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


  1. Look on the bright side. The power imbalance between the institution and the individual academic or student is obviously far greater than that between the academic and the student, so you should feel at liberty to regard any consents you have given to abide by their “codes”, behavioural regulations, rules etc as invalid.

    Comment by Tim | July 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. Excellent rebuttal, Dankprofessor!
    I especially liked your disputing the equating of appearances with reality!
    What about two men, or two women (professor & student) going out for a beer, or to play a sport? Would the University extend its paranoia to those scenarios?
    Also, when we consider that most men are physically stronger than most women, does that mean that nearly all heterosexual relationships are “exploitive”, and therefore subject to being prohibited?
    It is my opinion that the University of Indians doesn’t regularly subject it’s employees to “discipline”, over consensual dating. They merely use the handbook statement as a scare tactic, unless sexual harassment takes place. I would be interested in reading any cases of “discipline”, over consensual dating, and whether the professor, teaching assistant, etc. actually got fired, and, if so, if he/she contested the university’s action.

    Comment by Donald Visconti | February 14, 2010 | Reply

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