Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Otero University and student professor sex

As has been clearly demonstrated over the last few days, violence is no stranger to university campuses. Although it is more frequently violence by students toward other students and toward faculty, faculty to faculty violence is not unknown as was clearly demonstrated at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. We also find there to be faculty violence toward students as recently occurred at Otago University in New Zealand where student Sophie Elliot was murdered by lecturer Clayton Weathersome.

What makes the Otago U tragic murder different is that some people have come up with a way to prevent such violence.  They say the  way to do this is to have stringent measures taken against faculty who become sexually involved with a student. You see the Elliot/Weathersome affair and then murder was a student/prof affair.

Otago University has under taken a review of rules on staff-student romances, a review which was sparked by the brutal murder.  Persons, both inside and outside of the university, have been encouraged to make submissions on the issue. Elliott’s mother Lesley said she wanted vulnerable students who entered into relationships with university academics to be supervised and counseled, and for the academics involved to immediately resign.

The reaction of  the mother of the murdered student is understandable, but unfortunately all too often emotion carries the day when it comes to draconian measures enacted in the attempt to control violence, particularly sexual violence.

To view student professor intimate relationships as somehow intrinsically fostering violence is outrageous.  99.999 percent of such relationships do not lead to lethal violence.  If one was going to focus on relationships that are more likely to lead to violence and lethal violence, such would be student/student relationships.  And, of course, when it comes to campus violence and violence in general, alcohol consumption should be a major area of concern.

The mother stated-

“I feel something should be in the employment contract of staff to the effect that if a relationship develops, they are obliged to resign. We think this policy also needs to be highlighted to students… If students knew a person would have to resign, they may have second thoughts about going out with staff.”

Now it is this last line that irks the dankprofessor.  No student should have second thoughts about going out with a staff member because of this one tragic case.  And, of course, if this sort of thinking is taken seriously, then any person, student or non-student, would have concerns about going out with a lecturer because of the violence implication.

Now I know that some will say I am overreacting to the ramblings of a distraught mother.  Unfortunately, such is often how universities end up imposing stringent controls on student professor relationships.  People become distraught and want immediate action, and universities respond by not dealing with violence or coercion or sexual harassment but rather by demeaning those who are involved in consensual relationships.

Let us hope that Otago University does not go in the aforementioned direction.  What student professor couples want is what most other couples want and that is to be left alone as they pursue their mutual romantic goals.  To consider these couples as sort of criminal couples is not only absurd but is also criminal.

February 15, 2010 - Posted by | consensual relationships, fear, fraternization, higher education, Otero University, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating, violence


  1. Having read your other blogs about these ‘affairs’, it sounds more like a disease by now spreading. The disease of sexual freedom between age groups, power groups, with other hysteric groups intent on dictating their own ideas on these ‘free’ groups. How did someone put it – why not outlaw all sex and that’ll be it. Over-reactionary lunacy is another idea. One day we’ll have to ask permission to have sex even within a wedded union by signing a contract first, outlining how, what, when, why or not we want to exercise the most basic of human rights. It’s getting out of hand by now.

    Comment by demoy | February 15, 2010 | Reply

  2. Great piece again, Dankprofessor!
    I too realize that a significantly heinous crime, like that which occurred in New Zealand, often sews seeds of paranoia & discontent, among administrators. They then feel they need to demonize All a-symmetrical consensual relationships, in order to prevent a murder occurring on their campus! Well, it just doesn’t work that way, in the real world. The Dankprofessor pointed out the miniscule chance of professor/student dating leading to a murder. Also, other issues can sadly cause bloodshed, as was seen in Alabama. Should the tragedy caused by Amy Bishop lead to either a suspension of ALL tenure granting, or, quite the other way, assure everyone that they WILL be granted tenure? To say “yes” to banning consensual dating between anyone of legal age is equivalent to suspending all tenure granting or granting everybody tenure!
    Let’s hope cool heads prevail at Otago University, down under, and at ALL colleges/universities, especially here in the U.S.A.!

    Comment by Donald Visconti | February 16, 2010 | Reply

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