You have to feel a little sorry these days for professors married to their former students. They used to be respectable citizens—leaders in their fields, department chairs, maybe even a dean or two—and now they’re abusers of power avant la lettre. I suspect you can barely throw a stone on most campuses around the country without hitting a few of these neo-miscreants. Who knows what coercions they deployed back in the day to corral those students into submission; at least that’s the fear evinced by today’s new campus dating policies. And think how their kids must feel! A friend of mine is the offspring of such a coupling—does she look at her father a little differently now, I wonder.
It’s been barely a year since the Great Prohibition took effect in my own workplace. Before that, students and professors could date whomever we wanted; the next day we were off-limits to one another—verboten, traife,dangerous (and perhaps, therefore, all the more alluring).
- My Title IX InquisitionWhat’s the good of having a freedom you’re afraid to use?
Of course, the residues of the wild old days are everywhere. On my campus, several such “mixed” couples leap to mind, including female professors wed to former students. Not to mention the legions who’ve dated a graduate student or two in their day—plenty of female professors in that category, too—in fact, I’m one of them. Don’t ask for details. It’s one of those things it now behooves one to be reticent about, lest you be branded a predator.
Forgive my slightly mocking tone. I suppose I’m out of step with the new realities because I came of age in a different time, and under a different version of feminism, minus the layers of prohibition and sexual terror surrounding the unequal-power dilemmas of today.
The fiction of the all-powerful professor that’s embedded in the new campus codes appalls me.
When I was in college, hooking up with professors was more or less part of the curriculum. Admittedly, I went to an art school, and mine was the lucky generation that came of age in that too-brief interregnum after the sexual revolution and before AIDS turned sex into a crime scene replete with perpetrators and victims—back when sex, even when not so great or when people got their feelings hurt, fell under the category of life experience. It’s not that I didn’t make my share of mistakes, or act stupidly and inchoately, but it was embarrassing, not traumatizing.
As Jane Gallop recalls in Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (1997), her own generational cri de coeur, sleeping with professors made her feel cocky, not taken advantage of. She admits to seducing more than one of them as a grad student—she wanted to see them naked, she says, as like other men. Lots of smart, ambitious women were doing the same thing, according to her, because it was a way to experience your own power.
But somehow power seemed a lot less powerful back then. The gulf between students and faculty wasn’t a shark-filled moat; a misstep wasn’t fatal. We partied together, drank and got high together, slept together. The teachers may have been older and more accomplished, but you didn’t feel they could take advantage of you because of it. How would they?
Which isn’t to say that teacher-student relations were guaranteed to turn out well, but then what percentage of romances do? No doubt there were jealousies, sometimes things didn’t go the way you wanted—which was probably good training for the rest of life. It was also an excellent education in not taking power too seriously, and I suspect the less seriously you take it, the more strategies you have for contending with it.
It’s the fiction of the all-powerful professor embedded in the new campus codes that appalls me. And the kowtowing to the fiction—kowtowing wrapped in a vaguely feminist air of rectitude. If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.
I’ve done what I can to adapt myself to the new paradigm. Around a decade ago, as colleges began instituting new “offensive environment” guidelines, I appointed myself the task of actually reading my university’s sexual-harassment handbook, which I’d thus far avoided doing. I was pleased to learn that our guidelines were less prohibitive than those of the more draconian new codes. You were permitted to date students; you just weren’t supposed to harass them into it. I could live with that.
However, we were warned in two separate places that inappropriate humor violates university policy. I’d always thought inappropriateness was pretty much the definition of humor—I believe Freud would agree. Why all this delicacy? Students were being encouraged to regard themselves as such exquisitely sensitive creatures that an errant classroom remark could impede their education, as such hothouse flowers that an unfunny joke was likely to create lasting trauma.
Knowing my own propensity for unfunny jokes, and given that telling one could now land you, the unfunny prof, on the carpet or even the national news, I decided to put my name down for one of the voluntary harassment workshops on my campus, hoping that my good citizenship might be noticed and applauded by the relevant university powers.
At the appointed hour, things kicked off with a “sexual-harassment pretest.” This was administered by an earnest mid-50s psychologist I’ll call David, and an earnest young woman with a master’s in social work I’ll call Beth. The pretest consisted of a long list of true-false questions such as: “If I make sexual comments to someone and that person doesn’t ask me to stop, then I guess that my behavior is probably welcome.”
Despite the painful dumbness of these questions and the fading of afternoon into evening, a roomful of people with advanced degrees seemed grimly determined to shut up and play along, probably aided by a collective wish to be sprung by cocktail hour. That is, until we were handed a printed list of “guidelines.” No. 1 on the list was: “Do not make unwanted sexual advances.”
Someone demanded querulously from the back, “But how do you know they’re unwanted until you try?” (OK, it was me.) David seemed oddly flustered by the question and began frantically jangling the change in his pants pocket.
“Do you really want me to answer that?” he finally responded, trying to make a joke out of it. I did want him to answer, because it’s something I’d been wondering—how are you supposed to know in advance? Do people wear their desires emblazoned on their foreheads?—but I didn’t want to be seen by my colleagues as a troublemaker. There was an awkward pause while David stared me down. Another person piped up helpfully, “What about smoldering glances?”
Everyone laughed, but David’s coin-jangling was becoming more pronounced. A theater professor spoke up, guiltily admitting to having complimented a student on her hairstyle that very afternoon (one of the “Do Nots” involved not commenting on students’ appearance) but, as a gay male, wondered whether not to have complimented her would have been grounds for offense. He mimicked the female student, tossing her mane around in a “Notice my hair” manner, and people began shouting suggestions about other dumb pretest scenarios for him to perform, like sexual-harassment charades. Rebellion was in the air. The man sitting next to me, an ethnographer who studied street gangs, whispered, “They’ve lost control of the room.” David was jangling his change so frantically that it was hard to keep your eyes off his groin.
I recalled a long-forgotten pop-psychology guide to body language that identified change-jangling as an unconscious masturbation substitute. If the leader of our sexual-harassment workshop was engaging in public masturbatory-like behavior, seizing his private pleasure in the midst of the very institutional mechanism designed to clamp such delinquent urges, what hope for the rest of us?
Let’s face it: Other people’s sexuality is often just weird and creepy. Sex is leaky and anxiety-ridden; intelligent people can be oblivious about it. Of course the gulf between desire and knowledge has long been a tragicomic staple. Consider some notable treatments of the student-professor hookup theme—J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace; Francine Prose’s Blue Angel;Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections—in which learning has an inverse relation to self-knowledge, professors are emblems of sexual stupidity, and such disasters ensue that it’s hard not to read them as cautionary tales about the disastrous effects of intellect on practical intelligence.
The implementers of the new campus codes seemed awfully optimistic about rectifying the condition, I thought to myself.
The optimism continues, outpaced only by all the new prohibitions and behavior codes required to sustain it. According to the latest version of our campus policy, “differences in institutional power and the inherent risk of coercion are so great” between teachers and students that no romance, dating, or sexual relationships will be permitted, even between students and professors from different departments. (Relations between graduate students and professors aren’t outright banned, but are “problematic” and must be reported if you’re in the same department.) Yale and other places had already instituted similar policies; Harvard jumped on board last month, though it’s a sign of the incoherence surrounding these issues that the second sentence ofThe New York Times story on Harvard reads: “The move comes as the Obama administration investigates the handling of accusations of sexual assault at dozens of colleges, including Harvard.” As everyone knows, the accusations in the news have been about students assaulting other students, not students dating professors.
The climate of sanctimony about student vulnerability has grown impenetrable. No one dares question it lest you’re labeled antifeminist, or worse, a sex criminal.
Of course, the codes themselves also shape the narratives and emotional climate of professor-student interactions. An undergraduate sued my own university, alleging that a philosophy professor had engaged in “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” and that the university punished him insufficiently for it. The details that emerged in news reports and legal papers were murky and contested, and the suit was eventually thrown out of court.
In brief: The two had gone to an art exhibit together—an outing initiated by the student—and then to some other exhibits and bars. She says he bought her alcohol and forced her to drink, so much that by the end of the evening she was going in and out of consciousness. He says she drank of her own volition. (She was under legal drinking age; he says he thought she was 22.) She says he made various sexual insinuations, and that she wanted him to drive her home (they’d driven in his car); he says she insisted on sleeping over at his place. She says she woke up in his bed with his arms around her, and that he groped her. He denies making advances and says she made advances, which he deflected. He says they slept on top of the covers, clothed. Neither says they had sex. He says she sent friendly texts in the days after and wanted to meet. She says she attempted suicide two days later, now has PTSD, and has had to take medical leave.
The aftermath has been a score of back-and-forth lawsuits. After trying to get a financial settlement from the professor, the student filed a Title IX suit against the university: She wants her tuition reimbursed, compensation for emotional distress, and other damages. Because the professor wasn’t terminated, when she runs into him it triggers her PTSD, she says. (The university claims that it appropriately sanctioned the professor, denying him a raise and a named chair.) She’s also suing the professor for gender violence. He sued the university for gender discrimination (he says he wasn’t allowed to present evidence disproving the student’s allegations)—this suit was thrown out; so was the student’s lawsuit against the university. The professor sued for defamation various colleagues, administrators, and a former grad student whom, according to his complaint, he had previously dated; a judge dismissed those suits this month. He sued local media outlets for using the word “rape” as a synonym for sexual assault—a complaint thrown out by a different judge who said rape was an accurate enough summary of the charges, even though the assault was confined to fondling, which the professor denies occurred. (This professor isn’t someone I know or have met, by the way.)
What a mess. And what a slippery slope, from alleged fondler to rapist. But here’s the real problem with these charges: This is melodrama. I’m quite sure that professors can be sleazebags. I’m less sure that any professor can force an unwilling student to drink, especially to the point of passing out. With what power? What sorts of repercussions can there possibly be if the student refuses?
Indeed, these are precisely the sorts of situations already covered by existing sexual-harassment codes, so if students think that professors have such unlimited powers that they can compel someone to drink or retaliate if she doesn’t, then these students have been very badly educated about the nature and limits of institutional power.
In fact, it’s just as likely that a student can derail a professor’s career these days as the other way around, which is pretty much what happened in the case of the accused philosophy professor.
To a cultural critic, the representation of emotion in all these documents plays to the gallery. The student charges that she “suffered and will continue to suffer humiliation, mental and emotional anguish, anxiety, and distress.” As I read through the complaint, it struck me that the lawsuit and our new consensual-relations code share a common set of tropes, and a certain narrative inevitability. In both, students and professors are stock characters in a predetermined story. According to the code, students are putty in the hands of all-powerful professors. According to the lawsuit, the student was virtually a rag doll, taken advantage of by a skillful predator who scripted a drunken evening of galleries and bars, all for the opportunity of some groping.
Everywhere on campuses today you find scholars whose work elaborates sophisticated models of power and agency. It would be hard to overstate the influence, across disciplines, of Michel Foucault, whose signature idea was that power has no permanent address or valence. Yet our workplaces themselves are promulgating the crudest version of top-down power imaginable, recasting the professoriate as Snidely Whiplashes twirling our mustaches and students as helpless damsels tied to railroad tracks. Students lack volition and independent desires of their own; professors are would-be coercers with dastardly plans to corrupt the innocent.
Even the language these policies come packaged in seems designed for maximum stupefaction, with students eager to add their voices to the din. Shortly after the new policy went into effect on my campus, we all received a long email from the Title IX Coordinating Committee. This was in the midst of student protests about the continued employment of the accused philosophy professor: 100 or so students, mouths taped shut (by themselves), had marched on the dean’s office (a planned sit-in of the professor’s class went awry when he pre-emptively canceled it). The committee was responding to a student-government petition demanding that “survivors” be informed about the outcomes of sexual-harassment investigations. The petition also demanded that the new policies be amended to include possible termination of faculty members who violate its provisions.
There was more, but my eye was struck by the word “survivor,” which was repeated several times. Wouldn’t the proper term be “accuser”? How can someone be referred to as a survivor before a finding on the accusation—assuming we don’t want to predetermine the guilt of the accused, that is. At the risk of sounding like some bow-tied neocon columnist, this is also a horrifying perversion of the language by people who should know better. Are you seriously telling me, I wanted to ask the Title IX Committee, that the same term now encompasses both someone allegedly groped by a professor and my great-aunt, who lived through the Nazi death camps? I emailed an inquiry to this effect to the university’s general counsel, one of the email’s signatories, but got no reply.
For the record, I strongly believe that bona fide harassers should be chemically castrated, stripped of their property, and hung up by their thumbs in the nearest public square. Let no one think I’m soft on harassment. But I also believe that the myths and fantasies about power perpetuated in these new codes are leaving our students disabled when it comes to the ordinary interpersonal tangles and erotic confusions that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point in life, because that’s simply part of the human condition.
In the post-Title IX landscape, sexual panic rules. Slippery slopes abound. Gropers become rapists and accusers become survivors, opening the door for another panicky conflation: teacher-student sex and incest. Recall that it was incest victims who earlier popularized the use of the term “survivor,” previously reserved for those who’d survived the Holocaust. The migration of the term itself is telling, exposing the core anxiety about teacher-student romances: that there’s a whiff of perversity about such couples, notwithstanding all the venerable married ones.
These are anxious times for officialdom, and students, too, are increasingly afflicted with the condition—after all, anxiety is contagious. Around the time the “survivor” email arrived, something happened that I’d never experienced in many decades of teaching, which was that two students—one male, one female—in two classes informed me, separately, that they were unable to watch assigned films because they “triggered” something for them. I was baffled by the congruence until the following week, when the Times ran a story titled “Trauma Warnings Move From the Internet to the Ivory Tower,” and the word “trigger” was suddenly all over the news.
I didn’t press the two students on the nature of these triggers. I knew them both pretty well from previous classes, and they’d always seemed well-adjusted enough, so I couldn’t help wondering. One of the films dealt with fascism and bigotry: The triggeree was a minority student, though not the minority targeted in the film. Still, I could see what might be upsetting. In the other case, the connection between the student and the film was obscure: no overlapping identity categories, and though there was some sexual content in the film, it wasn’t particularly explicit. We exchanged emails about whether she should sit out the discussion, too; I proposed that she attend and leave if it got uncomfortable. I was trying to be empathetic, though I was also convinced that I was impeding her education rather than contributing to it.
I teach in a film program. We’re supposed to be instilling critical skills in our students (at least that’s how I see it), even those who aspire to churn out formulaic dreck for Hollywood. Which is how I framed it to my student: If she hoped for a career in the industry, getting more critical distance on material she found upsetting would seem advisable, given the nature of even mainstream media. I had an image of her in a meeting with a bunch of execs, telling them that she couldn’t watch one of the company’s films because it was a trigger for her. She agreed this could be a problem, and sat in on the discussion with no discernable ill effects.
But what do we expect will become of students, successfully cocooned from uncomfortable feelings, once they leave the sanctuary of academe for the boorish badlands of real life? What becomes of students so committed to their own vulnerability, conditioned to imagine they have no agency, and protected from unequal power arrangements in romantic life? I can’t help asking, because there’s a distressing little fact about the discomfort of vulnerability, which is that it’s pretty much a daily experience in the world, and every sentient being has to learn how to somehow negotiate the consequences and fallout, or go through life flummoxed at every turn.
Here’s a story that brought the point home for me. I was talking to a woman who’d just published her first book. She was around 30, a friend of a friend. The book had started at a major trade press, then ended up published by a different press, and I was curious why. She alluded to problems with her first editor. I pressed for details, and out they came in a rush.
Her editor had developed a sort of obsession with her, constantly calling, taking her out for fancy meals, and eventually confessing his love. Meanwhile, he wasn’t reading the chapters she gave him; in fact, he was doing barely any work on the manuscript at all. She wasn’t really into him, though she admitted that if she’d been more attracted to him, it might have been another story. But for him, it was escalating. He wanted to leave his wife for her! There were kids, too, a bunch of them. Still no feedback on the chapters.
Meanwhile he was Skyping her in his underwear from hotel rooms and complaining about his marriage, and she was letting it go on because she felt that her fate was in his hands. Nothing really happened between them—well, maybe a bit of fumbling, but she kept him at a distance. The thing was that she didn’t want to rebuff him too bluntly because she was worried about the fate of her book—worried he’d reject the manuscript, she’d have to pay back the advance, and she’d never get it published anywhere else.
I’d actually once met this guy—he’d edited a friend’s book (badly). He was sort of a nebbish, hard to see as threatening. “Did you talk to your agent?” I asked the woman. I was playing the situation out in my mind, wondering what I’d do. No, she hadn’t talked to her agent, for various reasons, including fears that she’d led the would-be paramour on and that her book wasn’t any good.
Suddenly the editor left for a job at another press, and the publisher called the contract, demanding a final manuscript, which was overdue and nowhere near finished. In despair, the author finally confessed the situation to our mutual friend, another writer, who employed the backbone-stiffening phrase “sexual harassment” and insisted that the woman get her agent involved. Which she did, and the agent negotiated an exit deal with the publisher by explaining what had taken place. The author was let out of the contract and got to take the book to another press.
What struck me most, hearing the story, was how incapacitated this woman had felt, despite her advanced degree and accomplishments. The reason, I think, was that she imagined she was the only vulnerable one in the situation. But look at the editor: He was married, with a midlevel job in the scandal-averse world of corporate publishing. It simply wasn’t the case that he had all the power in the situation or nothing to lose. He may have been an occluded jerk, but he was also a fairly human-sized one.
So that’s an example of a real-world situation, postgraduation. Somehow I don’t see the publishing industry instituting codes banning unhappily married editors from going goopy over authors, though even with such a ban, will any set of regulations ever prevent affective misunderstandings and erotic crossed signals, compounded by power differentials, compounded further by subjective levels of vulnerability?
The question, then, is what kind of education prepares people to deal with the inevitably messy gray areas of life? Personally I’d start by promoting a less vulnerable sense of self than the one our new campus codes are peddling. Maybe I see it this way because I wasn’t educated to think that holders of institutional power were quite so fearsome, nor did the institutions themselves seem so mighty. Of course, they didn’t aspire to reach quite as deeply into our lives back then. What no one’s much saying about the efflorescence of these new policies is the degree to which they expand the power of the institutions themselves. As for those of us employed by them, what power we have is fairly contingent, especially lately. Get real: What’s more powerful—a professor who crosses the line, or the shaming capabilities of social media?
For myself, I don’t much want to date students these days, but it’s not like I don’t understand the appeal. Recently I was at a book party, and a much younger man, an assistant professor, started a conversation. He reminded me that we’d met a decade or so ago, when he was a grad student—we’d been at some sort of event and sat next to each other. He said he thought we’d been flirting. In fact, he was sure we’d been flirting. I searched my memory. He wasn’t in it, though I didn’t doubt his recollection; I’ve been known to flirt. He couldn’t believe I didn’t remember him. I apologized. He pretended to be miffed. I pretended to be regretful. I asked him about his work. He told me about it, in a charming way. Wait a second, I thought, was he flirting with me now? As an aging biological female, and all too aware of what that means in our culture, I was skeptical. On the heels of doubt came a surge of joy: “Still got it,” crowed some perverse inner imp in silent congratulation, jackbooting the reality principle into assent. My psyche broke out the champagne, and all of us were in a far better mood for the rest of the evening.
Intergenerational desire has always been a dilemma as well as an occasion for mutual fascination. Whether or not it’s a brilliant move, plenty of professors I know, male and female, have hooked up with students, though informal evidence suggests that female professors do it less, and rarely with undergraduates. (The gender asymmetries here would require a dozen more articles to explicate.) Some of these professors act well, some are jerks, and it would benefit students to learn the identifying marks of the latter breed early on, because postcollegiate life is full of them. I propose a round of mandatory workshops on this useful topic for all students, beginning immediately.
But here’s another way to look at it: the longue durée. Societies keep reformulating the kinds of cautionary stories they tell about intergenerational erotics and the catastrophes that result, starting with Oedipus. The details vary; so do the kinds of catastrophes prophesied—once it was plagues and crop failure, these days it’s psychological trauma. Even over the past half-century, the story keeps getting reconfigured. In the preceding era, the Freudian version reigned: Children universally desire their parents, such desires meet up with social prohibitions—the incest taboo—and become repressed. Neurosis ensues.
These days the desire persists, but what’s shifted is the direction of the arrows. Now it’s parents—or their surrogates, teachers—who do all the desiring; children are conveniently returned to innocence. So long to childhood sexuality, the most irksome part of the Freudian story. So too with the new campus dating codes, which also excise student desire from the story, extending the presumption of the innocent child well into his or her collegiate career. Except that students aren’t children.
Among the problems with treating students like children is that they become increasingly childlike in response. The New York Times Magazinerecently reported on the tangled story of a 21-year-old former Stanford undergraduate suing a 29-year-old tech entrepreneur she’d dated for a year. He’d been a mentor in a business class she was enrolled in, though they’d met long before. They traveled together and spent time with each other’s families. Marriage was discussed. After they broke up, she charged that their consensual relationship had actually been psychological kidnapping, and that she’d been raped every time they’d had sex. She seems to regard herself as a helpless child in a woman’s body. She demanded that Stanford investigate and is bringing a civil suit against the guy—this despite the fact that her own mother had introduced the couple, approved the relationship every step of the way, and been in more or less constant contact with the suitor.
No doubt some 21-year-olds are fragile and emotionally immature (helicopter parenting probably plays a role), but is this now to be our normative conception of personhood? A 21-year-old incapable of consent? A certain brand of radical feminist—the late Andrea Dworkin, for one—held that women’s consent was meaningless in the context of patriarchy, but Dworkin was generally considered an extremist. She’d have been gratified to hear that her convictions had finally gone mainstream, not merely driving campus policy but also shaping the basic social narratives of love and romance in our time.
It used to be said of many enclaves in academe that they were old-boys clubs and testosterone-fueled, no doubt still true of certain disciplines. Thanks to institutional feminism’s successes, some tides have turned, meaning that menopausal women now occupy more positions of administrative power, edging out at least some of the old boys and bringing a different hormonal style—a more delibidinalized one, perhaps—to bear on policy decisions. And so the pendulum swings, overshooting the middle ground by a hundred miles or so.
The feminism I identified with as a student stressed independence and resilience. In the intervening years, the climate of sanctimony about student vulnerability has grown too thick to penetrate; no one dares question it lest you’re labeled antifeminist. Or worse, a sex criminal. I asked someone on our Faculty Senate if there’d been any pushback when the administration presented the new consensual-relations policy (though by then it was a fait accompli—the senate’s role was “advisory”).
“I don’t quite know how to characterize the willingness of my supposed feminist colleagues to hand over the rights of faculty—women as well as men—to administrators and attorneys in the name of protection from unwanted sexual advances,” he said. “I suppose the word would be ‘zeal.’” His own view was that the existing sexual-harassment policy already protected students from coercion and a hostile environment; the new rules infantilized students and presumed the guilt of professors. When I asked if I could quote him, he begged for anonymity, fearing vilification from his colleagues.
These are things you’re not supposed to say on campuses now. But let’s be frank. To begin with, if colleges and universities around the country were in any way serious about policies to prevent sexual assaults, the path is obvious: Don’t ban teacher-student romance, ban fraternities. And if we want to limit the potential for sexual favoritism—another rationale often proffered for the new policies—then let’s include the institutionalized sexual favoritism of spousal hiring, with trailing spouses getting ranks and perks based on whom they’re sleeping with rather than CVs alone, and brought in at salaries often dwarfing those of senior and more accomplished colleagues who didn’t have the foresight to couple more advantageously.
Lastly: The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method. And in that sense, we’re all the victims.
Laura Kipnis is a professor in the department of radio, television, and film at Northwestern University and the author, most recently, of Men: Notes From an Ongoing Investigation (Metropolitan Books).
Correction (3/3/2015, 2:40 p.m.): This article originally stated that several lawsuits brought by a student at Northwestern University had been thrown out of court. Only one such suit was thrown out. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.
Clarification (3/30/2015, 10:45 a.m.): This article originally stated that a philosophy professor at Northwestern University sued, among others, a former graduate student of his whom he had previously dated. It would be more accurate to say that he had dated her according to his complaint. The article has been updated to reflect this clarification.
SEX MATTERS has a powerful post in part on how the holding of Assange in the UK is part of using sex and the protection of women as a convenient strategy to attempt to neutralize men such as Assange. SEX MATTERS – puts it this way-
Who after all can object to steps being taken to “protect” women? Well, hopefully, women.
Because time and time again, when politicians talk about women in this way, the last thing on their mind is protection. Rather, it is in their interests to co-opt women to otherwise dubious causes and to shelter behind the excuse of “looking after” the “weaker” sex.
Its pretty revolting. But absolutely to be expected.
Yes, it is pretty revolting that the Swedes probably at the beckoning of the US are attempting to hold Assange in detention to protect Swedish women. It is also sad that the UK goes along with this mythology by holding Assange under house arrest after holding him in prison for so-called Swedish justice for one week. If the Swedes are intent on questioning Assange who has not been charged with any criminal offense, then let them come to London to question him. Such should not be a problem. Certainly less of a moral problem than forcing Assange to raise $300,000 so he could be put under house arrest.
Arguing that Assange should be under any form of arrest so that Swedish women could obtain justice is analogous to arguing that Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican House so that justice for Lewinsky could be obtained, even if she really didn’t want justice.
This whole Swedish scenario is similar to what occurs on too many American university campuses. After all, who could possibly object to protecting women college students from falling into consensual sexual relationships with professors. Of course, said women could object. But no matter for the powers that be, these women, no matter what their age, need to be protected from these so-called predatory professors. And, of course, no matter that the student may have been the one who was “predatory.”
What would be good for justice at universities is for university police aka administrators to have their veils of secrecy discarded. No more- that this is a confidential personnel matter. University diplomacy needs to be fully exposed.
“Hugh Hefner has been good for us’” is the title of a recent article by Roger Ebert on Hugh Hefner. Obviously, Ebert likes Hefner; he considers Hefner’s Playboy Philosophy to be a major contributing force to sexual liberation in the 60s. Anchoring Ebert’s analysis is a series of videos on which Hefner is interviewed. Unquestionably, the most valuable of these videos is from William Buckley’s FIRING LINE in which Buckley interrogates Hefner on just about all aspects of Hefner’s philosophy. The kind of interchanges dealing with sexuality between Buckley and Hefner has been a rarity on American television. Buckley does his best to defend the traditional view that pre-marital sexuality is immoral and unacceptable and that Hefner is in essence perverting/undermining the dominant and only acceptable sexual ethos in America.
From the dankprofessor’s perspective the series of the five video segments of the Buckley/Hefner interchange provides the viewer with the anti-sexuality background of our contemporary ethos. Of course, in the 60s the acceptability of student prof sexual relationships was nil; they were effectively closeted in the context of their being no discussion of the matter and no bureaucratic apparatus designed to repress such relationships and to persecute those who were party to these relationships. Now that has all changed. The very survival of universities has been held to be at risk if such relationships flourish; such was similar to the fear that homosexuality if not criminalized would function to destroy society. Such was also similar to the dynamic of fear that led to the passage of the Mann Act in the United States and the hysteria to save our young women from pre-marital sex and being seduced into prostitution.
Ebert puts the contribution of Hefner and Playboy in therse terms:
Hefner and Playboy have been around so long that not everyone remembers what America used to be like. It was sexually repressed and socially restrictive. College students were expelled for having sex out of wedlock. Homosexuality and miscegenation were illegal. Freedom of choice was denied. McCarthyism still cast a pall over the freedom of speech. Many people joined in the fight against that unhealthy society. Hefner was one of them, and a case can can be made that Playboy had a greater influence on our society in its first half-century than any other magazine.
Take the time and view the the Buckley/Hefner interchange. The dankprofessor guarantees you won’t regret doing so.
The focus of the dankprofessor blog is on consensual sexual relationships between students and professors. Occasionally I look beyond the university to see how consensual relationships are handled in other contexts. What is presently happening in Texas as regards the client lawyer relationship definitely is of interest.
Attorneys working on behalf of the Texas Supreme Court and State Bar of Texas have proposed the state’s first rule prohibiting lawyers from engaging in sexual relationships with clients.
• Lawyers won’t condition representation on having a client engage in sexual relations.
• Lawyers won’t solicit sex as payment of fees.
• Lawyers won’t have sex with someone the lawyer is personally representing unless the sexual relationship is consensual and began before the attorney-client relationship began or if the attorney and client are married.
Now this looks quite reasonable to the dankprofessor and could possibly represent a viable compromise that could be applied to the student professor situation. However, I do have a major caveat regarding this proposed policy and that regards the automatic exemption from regulation if the attorney and client are married. Problem is that marriage in Texas is not open to same sex couples so the policy appears to end up discriminating against gay couples. I say appears since the policy exempts from regulation couples who had an ongoing relationship prior to the client/attorney relationship. So the marriage reference could be dropped without reference to marriage.
Even with the aforementioned change, there is a whole array of problems that could come into play. How does one prove that a sexual relationship occurred prior to the attorney/client relationship? Might such proof function as an invasion of privacy of the client? Who can initiate said investigation, etc? I trust that these procedural matters will be discussed as the policy consideration proceeds.
It also should be pointed out that the lawyer/client relationship is more like the psychotherapist/patient relationship than the student professor relationship. In both of the aforementioned relationships the relationship generally occurs on a one to one basis in a private setting, a setting in which it is of paramount importance that the client be able to be completely open with the lawyer. Both the patient and the client usually enter the relationship in a situation of high anxiety; both are in a situation of dis-ease. Such is not ordinarily the situation of students taking a class in a public setting in which revelation of personal intimate information is generally not required.
In addition, the client does not become a part of the legal community. The student does become a part of the university community. And the student is not paired with a particular professor in which the pair is in an adversarial relationship with another professor.
Although there are things we can learn from the Texas proposal, in no way do I want the university campus to become similar to a court room and more similar to the legal profession. If anything, too many university campuses have become torn asunder under the tutelege of dueling lawyers.
OK, I will begin my reply post to Hugo Schwyzer’s response to me by picking a bone with him as to how he presents me. He indicates that at Cal State Long Beach I had built a name for myself “as a consistent (some would say relentless) advocate for legitimizing sexual relationships between teachers and students”. If the good professor had done his homework on me, he would have known that I built a name for myself in the area of legitimizing sexual relationships starting in the late 1960s when I relentlessly opposed discrimination against gays, wrote “Coming Out in the Gay World” which came to be regarded as a classic article in the sociology of homosexuality, created the first officially recognized undergraduate course on homosexuality in 1969, and worked to help create the first officially recognized GSU in California at CSULB and last but not least I wrote an article against Anita Bryant and her campaign against homosexuality which was reprinted throughout the United States and helped to defeat the Briggs initiative in 1977, and led to numerous threats against my life, see that article by clicking here. Post my involvement in the gay rights campaign, I became involved in issues regarding interracial dating and marriage and helped to found the Interrace Association at CSULB.
So prior to my getting involved in the student professor issue I had an extensive background regarding transcending sexual boundaries, standing up for sexual freedom and consent. In this area I was relentless and remain relentless. Such relentlessness was not stifled by the small mindedness of too many of my opponents and their attempts to objectify and demonize me. For example, Schwyzer states that I celebrate student professor sexual relationships. I do not celebrate any form of consensual sexuality. What I celebrate is the right of consenting adults to engage in sexual fraternization no matter how offensive such fraternization is held to be by others. What offends me are those who engage in coercion of consenting others who happen to violate their sexual “ethic”.
And as for Schwyzer not being able to see the similarities in the dynamics of those opposing interracial relationships and those opposing student professor relationships, I suggest that he is suffering from a form of cultural blindness. I suggest that he read Lillian Smith’s book KILLERS OF THE DREAM and then he may understand the southern “ethic” that embraced the notion that a white woman/black man relationship can never be consensual, such always precluded consent, that such always represented rape, and that white men were protective of “their” white women who could not consent for themselves and were in essence children or childlike. Of course, any dissident black man faced a sentence of death via hanging and/or burning for the sin of loving the wrong person. Of course, today’s sexual dissidents who engage in academia’s love that dare not speak its name do not face being physically killed but rather being socially and psychologically exiled from academia since they have violated the sacred principle of “differential power precludes consent”. Safer for them to remain in the closet which has historically been the home of the sexually persecuted or those in support of the sexually persecuted.
In response to me, Schwyzer states-
I’m not incapable of drawing distinctions between behavior which is criminal and behavior which is merely unethical. But I also think that folks like Dank fail to recognize three things:
1. College students in their late teens and early twenties are still developing intellectually and emotionally, as this New York Times Magazine article made clear recently. Many young people are in a space between, as the old saying goes, “the Already and the Not Yet.” They are already legal adults and are in many ways fully responsible, but in other key ways continue to need more time to develop the complete capacity for impulse control and moral reasoning. As the Times article put it, the only ones who “got it right” about how long it takes young people to grow up are the car-rental companies, who often refuse to rent their vehicles to drivers under the age of twenty-five. While nineteen year-olds may be ready for sexual relationships with their peers, they are vulnerable to exploitation (whatever protestations may be made to the contrary) by those who are substantially older.
Schwyzer continues to focus on students as young people, apparently teens or just post teenager. Such reflects Schwyzer’s hangups or possibly his complete immersion in the world of PCC. To assume that university students are young and immature is absurd.
To assume that being young reflects immaturity is absurd. To assume that being old reflects maturity is absurd. To assume nothing and treat and respect the individuality of the other is not absurd. Such reflects in Buberian terms the willingness to employ an I-thou framework. Schwyzer employs an I-it framework which makes coercing others so much easier.
Then comes his point 2-
2. The power imbalance between a professor and a student, regardless of the latter’s age, makes it impossible for the student to give consent as long as the professor is in a position to evaluate (or recommend) him or her. You can’t trust a “yes” unless the person who says the “yes” also feels free to say “no” in the confidence that there will be no deleterious consequences. And as long as a student is in any position to be evaluated professionally by their professor/lover, they can’t have that knowledge that a “no” will be safe. That’s not infantilizing; that’s common sense.
Here he states it really is not about age, but about power imbalance in general. He holds it axiomatic that students cannot give consent (such assumes of course that the student is not the initiator and the professor is the one consenting). Such represents the end point of his argument- students cannot consent so we will not allow the student to be in such a position. What he fails to note is that now he and his chosen colleagues are now in the power position and they have taken away the ability to consent of both students and professors. Both students and professors must consent to the will of the all powerful bureaucrat. Schwyzer and his confereres end up calling for what all authoritarians call for- OBEDIENCE, obedience to them. And as for his comments about possible deleterious consequences, freedom always represents the possibility of deleterious consequences; lack of freedom always represents the reality of deleterious consequences.
And now to his third point-
3. The damage that professor-student sexual relationships do to the broader academic community is enormous. I’ve written that some of the students with whom I had sexual relationships remembered what we shared fondly; otherssuffered lasting negative consequences for which I take full responsibility and a profound sense of guilt. But leaving aside the essential question of the impact of these relationships on young women’s lives, I can say with certainty that these affairs are impossible to keep secret. Campus gossip made them widely known. Not only was I labeled a lecher, but the legitimacy of the entire college was in some sense compromised. I’ll never know how many young people grew a bit more cynical, a bit less trustful of the system, a bit more suspicious of older men as a result of my sadly well-deserved reputation in the mid-to-late 1990s on this campus.
Is Schwyzer referring to PCC here being damaged in some way by his relationships with young women? I speculate that he is projecting his own sense of damage and guilt on to the wider academic community. He is seeing his campus world thru his guilt tinged lenses. He ends up dealing with his guilt by coercing others to be “better” than he was; he ends up being an authoritarian do-gooder. And as for campus gossip, my advice to him is to just get beyond the rumor mongers; do what you consider to be right and don’t focus on the opinions of others. And, of course, it will often be the case that no matter what one does, one can end up becoming rumor subject matter.
As for recommended pieces regarding this issue, he neglects the most powerful published essay written by then graduate student Cristina Nehring. You can find it on my blog, of course. I can’t reprint the whole article, but I have reprinted enough to capture the essence of her argument, and do read the recent student comments on this posting. Of course, you can read a couple of my pieces by clicking here and here as well as reading SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND CONSENT which I co-edited. Daphne Patai’s book although somewhat tangential gives a pretty good portrait of how campuses are becoming less free. And, of course, anything written by Dick Skeen, material based on his doctoral dissertation, should be required reading.
And I bemoan the loss of community on too many campuses. The implementation of these fraternization rules make informal interaction between students and professors problematic. Fear too often now structures student professor interaction; fear that there may be a sexual imputation. Schwyzer never mentions this; never mentions that many campus regulations prohibit both sexual OR amorous relationships. On a personal note, I became a professor already a part of academic life since I had married a professor’s daughter and took for granted the camaraderie, the informality that was a part of the community of learners, no matter what the age. It’s basically gone now; replaced by an impersonal bureaucracy, paid bureaucrats making sure things are under control which de facto means keeping things in the closet.
I also want to make clear that I do not condemn or disrespect Schwyzer for his attempt to come to terms with his past sexuality. His guilt feelings I do not doubt are real; his need for redemption is real. What I question that in his need for redemption or expiation he ends up advocating the coercing of others for engaging in consensual sex he disapproves of. In the dankprofessor’s framework he commits the sin of coercion which represents his own unacknowledged arrogance.
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.
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.
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.
Billie Dziech is probably the most committed academic to obliterating student professor intimate relationships. She began her campaign in the 1980s with the publication of her tome THE LECHEROUS PROFESSOR and she continues her crusade to the present day. In 1998 in the Chronicle of Higher education she published an essay entitled“The Abuse of Power in Intimate Relationships”.
This essay has not been systematically critiqued and continues to circulate on the web. The CHE essay provides the dankprofessor an opportunity to critique Dziech’s “thinking” on this issue. So come along with me on this critical journey into the heart of Dziech; maybe we can find something of value. I have highlighted quoted material from her essay
While the tangled puzzle of the relationship between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky may appear far removed from life on American campuses, that is not the case. The current scandal recalls recent campus debates about intimate relationships between people with differing degrees of power — usually faculty members and students — and whether those relationships can be genuinely consensual.
In addition, the Clinton-Lewinsky controversy has become a litmus test of Americans’ attitudes toward male-female relations, and a harbinger of future positions on gender issues. Students and educators should listen carefully to the debate.
It is obvious that educators contemplating intimate relationships with students need to look hard at the portrait the media have painted of Monica Lewinsky. Reports depict her as a child deeply scarred by her parents’ acrimonious divorce; as an overweight teenager who developed a crush on a popular high-school classmate and then carried on a lengthy affair with a former high-school teacher; and as a young woman who at some point may have idolized or pursued Bill Clinton.
There is a simple message in the details of this young life. Whether or not we admit its pathetic quality, we must all recognize that people such as Monica Lewinsky exist, and that they pose a significant threat to those who choose to become intimately involved with them. The younger the person, the more likely that individual is to engage in fantasy and in actions based on whim. The more wounded the individual is at the onset of a relationship, the more vulnerable and unstable that person is likely to be during and after the affair.
Explicit in her analysis of Lewinsky is that we are on safe grounds in basing a psychological evaluation of her on media reports. And, of course, Monica Lewinsky posed no significant threat to Clinton or anyone else. The significant threat came from Linda Tripp and Special Prosecutor Starr who used Tripp’s surreptitiously taped conversations with Monica. Linda Tripp and Prosecutor Starr systematically invaded the privacy of Lewinsky in order to invade the privacy of Clinton. But Dziech in her essay never mentions Tripp and mentions Starr only once in passing. And no where in this essay is there any mention of the role of third party informants and the ethical issues involved when universities use or employ third party informants in their attempt to expose student professor couples.
Hence academicians, like Presidents, are either naive or reckless when they engage in physical contact (or what Mr. Clinton has described as an “emotional relationship”) with impressionable, unpredictable students who are unlikely to comprehend the true parameters of such interactions. Professors and Presidents alike should be sophisticated enough to realize the dangers inherent in singling out a subordinate for special attention. Monica Lewinsky is a chilling reminder that even the gift of a book of poetry (especially one with erotic material, such as Leaves of Grass) can lead to disaster.
Again Monica did nothing chilling. It was the people who were out to get Clinton who engaged in chilling and dastardly behavior.
People in positions of authority cannot ignore the vulnerabilities of those in subordinate positions. Perhaps that is why Andy Bleiler, the former drama teacher with whom Monica Lewinsky was sexually involved, seems so disreputable. Contending that the 19-year-old Ms. Lewinsky was “obsessed with sex” and that she “stalked” and “trapped” him into a five-year affair, Mr. Bleiler claimed that the young woman had been “no victim.” But his assertion rang hollow, even with the omnipresent supportive wife standing at his side.
Of course, observers cannot ignore the vulnerabilities of those in the so-called superordinate positions. Persons in power positions become targets of other who wish to bring them down; some times by false charges, sometimes by frivolous civil suits. The fact is that when it comes to power figures everyone close to the so-called powerful is vulnerable. And when it comes to love and sex, one cannot truly love without making oneself emotionally vulnerable.
There is more at stake in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal than just reputations, however. Educators should also note that countless Americans accept Mr. Bleiler’s portrait of the person Bill Clinton calls “that woman.” Those of us in academe who have fought for equality for women and the eradication of sexual harassment should be disturbed by polls such as one that found that men who had previously regarded the President as a “wimp” now were more inclined to support him — and to regard his wife positively because she once again “stood by her man.”
Of course, Clinton left office with high approval ratings. In fact, until the arrival of Barak Obama, Clinton was and possibly still is the most popular American politician in the world at large. His “affair” with Lewinsky did not hurt his stature, or that of his wife.
Already, the story of the President and the intern has revived old gender stereotypes that had seemed almost exhausted. The public appears to accept, without reservation, the image of Bill Clinton crafted by the Hollywood Houdini Harry Thomason and other supporters: He is struggling valiantly in adversity; he shoulders his burdens and carries on selflessly for family and country. Should it become necessary, those same supporters are undoubtedly prepared to portray Ms. Lewinsky as a delusional hysteric or a conniving predator who sullied an honest man’s virtue.
Well Billie Dziech must know that no politician is honest. Given all the attacks on Clinton, he still has emerged unsullied. No need for his supporters to sully Lewinsky since Dziech does a pretty good job of degrading and sullying her.
At present, though, the public doesn’t seem to need encouragement to view Ms. Lewinsky negatively. All it has to do is rely on stereotypes. Adhering perfectly to the old script on gender, a recent female caller to C-SPAN identified Ms. Lewinsky as “a wannabe.” The caller explained that she meant the kind of female found in every office or school, the kind who will do anything to be the boss’s or teacher’s “favorite.” One television commentator described Ms. Lewinsky as a “Valley girl,” another as “every woman’s nightmare.” Some enterprising citizen has been thoughtful enough to publish on the Internet either authentic or doctored nude pictures of Lewinsky. She has emerged as the pretty young thing who threatens hearth and home, because, presumably, even the strongest men are unable to resist a wily 21-year-old.
Dziech seems to be Lewinsky obsessed. Yes, she was in the public scene, but she was involuntarily dragged into said scene. Dziech needs to go beyond Lewinsky and focus on people who invade the privacy of others, such as Linda Tripp and Kenneth Starr.
That is surely a chilling portrait for those who have worked for laws and policies that encourage men to take responsibility for their sexual activities. Just when it appeared that Americans were beginning to “get” sexual harassment, just when the sexes seemed on the way to more mutual respect, along came the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to demonstrate how overly optimistic that impression was. Nothing inappropriate may have happened between Lewinsky and Clinton, but, because of the allegations, society seems to have reverted, at least temporarily, to an escapist mentality of the past: “I don’t care what happened on campus, at work, or even in the Oval Office, so long as it doesn’t happen to me or my daughter.”
Oh, please, people are more caring than Dziech is willing to believe. Most people came to see, except for Republicans in Washington, that the Lewinsky affair was consensual, and the matter should be dropped except that it was OK to read so-called non-fiction tell all books on the Clinton Lewinsky scenario.
The consensus of the polls conducted since January seems to be that Americans are not particularly disturbed by a 51-year-old authority figure’s having sex with an intern less than half his age. If one listens to radio and television call-in shows or reads the polls, it appears that the old, dark days are here again — that once more, it is acceptable to view students and working women as seductresses preying upon naive males.
Its not the old dark days, but rather the live and let live days, the days of non-acceptance of the government coercing adults involved in consensual relationships. Dziech fails to understand and note that her so-called dark days were the same days that many Americans came to accept homosexuals at work, in government, as friends and as relatives.
An especially telling Newsweek survey reported that 45 per cent of the public believes that, if a sexual relationship did occur between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, it was her fault for pursuing him. Only 17 per cent accepted a basic tenet of sexual-harassment law: that a person who is in a position of power misuses his authority if he — or she — engages in sexual activity with a subordinate.
Only 17% accepted the so-called basic tenet of sexual harassment law since they viewed the Clinton Lewinsky relationship as consensual. Take away the dehumanizing subordinate rhetoric and most people will admit and accept the fact that they have been in power differentiated relationships which they believe were consensual. Dziech and others deny their perception of consensuality and wish to portray most Americans, particularly women, as victims.
It is little wonder that the public misunderstands that point. A month of exposure to the tortured logic of Administration officials and lawyers trying to minimize the scandal has demonstrated how easy it is to obscure the patently obvious point: It’s the sex that matters. In other words, if the alleged consensual relationship were legally, ethically, and socially acceptable, there would be no reason to discuss perjury, subornation of perjury, or obstruction of justice. If Mr. Clinton lied under oath and attempted to obscure the truth, it was because he understood what many, on campus and off, seem unwilling to admit publicly: Where an imbalance in authority exists, there can be no equality and thus no genuine consent.
Dziech is patently wrong here, out of touch with reality. Generally people are sympathetic to Clinton lying because the lying dealt with his private sex life. And people don’t want the government in their bedrooms. Bottom line the problem that Dziech cannot understand is that many people if not most people would do the same thing as Clinton did- refuse to tell the absolute truth about their sex lives.
The law, assuming that human beings are more than animals enslaved to their passions, demands that those in positions of power behave responsibly and rationally, no matter how immoral, stupid, or lascivious their subordinates might be. That legal mandate seems lost on a public content to dismiss Monica Lewinsky as someone who “asked for it.”
Yes, people in power should behave rationally and responsibly and such is why it was wrong for a special prosecutor to engage in a sexual crusade and wrong for the House Republicans to impeach Clinton.
Before there was a name for sexual harassment and a recognition that, between individuals with disparate authority, even consensual sex is coercive sex, women who had affairs with teachers and employers were described as either seductive and dissolute or naive and vulnerable. However, when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 were enacted, they required businesses and educational institutions to construct policies and procedures to discourage harassment and to set up training programs to educate people about the law and about appropriate interactions between superiors and subordinates.
Said educational campaign has failed, abysmally failed. Selling consensual sex as coercive sex is a patent absurdity, it won’t sell.
Monica Lewinsky’s life spans the quarter-century of American history that has devoted close attention to gender issues, so it may be understandable that the public is unsympathetic to her not only because of her alleged willingness to engage in the purported sexual activity, but also because she is considered likely to have known better. She had every opportunity to be better educated than women in past generations were about the dangers and damage inherent in inappropriate sexual relations — and yet she allegedly still chose to become involved.
There is nothing inherently dangerous about inappropriate sexual relationships, e.g. same sex relationships were historically considered inappropriate; the danger came not from something inherent in homosexuality relationships, but the danger came from other people, people like Dziech who meddle in other peoples sex lives. And if we had a populace that was committed to appropriate and only appropriate sexual relations, what a dull world we would have created, a world that only could approach fruition in a totalitarian society.
Her situation should send a wake-up call to her peers. Just as the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debate made it impossible for people to deny awareness of sexual harassment, so those in the post-Lewinsky generation may find it increasingly difficult to declare innocence or victimization after engaging in sex with teachers or employers. The caveat that governed consensual sex on the campuses and in the workplace during most of Ms. Lewinsky’s mother’s life was a simple “Don’t — or you’ll pay a heavy price.” Over the past decade and a half, however, as case law has mounted, and as complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and grievances filed at colleges and universities have increased, educators and employers have become more supportive of those who report having sexual relations with superiors.
More supportive most likely because they are required and are paid to do so. There is big money involved in the sexual harassment industry, not only for the university police but for lawyers and for persons such as Dziech who are hired by universities as consultants to engage in the impossible task of creating an environment in which power differentiated persons do not fraternize. Too bad for Dziech, such is an impossible dream.
But despite that institutional support, the public reaction to Monica Lewinsky may — and probably does — suggest that a generation more sophisticated about sex and more knowledgeable about the law will be expected to assume greater personal responsibility for recognizing, resisting, and reporting inappropriate behavior. (And whether they like it or not, schools and colleges will continue to be the most likely settings in which those three “R’s” can be taught.)
Dziech is wrong again about the universities. Yes, there will be those recognizing, resisting and reporting, but most of the three Rs will be practiced by those who take responsibility for their own sexual behavior; resist the unwelcome intrusion by academic busybodies, and report only to themselves and trusted friends.
The assumption that all young adults are more sophisticated about harassment than they were in the past is unfortunate, though. First, it does not take into account the psychology of true victims, whose particular circumstances and emotional frailties may make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to recognize and resist harassment — and may make reporting it inconceivable. Monica Lewinsky may be one such victim. One has only to read accounts of her background to realize that she is a very vulnerable young woman.
The other problem with imposing a higher standard on the post-Lewinsky generation than has been used in recent years is that it wrongly assumes that the stepped-up discussions of harassment by parents, educational institutions, and the public have adequately educated the young about the problems with consensual relationships. That is simply not the case. Public discussion of sexual harassment has been, at best, contentious. Add the romantic portrayals on television and in film of illicit sex between teachers and students, and the message about the dangers of consensual sex becomes highly convoluted.
Yes, these messages are highly convoluted but so are Dziech’s messages. And as for the young, her messages are directed to all members of the university community, no matter their age, no matter if the student is 25 or 35 or 45; they all need to be coerced by Dziech, et. al, to do the right thing.
Most colleges and universities have done little of substance to clarify the issue. Many simply ignore the problem of consent in their sexual-harassment policies; some strongly warn against consensual relationships; but almost none have been courageous or practical enough to ban consensual relationships altogether. While many businesses unequivocally prohibit relationships between adult workers and supervisors, debates in academe have centered — as they often do — on faculty members’ rights. When discussion of consent in relationships between supervisors and students is discussed, it usually occurs in an emotionally charged atmosphere, which results in students’ seeing the problem in simplistic, hyperbolic terms.
No businesses have across the board effective bans. Said businesses talk the talk but hardly ever walk the walk. In other words, appearances do not reflect reality. With the workplace becoming in essence the home place for many employees, employees will and do fraternize; it’s a matter of propinquity and convenience.
If the post-Lewinsky generation is to be held to a higher standard of accountability in sexual relationships than in the past, campus advocates for women’s issues should be very concerned about the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal and should initiate discussions about the ramifications of consent. That may not happen, however, if Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, speaks for most advocates of women’s rights. She is reported to have said: “If the President had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, it was consensual. That’s a distinction I think people are trying to blur.”
Non-academic feminist Jill Ireland got it right.
Although Ms. Ireland may not “get” the dynamics of consent, we can hope that other women do, and that they will exercise reason and objectivity in the days ahead. It is no secret that academicians tend to be politically left of center and thus sympathetic to many of Mr. Clinton’s domestic and international policies. Should Monica Lewinsky disavow her previous affidavit or be found to have been sexually involved with the President, many academics will be trapped between Mr. Clinton’s verbal and political support for women’s issues and the misogyny and disregard for women that his private actions convey. If that happens, academics should muster the courage to divorce the man from his policies and reaffirm the truth they have fought hard to establish: However much superficial sophistication about sex or theoretical knowledge about sexual harassment students and workers might have, they are always at risk in relationships with professors or employers upon whom grades, recommendations, pay, or jobs depend.
But so are professors at risk, at risk of being charged with sexual harassment; at risk of a low graded student charging sexual harassment as part of a revenge scenario. Everyone is at risk. Certainly nothing that Dziech and her conferes have done have reduced the feelings of risk by both faculty and students. Maybe what is needed is for all academics (including) students to take a vow of celibacy, maybe using the Catholic Church as their model!
No one in a public scandal about sex looks good. In this case, not Monica Lewinsky. Not Bill or Hillary Clinton. Not Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Not the press. And certainly not a nation that has told pollsters that it doesn’t much care how men and women treat one another, as long as the economy is sound.
Wow! Finally she mentions Kenneth Starr, but only in passing. Shouldn’t Starr be Dziech’s star?
Some commentators have lauded this complacency about the alleged sexual activity as evidence of Americans’ increased “maturity,” “sophistication,” and “tolerance.” Those of us who write and speak about social issues and who teach college students need to reassess our roles in producing this “sophisticated” society. With the exception of their families, today’s youth are influenced most by their peers, the entertainment industry, and education. Since it is unlikely that friends and film stars can shed much light on the legal and ethical dimensions of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, educators must address the issue, both in casual conversations and in classroom discussions that deal with male-female issues, human development, social history, and the responsibilities of public leaders.
Yes, I agree that such should be addressed in classroom discussions and in informal conversations, but such is unlikely to occur in the context of coercion. People are unlikely to state the truth in public settings when said statements can lead to being disciplined and removed from the classroom. Of course, such persons can confidentially write to the dankprofessor, knowing that they, students and professors, have me as a resource person who will respect their confidentiality and their right to privacy
And we must realize that academe’s conception of sophistication and tolerance is directly tested in how it handles its own problems. When most campuses refuse to ban sexual relationships between students and professors, why should the public, when confronted by scandal, disapprove of the President’s cavorting with a young woman barely of legal age? Sophistication, tolerance, freedom, and individual rights are admirable concepts, but the genuinely enlightened recognize that there are always limits to freedom, that some behaviors deserve harsh judgment, and that, in some circumstances, tolerance allows pain and injustice to occur. Actions that denigrate and exploit women, particularly vulnerable subordinates, fit that category. We have an obligation to teach these principles to our students, by our words and by our own behavior.
Of course, given Dziech’s sophistication, she denies the reality that what she wants is a Big Brother or Big Sister university where students and professors must trust powerful others to not misuse their power in the sexual area. Does Billie Dziech really trust university administrators to wield such power in a fair and equitable manner, particularly when such power wielding is often done in secret? Doesn’t Professor Dziech know that Kenneth Starr copy cats and varicolored sexual zealots populate the ranks of sexual police aka university administrators? As is often the ultimate question, who is to protect us from our protectors, particularly when the protectors were once sophisticated professors who gave up their professorships for the “right” to wield big power and big money?
At times the dankprofessor has speculated about the mentality of campus administrators who apply campus policies which ban student professor consensual sexual relationships. Might such persons be conflicted about their invasion of the private lives of consenting adults? Or do these persons tend to be moral zealots who gain some sort of gratification by abusing less powerful others? Whatever the dynamic may be, no one, other than myself, seems to be interested in the enforcers of the university sexual codes.
But there may now be a change as a result of developments at a Canadian college, Lethbridge College. I have previously blogged on Lethbridge concerning the situation of psychology professor Gregory Bird who was suspended by Lethbridge for engaging in consensual sexual relationships with students. Professor Bird successfully fought the suspension and was reinstated after he successfully argued that Lethbridge did not have any rules which bar student prof fraternization. Of course, the Lethbridge administration did not like this arbitration imposed reinstatement.
Rick Buis, the college’s vice-president of corporate and international relations, said on Thursday the arbitrators were correct in finding the college had no specific policy prohibiting student/teacher relationships.
But he said psychology instructor Greg Bird should have known better.
“We don’t have policies stating ‘Thou shalt not steal’ or ‘Thou shalt not fight with fellow employees in the cafeteria,’ ” Buis said. “We think, ‘Thou shalt not sleep with students’ is equally obvious.”
But what Buis does not state as being obvious is that Lethbridge administrators shalt not distribute child pornography. Now here is the news story about Lethridge’s sexual code enforcer.
A former vice-president of Lethbridge College is accused of possessing and sharing sexually explicit online movies involving pre-teen children while he was employed by the college. Richard Buis, 64, turned himself in to Lethbridge regional police Thursday morning before making a brief appearance in provincial court to answer to charges of possessing, accessing and distributing child pornography. He was charged this week following a three-month investigation by the province’s Integrated Child Exploitation (ICE) unit and Lethbridge regional police.
Police were tipped off this spring by a person “very close” to the accused who came across evidence and put themselves in some personal danger to report it to police, said Staff Sgt. Scott Chadsey, head of the regional police major crimes section.
Buis resigned April 9 from his position as the college’s vice-president of corporate and international services, citing personal reasons at the time. He had been working under contract since formally retiring from the college two years earlier after a 20-year career with the institution. His contract term was scheduled to end June 30.
Buis also resigned this past spring as president of the Lethbridge Exhibition board with about eight months remaining in his two-year term.
Police allege that between 2008-2010, the accused man downloaded and accessed video files at his home depicting children between the ages of seven and 12 engaged in sexual acts and that he made the files available to others.
“There were three laptops seized, all belonging to the accused,” said Const. Keon Woronuk, a local officer assigned to the province’s southern ICE unit.
“They were owned by the college, but they were seized from his home,” he said, adding police found no evidence any of the alleged offences took place on the college campus.
Forensic examination of the computers, he said, revealed evidence of online file sharing by downloading or making material available to others via the Internet.
Looking tired and haggard, Buis appeared in Lethbridge provincial court Thursday and stood briefly in the prisoner’s dock while Crown prosecutor Vaughan Hartigan outlined conditions of his release.
Buis was told he is not allowed use a computer or any electronic device capable of accessing the Internet, and he can’t visit any business, such as a cyber cafe, which provides customers with Internet access. The accused is also prohibited from having any contact with anyone under the age of 18 unless accompanied by an adult who knows of the charges, and he cannot go to swimming pools, playgrounds, parks or anywhere children under the age of 16 may congregate.
The release order also limits his options for employment. Buis can’t work anywhere or volunteer in any capacity in which he would be entrusted with a child under the age of 16. He must also submit to police searches without the necessity of a search warrant, report to local police as directed, keep the peace, and attend court as required.
In another matter, Buis was in court last month on a single charge of assault, but it was withdrawn after he agreed to comply with a peace bond, under which he must keep the peace, report regularly to a peace officer, and attend counselling for issues of domestic violence.
Buis’ next court appearance on the child pornography charges is scheduled for Aug. 12.
College President Tracy Edwards is away in Eastern Canada and wasn’t available for comment, but in an email sent to college faculty and staff Thursday morning, she described news of the charges against Buis as “disturbing and regrettable.”
Disturbing and regrettable, to say the least. Unfortunately President Edwards was not disturbed at all when Prof Bird was suspended for consensual relationships with adult students. VP Buis was his primary agent for enforcing his moral sexual codes. Of course, it comes down to the same old question- who will protect us from our so-called protectors? And the bottom line at universities and beyond should be that consenting adults should not be subjected to any protectors of any kind; those who put themselves in the postion of their protectors are always engaging in a form of abuse.
Vancouver Island University has come up with a new twist on policies in regards to student professor sexual relationships. As part of their statement on consensual relationships between students and profs, they have a sort of FAQ and they address the question- “Can’t a student and faculty member fall in love?”
Now it is addressing the process of falling in love that the dankprofessor finds to be exceptional in this context. Understandably, bureaucrats, university or otherwise, would seem the least likely to be concerned with falling in love or being swept away or love at first sight. Of course, the bureaucratization of love would seem to me to be the ultimate oxymoron.
So following is the VIU response to “Can’t a student and faculty member fall in love?” The VIU statement is highlighted and it interspersed with comments from the dankprofessor.
Yes, of course, that can occur. Many of our students are of similar age and experience to our faculty and, except for the circumstance of the employee/student relationship, could be considered very appropriate matches
Hold on for a moment; the question was can they fall in love, not whether such falling is appropriate. In any case, for VIU, falling in love can appropriately occur if people are of the same age and experience.
Such is a rather narrow definition, is it not? In fact, VIU tells me that my parents could not have appropriately fell in love since my father was 20 years older than my mother. For VIU when does an age difference become too much of an age difference. Now their similar experience thing opens up a Pandora’s box. I guess that people of dissimilar national, ethnic and racial experiences are just not eligible for falling in love with each other. And I expect that the highly educated and the not so highly educated are also ineligible for falling in love with each other, and so on and so on, no fraternizing with people from the wrong side of the tracks. Just stick to your own kind! And, of course, it would be unthinkable, unmentionable, for an administrator to fall in love with a student!
Often students and employees will share the same interests and the learning environment can encourage close collaboration and interpersonal support. However, the faculty member must remember that it is their responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries with a student. There is no way to check out whether an attraction is mutual without crossing that professional boundary with a student.
OK, I get it, it appears OK for the faculty member to develop a crush on a student, have feelings of love toward a particular student. But checking this out with the student in terms of finding out if it is mutual would not facilitate the maintenance of appropriate boundaries. So confessions or professions of love to the student are simply out of line. But, I guess it would be OK to direct ones feelings of love into other creative enterprises such as writing love poems and songs of love as long as any particular student is not known as the subject of such artistry. Of course, the VIU statement does not preclude the student from professing love for the prof. If such becomes the case, I guess VIU would expect the professor to tell him or her that you are violating my boundaries and to please stop!
It is recommended that any employee who wishes to initiate a sexual relationship with a student wait until the institutional relationship has ended before taking any steps.
OK, now VIU has dropped the love thing and deals with not initiating a sexual relationship. Wait to the institutional relationship has ended they state. But for some of those adhering to VIU waiting rules, the long wait could very well lead to the waiting prof having a mental breakdown and end up being institutionalized. Or just when the prof thinks it is now safe to approach ones love object, the prof now finds that he is two months too late and the student has accepted the hand of another, and the other being another professor. Or after a four year wait and love now just around the corner, the prof finds out that the student has re-enrolled for another degree program. But there is more from VIU on this.
Making a practice of initiating sexual relationships with former students, however, would also be problematic. It could be understandable that a faculty member “falls in love” with a student once. It is not understandable or acceptable for a faculty member to “fall in love” with students and to initiate relationships with former students, on a routine basis. In those circumstances, a decision-maker would question whether the faculty member was exploiting their professional role to enhance their personal and social life.
So after the four year wait and now the student is a former student, the prof in VIU terms is still not on safe ground as to dating students since VIU finds dating former students to be “problematic”. Given VIU standards, it is acceptable for them to “fall in love” with a student once, but not more than once. If love with the student goes astray or leads to love and then divorce, then the professor should have learned his or her lesson and just give up on falling in love with students. As VIU states, such is simply not understandable.
Well, the dankprofessor will help out the VIU administration just a little bit. Just because a prof asks out a student does not mean that the prof is in love with the student or the student with the prof. Most dates end up being just another date. One generally does not instantly meet the right one. And if the pool of nearby eligibles for dating happens to be mainly former students, it is the most “natural” thing in the world to end up dating and possibly mating with a former student. And the VIU administration engages in gross stereotyping when they refer to only the profs initiating. Are they not aware that students, and more specifically female students are quite capable of initiating and do initiate?
And finally in their last sentence it becomes quite revealing of who are these VIU people- “In those circumstances, a decision-maker would question whether the faculty member was exploiting their professional role to enhance their personal and social life”. The revelation is that the VIU administrators are the decision-makers, not the professors and certainly not the students. In the VIU world view, the administrators are the adults who make decisions as to what is best for their children- their profs and their students. This is authoritarianism and arrogance at its worse. Or to put it in still other terms, VIU administrators are the VIPS who must control the behavior of the peasantry.
Now as for faculty members using their professional role to enhance their personal and social life. Is not such the norm in social life, that people use their professional role to enhance their personal and social life? Even university administrators do this, even presidents, priests, parents, prophets and politicians do this, even Lithuanians and Latvians do it. We all do it!
Shame on VIU for lending their so called good name to this dribble. Such has no place in university life.
Again, no iota of mutual trust or respect. Everyone, almost everyone, is suspect, except of course the administrators enforcing the policy.
I recently blogged on the new Duke University policy which regulates in detail Duke University students sexual behavior. The major rationale given for such intrusion into the private lives of Duke students is that the policy attempts to insure that all sexual interaction between students is ‘absolutely’ consensual.
What the dankprofessor finds bemusing is that Duke does not apply this policy to faculty, staff or administrators. Shouldn’t Duke be concerned that all the sexual behavior engaged in by their employees is absolutely consensual? The dankprofessor thought it would be of interest to see how Duke handles student professor relationships and if said policy is consistent with their coercively administered sexual code.
Their 2002 policy begins with the following statement-
Duke University is committed to maintaining learning and work environments as free as possible from conflicts of interest, exploitation, and favoritism.
Where a party uses a position of authority to induce another person to enter into a non-consensual relationship, the harm both to that person and to the institution is clear.
Note that the person inducing is the person in authority; the person not in authority cannot induce. We shall see that the rest of their policy is consistent with this since students are hardly ever seen as being agents of their own behavior.
The policy continues-
Even where the relationship is consensual, there is significant potential for harm when there is an institutional power difference between the parties involved, as is the case, for example, between supervisor and employee, faculty and student, or academic advisor and advisee.
But even when there is no power differential there is risk of harm. On the other hand, there is also the potentiality of good- romance, love and marriage and children. But the Duke administration can never entertain that sexual behavior is good. They embrace the notion that sexuality is intrinsically bad EXCEPT when there is regulation from above. Only the powers that be can protect Duke students from such evil consequences; such is why Duke passed the draconian policy regulating sexual behavior of students.
The policy continues-
…the student–teacher relationship represents a special case, because the integrity of this relationship is of such fundamental importance to the central mission of the university. Students look to their professors for guidance and depend upon them for assessment, advancement, and advice. Faculty–student consensual relationships create obvious dangers for abuse of authority and conflict of interest actual, potential, and apparent. Especially problematic is such a relationship between a faculty member and a graduate student who is particularly dependent upon him or her for access to research opportunities, supervision of thesis or dissertation work, and assistance in pursuing job opportunities.
Interesting is their assertion that relationships between grad students and faculty are “especially problematic”. Interesting since Yale in its newly revised policy only applied blanket bans to undergraduates. Graduate students were given more leeway since they were seen as more mature.
Duke University has adopted a consensual relationship policy for the following reasons: to avoid the types of problems outlined above, to protect people from the kind of injury that either a subordinate or superior party to such a relationship can suffer, and to provide information and guidance to members of the Duke community. Most of all, this policy seeks to help ensure that each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity and without regard to any factors that are not relevant to that person’s work.
The last sentence brings us into the land of the absurd- policy insures each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity. Is attempting to control the sexual decision making of others dignified? Can outright coercion of others insure the dignity of others? This policy as formulated may help the policy enforcers to feel more dignified, and facilitate their work of attempting to take dignity away form others.
The policy continues-
No faculty member should enter into a consensual relationship with a student actually under that faculty member’s authority. Situations of authority include, but are not limited to, teaching, formal mentoring, supervision of research, and employment of a student as a research or teaching assistant; and exercising substantial responsibility for grades, honors, or degrees; and considering disciplinary action involving the student.
No faculty member should accept authority over a student with whom he or she has or has had a consensual relationship without agreement with the appropriate dean. Specifically, the faculty member should not, absent such agreement, allow the student to enroll for credit in a course which the faculty member is teaching or supervising; direct the student’s independent study, thesis, or dissertation; employ the student as a teaching or research assistant; participate in decisions pertaining to a student’s grades, honors, degrees; or consider disciplinary action involving the student.
Students and faculty alike should be aware that entering into a consensual relationship will limit the faculty member’s ability to teach and mentor, direct work, employ, and promote the career of a student involved with him or her in a consensual relationship, and that the relationship should be disclosed in any letter of recommendation the faculty member may write on the student’s behalf. Furthermore, should the faculty member be the only supervisor available in a particular area of study or research, the student may be compelled to avoid or change the special area of his or her study or research.
If nevertheless a consensual relationship exists or develops between a faculty member and a student involving any situation of authority, that situation of authority must be terminated. Termination includes, but is not limited to, the student withdrawing from a course taught by the faculty member; transfer of the student to another course or section, or assumption of the position of authority by a qualified alternative faculty member or teaching assistant; the student selecting or being assigned to another academic advisor and/or thesis or dissertation advisor; and changing the supervision of the student’s teaching or research assistantship. In order for these changes to be made and ratified appropriately, the faculty must disclose the consensual relationship to his or her superior, normally the chair, division head, or dean, and reach an agreement for remediation. In case of failure to reach agreement, the supervisor shall terminate the situation of authority.
What the dankprofessor finds to be most degrading in regards to students is that the faculty member must disclose the consensual relationship to his or her superior. What about the consent of the student re disclosure? What about the student’s right to privacy? And as for a faculty member unilaterally disclosing this relationship to a so-called superior, such behavior is damning. The faculty member who ends up as being an informant should have grownup and had the ability to say no to arbitrary authority who refer to themselves as “superiors”.
Of course, there are ethical issues involved here. But ethics are too important to be left to an authority which imposes its will on non-consenting others. Ethical engagement should always be at the core of university life. But the Duke student policy and student professor sexual relationships policy do not promote ethics. The ethic they promote is one of force; is one of authoritarianism. Consenting sexuality of adults is too important, too private to be controlled by university administrators, no matter how superior they consider themselves to be. The dankprofessor feels that university administrators who end up being part of a sexual police are utterly morally repugnant.
So Yale University has now formally banned sexual relationships between professors and ALL undergraduate students. Previously the ban applied only when the faculty member was in a supervisory relationship with a student.
It is this supervisory aspect that supposedly was the basic rationale for prohibiting student prof sexual relationships. Such supposedly disabled profs from engaging in non-prejudicial grading and even if there was no grading problem such gave the appearance of a conflict of interest. And those who were appearance obsessed argued that ultimately the integrity of the university was some how undermined.
The dankprofessor never bought into this as the real rationale. Academics were not and are not hung up on the importance of grading; in fact, grading occupies the low end of the academic totem pole. It’s generally considered to be dirty work that can be farmed out to inexperienced teaching assistants. What too many academics are hung up on is sex, particularly academics who see themselves as feminists, feminists who when they think about sex dread the existence of power differentials which are viewed as being omnipresent in heterosexual relationships.
So student professor relationships became the quintessential dreaded power differentiated relationships with the female student always being the helpless and victimized other in need of protection. Or to put it in other terms, the new Yale ban is patently, openly anti-sexual; the anti-sexual brigades have taken over at Yale and in the dankprofessor’s opinion this is just the opening shot.
Just listen to Yale’s Deputy Provost Charles Long who has advocated student prof dating bans for many a year- “I think we have a responsibility to protect students from behavior that is damaging to them and to the objectives for their being here.” Obviously, people who think that sex is damaging are anti-sexual and would prefer to ban sex when such is possible. And do note that Long makes no exceptions- he knows all that he needs to know- sex with professors damages undergraduates, end of story, no need to be concerned about students who do not want his protection. No concern here about issues relating to consent or dissent. Long has the power at Yale and he engages in power abuse par excellence in the area of sexuality.
The Yale undergraduate as child has no right to dissent when it comes to authoritarian Yale administrators. No matter that Yale students are considered cream of the crop, are widely held to be part of an intellectual elite. These Yale students do not become full adults until they are Yale graduates. The Yale mantra becomes wait until you graduate which effectively replaces the old traditional mantra of wait until you are married.
And no place in the new Yale policy is there any “grandfathering” clause. A student and professor who are in an ongoing relationship which was consonant with the old policy now are in violation under the new policy. Breaking up may be hard to do but it is the only thing to do if one wants to stay in good graces at Yale. OK, the student can drop out or the prof can resign.
And then there are those who say none of these dreaded things will come to be since the effect of the Yale policy will be to simply drive these people into the closet and in the closet they will be left alone. Such represents the thinking of pipe dreamers. The realists know that there is no shortage of Linda Tripps at Yale. And they are waiting patiently for their right Yale professor and the right Yale student. The “good” that these diligent informants can do is monumental; and all can be done in secret. And I expect that Deputy Provost Long is prepared for the informants and the false chargers. Or will he spare himself by taking a flight into retirement?
Politicsdaily has just published what the dankprofessor calls a diatribe by Lizzie Kurnich against student professor relationships. She writes about this subject based on stereotypes and an imagination run amok. All of this came about as a result of Yale passing a non-fraternization policy between Yale profs and student undergraduates. The policy includes the amorous clause which I have commented on previously. My response to Ms. Kurnich follows.
Lizzie Kurnich is pompous and presumptuous in terms of how she views both students and professors who engage in sexual intimacy. She writes off such relationships as crushes, makes short shrift of the love engaged professor as simply wanting the approval of someone too young or wishes to engage in a the long vacation in land of youth. And then portrays female students as dumbfounded, such students would be incapable of carrying on a conversation based on her vision of the erudite professor.
Ms. Kurnich apparently is incapable of transcending her fictive constructions and imagining the possibility that there are professors and students who share a love of knowledge can also share a knowledge of love. These two loves are not antithetical but can represent the ideal of the romantically and intellectually inclined.
And as for her dinner experience with a male student, such was positively fine for her. Such could also be fine for a male prof who is involved with a specific female student. Ms. Kurnich seems to impute that such a professor is sexually obsessed with ALL of his female students. She finds it easy to sexually objectify such male profs. She views them thru her sexually tinged lenses. Now if these professors were in her terms sexually conventional she would not see them as being sexually obsessed and immature. The sin of these profs is that they do not worship the God of Normal as Ms. Kurnich apparently worships.
But I think it is quite easy to get beyond what is normal, what is immature, what is a crush and to view university environments as representing a geography in which there is a high concentration of persons who are eligible, who are looking for dates and mates. The principle of propinquity really does explain the tendency of some students and professors to date. They are part of the same geographic and often the same intellectual and social communities.
Oh, and let me add this note, not all students and professor pairings represent a huge age discrepancy. My wife is two years older than myself and she was two years older than myself when I met her when I was a prof and she was a student. And yes, I expect that Ms. Kurnich and others who share her view would argue that we are exceptions, not the people they have in mind. But in the university sexual codes they defend we are trashed just like all the other student prof couples. And, at the risk of repetition, such represents the core of the problem since our detractors simply cannot comprehend that the student professor labels can be transcended, boundaries can be crossed and the individuality of the other can be transcended, appreciated and loved. In Buberian terms its about going from an I-it to an I-thou relationship.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE) in a news release, April 7, 2010, charges that Duke University in a recently implemented sexual misconduct policy has rendered students as unwitting rapists and removed protections for students accused of sexual misconduct. The entirety of the FIRE news release appears at the end of this post and by clicking here one can read the entirety of the Duke sexual misconduct policy.
The dankprofessor views this new sexual misconduct policy as both draconian and authoritarian. The policy attempts to regulate the most intimate aspects of student lives. The major rationale given for such intrusion into the private lives of Duke students is that the policy attempts to insure that all sexual interaction between students is ‘absolutely’ consensual. The irony is that the policy has been applied to Duke students without their consent. There was no vote taken by Duke students authorizing this policy. The policy is being imposed on Duke students by the powers that be at Duke. In essence, Duke administrators and their confreres come off as authoritarian adults disciplining their children.
The utter hypocrisy of the creators of this policy is apparent. They argue that this policy in essence functions to upgrade the principle of consent and to sexually protect Duke students. If such be the case, then why do the creators and implementors of this policy exempt themselves? Why aren’t all Duke administrators, staff members, and faculty also beneficiaries of this policy? Aren’t they deserving of the same protections granted to Duke students? Aren’t these policies applied to Duke students with the hope that students will apply these approved practices throughout their lives?
The dankprofessor feels that he knows why these policies are not applied to Duke constituencies beyond students. Such non-application occurs because administrators, faculty and others would not tolerate being treated like children, would not tolerate having their sex lives governed by self-serving authoritarians. In the area of sexual civil liberties Duke students deserve the same basic rights as their so-called superiors.
The dankprofessor hopes that Duke faculty and administrators stand up for the rights of their students. Too much abuse has gone at Duke. Too many authoritarians have already hurt too many innocent Duke students in their zealous quest for so-called justice.
“Duke’s new sexual misconduct policy could have been written by Mike Nifong,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. “Members of the men’s basketball team could be punished for consensual sexual activity simply because they are ‘perceived’ as more powerful than other students after winning the national championship. Students who engage in sexual behavior after a few beers could be found guilty of sexual misconduct towards each other. This is not just illogical and impractical, but insane. Given its experience during the lacrosse team rape hoax, Duke, of all schools, should know better than to institute such unjust rules about sexual misconduct.”
The new policy was introduced at the beginning of the school year with fanfare from the Duke Women’s Center—the same center that apologized for excluding pro-life students from event space in a case FIRE won last month. Women’s Center Director Ada Gregory was quoted in Duke’s student newspaper The Chronicle justifying the new policy, saying, “The higher [the] IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are … imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke—cream of the crop.” (In a follow-up letter to The Chronicle, Gregory claimed that the quote was inaccurate and did not reflect her views, but stood by her analysis that campuses like Duke are likely to harbor smarter sex offenders who are better able to outwit investigators.)
Duke’s vastly overbroad definition of non-consensual sex puts nearly every student at risk of being found guilty of sexual misconduct. Students are said to be able to unintentionally coerce others into sexual activity through “perceived power differentials,” which could include otherwise unremarkable and consensual liaisons between a varsity athlete and an average student, a senior and a freshman, or a student government member and a non-member.
Further, students are said to be unable to consent to sexual behavior when “intoxicated,” regardless of their level of intoxication. Duke has turned mutually consensual sexual conduct, which might merely be poorly considered, into a punishable act. Adding to the confusion, if both parties are intoxicated at all, both are guilty of sexual misconduct, since neither can officially give consent. North Carolina law does not support this definition of consent.
“Of course, there is no way that everyone who was intoxicated during sexual activity, let alone ‘perceived’ as more powerful, is going to be charged with sexual misconduct,” said Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “Add to that the provision about an unintentional atmosphere of coercion, and anyone can see that Duke’s policy is impossible to rationalize or to fairly and equitably enforce. As a result, this policy effectively trivializes real sexual misconduct, which is a gravely serious crime.”
The new policy even makes reporting of so-called sexual misconduct mandatory for any Duke employee who becomes aware of it, regardless of the wishes of the alleged victim.
Furthermore, Duke has made fair enforcement of the sexual misconduct policy even more difficult by establishing different procedures and even a different “jury” to judge sexual misconduct complaints. For instance, sexual misconduct charges are judged by two faculty or staff members and only one student, but all other offenses are judged by a panel of three students and two faculty or staff members. Duke fails to explain why a jury with a majority of one’s peers is necessary for charges like assault or theft but not sexual misconduct.
Other problems in the sexual misconduct policy, detailed in FIRE’s letter to Duke President Richard Brodhead of March 4, include giving the complainant more rights than the accused, requiring the results of a hearing to be kept secret in perpetuity even if one is found not guilty or is falsely accused, and allowing anonymous and third-party reporting so that the student may never be able to face his or her accuser.
FIRE wrote, “As a private university, Duke is not obliged to agree with the authors of the Bill of Rights about the value of the right to face one’s accuser. Nevertheless, Duke ignores their wisdom at the peril of its own students and reputation.” Duke has declined to respond to FIRE’s letter in writing.
“More than any other school in the nation,” Shibley said, “Duke should be aware that its students deserve the best possible rules and procedures for ensuring that rape and sexual misconduct charges are judged fairly. Sexual misconduct is a serious offense. Duke students deserve a policy under which true offenders will be punished but the innocent have nothing to fear.”
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 on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Tell Duke University to give its students the protections they deserve. Write to President Brodhead here.
Richard H. Brodhead, President, Duke University: 919-684-2424 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 919-684-2424 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; firstname.lastname@example.org
Cypher Magazine reports on the adoption of a faculty student consensual relationships policy by Colorado College. Following are the key parts of the text of this article as well as my comments. As you shall see, parts of this policy differ from those colleges which have attempted to ban “sexual or amorous” relationships between students and professors. This policy and the rationale for said policy merit a detailed critical review.
The policy was created in part to ensure that no sexual relationship between a faculty member and student would “detract from the main goals of the institution,” as the policy outlines. The dynamic of a professor-student relationship could create an uncomfortable atmosphere for other students in a class, and could influence a professor’s capacity for fair evaluation. Regardless of whether or not the faculty member supervises the student, the relationship is inevitably characterized by an unequal distribution of power. Feminist and gender studies professor Eileen Bresnahan confirms that, “One of the problems that the college has had is professors sleeping with undergraduate students where there is a big age difference.”
Interesting, does Bresnahan believe there is no big problem when students and profs are of a similar age? If so, then why doesn’t she and others advocate a ban for age differentiated relationships? I guess they are inhibited from reducing students to a “kids” or “children” status. In any case, universities do not formally invoke an age ban, but as I have argued previously many academic women embrace the banning movement because they feel threatened by younger women taking “their” men. Unquestionably, if there was a proposal in the wider society to ban older men/younger women relationships, a number of “older” women would embrace this idea. But such will not come about; it will come about in the universities under a different guise.
While the issues of evaluation and equity between parties are problematic, some faculty members insist that the policy should not prevent the possibility for close student-faculty relationships. The question arose as to where the line should be drawn between friendly and inappropriate relationships between students and faculty members. Faculty members displayed concern for this issue at the third block meeting as they became engrossed in a debate over the meaning of the word “amorous,” and eventually voted not to include this word in the policy. Along with several of his colleagues (both male and female), English professor George Butte rose to the microphone to argue against the use of the word amorous because of its possible implication of friendship. Other faculty members defended their freedom to distinguish students on the basis of academic merit and talent and, in some cases, to meet with them outside of class. Some professors wished to maintain the right to meet privately with students struggling with class work.
Professor Butte understands the dynamic here. Banning amorous relationships goes way beyond the sexual area. As I have indicated previously, student professor bans have become an outright attack on love between students and professors. And an unfortunate byproduct of this is that non sexual close relationships between students and professors become increasingly suspect and consequently impersonal.
But the word “amorous” seems to suggest romantic attachment, something distinct from student-faculty friendship. Sociology professor C.J. Pascoe explains, “There was some back-and-forth among faculty members [as to whether the policy] should be just about sexual topics or sexual and romantic topics.” Pascoe says that a number of faculty members wanted the policy to prohibit romantic interactions. But by voting to remove the word “amorous” from the policy, the faculty chose to condemn only relationships in which students have physical relations with professors. The word “amorous” would have allowed the policy to address romantic relationships between students and faculty members whether or not evidence of sex was present. Ultimately, faculty voted to abolish this word from the policy. There are multiple reasons behind the decision, but, according to Pascoe, “There are some faculty who would prefer not to see emotional entanglements legislated.” By voting not to include the word “amorous” in the Consensual Relations policy, the faculty is consenting to romantic relationships as long as they are not sexual.
Yes, such is the nature of the consent, but they are also consenting to the idea that close relationships between students and professors are not antithetical to the ethos of liberal arts colleges; such is consistent with the idea that students and profs are part of a teaching/learning COMMUNITY.
But the dankprofessor also wants to be completely open here in the acknowledgement that dropping amorous from the code also functions to protect those professors and students who are in a sexual relationship. The reality is that in student professor sexual relationship cases which come to the attention of university authorities such does not occur as a result of observing a prof having sex with a student; sexuality is inferred from the observations of behavior reflecting closeness and intimacy. When amorous is dropped from the code, then the assertion that the student and professor were in sexual congress can simply be denied.
In the case of Colorado College, the college drops the whole appearances argument which is that the appearance of intimacy was sufficient to bring charges; all one had to prove was that the appearance had occurred and not the reality of sex. Many universities have consistently argued that the appearance of so-called inappropriate relationships is just as damaging as actually relationships. Of course, what they had in mind is that it is damaging to the reputation of the college. Whether such is really damaging to the reputation or prestige of a college or university is problematic, and more importantly reputation or prestige issues should not be ground for suspending persons basic civil liberties.
Another component relating to the elimination of the amorous clause may be the most important one which is that these rules supposedly come into being to avoid conflict of interests and to insure fair and impartial grading. Implicit and sometimes explicit is the notion that close relationships supposedly threaten impartial grading. Colorado College rejects this notion by prohibiting sexual relationships but not amorous or close relationships. The dankprofessor has argued that these bans are fueled by an anti-sexual component; remove the anti-sexual component and the fervor to pass these rules diminish. The usage of conflict of interest simply is a smokescreen used to further said anti-sexuality. And CC has removed said smokescreen and presented their policy as a policy to eliminate student prof sexual relationships.
While other small liberal arts colleges passed policies regarding student-faculty relations years ago, CC faculty long struggled to accept such regulations. Ragan confirms that “we are the last of the top twenty-five liberal arts colleges” to pass such a policy regarding student-faculty relations. Williams and Carleton approved sexual conduct policies regarding faculty/student relationships in 1990 and 1992, respectively. Both schools have revised them since. When Pascoe arrived at CC a year and a half ago, she said that she was “horrified” to find that the college had no policy regarding faculty/student relationships. Bresnahan confirms that CC was not oblivious to the problem and has been working to engineer a policy since she joined the faculty eleven years ago. The policy simply has failed to pass until now.
Now why would Pascoe who is an accomplished sociologist be horrified by the lack of a student professor policy banning sex? I would love Professor Pascoe to elaborate on the nature of her being horrified. As for the policy not passing muster until now, the dankprofessor view is that such an invasive and ill advised policy should never pass muster.
There are several reasons behind the CC administration’s delay in acknowledging problems surrounding sexual relations between students and faculty. Ragan explains that the “liberal spirit of individualism at this school” may be partially responsible for the delay in formalizing a policy. This value may follow the Enlightenment belief that all adults are equal and should have the freedom to rationally pursue their interests. Following the block three meeting, one male faculty member complained to me that the administration should not police student/faculty relations because both parties are adults. This contention aligns with the attitude that CC students and faculty alike are mature adults. Accordingly, they should maintain the freedom to pursue relationships with whomever they choose.
Yes, yes and yes again in reference to the prior paragraph. Enlightenment values, the right of adults to choose their dates and mates should not be subject to infringement by the powers that be.
Pascoe, who teaches the class “Sociology of Sexuality,” finds the assumption that professors and students stand on equal ground in pursuing and maintaining sexual relationships with one another to be flawed. She contends that, across the nation, “Historically, we have seen male professors abuse their power with female students.” This is not to say that the policy does not apply to female professors. But it exists primarily to confront a problem in a society in which, according to Pascoe, “men hold more power than women.”
Assuming Pascoe is correct that persons in the higher position are prone to abuse persons in the lower power position, what Pascoe advocates in no way changes the power dynamic. Such is the case since now we have administrators who become sexual police in the exertion of their power over students and professors in the most intimate and private aspects of their lives. Pascoe must know that to effectively enforce sexual codes of the sort under consideration here, such can only occur in totalitarian police states. Or maybe she is in a state of denial, denying that setting up a bureaucratic process to take away the right of students and professors to have a sexual relationship has nothing to do with taking away the power of both students and professor.
Bresnahan provides an additional explanation as to why CC has hesitated to pass a consensual relations policy. She points to the fact that “a lot of faculty are married to people who used to be students.” According to Bresnahan, these relationships typically form between a male faculty member and a former female student. “The place is run by an old boys’ network,” she argues. “I think women have a hard time being heard here in terms of women’s concerns. If women speak the right language they can be included, but not if they speak as women.”
But Bresnahan does not hear the women who as students married a faculty member. In fact, she overtly insults them as being pawns in an old boys network. I guess their children end up being pawns as well. I suggest that Bresnahan needs a little consciousness raising. Such may lead her to consider the possibility that in her own classes she may have a student who was a child of a former student and professor and now she is taught that her dad was a part of an old boys network and such is her reason for being.
This suggests that there exists a larger problem regarding equality among faculty members at CC. Bresnahan says, “The fact that these documents have not been passed until now is indicative of the chilly climate towards women at CC. Women faculty are not empowered at CC. If they [speak as women], they are shot down, marginalized, and ostracized.”
Bresnahan has spoken and is a woman and she seems to be quite alive and well.
It is clear that a variety of issues lie behind CC’s slow passage of the Consensual Relations policy. The issues of individual choice and gender inequality probably both played a role, and it is difficult to pinpoint just one event to which the college is reacting. The passage of this policy may be, in part, a response to the fear of litigation.
While CC passed this policy in the wake of other similar schools, it opted to completely prohibit sexual relationships between any enrolled student and faculty member—even if the student is not under the evaluative auspices of the faculty member. Williams passed a similar policy in 1990, but chose to only prohibit faculty from engaging in a sexual relationship with a student they had supervisory or evaluative authority over. Williams did not exclude the possibility for consensual relations between a student and faculty member. The Williams College Employee handbook from 2006 states, “Anyone in a position of institutional authority over other persons should be sensitive to the potential for coercion in sexual relationships that also involve professional relationships” [emphasis added]. Unlike CC’s policy, Williams’ specifies the need for sensitivity and good judgment on the part of the faculty, rather than mandating complete prohibition. This difference in approach raises the issue of whether or not CC is reacting too stringently to the pressure for a consensual relations policy.
Bravo to Williams College. And, yes CC is reacting too stringently. But I guess it is a matter of perspective. Such stringent codes will most likely mellow out Professor Pascoe who as previously indicated is horrified by the lack of such codes.
The policy suggests that the College will not force the termination of a relationship, only that it demands the faculty member involved to report “the consensual relationship” and not to serve as a supervisor of that student. This clause reflects an inconsistency in CC’s Consensual Relations policy. While the policy claims to “prohibit” any sexual relationship between a student and a faculty member, it qualifies this claim by stating that the faculty member must report the relationship in order to avoid punishment.
By approving a consensual relations policy, CC remains consistent with standards of other liberal arts colleges. In passing this regulation, CC is demonstrating its commitment to an academic experience where neither faculty nor students are distracted by sexual dynamics. But as one female student who wishes to remain anonymous explains, “Putting a limit on the potential development of student-faculty relationships conflicts with the possibilities for intellectual exploration. Sexuality is not a barrier to the academic experience, but an expression of it.”
Oh, my God, does the writer really believe that the adoption of this code will lead to professors and students not being distracted by sexual dynamics? In the classroom and outside of the classroom, men and women will be attracted and distracted to each other, this includes men being attracted to men and women being attracted to women. No matter what Colorado College does or does not do, the distraction of attraction will continue there unabated.
And the student who stated the following at the end of the article is right on- “Sexuality is not a barrier to the academic experience, but an expression of it.”
Tony Judt has a sort of memoir blog at the New York Review of Books. I find all of his posts to be delightful and insightful. His latest posting is on student professor relationships then and now, mostly then. I encourage my readership to read the entire posting. Following are a couple of excerpts from the post and then my comments.
In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. History was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination—or worse. Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.
Shortly after I took office, a second-year graduate student came by. A former professional ballerina interested in Eastern Europe, she had been encouraged to work with me. I was not teaching that semester, so could have advised her to return another time. Instead, I invited her in. After a closed-door discussion of Hungarian economic reforms, I suggested a course of independent study—beginning the following evening at a local restaurant. A few sessions later, in a fit of bravado, I invited her to the premiere of Oleanna—David Mamet’s lame dramatization of sexual harassment on a college campus.
How to explain such self-destructive behavior? What delusional universe was mine, to suppose that I alone could pass untouched by the punitive prudery of the hour—that the bell of sexual correctness would not toll for me? I knew my Foucault as well as anyone and was familiar with Firestone, Millett, Brownmiller, Faludi, e tutte quante. To say that the girl had irresistible eyes and that my intentions were…unclear would avail me nothing. My excuse? Please Sir, I’m from the ’60s…
Why should I not close my office door or take a student to a play? If I hesitate, have I not internalized the worst sort of communitarian self-censorship—anticipating my own guilt long before I am accused and setting a pusillanimous example for others? Yes: and if only for these reasons I see nothing wrong in my behavior. But were it not for the mandarin self-assurance of my Oxbridge years, I too might lack the courage of my convictions—though I readily concede that the volatile mix of intellectual arrogance and generational exceptionalism can ignite delusions of invulnerability.
Indeed, it is just such a sense of boundless entitlement—taken to extremes—that helps explain Bill Clinton’s self-destructive transgressions or Tony Blair’s insistence that he was right to lie his way into a war whose necessity he alone could assess. But note that for all their brazen philandering and posturing, Clinton and Blair—no less than Bush, Gore, Brown, and so many others of my generation—are still married to their first serious date. I cannot claim as much—I was divorced in 1977 and again in 1986—but in other respects the curious ’60s blend of radical attitudes and domestic convention ensnared me too. So how did I elude the harassment police, who surely were on my tail as I surreptitiously dated my bright-eyed ballerina?
Reader: I married her.
Projecting Judt’s situation into the contemporary academic scene, marriage to ones fantasy girl is no excuse. All that is needed is one third party informant of the Linda Tripp genre. And, of course, almost all universities codes ban “sexual OR amorous” behavior. So any protestation that you waited until marriage for sexual congress to occur is beside the point. Marriage would de facto indicate that there were amorous shenanigans going on.
In any case, I say “bravo” to Tony Judt. He didn’t capitulate to the campus sexual zealots. He shut the sexual regulators out and maintained his sexual autonomy. Too bad that there are hardly any Tony Judt’s into today’s academe. The men and women of the university world let the sexual control freaks have their way with them. If they violate the will of the sexual zealots, they almost always do so deep within the campus closet.
Turns out that Louisiana Tech has no formal regulations regarding student professor relationships. Good for Louisiana Tech. No institutionalized snoopers and no sexual policing by university administrators. But, of course,not everyone is happy with this laissez policy as indicated in this publication–
Student-professor relationships are notoriously messy affairs on college campuses, potentially compromising the classroom interactions between the professor and his students or leaving a professor vulnerable to sexual harassment charges. the lack of any written policy discouraging such actions has student opinion split.
Notoriously messy? Is such really the case? In my pedestrian life as a professor, I do not recollect ever having a notoriously messy relationship with a student. I can’t even recall a highly messy relationship. I can’t even recall any of my colleagues sexual relationships with students as being notoriously messy. At least in my case, maybe this messiness did not occur because the relationships occurred in the context of mutual love and respect.
But, of course, consenting adults have the right to engage in relationships, messy or not messy. Maybe a little messiness makes the relationship a bit more interesting. After all, if there was no initial messing around nothing would have gotten off the ground.
I like this posting by Prof. Janet D. Stemwedel aka as Dr. Free-ride on advising a TA how to deal or cope with his desire to date one of his students. In contrast to almost all postings I have read in this area, she treats the student as a mature person and openly grapples with the complexities of the situation. She does not invoke her own power in telling him what to do. This prof does not views ethics as dictated from above nor does she preach anything in the name of conformity. As for her advice, the only place where I think she is off base is when she advises that the final grading of the student should be by the professor not by the TA. This really is inconsistent with her overall sound notion that the “special” student should not be treated as a special student and be treated just like all the other students. If the student amour’s final grading is by the prof then all the other students final grading should be by the prof.
I am posting the entirely of the student’s question and the good professor’s response. Click here to go to her blog.
Posted on: February 22, 2010 5:04 PM, by Janet D. Stemwedel
By email, a reader asks for advice on a situation in which the personal and the professional seem like they might be on a collision course:
I am a junior at a small (< 2000 students) liberal arts college. I got recruited to be a TA for an upper division science class, and it’s going swimmingly. I’m basically a troubleshooter during labs, which the professor supervises. The problem is that I’ve fallen for one of the students, also a junior. Is it possible for me to ethically date her? The university’s handbooks are little help–sexual harassment is very strictly prohibited, but even faculty are technically allowed to date their students–and my instincts keep flip-flopping. On the one hand, teacher-student relationships are automatically suspect, but on the other I’m not sure that it’s significantly different from TAing the close friends that are in the class.
I obviously have no intention of changing grades or doing anything resembling sexual harassment, and I’m pretty good (sometimes too good) at being objective and keeping work and my social life separate. The grading is also pretty objective, and the professor goes over it to be sure my grades are reasonable. If it is possible, what do I need to look out for? Do I need to inform the professor (she knows I’m friends with the subject of my infatuation)? And in the event that we do go out, do I have to tell her that I grade her tests and labs (it’s unusual for a TA to grade in upper division courses in our department)? It seems like it might be easier if she didn’t know, but it would be at least lying by omission.
I know this probably sounds like it ought to be addressed to Dan Savage, but I’d really appreciate your advice and any advice your readers might have.
Thanks so much,
I’ll allow as how Dan Savage knows a lot, but when was the last time he thought about the ethical challenges of power gradients in educational and training environments?
This is one of those situations that’s hard to avoid in academia, an instance where normal peer relationships are complicated because one of the peers has been given extra responsibility by someone outside of the peer group.
Maybe it’s not as frequent in all-undergraduate institutions, but it’s not at all uncommon in graduate school to end up having one of your friends TA a course you’re taking (which can entail grading your problem sets and exams). My recollection of these grad school courses is that students and TAs alike were driven by a grim determination to get through all the work they had to do. Rather than taking it personally on either end (the wretched problem set one friend submitted, or the painful grade the other friend assigned to that wretched problem set), everyone pretty much assumed an unfeeling, uncaring universe that was out to get us all equally, one way or another.
However, our correspondent here is describing an environment with a baseline of warmer feelings, where members of the junior class are reasonably friendly with each other and the universe is a pretty OK place. An environment where people might even find love.
Except the potential for love here is challenged by a power disparity. A TA may not have a lot of power over his students, but could it be enough to mess things up?
There are some big questions Forbidden Chemistry needs to think about here. High on the list is his ability to fulfill the duties of the TA job. Doing this job well involves helping the students in the lab class so that they have a reasonable shot of getting the experiments to work. This includes being as fair as he can in how he uses his time — not letting a handful of students monopolize his troubleshooting and leaving the rest without the help they need. The job also requires him to do some grading of student work, and to do this as objectively and consistently as he can.
Having a student in the course become a girlfriend could potentially interfere with both of these elements of the job requirements. It might lead, consciously or unconsciously, to a different pattern of providing assistance during the lab periods. And, it might undercut Forbidden Chemistry’s ability to be objective in grading the assignments.
Let’s pause here to recognize that there’s already something a little awkward, as Forbidden Chemistry notes, about grading one’s peers. Even if you’re focused on evaluating their work, it’s hard to keep that completely distinct from evaluating them. And even if you’re clear that it’s just their work you are evaluating, they may not feel as though the lines are that clear when they get their graded work back. I’m inclined to think that this is an issue that professors with TAs who are in the same cohort as the students they are TAing ought to deal with explicitly as they mentor their TAs. (Yes, I think that there ought to be mentoring of one’s TAs, but that’s probably a topic best left to a post of its own.)
Aside from the question of whether a romantic relationship with a student in the course will undercut Forbidden Chemistry’s performance as a TA, there’s also the question of what effects the dynamics of the TA-student relationship could have on his relationship with the object of his affection. How awkward would it be for her to dating someone who’s grading her work? Would she worry that she was being graded more leniently — or, more harshly, if Forbidden Chemistry ends up going too far in an effort not to show favoritism? Even if she were confident that she was getting fair treatment in the class, would her classmates who were not dating a TA share this perception.
Indeed, in some ways the big consequence to fear from asking a student out here is what that would do to Forbidden Chemistry’s relationship with the other students in the class. Would they perceive such a relationship as setting up unfair conditions in the lab course? After all, if Forbidden Chemistry starts dating the object of his affections, they might well start spending a lot more time together. Would this give her greater access to Forbidden Chemistry to get her questions answered about how to make the labs work, or how to analyze the data, or what counts the most on the lab write-ups? The other students might decide that Forbidden Chemistry is falling down on his TA duties if he doesn’t provide them with similar all-access consultations out of class. Maybe this will end up undermining the friendships he had with some of these students before he was the TA for their class.
Finally, Forbidden Chemistry needs to consider the possibility that the object of his affections, if asked out, may decline. How awkward would that make their interactions in the context of the TA-student relationship? How can one party “lie low” after such a rejection without either shirking duties to a student who may need assistance or opting out of getting help she made need from her TA?
So, Forbidden Chemistry wants to find a course of action where he can fulfill his professional and personal obligations, and one that brings about good consequences (and minimizes bad consequences) for himself, the object of his affections, the other students in the course, and the professor supervising him.
Here’s my advice:
Wait until the end of the semester, until the grades are out of your hands. This has the very best chance of keeping professional duties and personal duties from getting tangled up and pulling in opposite directions.
Given that there is a preexisting friendship in place, though — indeed, a web of preexisting social relationships within the junior class — it’s not unthinkable that an innocent interaction in a social context might get something started. As the romance novelists might put it, maybe despite Forbidden Chemistry’s best efforts, his heart (and that of his beloved) will not be denied. If this happens, do not opt for stealth and try to keep it secret. At a small college, the chances of actually keeping a secret like this are vanishingly small. Moreover, the appearance of a cover-up is likely to have worse effects (especially on Forbidden Chemistry’s professional interactions with the students in the course) than the relationship itself.
While Forbidden Chemistry and his beloved are avoiding hiding in the shadows, though, Forbidden Chemistry will need to take concrete steps to ensure fairness.
In the lab, Forbidden Chemistry will want to keep track of troubleshooting time, to make sure all the students who need his help are getting a fair slice of that time.
Also, I’d think Forbidden Chemistry would need to let the professor for the course grade the girlfriend’s work. To make this easier on the prof, and to maximize the chances for objective grading across the students in the class, this means Forbidden Chemistry should grade all the other papers first; the prof can then use these graded papers as a guide to partial credit. (Alternatively, Forbidden Chemistry can devise a “grading guide” that captures all the point assignments, and hand this over to the professor, with the other graded papers as an additional reference.) Of course, it’s probably fairest if Forbidden Chemistry doesn’t even look at the girlfriend’s paper before grading the other papers and making a grading guide.
There is a chance that the professor for the class will view this sort of effort to avoid a conflict of interest as responsible. There is also a chance that the professor for the class will view this sort of effort to avoid a conflict of interest as a pain in the ass for her. Suddenly she has grading to do that she didn’t have to do before! Couldn’t Forbidden Chemistry just wait until the course is over? Why can’t college juniors separate business and pleasure? However, recall that the context already in place has Forbidden Chemistry grading friends. College life, especially at small residential colleges, tends already to mix business and pleasure. So maybe there is already good reason for professors to have discussions with their TAs about the general issue of how to manage professional and personal responsibilities when worlds collide.
And, if Forbidden Chemistry ends up dating his student before the term is over, he and she must commit to keeping their interactions in the lab all business. Even if the relationship isn’t a secret, and even if no one says anything about it, people will be watching.
Again, I’m inclined to think that if the feelings are real, they’ll be robust enough to pursue after grades are filed. But if something mutual blossoms before then, be grown-ups about it and take the steps you need to in order to ensure your effectiveness as a TA isn’t compromised — including admitting that some situations don’t help our objectivity, and making arrangements to get help from someone not in this particular crucible of love.
Thank you very much for taking the on-line sexual harassment training program that was recently offered by the University. Preventing sexual harassment on campus is the responsibility of all of us. I greatly appreciate your participation.
One concern has been raised regarding the training program. The specific scenario of concern involved a faculty member taking a student to dinner on a weekend. The program indicated that this conduct was not, in and of itself, sexual harassment.
The University wants to make clear that while this might not be sexual harassment in the absence of other facts, it is not good practice to engage in this type of activity with students as it can clearly lead to charges of sexual harassment. Of course, University policy forbids any faculty member from having a dating relationship with any student with whom he or she has a teaching, research or advisor relationship.
I am not sure what university issued the above statement. Link is provided so those who are familiar with the script may be able to determine which university.
Of course, the absurdity is apparent. The dankprofessor notes that it is not clear that having dinner with a student can lead to harassment. The risk of food poisoning, of indigestion, of soup slurping would seem to be higher risk behaviors. In any case, if one is interested in having a better understanding of this scenario maybe the scenario should be fleshed out a bit, such as the dinner being in celebration of the student graduating, or of the student being accepted into a graduate program or a gesture in helping the student deal with a death in her family. Or maybe a result of a mutual attraction which could lead to a dating relationship and to marriage and to parentage and to divorce.
But as noted by the higher authority- “Of course, University policy forbids any faculty member from having a dating relationship with any student with whom he or she has a teaching, research or advisor relationship.”
But if one really attempted to live by these rules one could end up being normal and engaging in everyday worship of the God of Normal and, of course, engaging in appropriate dining behavior
As has been clearly demonstrated over the last few days, violence is no stranger to university campuses. Although it is more frequently violence by students toward other students and toward faculty, faculty to faculty violence is not unknown as was clearly demonstrated at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. We also find there to be faculty violence toward students as recently occurred at Otago University in New Zealand where student Sophie Elliot was murdered by lecturer Clayton Weathersome.
What makes the Otago U tragic murder different is that some people have come up with a way to prevent such violence. They say the way to do this is to have stringent measures taken against faculty who become sexually involved with a student. You see the Elliot/Weathersome affair and then murder was a student/prof affair.
Otago University has under taken a review of rules on staff-student romances, a review which was sparked by the brutal murder. Persons, both inside and outside of the university, have been encouraged to make submissions on the issue. Elliott’s mother Lesley said she wanted vulnerable students who entered into relationships with university academics to be supervised and counseled, and for the academics involved to immediately resign.
The reaction of the mother of the murdered student is understandable, but unfortunately all too often emotion carries the day when it comes to draconian measures enacted in the attempt to control violence, particularly sexual violence.
To view student professor intimate relationships as somehow intrinsically fostering violence is outrageous. 99.999 percent of such relationships do not lead to lethal violence. If one was going to focus on relationships that are more likely to lead to violence and lethal violence, such would be student/student relationships. And, of course, when it comes to campus violence and violence in general, alcohol consumption should be a major area of concern.
The mother stated-
“I feel something should be in the employment contract of staff to the effect that if a relationship develops, they are obliged to resign. We think this policy also needs to be highlighted to students… If students knew a person would have to resign, they may have second thoughts about going out with staff.”
Now it is this last line that irks the dankprofessor. No student should have second thoughts about going out with a staff member because of this one tragic case. And, of course, if this sort of thinking is taken seriously, then any person, student or non-student, would have concerns about going out with a lecturer because of the violence implication.
Now I know that some will say I am overreacting to the ramblings of a distraught mother. Unfortunately, such is often how universities end up imposing stringent controls on student professor relationships. People become distraught and want immediate action, and universities respond by not dealing with violence or coercion or sexual harassment but rather by demeaning those who are involved in consensual relationships.
Let us hope that Otago University does not go in the aforementioned direction. What student professor couples want is what most other couples want and that is to be left alone as they pursue their mutual romantic goals. To consider these couples as sort of criminal couples is not only absurd but is also criminal.
So a Canadian study has found that “people who buy sex are no more violent than the general population, and any legislation about prostitution should not be based on the incorrect belief that all johns are abusive”, says a Simon Fraser University sociologist researching the subject.
Chris Atchison surveyed more than 1,000 johns between June 2008 and April 2009 for his controversial study, entitled Johns’ Voice.
Based on about 1,000 anonymous online responses and 24 in-depth interviews, Atchison concluded that johns do not appear to be any more aggressive than the rest of the population and should therefore not be painted as uniformly evil.
He said 1.9 per cent reported having hit, pushed or physically attacked a prostitute, one per cent reported having raped or sexually assaulted a prostitute and 1.7 per cent reported having robbed a prostitute.
“The question becomes, ‘How different are sex buyers from any other member of the population?'” said Atchison.
OK, the dankprofessor must have been pretty naïve- I didn’t know that people believed that men who patronized sex workers were more violent than men who did not. I guess this is on the same level of the idea that pornography causes male viewers to go out and rape. Of course, everyone knows that pornography overwhelmingly causes men to stay home and masturbate. But then again masturbation is a form of self-abuse. So I guess one just can’t get away from the idea that sex is harmful to self and if not to self then to others.
But there is more as reported in the Vancouver Sun
The study drew strong criticism from some quarters.
“It’s an outrageous study and it really works towards normalizing sexual assault,” said Aurea Flynn of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.
“I’m really angry about the emphasis on the compassion for johns that the study provides and I’m very concerned about its impact on the continued normalization of prostitution in Canada because I believe prostitution is violence against women.”
Flynn was particularly angered by what she called the demonizing of a marginalized population that is often forced into the sex trade due to a lack of options.
Atchison said 79.9 per cent of johns surveyed wanted prostitution legalized for “altruistic reasons,” such as to protect prostitutes with health and safety regulations.
But Flynn said: “I believe that is the johns wanting to protect themselves from contracting diseases, which they are very afraid of.
“If they really wanted to help women, they’d be fighting for better welfare rates, universal child care, universal education and job skills training.”
She believes the legalization of prostitution would increase human trafficking and the exploitation of women.
The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter — which defines prostitution itself as an act of violence — actively campaigns for its abolition.
And so it goes- prostitution is violence even though it be consensual sex. But what the dankprofessor has learned in this short blog posting is that money is the ultimate arbiter. Consensual sex turns into violence if you add a financial component. The money does the talking. So the dankprofessor’s advice to men who want to play it safe- empty your pockets before engaging in any kind of sexual fraternization.
OK, one more note- Aurea Flynn of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter says she is really angry regarding the results of the study. She fears that people may become more empathetic toward johns. As for my empathy, I can feel Ms. Flynn’s anger. I suggest she take her anger home and in the privacy of her home, she relax and try to get some relief.
I encourage any one who wishes to have a fuller understanding of rape and its long term and short term consequences to read Samskara’s presentation and analysis of her rape. In the context of her rape experience, Samskara explains why the so-called facts presented by Samantha Geimer, the alleged rape victim of Roman Polanski, leads her to conclude that Geimer was not a victim of forcible rape.
This is a must read for anyone seriously interested in the Polanski case and rape in general. I hope readers circulate this so it might come to the attention of Polanski and/or his legal defenders.
In recent years there has been a major change in university policies banning student prof sexual relationships. The change has been the incorporation of “sexual or amorous” relationships. Almost all new or revised statements incorporate amorous relationships, eg, the new Yale statement incorporates amorous. And this change has been without critical comment.
The dankprofessor has been delinquent in addressing the incorporation of amorous. No longer will such be the case.
OK, let’s start out by being quite clear that these policies do not state sexual AND amorous; it is sexual OR amorous. So said policies definitely cover relationships that may not have a sexual component. This hugely increases the size of the population covered by the anti-fraternization policies.
We all know that being in love, that falling in love can occur without sex. And we know that some loving couples do not engage in sex because for one reason or the other they feel the time is not right. And some loving couples believe that their relationship should not be consummated until marriage. The makers of these policies know this, including the erudite members of the Yale Women Faculty Forum who play a critical role in creating Yale policy.
So are we really confronted here not just with a war against student prof sex but also a war against student prof love? On the surface, the answer is yes, but there is more, much more.
The reality is that if there was just a ban on sex between student and professors, many couples would be untouchable. They would be untouchable because they could simply deny having sex and there would be no one available who could dispute this. Faculty and students come under suspicion based on words and deeds, and appearances. Loving words, walking too close to a student, being seen too often with a student, having dinner with a student, notes of love to a student, loving emails to a student, a look of love directed toward a student or a look of love directed to the professor, this is what gets people in trouble. The assumption that underlying all of the foregoing is sex is just that- an assumption.
And, of course, what the amorous clause does is to not make it necessary to prove that sex has occurred. For the accusers, staying at the amorous level is just fine. Being found to be amorous with a student makes one a sex code violator.
But there is still more. What the amorous clause does is to make all close relationships with a student suspect. And therefore to diminish the possibility of becoming suspect many faculty refuse to be close with any particular student. Or for some profs playing it safe means that all interactions with students occur in a group context, never on a one to one basis. Sure having lunch with a student is OK as long as there are others who are partaking in said lunch.
It comes down to professors keeping their distance, and student professor couples becoming more and more closeted. Such is the nature of contemporary university life.
The dankprofessor has been very critical of university policy statements on consensual relationships regulating student professor sexual relationships. Invariably these policies function to degrade both students and professors and subject professors to disciplinary actions, sometimes actions that include dismissal.
Now the West Hills Community College District has come up with a policy statement that is minimally invasive and punitive and not degrading of student prof couples. There are still some problems. So here it is followed by my comments-
Romantic or sexual relationships between supervisors and employees or between administrators, faculty or staff members and students are discouraged. There is an inherent imbalance of power and potential for exploitation in such relationships. A conflict of interest may arise if the administrator, faculty or staff member must evaluate the student’s or employee’s work or make decisions affectingthe employee or student. The relationship may create an appearance of impropriety and lead to charges of favoritism by other students or employees. A consensual sexual relationship may change, with the result that sexual conduct that was once welcome becomes unwelcome and harassing. In the event that such relationships do occur, the District has the authority to transfer any involved employee to eliminate or attenuate the supervisory authority of one over the other, or of a teacher over a student. Such action by the District is a proactive and preventive measure to avoid possible charges of harassment and does not constitute discipline against any affected employee.
Note that throughout this statement MAY is used, such as “A conflict of interest may arise…” There is a POTENTIAL for exploitation. Of course, all relationships have a MAY; there is nothing intrinsic about relationships that pre-determine a result. But most policy statements have no may and simply state that there is a conflict of interest, etc.
The major difference in the policy is that there will be no “discipline taken against any affected employee.” Bravo to West Hills. Of course, never ever should there have been any discipline taken against any party to a consensual relationship at any university.
But there is one caveat regarding the goodness of this policy and that is the statement that “the District has the authority to transfer any involved employee to eliminate or attenuate the supervisory authority of one over the other, or of a teacher over a student.” OK, most policies state that the university can unilaterally pull out a student from the class. This policy leaves that out which is good, but pulling out a prof from a class in the middle of a semester functions to disrupt the entire class and may lead to punishing an entire class of students.
The dankprofessor still believes that this policy is a step in the right direction.
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