Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The God Of Normal and the university

Ken Mondschein in his blog posting, Queer in the Academy; how the tenure process stifles difference, gets it right as to the stultifying nature of contemporary academic life.

He states-

Academia embodies a paradox: We’re allegedly open to all sorts of new ideas, tolerant of differences, rabid about social justice, have made the embrace diversity all but mandatory, and are willing to discuss any sort of crazy theory. At the same time, we’re buttoned-up personalities in button-down shirts who are afraid to push the bounds of politically correct groupthink and who enforce bureaucratic school policies and an unwritten code of “professionalism” with tongues well-versed in euphemism. Both of these are, of course, stereotypes, but they’re stereotypes with roots in reality.

They are well rooted in reality; it is the reality I experienced for most of my 35 years as a prof.  I was fortunate to get tenure in 1976 before the conformity mindset had taken root.  No matter that I was a dissident professor before I received tenure said dissidence was of no relevance to my tenuring.  But by the 1990s all this had change, deviations of any sort, particularly of a sexual nature, were no longer tolerated.  The faculty mantra was to get Dank, to shut him up, but it was too late.  It didn’t matter that I was disliked by a number of my colleagues, I took academic freedom seriously and being liked or disliked was simply not germane to my academic life.

Mondschein continues-

Nowhere is this cognitive dissonance more manifest than in academics’ personal lives. We can study the rebels of history, but God forbid we try to épater le bourgeois ourselves. Those who wish to snatch the golden ring of tenure must self-censor every e-mail, hide behind pseudonyms on discussion boards, and make sure no incriminating photos of Happy Hour get posted on Facebook. This has only grown worse in recent years: In a tight job market and with the increasing insistence of running the Academy like a business, the pressure to be a perfect employee and to have no life outside of one’s research and teaching (save, perhaps, for some safe and non-threatening form of exercise such as jogging or swimming) is all-consuming.

In short, our lifestyles have become so self-regulated, difference has become so closeted, that our actual code of conduct embodies the exact opposite of what it professes. Tolerance is nonexistent: To be “queer” in academia is to be as damned as it was in pre-Stonewall days. The thing is, queerness is, as always, a moving target.

How tragic the closet remains a refuge for those deviate from the sexual norm.  The God of Normal must be obeyed and worshipped.

So who is queer these days? For starters, women with children. In researching this piece, I received a few e-mails from people who had to hide their gay BDSM lifestyles from their colleagues. However, it was pointed out to me that the real sexual nonconformists in academia are those considered some of the most normal in the real world: reproductive females. I was pointed to one study of art historians that revealed that, even with a field that is overwhelmingly (70%) female, men—especially married men with children—were granted tenure faster and more consistently, and at more prestigious institutions. For a woman to achieve on the level of a man, she needs to be, effectively, a female eunuch. This reflects both that two-career couples are likely to de-prioritize the woman’s career—and that home and childcare are more likely to fall to the woman, to the detriment of their careers. Even in the purportedly feminist academy, it seems de facto gender roles are alive and well.

How does this work? To get Foucaultian, the tenure carrot is used to discipline the academic body. “In my experience, thus far, the body and the person and the disciplines of both are opened up for commentary by senior faculty under the rubric of ‘tenure’,” an assistant professor in a Midwestern university posted on the H-HISTSEX discussion network. “If you want tenure you should think about such-and-such; you should be careful about so-and-so if you want tenure.”

No, the ones who are consciously or unconsciously holding up the married, heterosexual, tweed-jacketed male as the gold standard are our senior department members—those who make the hiring and promotion decisions—and the rest of our colleagues in our fields of study. (And how did the generation that first marched for equality get so conservative?) The mold of “the way an academic should be” is nothing more than something in their heads—a self-perpetuating myth that forces us into untenable hypocrisy. Rather than perpetuating it, we must do what scholars have done throughout the ages: Examine our deeply held and unquestioned beliefs, and discard those that are badly founded.

While it is true that we, as a society, are growing more alienated from any ideology of authenticity, authenticity in the existential sense is an integral part of the academic mission to search for truth. It is no easy thing to adjust one’s gaze so that a woman is given the luxury of not having to choose between her child and her career, and so that being one’s authentic self (within the limits of professionalism and ethical conduct) is not an object of shame. However, it is a moral imperative.

Oh, yes authenticity is the bottom line here. The inauthentic are rewarded and the authentic are exiled. Authenticity between professors and even moreso between professors and students has no place in the academy. Love has no place in the academy.  Of course, the love of learning is given lip service by the powers that be.  But what is given no lip service is authentic love between a professor and a student.  Such can be given no lip service since these relationships are officially held to be non-authentic, are viewed as being unacceptably asymmetric and regarded as a form of abuse.  Condemnation is not simply reserved for those who may engage in such relationships but also for those who write of professor student relationships in a non-condemning manner.

The one failing of Mondschein’s posting is his failure to recognize that student professor intimate relationships are now the love dare not speaks its name in all North American universities.  They have been effectively put in the closet as evidenced by Mondschien’s inability to see them, to write about them; they are simply beyond the fringe, an utter affront to the God of Normality.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, gender, higher education, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating, tenure | 3 Comments

Copy of the Sharon Warner vs UNM lawsuit

Click here to view an unedited copy of the Sharon Warner lawsuit against the University of New Mexico.  I provide this to the dankprofessor readership without comment.  All of you know where I stand, it is just more of the same old same old in different garb.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, higher education, lisa chavez, litigation, sadomasochism, sex, sexual politics, Sharon Warner, University of New Mexico | Leave a comment

Prof accuses then becomes accused

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports that

The abuse of campus sexual harassment policies to punish dissenting professors has hit a new low at East Georgia College (EGC) in Swainsboro. Professor Thomas Thibeault made the mistake of pointing out—at a sexual harassment training seminar—that the school’s sexual harassment policy contained no protection for the falsely accused. Two days later, in a Kafkaesque irony, Thibeault was fired by the college president for sexual harassment without notice, without knowing his accuser or the charges against him, and without a hearing. Thibeault turned to FIRE for help.

And help he needs.  It is surreal, to say the least.  Complain about the lack of protection for the falsely accused then you are accused of literally some unspeakable crime against something and are led away from campus and barred from returning.

I remember when I was a full time academic and at one of those so-called training seminars I pointed out that there was nothing in the policy about false accusations but then I went further and stated that the university policy inverted the values of our criminal justice due process system.  In the civilian world the accused is given all sort of rights, and may take avail of a public defender, but in the university world the defendant is provided with no rights while the complainant is given all sorts of assistance.  Could it be that in the university world the accused is presumed guilty and treated as one of the guilty, no pretense of fairness here while in the civilian world it is generally all pretence- due process on the surface, but the presumption of guilt structures the system; the only thing to be determined is what is the guilty person formally guilty of.

Please do click this link, it is all there for your viewing.  Of course, it is easier to engage in avoidance and denial.

September 15, 2009 Posted by | academic freedom, East Georgia College, ethics, higher education, sexual harassment, sexual politics, sexual rights | Leave a comment

UK lecturer attacked for suggesting SEX WORKS to student

 The Consenting Adult Action Network, www.caan.org.uk, reports that Simon Burgess a photography lecturer at East Surrey College of the UK faces disciplinary action and possible expulsion for suggesting a photography book SEX WORKS as a resource book to a student. 
SEX WORKS is by gender visual artist Del Lagrace Volcano.  Volcano is a well known visual artist having exhibited his works internationally.  Presently his work is being exhibited at the Glasgow Museum of Contemporary Art.CAAN reports that support for Burgess has been coming across the board from UK academics, artist communities and alternative sexuality communities. The dankprofessor expresses his support for the academic freedom of Simon Burgess and hopes that support from many American academics will be forthcoming.

September 14, 2009 Posted by | academic freedom, CAAN, East Surrey College, ethics, higher education, sex, sexual politics, sexual rights, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

UNM prima donna professor resigns

In my last posting on the Lisa Chavez controversy at the University Of New Mexico and the resignation of the nationally recognized Native American poet Joy Harjo from the UNM as a protest against the UNM continued employment of Lisa Chavez as a professor in good standing, the dankprofessor believes he was not hard enough on Joy Harjo for her precipitous resignation.

Harjo said she could not continue to work in a program “that has been so deeply compromised” and that she didn’t “trust the University to uphold the rights of its students and faculty.”  But Harjo never spells out what are the rights of students and faculty that the UNM administration were not upholding.  If these rights violations were so serious as to lead Harjo to not provide her expertise and creativity to UNM students, then it certainly should behoove Harjo to spell out in detail the nature of these rights violations.

Harjo did state the following-

“The Chavez-and-students sex-site debacle was mishandled.  Because of this, the creative writing program lost face and credibility locally and nationally. Those of us – a majority of the creative writing program – who pushed for a proper ethics investigation based on policies already in place were retaliated against for speaking up. This whole situation could have been handled in a way that was respectful to all parties.  As it is, only the rights of one person was considered.”

If the UNM creative writing program “lost face and credibility nationally and locally”, such does not represent a violation of the rights of UNM students and faculty.  The academic status game never remains static; the rules of the status game are ambiguous and ever changing.  Today’s academic star may very well end up being tomorrow’s academic embarrassment.

For a department or academic program or academic to lose credibility, does not represent a violation of the so-called rights of the academic program or academic.  If Joy Harjo had a true commitment to the status and prestige of the UNM creative writing program she would have devoted more of her time and energy to said program.  She would have given paramount importance to continuing to teach the students of the UNM creative writing program.  Rather than having any devotion to these students, she bemoans that these students rights are somehow being violated and then she deserts these same students.  If one cares to look at this situation in a dispassionate manner, the dankprofessor believes one should conclude that Harjo resigned because she was primarily concerned with her own status and prestige needs.

Harjo’s statement that  “I have no plans at this time to join any other University. In the spirit of the teachings of the Mvskoke people, I will continue forward and carry with me only that which nourishes”, is further evidence of her own self-absorption.  No concern here about UNM students or colleagues; her own nourishment is the only thing that counts.  Such represents the orientation of an academic prima donna; prima donnas are not concerned with others or being team players or the prestige of the greater entity.  They are concerned about self, doing their own thing and going their own way.

But Harjo had more to add to her melodrama.   She also asserts that she and other professors who spoke up against the UNM position were “retaliated against for speaking up”.  But, of course, she does not outline the specifics of the alleged retaliations.  It is easy to say that retaliatory behavior should not be tolerated at UNM but it would be a whole lot more responsible to present the specifics of the retaliatory behavior; certainly such is more responsible than simply leaving the university and ones colleagues who have been subject to the alleged retaliatory behavior.

The fact is that the UNM administration has acted responsibly throughout this controversy.  They have acted in a responsible and conciliatory manner and they should be applauded by academics who believe in academic freedom and responsibility, even when it is “only” the rights of one person that are considered.

November 13, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sex work, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, University of New Mexico | 2 Comments

University of New Mexico Pummeled by Lisa Chavez foes

There have been no new revelations about aspects of University of New Mexico Creative Writing Professor
Lisa Chavez’s involvement with a student in an S&M scenario which appeared on the internet.   It has been reported on this blog and elsewhere that an investigation by the UNM administration determined that Chavez had violated no university policy and she remains in good standing as a professor at UNM.

However, there does continue to be new distressing revelations concerning some of the creative writing colleagues of Professor Chavez.  It turns out that some significant percentage of faculty of the Creative Writing Program just can’t get over the fact that Chavez remains a professor in good standing given her admitted involvement in S&M activities  and even given that the activities were consensual and that no student or anyone else has charged Chavez with sexual harassment.  Chavez has violated no rule, no New Mexico statute and no Federal law. 

What she has done is engage in “sexual deviance” which has inspired some faculty at UNM to go on a moral crusade to get rid of Chavez or in the dankprofessor’s terms to bound and gag the bad professor.  During all of these shenanigans Chavez has continued to do her professorial work and not engage in any angry responses.

 In a recent letter to the faculty of the English Department, UNM President David Schmidley wrote:
“The university is, first and foremost, a place where students, faculty and administrators alike constantly engage in learning. It’s now time for all of us to learn anew the lessons of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

But the anti-Chavez crusaders refuse to engage in any form of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Rather they engage in various forms of symbolic protest which in the extreme represent a form of self-flagellation.  First, Sharon Warner, the head of the Creative Writing program, a person who had been well known for her devotion to the creative writing program resigns as Director of the program but retains her tenured position.  Warner’s resignation was not a creative act, not an act in support of students or faculty but rather an act of a person who is self possessed and simply is unable to handle things unless one gets their own way.

Of course, Warner’s resignation did not bring reconciliation and peace to the program.  The UNM administration replaced Warner with as new director Julie Shigekuni.  Upon assuming this position, Shigekuni emphasized that she was interested in the welfare of the department and not department politics.  She characterized the situation of the program in the following terms-

“I think that situations such as the one that we’re in are harmful.  They harm the program. I think that it’s an unfortunate situation, but I also think that the program is harmed by people who do not want to be
here and are still here.”

Well, Warner did not heed the advice of Shigekuni and conflict in the program remained.

And now as reported in the Daily Lobo of November 11,  “creative writing professor Joy Harjo has resigned amid rumors that strife between the department’s faculty and senior administrators cannot be resolved.”

Harjo who had previously spoken out publicly against the UNM retention of Lisa Chavez made it clear that this was the reason for her resignation.

Faculty colleagues affirmed that Harjo’s resignation was a major loss for the University of New Mexico.
Harjo was the university ‘s only Joseph Russo Endowed Professor.

Diane Thiel, associate professor in the English department, said Harjo’s resignation is an incalculable loss to the University.   She stated that “Faculty and students have resigned and left UNM over this and will likely continue to. The recent resignation of Joy Harjo, arguably the most well-known Native American poet in the world, highlights the seriousness of the situation, many details of which have yet to be reported to the media.”

Harjo said she could not continue to work in a program “that has been so deeply compromised” and that she didn’t trust the University to uphold the rights of its students and faculty.”

“The Chavez-and-students sex-site debacle was mishandled,” Harjo said. “Because of this, the creative writing program lost face and credibility locally and nationally. Those of us – a majority of the creative writing program – who pushed for a proper ethics investigation based on policies already in place were retaliated against for speaking up. This whole situation could have been handled in a way that was respectful to all parties.  As it is, only the rights of one person was considered.”

Sharon Warner said Harjo’s resignation will leave a huge dent in the already crumbling infrastructure of the department, no matter who is selected to take her place.

Harjo also stated:

“I have no plans at this time to join any other University. In the spirit of the teachings of the Mvskoke people, I will continue forward and carry with me only that which nourishes. I’m suffering a great loss from losing this job. I’m suffering several years of loss.  She also said “It was a hard decision to make when you look at economic times and the strain of being an artist. They didn’t give me anything extra. That was nothing extra. That was the year that I was paid for.”

UNM Vice President Holder said the University had no plans to terminate or reinvestigate Chavez.

“Lisa Chavez remains an employee of the University and a professor of the English department where she has tenure, and the University is not planning to contest her tenure in any way, and if that was a part of Joy Harjo’s reason for resigning, I think we regret that,” Holder said. “I think we would like to say that we very much regret her loss. She was a valuable member of our faculty.”

Harjo bemoaned the fact that “only the rights of one person was considered” as if the rights of one person do not count.  In the dankprofessor’s opinion, the rights of Lisa Chavez do count and that Joy Harjo also has a right to resign in protest even if that resignation hurts the program as a whole and even if her resignation may very well represent an act of self-flagellation on her part. 

The University of New Mexico administration is to be congratulated for standing up to the university’s academic bullies who wish to pummel Lisa Chavez and who are now attempting to apply their pummeling to the university as a whole.

November 11, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sex work, sexual politics, sexual rights, University of New Mexico | 5 Comments

Bound and gagged at the University of New Mexico

So apparently the beat goes on and on and on at the University of New Mexico in regards to what the the Daily Lobo now refers to as creative writing professor Lisa Chavez posing in sexually suggestive photos with a student.  Prior descriptions have been Chavez engaging in an s&m oline performance with a student or students whose student status had expired at the time of the performance. 

No matter that the so-called student protested that the performance was consensual and that she was not a student at the time of the performance; no matter that the UNM administration concluded that the performance was irrelevant to the mission of the University of New Mexico, and that UNM would not intervene to punish, censure or do anything in reference to Lis Chavez.  No matter since English department chairman David Jones resigned Wednesday after battling turmoil within the department for nearly a year.

Convincing the English department faculty that Chavez’s out of class performances were of no relevance to her performance as a creative writing professor would be similar to convincing Republicans that Sarah Palin’s performance as a mother and specifically as a hockey mom was of no relevance to her being competent to be Vice President.

In the dankprofessor’s opinion, the UNM faculty reaction to Chavez and the Republican reaction to Palin represent the worst of the worst pulp fiction. But pulp fiction sells, and the English faculty just can’t get beyond their fictive and apparently salacious imagery of the Chavez performance.

So now that David Jones has resigned as Chair of the English Department, he has “refused to to discuss his resignation further, publicly or privately.”  Such appears to be a wise decision to the dankprofessor.  However,

“some faculty members expressed outrage after Jones sent an e-mail Tuesday that lists “ground rules” to abide by during the meetings.

The e-mail asks members of the department to maintain confidentiality, “not discussing specific comments/events in the department with the press or in a legal context.”

One tenured faculty member said she and other faculty find the confidentiality clause appalling.

“The ‘facilitated discussions’ are a facilitated muzzling or gagging,” she said.

She said the rule violates faculty members’ First Amendment rights.

So the English faculty does not want to be bound and gagged. But isn’t it the case that at least some of this faculty want Lisa Chavez to be bound and gagged?  Or to put it another way- they want UNM administrators to bound and gag Lisa Chavez, they want others do the dirty work for them.

If there was a a basic respect for freedom of expression amongst the English faculty at UNM, no turmoil would have occurred.  Of course, the irony is that in programs such as creative writing such respect should be axiomatic.  But as Lisa Chavez knows, as open minded and creative faculty know, as the dankprofessor knows, nothing is axiomatic in university life.

September 15, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, Sarah Palin, sex, sexual politics, University of New Mexico | Leave a comment

Attacks continue on Lisa Chavez at UNM

The UNM Daily Lobo reports in an article of September 9 that the new director of UNM’s Creative Writing Program Julie Shigekuni attempted to do the right thing when she brought together the Creative Writing Faculty in order to get faculty beyond the politics that has divided them relating to the controversy of English Professor Lisa Chavez engaging in an online S&M performance.

Shigekuni emphasized that she was interested in the welfare of the department and not department politics.  She called upon the department to focus on the needs of the students.  She characterized the present situation of the program in the following terms.
“I think that situations such as the one that we’re in are harmful,” she said. “They harm the program. I think that it’s an unfortunate situation, but I also think that the program is harmed by people who do not want to be
here and are still here.”

Shigekuni’s comments were consistent with the UNM administration which has supported no retribution or sanctions being imposed on Chavez and urged faculty to focus on the needs and welfare of the students.

But it is to be expected that politics will trump reconciliation.  The Daily Lobo went to refer to resigned Creative Writing Director Sharon Warner who continued in her diatribe against Chavez-

Warner said the investigation was not sufficient because Chavez’s actions  after the Web site was discovered were not examined.

Chavez put a student’s career in jeopardy in an effort to protect her own, Warner said.

Warner said Chavez suspected her assistant Carrie Cutler knew about the  pictures posted on the Web site and told faculty members about them.

Warner said Chavez blamed Cutler for the investigation into her extracurricular activities.

“The first thing that Lisa did was to drop her as her dissertation advisee so that Carrie didn’t have a director any more,” Warner said.

Cutler declined to comment.

Chavez said she could not comment because she is still pursuing legal action against the University in response to the discrimination she experienced during what she called “the serious mishandling” of the case.

Of course, Warner’s comments are all about Warner in her crusade to get Chavez.  Absolutely no comments from Cutler; Warner is apparently her self- designated representative.

The Daily Lobo then went on to quote students who are less than friendly toward Chavez.

Micaela Seidel, a creative writing graduate student, said she and other graduate students are astounded by the shortcomings of the University’s investigation.

Seidel said it is inappropriate for the University to allow Chavez to continue teaching.

“A lot of people feel that it’s a little sketchy to have her teaching undergraduates who are the most vulnerable of all, especially 101 and 102 students who are just entering the University,” she said. “That seems
extremely inappropriate, since it seems that Lisa apparently doesn’t have good boundaries.”

Lucy DuPertuis, a teaching assistant for the English department, said the University is setting a dangerous precedent by ignoring the problems in the
creative writing department.

“Sending students back to that same level – when they didn’t have recourse, when they didn’t have defense against professors doing things that were
harmful to them both emotionally, physically and sexually – is wrong,” she said.

Valerie Santillanes, a graduate student in the creative writing program, said students have suffered because of the controversy.

“I feel very neglected,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m getting the attention that I want and deserve and pay for in this program. I want the faculty to stop paying attention to Lisa Chavez and each other and start
paying attention to me – and maybe a few other students as well.”

Of course, Sharner Warner, et. al., have not presented one iota of evidence that any student has been harmed by Lisa Chavez.  If anyone knows of a person who has been harmed “both emotionally, physically and sexually” by Chavez said person should some forward and present their information to the UNM administration.

But no person wll come forward.  Since it has become quite apparent that if there has been hurt here it is in the context of Sharon Warner and some of her colleagues being offended.  And the dankprofessor sees the bottom line as being that professors have no right not be offended.

Warner, et. al., should get over it and get back to teaching.  The most irresponsible action in this whole scenario has been engaged in by Sharon Warner who resigned from her position as Creative Writing Director.  Such resignation was not a creative act, not an act in support of students but rather an act of a person who is self possessed and simply is unable to handle things unless one gets their own way.

September 10, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sexual politics, University of New Mexico | 1 Comment

Getting it right on the Chavez controversy

The recent Albuquerque Journal article as well as my recent post on the Lisa Chavez controversy didn’t quite get it  right. There was only one UNM student who posed with her in the s&m photos and she was not a student of Chavez at the time of the posing.  Said student has previously spoken out on the part she played in these photos; click here to get her words on this matter.  And to get the words of Professor Chavez which are consistent with the student’s words, click here.

August 26, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sexual politics, sexual rights, University of New Mexico | Leave a comment

Call for censuring/censoring Chavez continues at UNM

The Albuquerque Journal reports (August 23) that the campaign against UNM S&M performing professor of English Lisa D Chavez continues unabated.  The campaign is conducted by some of her Creative Writing  and English Department colleagues who want the UNM administration to take some sort of sanctions against the professor for engaging in a S&M scenario on a website with UNM students.  However, the UNM administration will not buy into the professorial moral crusade against Chavez. 

In a recent letter to the faculty of the English Department, UNM President David Schmidley wrote:
“The university is, first and foremost, a place where students, faculty and administrators alike constantly engage in learning. It’s now time for all of us to learn anew the lessons of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

The UNM President has brought in an outside consulting firm in an attempt to resolve the situation, but such resolution has not occurred.  Some faculty have refused to engage in any form of mediation.  In fact, some of the faculty are threatening to leave if they don’t get their way-

“How can I stay? I don’t think I can stay,” said Joy Harjo, a full professor in the university’s creative writing program and a well regarded Native American poet who left the University of California Los Angeles for the chance to work for her alma mater. She said she’s bothered there were no consequences and that the university was dismissive of those who expressed concern.
    “Bottom line here is that there’s something of integrity being sacrificed, and that’s what is most disturbing to me,” she said.
    Sharon Warner, who resigned her post as director of the nationally recognized creative writing program in protest of the university’s handling of the Chávez situation, said several faculty members, including her, are looking for employment elsewhere.
    Warner said she attended Friday’s “facilitated discussion” and considered it unproductive.

(from Albuquerque Journal August 23)  

University Diaries blogger Margaret Soltan sympathizes with the offended faculty and refers to Chavez
as a “tenured perv”.   UD has also expressed a concern that the Chavez controversy may lead to the demise of the Creative Writing program which is a very small program.  In her latest blog posting, UD states:

“While UD thinks faculty should do more or less what they want on their own time, she agrees with Warner and Harjo that Lisa Chavez’s behavior was grotesque enough — and you don’t hear her apologizing for it, or saying she won’t do it again — that UNM should have been able to impose some sanctions. UD remains perplexed as to why it does not.”

The fact is that the UNM administration has indicated in no uncertain terms that they will take no action against Chavez since her S&M posing activities were unrelated to any formal university function.  In essence, their position is that Chavez’s off campus activities and the students who were involved in these activities did not represent any involvement of the University of New Mexico.  And the fact that there were no student complaints as to these activities impacting on their role as students at UNM is additional support for the correctness of the UNM position.

And the dankprofessor also holds that university professors do not have a right not to be offended by their colleagues off campus activities.  And this is what academic freedom is all about- the right to offend
even when such offending is off campus and even when such offensive conduct appears to be of a sexual nature.  The fact that UD judges Chavez to be a “tenured perv” is irrelevant; the fact that I find such a characterization offensive is also irrelevant.  It becomes relevant to the dankprofessor when such characterization is used as a means to terminate or sanction a professor.  If tenure has any meaning, it should mean that faculty should not attempt to sanction fellow faculty for what they consider to be offensive.

Critics of Chavez will point to an ad for the sm website which employed Chavez and which “characterizes Mistress Jade” as “a stern teacher ready to punish unruly students.” Of course, such is a  frequent s&m fantasy.  But as far as punishment goes, it is clear that several persons at UNM would like to punish Chavez in the real world for her acting out punishment scenarios in a fantasy world.

Sadistic conduct in the context of attempted coercion and degradation is certainly going on in the real world of UNM but such conduct is not being promulgated by Lisa Chavez; it is being promulgated by some faculty against Lisa Chavez.  Can’t a creative writing faculty tell the difference between fantasy and reality?  Can’t persons who are supposedly committed to creative thought and writing for themselves and their students, restrain their desire to censor and control?  Such represents a minimal expectation for those who are committed to the values of the life of the mind.

August 25, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, censorship, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, University of New Mexico | Leave a comment

Lethbridge professor to be reinstated

Congratulations to Psych Prof Gregory Bird for winning his legal challenge against Lethbridge College.  A Canadian court judge has ordered that Bird to be reinstated as a psych prof at Lethbridge.  Lethbridge had suspended Bird on the grounds that he had sex with three female students.  No harassment charges had been filed against Bird, and Lethbridge College had no policy banning student prof sexual relationships.   Based on my knowledge of the situation, the relationships were consensual and two of the relationships were established prior to the women becoming students at Lethbridge.   Prior to the Court decision, an arbitration board had ruled that Lethbridge must reinstate Bird.  The Court ruling in effect affirmed the arbitration board’s decision.
Rick Buis, vice-president of corporate and international services for the college, stated “We’re disappointed it didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but obviously we have to comply with the justice’s decision.”
However, the court’s and the arbitration board’s decisions put constraints on Bird’s affairs.  His return is conditional on him not having sex with any student of the college.
But Lethbridge is apparently committed to implementing the court decision while at the same time undermining it since the college does not see his reinstatement as necessarily including a teaching component. According to Buis, “Our requirement is to assign a workload that is appropriate for a faculty member, that can include teaching, research, curriculum development and distance education.”

So Lethbridge is apparently going to implement their version of sexual morality by barring him from  classroom teaching.  So they are reinstating a teacher but at the same time may not allow him to teach.  If Lethbridge bars Bird from teaching, it becomes incumbent upon Lethbridge to indicate that the reason for barring him from teaching is based on something more than the application of their sexual moral judgments.

In the Canadian press story, the writer goes beyond Lethbridge to understand the basis of barring him from the classroom by interviewing a sexual harassment adviser for the University of Calgary, Voyna Wilson.  Choosing to interview Wilson seems to the dankprofessor to be a poor choice since Wilson’s area is sexual harassment, not consensual relationships.  My speculation is that they interviewed Wilson since she gives the same old puritanical feminist cant as she told the press that the imbalance of power between student and professor entering a relationship can lead to disastrous results. Of course, such relationships may also lead to good results.  In the Lethbridge case, there were no disastrous results for students but the results were disastrous for the anti-sexual zealots at Lethbridge.

Voyna Wilson then went on to state that faculty members are also risking permanent damage to their reputation by such behavior.

I suggest to Ms. Wilson that she not worry about the the reputation of faculty members such as Bird.   Wilson apparently sees herself as a sort of mother figure, albeit an authoritarian mother figure, who should warn faculty about the reputational effects of their behavior. Then Voyna Wilson warned all faculty to steer clear of sexual relations with students.

Clearly Voyna Wilson unabashedly embraces an authoritarian agenda as she attempts to put her faculty (children) in their place.  But there are still some faculty who believe that as adults they have autonomy, specifically sexual autonomy, and that they will resist authoritarian policies which attempt to recreate them as children.

In addition, when you have university administrators warning faculty about their sexual behavior, obviously, in Wilson’s terms, this also represents an imbalance of power.  But she is not concerned with this imbalance since she is the one on top with the power to engage in institutionally legitimatized abuse.  It is persons of the genre of Voyna Wilson that faculty should be warned about and to speak out against their abuses of power.

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


June 13, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, Lethbridge College, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, University of Calgary | Leave a comment

Professor Lisa Chavez accused of illegal behavior by former University of New Mexico student

Angela Maria Williams, former Daily Lobo editor, a graduate of the UNM creative writing program and a former student of Lisa Chavez engaged in an emotional rant in today’s New Mexico DAILY LOBO.

Ms. Williams is particularly distressed about the resignation of Sharon Warner as Director of the UNM Creative Writing Program.  According to Sharon Warner, she resigned as a form of protest against the UNM administration decision not to
sanction Lisa Chavez for engaging with a student in a website sm performance. The Warner resignation was completely a voluntary one.  I gather it was an act of moral conscience at least as seen by Professor Warner.

Ms. Williams demeaned Warner’s resignation when she stated: “It alarms me even more that Warner was coerced into resigning for doing the right thing.”  And then went on to state: “I want to convey my heartfelt regret that Warner had to leave this way.”  

Williams does not present an iota of evidence that Warner was coerced to leave or had to leave.  Warner never stated that such was the case.  If she was coerced and the Warner resignation did not represent a form of voluntary protest, then Williams should come forward with evidence of this coercion of Sharon Warner.

In addition, Williams engages in a form of over dramatization when she characterizes Warner’s resignation as a “stunning blow” not just to the English Department but to the entire University since she was such a great teacher and did so much to create an excellent creative writing program.”  The fact is that Warner continues to teach at UNM, and did not give up her tenure at UNM.  And if, as Williams states, she was so successful in establishing such a strong creative writing program, there would be a number of excellent professors in the program who could and would step in as director of the program.  If the creative writing program is all about Sharon Warner and said program cannot survive without her, such is a very poor reflection on both Warner and the creative writing program she created.

Williams goes on to bash Lisa Chavez for in her terms engaging in a sexual act with a student and for Williams sexual acts also include “posing in sadomasochistic photos .” She goes on to strongly imply that Chavez had sexually harassed the SM posing student since she believes: “The power in any such situation belongs entirely to the professor, and this is the reason we have sexual harassment laws in the first place.”  She then asks: “Why was Chavez not properly punished for what amounts to repeated acts of sexual harassment?”

She was not punished since there was no sexual harassment. To have sexual harassment you need a complainant and Williams entirely ignores the fact that the student, Liz Derrington, has publicly stated in no uncertain terms that her participation was completely voluntary.  In fact in a blog interview, Derrington states that the major problem she has experienced is that few take her seriously.  Her interpretations of her own experience are simply dismissed by all too many persons.  And this is exactly what Williams does-she dismisses her as a person with no power, as essentially faceless and non-existent. What Williams purports that Chavez did to the student does not compare as to how badly Williams treats the student, how utterly disrespectfully she has treated Derrington in her essay.

Then Williams attempts to finish off Professor Chavez when she states: “What Chavez did was wrong, unethical and, above all, illegal.”  Above all, illegal!  This is the first time I have heard a charge of illegality lodged against Chavez.  Indeed, such is a very serious charge.  If Williams knows that some form of illegality has occurred, minimally she should tell us what it is exactly and going beyond the readers of her rant, she should go to the Albuquerque district’s attorney’s office with evidence of said illegality.  But she hasn’t, and I trust that she won’t since the illegality is probably a figment of her imagination.  If I am wrong, Williams can quickly prove the wrong beliefs of the dankprofessor, by going to the appropriate authorities in Albuquerque.

Williams states that she has “utmost respect for Warner. She has proven to me consistently over the years that she is one of the most dedicated and competent faculty members at UNM.”  The fact that Williams believes that Sharon Warner is one of the most dedicated faculty members at UNM is beside the point.  What is to the point is that Warner has been involved in a campaign to get rid of Chavez, and as part of that campaign she is willing to sacrifice her involvement in the UNM creative writing program.  Such is Warner’s right to protest and to resign.

What Williams misses is the utter lack of respect by her and Warner and others directed toward Chavez.  I do not know of Professor Chavez engaging in any disrespectful behavior.  And what is needed at the University of New Mexico is a lot more respect to be demonstrated by all the involved parties.

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 7, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sex work, sexual harassment, sexual politics, University of New Mexico | 2 Comments

Defending academic freedom from the sexual Puritans

Reviewing the past academic year in terms of finding academics who became stars in opposing arbitrary and capricious repression of sexually related matters on campus, there are very few who attained star status.  The dankprofessor has given recognition to Deputy Provost Richard Holder of the University of New Mexico who was resolute in opposing campus faculty who wished to impose sanctions on English Professor Lisa Chavez for her after academic hours work as a phone sex worker and sm posing model.  However, I do not think that this matter has reached a final resolution and there may be more tests for the Deputy Provost as to how resolute he is in defending civil liberties in academe.

Unquestionably there was one shining academic star this past year- William & Mary president Gene Nichol.  Of course, I should refer to him as past president of William & Mary.  In part because of his opposition to the termination of the Sex Workers’ Art Show, he was relieved of his duties as president of William & Mary.

The Hook, a weekly newspaper out of Charlottesville, Va., has published an article which reviewed a number of recent cases in Virginia relating to sexual repression.  Following is their summary of what happened at William & Mary.

According to its website, the Sex Workers’ Art Show features performers who were once strippers, porn stars, and prostitutes who “offer a wide range of perspectives on sex work, from celebration of prostitutes’ rights and sex-positivity, to views from the darker sides of the industry.”

When Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-Williamsburg) first heard such a show would take place in her district, she dashed off an open letter to then-William & Mary president Gene Nichol, demanding that he step in to cancel the performance.

“Not only has this controversy brought considerable embarrassment to our community,” she wrote, “but in my estimation this will inflict damage to the dignity and decorum that the college enjoys.”

Nichol did ban any photography from the event, even by members of the media, but refused to drop the curtain on the performance. On the night of Monday, February 4, with William & Mary police waiting in the wings to arrest anyone violating the obscenity statute, the Sex Workers’ Art Show put on a censored version of their show, as per a contract negotiated by representatives of state Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

Still, the cries of outrage only seemed to grow. On Thursday, February 7, four potential appointees to the William & Mary board awaiting the General Assembly’s approval were brought before the House of Delegates’ Privileges and Elections Committee. They got an earful, according to media accounts.

“Quite frankly, members of this committee– and many more in the House– are not sure what to make of all these events,” said Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania), the committee’s chair, “and how they advance the teaching, research, and public service mission of William & Mary.”

Five days later, Nichol offered his abrupt resignation, and issued this parting shot in a farewell e-mail to the William & Mary community:

“A committed, relentless, frequently untruthful, and vicious campaign– on the Internet and in the press– has been waged against me, my wife, and my daughters,” he wrote. “It has been joined, occasionally, by members of the Virginia House of Delegates– including last week’s steps by the Privileges and Elections Committee to effectively threaten Board appointees if I were not fired over decisions concerning the Wren Cross [which Nichol had decided to remove to make the College’s oldest building more nondenominational] and the Sex Workers’ Art Show. That campaign has now been rendered successful. And those same voices will no doubt claim victory today.”

The rector of William & Mary’s board, and ultimately Nichol’s boss, is Michael Powell, a 1985 alum of the College and the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commissions, who famously levied a $550,000 fine– the largest in the agency’s history– against CBS for airing Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004.

In a statement on the day of Nichol’s resignation, Powell wrote, “the Board believed there were a number of problems that were keeping the College from reaching its full potential and concluded that those issues could not be effectively remedied without a change of leadership,” adding that, “It is critical to explain that this decision was not in any way based on ideology or any single public controversy. To suggest such a motivation for the Board is flatly wrong.”

Weeks after his resignation from the College’s presidency, Nichol left his faculty post at William & Mary’s law school for a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law School, where he was once dean.

For his part, Whitehead believes it’s an indicator that William & Mary is out of step with the times.

“The university wants to exist in this ivy-covered world outside of reality,” he says. “This guy just seems like he’s stirred the pot, and that sex show was the death of him.”

With William & Mary being a state university, the controversy has not gone unnoticed by Governor Tim Kaine (D). While he did not act in any official capacity in the Nichol matter, he did tell the Hook in a Charlottesville visit last month that he’s skeptical of the reasons why the Board axed its president so soon.

“I don’t think the majority of people in Virginia feel the way that the Board felt with the issues that came up in the Nichol firing,” Kaine says. “But some people do, and it’s a matter of finding the right balance.”

The dankprofessor professes a lack of modesty in giving his kudos to Gene Nichol for his resolute defense of academic values and freedom.  He would not allow the sexual politics of Virginia and William & Mary to trump academic freedom for sexual Puritanism.    

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008




May 5, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, art, ethics, higher education, sex, sex workers, sexual politics, University of New Mexico, William & Mary College | Leave a comment

Colorado College persists in persecution of CC students

I have previously posted on the absurd decision of the Colorado College administration to persecute Colorado College students by equating student parodying with student violence.  When FIRE entered the case, I was hopeful that the Colorado College administration would see the light. However, as reported in FIRE’s latest update on the case, such has not occurred.  The FIRE press release in its entirety follows.

Colorado College Denies Appeal of Students Responsible for ‘Violent’ Parody

 COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 28, 2008-Colorado College has denied student Chris Robinson’s appeal of its finding that he and another student violated the school’s “violence” policy for posting a flyer that parodied a flyer of the Feminist and Gender Studies program. The school also has decided not to remove any letters about the case from the students’ files until after graduation. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is assisting Robinson in his case against the school.

 “First, Colorado College trampled over Chris Robinson’s right to engage in an obvious parody, and now the school has further embarrassed itself by denying his appeal,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “The judicial procedure was a joke: the same administrator who found Robinson guilty in the first place was the final judge of his appeal. FIRE calls on Colorado College to remove this guilty finding once and for all from the students’ records. As long as they are deemed guilty for engaging in satire, the school’s extensive promises of free expression are brazen misrepresentations.”

 In early 2008, Colorado College’s “Feminist and Gender Studies Interns” distributed a flyer called “The Monthly Rag,” which included a reference to “male castration,” an announcement about a lecture on “feminist porn,” and an explanation of “packing” (pretending to have a phallus). As a parody of “The Monthly Rag,” Robinson and a second student, who wishes to remain anonymous, distributed a flyer in February called “The Monthly Bag” under the pseudonym “The Coalition of Some Dudes.” The flyer included references to “tough guy wisdom,” “chainsaw etiquette,” the shooting range of a sniper rifle, and a quotation about “female violence and abuse” of men from the website batteredmen.com.

 Shortly thereafter, Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste sent out a campus-wide e-mail declaring that “The Monthly Bag” included “threatening and demeaning content, which is categorically unacceptable in this community,” and asking the “Dudes” to come forward. When they did less than an hour later, they were subjected to a three-hour hearing and charged with “bias” and violating the college’s values of respect and integrity.

 FIRE wrote to Celeste on March 21, 2008, pointing out that any punishment would contradict Colorado College’s own policies and advertised commitments to free expression, including a policy that states, “On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful that it may not be expressed.”

 After the “Dudes” faced penalties including expulsion for three weeks, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students Mike Edmonds finally wrote to the “Coalition of Some Dudes” students on March 25, stating that they had been found guilty of “violating the student code of conduct policy on violence.” The punishments included having the finding of guilt placed in their student files and being required to hold a forum to “discuss issues and questions raised” by their parody. Although Edmonds acknowledged that the intent of the publication was to satirize “The Monthly Rag,” he wrote that “in the climate in which we find ourselves today, violence-or implied violence-of any kind cannot be tolerated on a college campus.” According to Edmonds, “the juxtaposition of weaponry and sexuality” in an anonymous parody made students subjectively feel threatened by chainsaws or rifles.

 Robinson appealed Edmonds’s decision, but the final judge of the appeal was Edmonds himself. Robinson was notified on April 21, in a letter dated April 11, that his appeal had failed and that the finding would remain in his student file until he graduates.

 Also on April 21, the Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, Adam Kissel, spoke on campus to some controversy. Posters announcing his speech were found to have had the words “Political Science Department” scratched out from the line “sponsored by the Political Science Department,” although that department did invite Kissel to speak.

 “Colorado College should declare the students innocent immediately,” Kissel said. “FIRE will continue to pursue this case until these students’ records are completely cleared of any alleged wrongdoing. President Celeste still has a chance to do justice in this case.”

 FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at Colorado College and at campuses nationwide can be viewed at thefire.org. 

Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; adam@thefire.org

Richard F. Celeste, President, Colorado College: 719-389-6700; president@coloradocollege.edu

Mike Edmonds, Vice President for Student Life/Dean of Students, Colorado College: 719-389-6684; medmonds@coloradocollege.edu

Nancy Woodrow, Secretary, Board of Trustees, Colorado College: 270 Bushaway Road, Wayzata, Minnesota 55391




April 28, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, Colorado College, ethics, higher education, sexual politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

University of Georgia prof defends faculty protest

Janet E. Frick, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia,  has written an op ed piece explaining why some UGA faculty signed a petition in opposition to the selection of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as the graduation speaker for the UGA 2008 Spring commencement.

Basically Professor Frick argues that the UGA faculty just can’t take it anymore.  This past academic year the university has gone through one sexual harassment scenario after another.  And the good professor feels

The UGA community has been hungry for leadership on this issue. The selection of a commencement speaker who was embroiled in arguably the most public sexual harassment case in history – for this year’s commencement – demonstrates neither leadership nor sensitivity.

The leadership and sensitivity not displayed have been by Michael Adams, president of UGA.  According to Frick, a sensitive UGA president would not have selected “any speaker embroiled in controversy about sexual harassment – yes, that includes former President Bill Clinton – would be seen as an ill-advised choice this year.”

In the dankprofessor’s opinion, Professor Frick’s advice is not good advice for the UGA or for that matter any university.
Such advice reflects a descent into the culture of comfort.  Being committed to comfort and sensitivity will almost always be at odds with a culture of controversy and dissent, a culture which should be a part of any campus.

The rationale for avoidance of controversial speakers or the suspension of academic freedom is almost always justified under the mantel of offense or sensitivity or under the argument that some campus group can’t tolerate the speaker or the controversy. As for the argument that the faculty of UGA just can’t handle controversial speakers on sexual harassment, such is a very poor reflection on the faculty.  Maybe these faculty should resign if controversial speakers are too much for them to handle.

Janet Frick concludes her piece with the following statement- “I would like to see our president acknowledge that this decision was controversial, and defend the right of members of the UGA community to object to it.”

Of course, at this point in time it is obvious that the President’s decision was controversial; acknowledging it would be superfluous.  And as for defending the right of members of the UGA to object to it, is it not taken for granted at UGA that the right of objection by faculty and others is axiomatic?  If persons are attempting to suspend such a right then Professor Frick should publicly identify these persons.

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



April 26, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, speech, University of Georgia | Leave a comment

The dankprofessor will not back down

Students as well as some administrators at Princeton University have taken a stand against internet website JuicyCampus. JuicyCampus primarily relies on anonymous postings, the majority of which specialize in character assassinations, mudslinging and unsupported rumors of every kind.

Inside Higher Ed reports on the Princeton protest-

The issues raised by anonymity – online, in bathroom graffiti and in more mundane contexts such as defaced or removed posters – aren’t unique to Princeton, whose section on JuicyCampus is relatively tame compared to those of other campuses. But the collective impact of expression that lacks accountability and even contributes to the decay of a campus culture, they believe, led some students to try a more constructive response than calling for banning the site or denouncing those who use it.

The petition declares a “stand against anonymous character assassination, a culture of gossip, and all other acts of ethical and intellectual cowardice.” It continues: “Anonymity may have its place in certain kinds of political speech, journalistic endeavors, and other arenas, but its overuse and abuse is not consistent with the standard of behavior we, as members of an academic community, wish to maintain.”

About 250 students arrived on campus both last Tuesday and Friday with T-shirts bearing the equation “anonymity = cowardice,” said Thomas Dunne, the associate dean of undergraduate students who worked with Diemand-Yauman on the campaign. The campaign has also produced posters with the message “You Can’t Take Me Down”: “Tearing down posters on campus because you don’t support the viewpoints expressed by the organizations involved or the content of the program is a type of vandalism and an act of censorship.”

In the dankprofessor’s opinion the Princeton students and their administrator supporters are doing the right thing.  Anonymous attacks accompanied by unsupported materials have no place in academic discourse or for that matter in any kind of discourse.

Such anonymous postings have no place on the dankprofessor blog.  I have refused to allow such postings, most recently as comments regarding the Lisa Chavez case.  If I published postings from unidentified posters whose posts contain unsupported scurrilous attacks, such would represent the trashing of this blog.  I have been attacked on another blog for not publishing these posts.  All of these posts may have originated from one or several posters.  I do not know.  I have informed them and I now inform my readership that these posts will not be published on my blog.  Sex in the public square which also has had a focus on the UNM Lisa Chavez case has also refused to publish these postings; to read their position statement, click here.

Unfortunately, there are some academic blogs which disagree with our stance.  Such is unfortunate.  Such also represents their right of publication.  I will continue to cover the UNM case as well as report on and comment on sexual politics on campuses while attempting to maintain the highest possible journalistic standards.  I hope that my readership continues to support my quest for truth and justice in academia. 

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



April 17, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, Princeton University, sadomasochism, secrecy, sex, sex work, sexual politics, speech, University of New Mexico | Leave a comment

Sexual crusade likely at the University of New Mexico

Once again Elizabeth Wood of sexinthepublicsquare.com has performed a great service in facilitating student Liz Derrington writing about her relationship with Professor Lisa Chavez.  

As Liz indicates in her essay, which is excerpted below and can be read in its entirely by clicking here, she never had any kind of sexual relationship with Professor Chavez; they had a  relationship first as co-workers and then as friends.  As for the pictures of herself and Lisa Chavez, Liz indicates that the

the pictures we took during the two or three photo shoots we engaged in were entirely staged. Professor Chávez and I were playing characters, essentially: we worked under pseudonyms, along with assumed personas. As Professor Chávez has said in the past, it’s not like our photos bore captions with our real names and explanations of our connection to UNM, so I think it’s a stretch to say our work for PEP could be construed as damaging to the reputation of UNM, the English department, or the Creative Writing division.

Whatever the relationship that Liz and Lisa had, it was not a sexual relationship, and that their relationship in no way impacted on Professor Chavez’s fitness to teach.  In what I consider to be a key passage in her essay, Liz states-

Again, many of those people are the ones claiming that their objection to Professor Chávez being called fit to teach comes from a concern for students, but none of them ever asked me what happened; they simply stopped speaking to me.

Such is key to understanding the utter hypocrisy of persons attacking Professor Chavez, particularly Creative Writing Director Sharon Warner. Warner, et. al., have cloaked themselves in a garb of being committed to protecting students.  But as we see here such a cloaking is quite transparent.  Professors of this genre simply use students to promulgate their agenda aimed at stigmatizing and punishing professors they consider to be deviant.  The reality is that the student becomes an invisible, non-person.  Students only become visible when they are robotic in the sense of affirming everything the sexually crusading professors have said.

Complicating matters in this case is that both Lisa Chavez and Liz Derrington have become for too many effectively sexually objectified.  No matter what they say or do, they will be interpreted in sexual terms.  Or to put it in other terms, people who are sex workers, people who are phone sex workers,  are seen by the man in the street or by unthinking professors as being totally defined by the sex in sex worker.  Professor Chavez’s status as a professor is trumped for them by her sex worker status.  She and student Liz are mediated thru sexually tinged lenses. They become “prisoners” of the labels put upon them. For persons adhering to this framework, the idea of a person being a professor and a sex worker is an impossibility.  For them, the fact that the UNM VP welcomes Lisa Chavez back to the university is simply intolerable.

Persons such as Professor Warner feel morally violated and they will deal with the pain of their violation by embarking on a sexual crusade.  And if enough people are recruited to becoming part of this campaign, no one will be safe, not VP Holder, not the Chair of the Department of English, not any faculty member who publicly supports Professor Chavez and certainly not Liz Derrington, unless she disavows her friendship with Professor Chavez.

I am not engaging in any hysterical thinking here; I am basing this on what I have seen occur on university campuses and beyond over and over again.  I can’t definitively say what will be the outcome at the University of New Mexico since I do not have enough familiarity with the political and “moral” climate at the university and its environs.  I will be surprised if we do not see in the near future New Mexico state legislators involved in this imbroglio with threats of financial retribution being directed toward the university. 

My advice to persons at UNM who are concerned with civil liberties and academic freedom at UNM is too hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  And don’t engage in pipedreams about good and decent academics who will not do nasty things; engage in knowing ones enemy and fighting for values that would be unthinkable to abandon, such abandonment could put university life in the hands of moral absolutists.  Most immediately publicly support the UNM administration.

As indicated, here are the excerpts from the Derrington essay-

I am the graduate student referred to in the Sex in the Public Square post from April 4, entitled “Lisa Chavez speaks out.” I wanted to take some time to do some speaking out myself, as I have not done so before now aside from during the official investigation.

I began working for PEP in February 2007. Lisa Chávez and I began taking calls at the same time, but that was entirely a coincidence. I was taking a class with her that semester; it was an elective for me that I opted to take partly because I thought I would learn a lot and it would look good on my CV, but also because I had a great deal of respect for Professor Chávez as a writer and had heard good things about her as a teacher. As was the case with many of my professors in graduate school, I was able to be friends with Professor Chávez outside the classroom while still respecting her authority in the classroom. We never discussed our phone sex work in class, nor did we discuss class during the two or three photo shoots we engaged in. As Elizabeth has pointed out, the pictures we took during the two or three photo shoots we engaged in were entirely staged. Professor Chávez and I were playing characters, essentially: we worked under pseudonyms, along with assumed personas. As Professor Chávez has said in the past, it’s not like our photos bore captions with our real names and explanations of our connection to UNM, so I think it’s a stretch to say our work for PEP could be construed as damaging to the reputation of UNM, the English department, or the Creative Writing division…

As Lisa said, though, in July an “anonymous” letter arrived in the English department, “outing” Professor Chávez as a PSO. My understanding — Professor Chávez is the only one who has both seen the letter and talked to me about it — is that the letter contained photos from the website, some of which included me. Or it might be that the letter referred to the website, and upon viewing the website, other professors recognized me as well as Professor Chávez. At any rate, it came out that the two of us, along with a student who’d graduated in May 2006, were working for this company. At first it seemed like UNM’s lawyers didn’t see anything wrong with Professor Chávez participating in PEP activities with an adult graduate student, but by the fall an official investigation was underway.

People were ostensibly concerned for me. They wanted to make sure I hadn’t been coerced into working for PEP, hadn’t been recruited via the University, that my grades hadn’t been contingent on my work for PEP, that I didn’t feel like I’d been harassed or made uncomfortable, etc. Honestly, though, at this point I have a hard time believing that they want Professor Chávez to be punished, or at least for further investigations or reviews to be made, because they’re concerned for students. One reason for my skepticism is that the official investigation was thorough. As the Daily Lobo article points out, the Deputy Provost found that “the graduate students involved ‘reported their activities were consensual, and all disclaimed any recruitment, solicitation or coercion.'” And yet the anti-Professor Chávez contingent continues to call for her head.

Another, more pointed (for me) reason for my skepticism is the fact that once word of my involvement with PEP (not to mention the photos) began to spread, many of the professors in the department began to shun me. Most notably, my dissertation advisor at the time refused to work with me anymore, meaning I had to switch advisors less than three months before my dissertation defense. That same professor also told more than one other person that she felt she ought to contact the university where I now work — I had the job lined up last semester — to tell them that I’m not morally fit to teach. I hadn’t intended to continue doing phone sex work once I started teaching anyway (largely because I found it mentally and emotionally draining), but I ended up having to quit several months sooner than I’d planned because I began to have panic attacks anytime the phone rang — I was afraid it was someone from the English department calling to check up on me, to accuse me further of engaging in immorality. My credit card balances still show the damage that quitting before I had another job available did to my finances. I sank into depression, not because of anything Professor Chávez did — indeed, she has never been anything but supportive of me, professionally and personally — but because I felt betrayed and abandoned by a number of other people in the department whom I had trusted and respected.

Again, many of those people are the ones claiming that their objection to Professor Chávez being called fit to teach comes from a concern for students, but none of them ever asked me what happened; they simply stopped speaking to me.

Furthermore, word reached me at one point that I was being blatantly slandered within the department, that people were being told that Professor Chávez and I were engaging in a sexual relationship, and that we were also engaging in prostitution. PEP does offer in-person domination sessions, and while I appreciate that such sessions tread a very fine legal line as they are sexual in nature without involving actual sex, the fact of the matter is that Professor Chávez and I never participated in such sessions; the work we did was strictly over the phone. I hired an attorney once the official investigation was underway, because I feared being slandered further, and I felt that the English department was doing a poor job of representing my interests. In the end, the only evidence I had of the slander was hearsay, and so I didn’t take legal action, but I felt a great deal of hostility directed at me within the department, particularly on the part of many of the same people who would like to see Professor Chávez punished further, if not fired…

I graduated in December, and am now working as an adjunct instructor. I want to focus now on my teaching and writing, on trying to establish my career, but this scandal continues to occupy my thoughts, and not just because I consider Professor Chávez a good friend and it upsets me to see her being treated the way she’s being treated. I still have concerns about my professional future: I know that there are a number of faculty members at the University of New Mexico who would give me a strong recommendation if asked. However, I also fear that there are faculty members who, if asked about me, would give me a negative evaluation based not on the work I actually did at UNM, but on their disapproval of my work as a phone sex operator. I dislike feeling like I have to keep looking over my shoulder, so to speak, every time I put UNM down as a former employer. I’m not foolish enough to put the professors who have clear objections to my behavior down as references, but my fear is that if another department were to take it upon themselves to do an exceptionally thorough background check on me, the aforementioned professors would be all too willing to bring up subjects that would be inappropriate in that context. My hope is that by speaking out, I will, if nothing else, be able to control the narrative being told about me, at least to a certain extent.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008



April 6, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sex work, sex workers, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, University of New Mexico | 3 Comments

UNM Prof Lisa Chavez speaks out

There have been major developments on the UNM Lisa Chavez story. The website sexinthepublicsquare has published an in-depth and definitely worth reading interview with Professor Chavez.  Professor Elizabeth Wood, the interviewer, is to be congratulated for her good work.  The dankprofessor urges blog readers to read the entirety of the interview. And sexinthepublicsquare is now on the dankprofessor’s very selective list of blogs that merit reading on a regular basis. 

In addition, TV station krqe had a news segment on the Chavez sitution in which Sharon Warner was interviewed and images of Professor Chavez partaking in a sm scene were shown.

In the interview, Professor Chavez makes it quite clear that this incident did not involved a sexual relationship with a student-

I was not in a relationship with the student in the photos–other than the relationship between co-workers at PEP and as friends.I do not think adult students need to be protected from faculty. Of course I believe sexual harassment and any coercion are wrong, but I don’t believe consensual relationships are wrong. In fact, there are cases of such relationships in my department, but they have always been heterosexual. There are also cases of true harassment, which have not been pursued. I believe I am being treated this way partially because the purported relationship was between two women, and also because they see a certain “luridness” in what some in my department called  the “sex trade.”

I do think students and faculty both can benefit from close relationships–not sexual relationships per se, but friendships–and this is especially true in my field of creative writing. I have become friends with a number of the students I’ve worked with (and, for the record, I have never had a sexual relationship with a student, though I do not mean to condemn all such relationships), and I believe that the friendship helps us work better together. Creating writing is often a sort of soul-baring, and I believe that to work well together, we need to build up a mutual trust, which is something that goes beyond a formal student/teacher distance.

Bravo to Professor Chavez for not engaging in a condemnation of student professor relationships and reciting the cant that differential power precludes consent.  But even given her non-sexual involvement with students, the campaign against her will in all likelihood continue unabated.

What has become most clear to the dankprofessor is that resigned UNM Writing Director Sharon Warner is the major protagonist.  One does not have to read between the lines to figure out that she has de facto communicated that she was the one who broke this “story”.  She appears to be the “third party informant”. There was no story until she came forward.  Prior to her coming forward, Professor Chavez as part of an sm scene or performance was not recognized as such on the internet; she was not identified personally on the website.

Professor Warner in essence wrote the story.  And she is the story, not Lisa Chavez.  She is the absolutist moral entrepreneur attempting to sell her story at the expense of Lisa Chavez.  In essence, Warner’s story is summed up in the following quote- “We think a message must be sent out not only to her but to other faculty members because: If this is not unethical, what is unethical?”

Nothing here about protecting students from harm; it’s primarily about sending out a message to other faculty members, a message reaffirming traditional sexual morality.   For her, Lisa Chavez is a sexual outsider.  I have no doubt that this woman will not rest until Lisa is exiled or excommunicated from UNM. 

Adding melodrama to the story is Professor Warner’s resignation as Writing Director.  She just couldn’t handle Lisa Chavez not being punished by the UNM administration and she could not handle her colleague returning from sabbatical still in good university standing.  So she resigns in protest. The dankprofessor’s reaction is “big deal”.  Such was a symbolic protest with no substance; she did not resign as a tenured English professor; hardly anything as an academic really changes for her.

Professor Warner has promised to continue to campaign for the university censuring of Professor Chavez; she indicates that she will take this to the desk of Governor Richardson if such becomes necessary.  Not boding well for Professor Chavez is none of her English faculty colleagues have publicly indicated any kind of support for her while 13 of her colleagues have signed a petition asking for further university evaluation of her actions.  The dankprofessor estimates that there are 43 tenured faculty, including faculty who may be untenured but are on a tenure track in the UNM English department. Even if the UNM administration maintains its position as to not punish Professor Chavez, Chavez could very well find upon her return a very hostile and non-welcoming English faculty.  The fact is that bullying of academics by fellow academics is rife in the academic world; in this context, do checkout the website bulliedacademics.blogspot.com

Academic bullying can range from outright shunning to verbal hostility to a myriad of false charges having nothing to do with the original charge to the assignment of particularly unattractive teaching schedules to never getting another sabbatical leave to never getting promoted.  Of course, the intent is to punish the bullied and to make life so difficult that the bullied “chooses” to resign.  I call this a definite example of power abuse!  Nothing consensual about this, my point being that Professor Chavez engaged in a consensual SM performance.  Those trying to get rid of Chavez or bullying of her in the future, if such be the case, do not give a damn about consent and are the ones engaging in power abuse.

To date the administration of the University of New Mexico has been exemplary as to how they have dealt with this situation.  They merit the support of academics who truly take academic freedom seriously.  Unquestionably their power is and will be continued to be challenged.  Let us hope that they do not capitulate.

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

April 5, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, lisa chavez, nudity, pornography, sadomasochism, sex, sex work, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, Uncategorized, University of New Mexico | 7 Comments

Sadomasochistic posing professor found fit to teach

The Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday that University of New Mexico professor of English Lisa Chvez* was found fit to teach by the UNM Deputy Provost Richard Holder. Provost Holder reported to the English department faculty that he determined that the faculty member had posed on a sadomasochism website with at least one of her graduate students, and that Professor Chvez should not have to face a faculty ethics inquiry.

In a March 10 letter to English department faculty, Deputy Provost Richard Holder said he thinks associate professor Lisa Chvez used poor judgment in participating in the Web site’s activities with one of her students.
But, Holder goes on to say, “In my mind this participation did not rise to the level of calling into question her ‘unfitness for duty.’ ”

Holder’s decision isn’t sitting well with some English department faculty members, 13 of whom had signed a petition calling for the Faculty Senate Ethics and Advisory Committee to review Chvez’s conduct. The petition expressed “serious ethical questions” about Chvez posing with a graduate student who was enrolled in one of her classes at the time.

“It’s not a faculty rights issue, I don’t think. It’s not an academic freedom issue. It is a faculty conduct issue,” professor Gary Scharnhorst said. “I believe that she crossed the line having inappropriate relationships with graduate students.”

Scharnhorst said none of his colleagues are angry that she posed on the Web site.
“What everyone finds troublesome is the fact that she was involved with graduate students,” he said.

Another English faculty member, Anita Obermeier, stated that the issue had “pullled the department apart” and that the non-referral of the matter to the Ethics Committee “was a huge slap in the face.” (double entendre intended?)

The university had hired an attorney to investigate the professor’s behavior and the investigator determined-

Chvez had been moonlighting for People Exchanging Power, a group based in Albuquerque that advertises conversation for cash. The group specializes in fetish exploration…
The investigation determined that “no crimes were committed, that no faculty member engaged in undue influence over any students or created a hostile learning environment, and that there was apparently no use of University-owned computers or telephone equipment.”

“The investigation revealed that the PEP website involvement of two graduate students preceded the involvement of Professor Chvez, and that both she and a third graduate student learned of the PEP website from the graduate students whose involvement preceded their own,” Holder states.

“All four of these adult women reported that their activities were consensual, and all disclaimed any recruitment, solicitation, or coercion.”

Holder said faculty members are free to appeal his decision to the provost.

The dankprofessor finds the UNM decision to be at odds with the present campus trend that embraces a feminist orthodoxy that when it comes to student professor relationships in some way involving sex such means that differential power precludes consent no matter what the student or students might state. Rather than accepting carte blanche that these students could not consent, the University of New Mexico did the right thing by looking into the particulars of the situation. The university did not engage in any a priori assumptions. Findings of no undue influence, no hostile environment, no use of university facilities means in the dankprofessor’s opinion, that there is no case against the professor. Bravo to the University of New Mexico administration for doing the right thing.

However, the dankprofessor is not naïve. It is not over. Offended faculty are likely to appeal. The offended faculty will be spurred on by some offended alumni, and I am sure a myriad of others. And if the appeals are unsuccessful and the good professor returns, she will be faced with a very hostile environment, no collegiality for her and I am sure no preferred teaching schedule, and she will be held under a microscope by faculty attempting to find that she has violated some university rule. Such may sound terribly cynical to many of the dankprofessor’s blog readers. However, for those believing I am embracing cynicism, the dankprofessor’s response is that it is realism that I am embracing. No pipedreams from me when it comes to contemporary university life.

For updates on the Chavez story, click here and here.

*In the originating article, the professor’s name was incorrectly spelled as Lisa Chvez; the correct spelling is Lisa Chavez

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. In addition, story leads will be most appreciated.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 17, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, lisa chavez, sadomasochism, sex, sexual politics, University of New Mexico | 2 Comments

Update on Professor Birmingham and the and the UCONN Law School

The Hartford Courant reported on November 2 that Birmingham would be reinstated as of the Spring semester, but in addition they reported that Birmingham would not be allowed to teach Feminist Legal Theory which he was orginally scheduled to teach.  No explanation was given by Dean Paul as to the dropping of this course. 

Also do check out Hartford Courant Forum on the article; it is a must read. Readers and alumni take Dean Paul to task for demeaning the academic enterprise at the University of Connecticut Law School.  The fact that Dean Paul continues to be dean and that no UCONN law professor has publicly spoken out on this case is damning.  Who will rein in this dean?  Truly, this is political correctness run amok.

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.

November 4, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, Uncategorized, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

The love that dare not speak its name

In my prior post on the LA Times being bamboozled by the UC administration as to the number of professors dismissed for violating the UC student professor dating code, such bamboozling can be quite effective.  Such is likely to be effective since the whole process is usually shrouded in secrecy.  Charges for violation are confidential and the outcome of such cases are confidential.  The name of the alleged victim is confidential as well as the one who is so charged.  Of course, it is much more likely that more persons know the name of the alleged offender than the alleged victim.  Many times there may be no complaining victims.  In the UCLA case, a third party functioned as an informant; whether this informant violated the privacy of of the student and professor was simply of no concern to the UCLA chancellor.  The fact that the UCLA chancellor spoke out on this case is what is so exceptional.  Obviously the chancellor felt that he had to speak out to make it clear to all concerned that UCLA had a no tolerance policy for professors who violated  the consensual dating code and it was of no import to him that the professor had a very strong record of service to the UCLA community; it was also of no concern to him that many students rallied in support of the professor and essentially begged the UCLA administration to not dismiss the professor.  Shortly after these public pronouncements  the professor was no longer seen on campus.

But here is where this situation takes a bizarre turn.  Two years later as far as the UC administration is concerned, this dismissal never occurred.  The UC administration is being quite serious when they state there has never been a faculty dismissal under this code.  What happened to this professor is shrouded in secrecy.  What I speculate happened is that the professor resigned and retired in the context of signing a confidentiality agreement which meant he simply disappeared from campus.  I have no idea how many more professors may have disappeared from UCLA or from any of the other University of California campuses.  I challenge any student or professor to come up with names and numbers in this area.  I doubt that few will take up this challenge since any student or professor seeking such information will probably be held to be under suspicion, and may be subject to various violations of privacy.  The fact is that one professor from a mid-western university who published an article on student professor dating a few years ago in a sociology journal ended up being charged with sexual harassment; the professor so charged is a woman; the outcome of her case I believe is pending. 

The Dankprofessor holds that SECRECY is a key component in attempting to understand the contemporary context of student professor relationships.  A major, if not the most major, function of these codes has been to drive student professor relationships into the closet, the creation of a new campus underground.  Fewer and fewer professors are willing to engage in scholarly writing on the subject.  For those who do and even hint that these bans are problematic one can be pretty sure that the most hideous labels will be applied to them.  When Professor Abramson received his initial public attention in the Chronicle of Higher Education, commentaries published in the Chronicle focused on the good professor’s physical appearance indicating that his look was the look of a lecherous professor.  In the 1990s when I was one of the few male professors speaking out against these bans, I was subject to myriad character assassinations; such did not deter me, but I do feel that these attacks did deter others from speaking out.  Today I can’t find paper presentations in any of the major social science associations meetings, whether it be the ASA, APA, regional sociological and psychological associations.  There are many many papers on homosexuality and gays, the subject is now thoroughly out of the closet, and thoroughly in the closet when it comes to student professor relationships.  Academics play it safe, both students and professors, both tenured and untenured in adhering to appropriate norms regarding the love that dare not speak its name.  Of course, I am one of the few exceptions, I only wrote about gay life when the preponderance of gays were still the closet.  In 1971, I published an article entitled “Coming Out in the Gay World” which foresaw the upcoming positive changes in the creation of a “public” gay world and a world where homosexuality would no longer be the love that dare not speak its name.  Then and now advocates of the closet argue that going public would offend too many good upstanding citizens. So many of the attempts to repress speech and association in contemporary academic life relate to offending sensitive others.  How sad! How utterly sad that more and more academics are committed to not offending others.  How sad that as of this date not a single professor at the University of Connecticut Law School has come forward in defense of their colleague, Robert Birmingham!

It was back in 1994 in the journal Radical Teacher that sociologist Toni H. Oliviero wrote about the dangerous consequences relating to secrecy that would result from banning student professor relationships.  Quoting from this article-

“I am thinking of two things here. First the ways that prohibitions construct the silence of concealment. The establishment of anti-sex rules would create the need to lie (just when gays and lesbians are daring not to in significant numbers). Axiomatic is, There will be sex. There will be consensual relations between all sorts of people. Some of those relations will be only ostensibly consensual, in your view or mine. But sex will happen. Do we want to drive it underground and cause a sexual relationship between two adults to take its shape, even in part, from the narrow and twisted constraints that secrecy imposes? When you prohibit something, you cannot then talk about how to do it as well as possible, or as harmlessly. This constraint on our ability to learn is not in keeping with any notion I can imagine of ourselves as teachers or as citizens.”


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 2, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, fraternization, higher education, homosexual, political correctness, secrecy, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, the closet, UC, UCLA | Leave a comment

Update on Professor Robert L. Birmingham and his suspension by the UCONN law school

Many thanks to the UCONN law student who emailed me the most recent copy of the UCONN law student publication PRO SE.  This October issue of Pro Se has three articles on the Professor Birmingham suspension that merit reading in their entirety  One article deals with an overview of the controversy often relying on students first hand reports; the second is how the Law School dealt with the suspension of the professor’s classes and how students dealt with said disruption.  The third article is by Dean Paul who comments on the suspension and its aftermath.

Of major importance to everyone concerned is that Professor Birmingham is now scheduled to return to teaching, teaching 3 classes in the Spring semester.  Also, reaffirmed is that no student complaint was ever filed against the professor.  Students who were interviewed who were in the class indicated that one student during a discussion on the racial reparations issue made inflammatory remarks and then another student attempted to leave class; Birmingham then attempted to calm the student.  Dean Paul in his column does not explain why he suspended Birmingham indicating that now is not the time to do so and indicating an explanation may be forthcoming at a later time.

Following is an excerpt from the overview article focusing on observations made by students who were in the class. 

“A prominent professor at the School of Law has taken a leave of absence after moderating a contentious discussion on slavery and pausing a film on an image of a stripper while conducting a recent class. Robert L. Birmingham, a professor at the School of Law since 1971, stepped away from the law school for the remainder of fall semester after showing a clip of an interview from a film called “Really, Really Pimpin’ in Da South” in his Remedies class on Sept. 21. According to media reports, he showed the same clip later in another class upon a student’s request. According to a composite of information gathered from a number of students in the class, Prof. Birmingham presented an interview clip from the film relevant to United States v. Pipkins, a case involving an Atlanta pimp busted under racketeering statutes for running a prostitution ring. After Birmingham showed the clip, he halted the film shortly into the next scene, freeze-framing a stripper clad in pink lingerie posing suggestively on a stripper pole. Prof. Birmingham then commenced discussion about the interview while the image remained on the screen. The incident followed a racially charged discussion earlier in the same class. In Farmer-Paellmann, et. al. v. Brown and Williamson, a group filed a class action against a series of prominent companies seeking restitution for slavery descendents. Birmingham moderated a debate on the case discussing whether slavery descendents are better off now than if they had remained in Africa, according to several students in the class.  One student attempted to walk out after another student suggested African-Americans are better off because they are in America and not disease ridden in Africa. Birmingham implored the student to stay.  School of Law Dean Jeremy Paul learned of the incident from a faculty member in the days after the class and asked Dean of Academic Affairs Paul Chill to investigate. Paul said he had no official complaints from any students.  “The fact of a complaint would not lead to a decision,” Paul said.”

October 30, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, sexual politics, Uncategorized, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

UCLA Prof advocates “abolition” of student-prof dating bans

In an LA Times article of October 22, UCLA  psychology prof, Paul Abramson strongly comes out against bans on student-professor relationships. The LA Times interview and article occurred in the context of the publication of a new book by Abramson on student-prof dating.  One of the first dankprofessor postings was on an interview with Abramson which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. However, it is in this LA Times article that Abramson directly and forcefully takes on the higher ed establishment for “eliminating civil liberties” on campus in  the context of passing these bans.  Abramson also does not fall into the stereotype of equating student-prof relationships as composed of an older male and younger childlike female.  He recognizes that many of these relationships represent partners who are similar in age.  Of course, none of Abramson’s writings will affect the hardcore banners such as Gayle Binion who is quoted in the article and who was the prime mover of the UC ban on consensual relationships.  However, it may be that the middle mass of faculty who go in whatever direction the wind may be blowing may start to question and reconsider such policies.  However the road to change will probably be a very long one.  Only when Abramson and persons such as myself receive invitations to air our views on campus and when professors who share our abolitionist views openly embrace said abolitionism will I be more hopeful.  Personally, I became tired of listening to fellow faculty who would tell me privately that they agreed with my views, but at the same time could not air them publicly.  Academic freedom did not mean for them that they could speak out on these issues.  On the other hand, maybe they knew what I find hard to accept on a gut level- that academic freedom is an ideal that in the real world of academia is all too often not applied when it comes to a professor who is too controversial, too outspoken.

Following are excepts from the LA Times article-

In the volatile mix of academia and sex, UCLA psychology professor Paul R. Abramson says he is trying to light a torch for liberty.

Abramson is sharply criticizing his own employer and colleges nationwide that have adopted restrictions — and, in a few cases, outright bans — on romances between faculty and students.

Of course, sexual harassment should not be allowed and no one should supervise or give grades to a romantic partner, says Abramson, who has taught at UCLA for 31 years. But those concerns should not restrict the right of consenting adults to have a non-exploitative relationship, he argues in a new book.


Salon.com, in a blurb that set off a blistering online debate about the classroom and the bedroom, suggested that Abramson might be “a campus Casanova in his own right.”

To that, Abramson reacted wryly during an interview at his campus office. “I’m 57 and have three kids and two grandkids. If I’m the campus Casanova, then the campus has a lot of problems,” said the professor, who has longish graying hair, a goatee and an earring.

Abramson concedes that his personal life was complicated in his 20s but says he has been a staid suburban soccer dad for the last two decades. Thrice divorced, he is married to a 51-year-old neonatal nurse who has never been affiliated with UCLA.

He points out that he has not had a romance with anyone at UCLA for 20 years, although he said he had serious relationships with two former undergraduate students nearly 30 years ago. One was 13 years his senior, and the other, whom he eventually married, was five years his junior. He met them in his classes but did not date them until later, he said.

Too many people have an unrealistic stereotype of campus love, he said. “The picture of it is the older professor and Suzie Coed. I’m sure such things happen, but the greater likelihood are people of similar ages, with similar interests, going for the same music and movies,” like a 27-year-old assistant professor and a 24-year-old graduate student who later get married, he said.

Abramson’s book began as a reaction to regulations adopted by the UC regents in 2003; they didn’t ban such hookups but declared that professors should avoid romantic or sexual relationships with students for whom they have “or should reasonably expect” to have teaching or supervisory responsibility. That includes students interested in a subject within the professor’s expertise — a definition that Abramson finds overly broad. Sanctions range from written censure to dismissal.

The rules were adopted, amid some debate, partly in reaction to a sexual harassment allegation at UC Berkeley. Its law school dean, John P. Dwyer, resigned in 2002 after a student charged that he fondled her when she passed out from heavy drinking. The dean said the encounter was consensual.

The fact that the Dwyer case was cited to support the rules shows that campus leaders were more concerned about lawsuits than anything else, Abramson alleges.

“Eliminating civil liberties to punish a small number of transgressors is hardly the answer,” he writes.

To allay legal fears, he suggests an alternative: All faculty and students would read and sign a release (a “love contract”) that would warn about the power differences and favoritism that can arise from faculty-student dating. They then would promise, as in a medical release, not to hold the school responsible if the romance goes sour.

UC Santa Barbara political science professor Gayle Binion, who helped draft the 2003 UC policy when she headed the systemwide Academic Senate, said it was partly intended to shield UC from liability.

But more important, she said, most of the faculty thought it was “good policy” since students may consent to an affair but not grasp the potential consequences even if they sign a release. “If the relationship goes awry, it is the student who is going to suffer,” Binion said, citing instances of graduate students who then drop out.

Such relationships are “not terribly uncommon at the graduate student level,” but probably less frequent and more “under the radar” now than during the free-wheeling ’70s and early ’80s, she said. Still, the rule “not only makes parents more secure when they send their kids to UC, it puts the faculty on notice,” Binion said.

Abramson overstates his case about restrictions on freedom, according to Binion. Limits on dating are common in many workplaces, she said, and academia “is kind of late coming to it.”

Since 2003, a handful of cases of possible faculty violations of the policy have been formally reviewed, according to UC spokesman Brad Hayward. No professor has been dismissed, although a few were disciplined with warning letters that are considered confidential personnel matters, he said.

So what do students think? Reaction is mixed.

Dianne Tanjuaquio, a vice president of UCLA’s undergraduate students association, said she agrees with Abramson that the rules are too harsh in keeping entire departments off-limits. “We are adults at an elite university. Something as broad as that is very restrictive on our personal freedoms,” she said.

But Oiyan Poon, president of UC’s systemwide student association, supports the regulations, explaining that a teacher in the same department could harm a student’s career even if they never shared a class. Without the rules, “those issues could get extremely sticky when a student is trying to earn a degree in a timely fashion,” she said.

In 1995, the American Assn. of University Professors adopted a statement that calls sexual relations between students and faculty who supervise them “fraught with the potential for exploitation.” Anita Levy, its associate secretary for academic freedom and tenure issues, said Abramson’s arguments might find some support on campuses, but she doubted any rule changes nationwide would occur.

Abramson said he is often asked how he would react if his middle daughter, who is preparing for college, dated a professor in the future. “It’s within the realm of possibility, but it’s much more likely she would meet a 22-year-old teaching assistant,” he said. “If that’s who she wants to be involved with, that’s who she gets involved with.”


October 24, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, ivory tower romance, student professor dating, UCLA | 7 Comments

Dankprofessor unplugged

It’s been just about two months since the dankprofessor emerged from the netherworld, from the dank bogs and cellars of American universities trekking thru myriad sites of the internet and settling into the world of blogdom. 

Some have asked for what purpose has the dankprofessor taken this flite into the blog world? Such has occurred in part to replace the Bank of America with a Dank of America where people can go and feel safe to socialize and romanticize, to think about and contemplate whatever without fear of penalty, without fear of a thought police or sexual patrols, without meddlers and various and sundry intruders creating patriarchal and matriarchal structures for protecting the multitudes from themselves.   However, the dankprofessor must choose and the dankprofessor has chosen for attention universities in North America which have descended into a black hole of political and sexual correctness; a correctness where developing a sense of inclusive welcomeness trumps academic freedom, where everyone has  a right not to be offended and where the creation of personal liaisons must be bureaucratically blessed.

In this anemic academic world, academics watch as their confreres are barred from classrooms and brought before tribunals for violating speech and sexual codes.  This is the world that the dankprofessor wishes to deal with, a world which, of course, goes beyond university campuses, a world where a hug might be considered unprofessional.

I do not see my efforts to be heroic although I gratefully acknowledge the status of internet hero which has just been bestowed upon me.  The fact of the matter is that I need help, help in getting more blog exposure, help in navigating thru a blog technology maze in the context of not being all that technologically sophisticated; I have yet to master the widgetry world and am still stumbling when it comes to getting hooked into stumbleupon.  And yes, I am reaching out to a person to guide me in mastering blog technology.  And I need more persons to give me leads to  articles, other blogs, breaking stories, etc.

My first two months in blogdom has been great.  In part it has been made great by the support of Professor John Bonnell.  Thank you, John.

Yours in blogdom,

the dankprofessor

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

October 23, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, blogs, higher education | Leave a comment

Thong protection for UCONN law students

So the Hartford Courant has editorialized in support of the UCONN Law School’s coerced leave for Professor Robert L. Birmingham.  According to the Courant,  Birmingham had crossed a line when he exposed unprepared studentsto a film clip of a woman dancing in a thong. I guess that the Courant holds that a public exposed thong represents a clear and present danger.  After all, if Bill Clinton, a Yale law school graduate, was driven to the edge by Monica’s exposed thong then it becomes obvious that protecting vulnerable UCONN law students from thong exposurebecomes mandatory.  Academic freedom be damned! 

To get some additional input on the UCONN fiasco, check out the Volokh Conspiracy blog; the associated forum merits our attention.  The following commentary from the forum particularly merits our attention-


UCONN 3L (mail):

Perhaps some context would be useful. I’m a 3L at UCONN and former student of Prof. Birmingham. I was not in Remedies or Nuremberg but I do have a good sense of the feelings on campus about the issue. I’ll attempt to fill in some gaps and am happy to answer any other questions if I’m able:
-Birmingham’s Remedies course is taught immediately before and in the same classroom as Nuremberg. That may explain how it became of interest to the Nuremberg class.
-Many students take multiple Birmingham classes. There were no doubt students from Remedies still discussing the film when Nuremberg began.
-Birmingham’s classes are non-traditional to say the least and he’s generally either loved or hated. He’s not going to teach anything out of a casebook. He’d much rather use (often contemporary) cases, provocative questions, and media aids (movies but more frequently oral arguments) to make his point. And it’s not clear what his point is until late in the semester. It can also be a bit of a culture shock to be in a Birm class for the first time with other students familiar with his methods. It’s a lot like being on the outside of an inside joke for a few weeks until you catch up with the schtick.
-UCONN you may remember is still “recovering” from the negative publicity surrounding the “bullets and bubbly” party last January in which black students on campus were offended by conduct at an off campus party (google uconn law bullets and bubbly). At that time the school was close to making everyone take sensitivity training and profs were encouraged to consider race issues in the classroom to promote diversity. Dead Paul is still wet behind the ears (on the job less than a year) and is eager to be seen as a strong leader. The perception among most students is that he acted as harshly as he did in this case because he wanted to show that the school was “tough on racism” in light of the negative publicity last year.
-The consensus from people in the class and Prof. B’s story is that the interview concluded while the scene faded into the scantily clad woman. The choice was either to show that for a couple seconds or cut off the interview before it concluded.
-Prof. B is notorious for easy grades in classes small enough to permit grading off a curve. Remedies does not count but his other courses (and he teaches 4/semester) do. An interesting undercurrent in the debate on campus is that most students think what the admin did was wrong, but they have a hard time feeling bad for students whose schedules are messed up because many of them are not in the classes to learn about nuremberg or energy or admiralty, but rather for an easy A.

10.11.2007 8:16am

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.

October 14, 2007 Posted by | academic freedom, ethics, higher education, political correctness, Uncategorized, University of Connecticut | Leave a comment

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