement about “implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors”.  I do not see anything here implicit or explicit.  If people want to think the worst of others, it is easy to impugn the motives of others.  But to do this on a group level, to use a prostitution framing for student professor relationships goes beyond the pale for the dankprofessor.

Therefore, the University will view it as a violation of this Code of Academic Ethics if faculty members engage in amorous or sexual relations with students for whom they have professional responsibility, as defined in number 1 or 2 below, even when both parties have consented or appear to have consented to the relationship. Such professional responsibility encompasses both instructional and non-instructional contexts.

1. Relationships in the Instructional Context. A faculty member shall not have an amorous or sexual relationship, consensual or otherwise, with a student who is enrolled in a course being taught by the faculty member or whose performance is being supervised or evaluated by the faculty member.

2. Relationships outside the Instructional Context. A faculty member should be careful to distance himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize a student with whom he or she has or has had an amorous or sexual relationship, even outside the instructional context, especially when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit or in units that are allied academically.

Of course section 2 goes way beyond the instructional context.  Ever having a sexual relationship at any prior time, five months ago or five years ago with a current student, makes the faculty member suspect.  No matter that the relationship is now “ancient history”, the faculty member must distant himself or herself from the permanently sexually impaired (stigmatized) student.  Such distancing is what I would call unprofessional behavior.

Handbook for Student Academic Appointees (Duties and Responsibilities particular to Associate Instructors: Relations with Students)
If faculty members (including graduate students with teaching responsibilities) engage in amorous or sexual relations with students for whom they have professional responsibility, even when both have consented to the relationship, it will be viewed as a violation of the “Code of Academic Ethics”.

Such ends the presentation of the IU consensual relationships policy.  The dankprofessor finds the policy to be outrageous. Such represents the product of the small minded, and the fear obsessed.  Or could it be the product of cynical fear mongers who know they can communicate the inane as accepted IU policy because the IU intellectual and scholarly elite fear to dissent or even worse, the thinking represented in this policy has now become the thinking of the IU professoriate.

The dankprofessor welcomes and encourages input from IU professors who dissent from the IU consensual policy.  However, it is the dankprofessor’s opinion that receiving such dissent for blog publication is just about nil.

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

May 22, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, Indiana University, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating | 2 Comments

The desiccation of university life

It’s about passion- a passion for learning and studying, a passionate search for truth.  Such was my vision of the university prior to becoming a professor so many years ago.  Such remains my ideal but with the knowledge that all too many universities have embraced a pedagogy that takes the passion out of higher education by replacing real live student professor encounters with powerpoint presentations and then totally getting rid of in person student professor interaction via online classes.

And, yes, the dankprofessor knows that there have always been too many professors who never really taught in the classroom, but simply assigned chapters from a textbook and then read their lectures in class which were essentially a rehash of the textbook.  These professors suffered from what I call the textbook syndrome.  Such means that they are totally dependent on the textbook; they have nothing to offer of themselves, their own thinking in their own words to their students, and therefore their greatest fear becomes the loss of the textbook for without the textbook they would have nothing to say.

What has changed is the embracing of a dehumanizing techno centered education by the powers that be at the university. Peak learning experiences, intellectual breakthroughs, bonding with professors and fellow students in the intellectual quest become an irrelevancy.  All eyes become focused on the screen, in class, out of class, almost all the time.

No wonder that so many universities have so easily embraced codes that ban student professor consensual sexual relationships. No big deal.  No big deal since passion, love and romance are seen as having nothing to do with university life.  No big deal since there is little or no university community.  In this vision of the university, everyone knows their place and should never be out of place and then there is Big Sister or Big Brother to keep students and professors in their proper places- powerpointing, powering up or powering down, keeping screen life clean and without giving offense to anyone at any time.

And now we have Margaret Soltan(UD), the Universities Diaries blogger, who understands how university life is descending into just another screen test (my words, not hers).  She breaks through in her blog entry of May 21 entitled “New Forces in the Soul”.  Do click the original essay and read it in its entirety.  And for those who are not inclined to click, below you will find what the dankprofessor considers to be the key parts of this brilliant essay.

…What’s striking about the contemporary American university isn’t this or that flashy scandal – drugs at San Diego State, professional basketball players at USC. It’s that many American campuses look like death warmed over.

Put your ear to the American campus. Listen. The pulse of the cellphone, the click of the laptop. The drone of the headset.

The quiet of the grave.

The quiet of a cathedral full of monks.

In class all heads stay bowed, the professor over her PowerPoint, the student over her Mac. The room flickers with illuminated screens in whose thin light a soul scopes out its trivia: Facebook, Minesweeper, Solitaire.

The white noise of the American university is the sound of souls subdued throughout the day by a succession of screens. The screen is in the classroom and in the diningroom. It is the dorm room and on the quad. Its pacifying effect deepens with iPods, cell phones, and Blackberries.

Of course it’s not just university students. We all look down, messing with our stuff on the metro, in church, in bed.

But it’s sad to see it among university students. Among their professors.

Because of all American cultural settings, the university’s specifically designed to break through the nothingness, to nudge you awake, toward enlightenment. The form of vitality intrinsic to a university is intellectual bliss, the condition of being engrossed in new thought. Not abstract thought. Thought embodied, vitalized, in another human being, a professor.

There are forms of vitality university campuses share with sports arenas and bars, but the distinctive nature of the university is that it offers intellectual vitality, that it offers a faculty which includes people who adore the play of the mind as it takes up this and that element of the world.

It’s not so outlandish a form of enthusiasm. Most people find the classic story of youthful awakening in My Fair Lady and Educating Rita enormously appealing.

And why? Because they recognize these as essentially love stories. They’re not about people downloading lecture content and tapping inquiries to an online ghost. They’re about two people who share a passion for clarity and self-transformation. One of them, a teacher, delights in the discovery of an eager intelllect, receptive to the ideas that excite him. The other, having found a sympathetic human being who has thought about the questions that fascinate her, spends every day charged with cerebral energy.

Also with emotional energy, to be sure. Erotic material exists inside the relationship.

A friend and fellow blogger puts it like this:

[A]cademic life is likely to be formed out of intense relationships all around. .. [T]he eros surrounding them injects them with an ambiguity and intensity that makes life interesting and urgent. Studying is exciting; eros is part of that excitement.
Studying is exciting. Eros is part of that excitement. Feeling your mind expand is exciting. You can do it fitfully, with LSD, or you can do it in a more disciplined way. Feeling a respected professor’s interest in you – even admiration for you – as you receive, absorb, and respond to important ideas is heady stuff.

Be assured that the professor is also excited – excited to have connected with a student about things that matter enormously to the professor.

Heart and body and mind – all are engaged in this intensity.

Actually, occasionally, this intensity will express itself physically, and an affair will ensue. Much more than an affair sometimes. How many professors are married to former students?

Our lives are more and more online, silent, self-absorbed, and, in our preference for customized websites, provincial. The university should be a counterforce to dulling, lulling screenlife, a place that arouses our passion for lightning bolts.

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

May 22, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, passion, political correctness, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment


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