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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
The insidehighereducation article, A Bathroom of Her Own(along with the comments) on gender segregated or gender integrated bathrooms in college dormitories explores just about all the issues/concerns/solutions regarding the gendering of bathrooms in college dorms. The dankprofessor hold that this is a must read article for persons who are seriously interested in campus sexual and gender politics.
Almost all but not all the issues are explored in the article, such as why the all gender bathroom option does not exist on the campus as a whole? Or why should the option only apply to dorms?
On some of the campuses where there are non-gendered bathrooms, there are still faculty and non-faculty bathrooms. I have no doubt that the existence of non-gendered bathrooms on campus with no attention given to student, faculty or staff status would not be given the green light. Why? Potential sexual harassment issues would be immediately brought up as well as fraternization issues- if persons who are banned from having sex with each other are allowed to frequent the same bathroom said bans would be undermined. Or to put it in other terms, bathroom fraternization could very well lead to the undermining of the whole campus stratification system.
No mattter what is happening in the dorms, outside of the dorms whether it be at Oberlin or Williams or Reed, et. al, people are expected to know their place. People who are seen out of place may very well be at risk of being displaced or replaced.
Deresiewicz is one of the very few academics who has directly opposed what has become a campus “truth” which is that female students never initiate anything sexual with a professor. Almost all campus fraternization policies say that such is the case. Female students are never seen as having any agency in this area. Female students are not seen as being attracted to male profs.
Deresiewicz puts it in in these terms:
Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul. Students will sometimes mistake this earthquake for sexual attraction…
I think that Deresiewicz has it right in terms of professors igniting students, at least some of the students some of the time. Of course, there are many profs who never ignite students. I surmise that it is the non-igniting professors who are the profs who are likely to become involved in sexual harassment charges; their advances are hardly ever welcomed by students. On the other hand, the fully engaged and engaging professors are the ones likely to become involved in consensual sexual relationships with students since they are dealing with students who are ignited as a byproduct of their involvement in the class. Or to put it in what may be overly simplified terms, professors who love teaching their subject are likely to become the subject of student love. Of course, in the end Deresiewicz cops out- the students are mistaken, their “earthquake” has nothing to do with sexual attraction;
professors should help these jolted students avoid the excesses of campus love.
What Deresiewicz also fails to understand is that what he calls an earthquake experience is not unique to female students on campus. In traditional terms, such is called being swept away. The swept away feeling although applicable to both men and women, tends to be viewed as more often sought and experienced by women. It is also used as a rationale for having sex-
“he just swept me off my feet”- although the swept away feeling may be less often invoked for sex in todays hookup and binge drinking campus culture.
Now someone who understands the swept away experience is unlikely to state to the swept away, as Deresiewicz states, that ‘you are mistaken, you are not really attracted to the prof, you are just experiencing brain sex.’ The dankprofessor response to Deresiewicz and others giving this sort of counsel to the swept way is that the professor counselors know little or nothing about love and romance and sex in the real world. The fact that they often attempt to enforce their sexual biases as formal campus rules for sexual behavior is otherworldly. What we pedestrian students and professors are often left with are campus administrators who suffer from both puffery and buffoonery in their everyday campus sexual rule making and enforcing.
Daphne Patai has written a powerful critique of university policies on student professor relationships and on sexual harassment policies in the context of writing a review essay on six novels dealing with university life. Following are excerpts from her essay focusing on Roth’s THE DYING ANIMAL which has been adapted as a movie under the title, ELEGY and Prose’s BLUE ANGEL. All six novels are listed at the end of the essay.
Excerpted from Daphne Patai, “Academic Affairs,” SEXUALITY AND CULTURE, vol. 6, No. 2, June 2002, pp.65-96.
The original publication of this review is located at
While academic bureaucrats busied themselves in the 1990s with a
quixotic but persistent attempt to regulate both speech and personal interactions on their campuses, a group of creative writers struck blows against such a narrowing of our lives by providing us with delicate and nuanced, or satirical and scathing, imaginings of the complexities of actual relationships between real (though fictional) persons who find themselves caught up in the new vigilantism.
Their novels demonstrate that the politically correct script of male/professorial power and female/student powerlessness is a pathetically thin distortion which negates the texture of human life and produces little but propaganda tracts ranting against a purported patriarchy and its hapless victims. In the hands of a spirited and talented writer, the resources of fictional narrative–its potential for shifting points of view, for negotiating huge jumps in time and sudden reversals, for interior monologues and musings, startling imagery and evocative turns of phrase—can at least attempt to do justice to the dense inner life and complex events that define human existence, in the academy and out of it.
The novels under discussion here take for granted a reality so simple
and obvious that it has somehow escaped the notice of many social
critics. People meet each other, and that is how relationshipsbegin.
Many of these encounters take place in schools and workplaces,
where people spend most of their waking hours. Given
thesecircumstances, it is likely that many of the ensuing interactions
will be tainted by one or another kind of “asymmetry,” since no two
humans are exactly alike or occupy precisely the same
positions.What makes the concept of asymmetrical relationships
resonate so negatively in the minds of those who would govern
personal interactions is, of course, the obsession with power.
Asymmetrical relations are bad–so this line of thinking goes–
because no romantic or sexual intimacy should exist where one
person has power over another. Such power imbalances are
inherently evil to those for whom a simplistic conception of
“equality” has become the standard of justifiable social relations.
This phenomenally narrow viewpoint ignores the obvious fact that
the “power” people act out in their relationships is of many and
varied types, and that one person’s predominance in one sphere is
often matched by the others in another sphere. Who has more
brains? More charm? Morebeauty? More vigor? Greater emotional
resources? Better health? Better taste? Not to mention more wealth,
status, and all the other material aspects of life? Might a professor’s
ability to give a bad grade not be countered by his student’s
opportunity to write him a
damaging evaluation? And is not virtually all professorial omnipotence
these days trumped by the threat that the “weaker” party (ostensibly
the student) might initiate a complaint against some
supposedly offensive word or gesture that may or may not have
actually occurred? A mere moment’s reflection reveals that the usual
critique of asymmetrical relations relies on a stunted and feeble
definition that is stacked–and of course is meant to be against
Sex is power, yes; but so are brains, charm, wealth, status, and,
as Philip Roth teaches us over and over again, health and youth.
But since it’s patently absurd to try to outlaw relationships defined
by all or any of these inequalities, the new academic vigilantes
go for the broadest possible category and thus simply target
all personal interactions. For who is there on campus who is not
hierarchically differentiated from some other individual one way
or another? The overly broad definitions of “sexual harassment”
that have ensued, which invariably include “verbal acts” that may
make someone uncomfortable, allow all other imbalances to be
covered, by implication. And the stigma resulting from a charge
of sexual or verbal harassment is so great (and the financial stakes
of potential law suits so high) that, these days, a charge of harassment–
a mere accusation, however flimsy, however transparently
fabricated–may well cost the accused his (for men are the primary
Unable to do away with “power” altogether (and without even
considering seriously whether it would be desirable, let alone remotely
possible, to do so), we scurry to regulate relationships. For
the Church fathers’ view of women as representing sexual danger,
capable of luring men from their higher concerns, we have substituted
an opposing view that now dominates our secular society: of
men as a threat to women, compromising, impeding, and exploiting
them at every turn. And since the pattern of young women
seeking out older and more accomplished men does not seem to be
retreating in the face of feminist critiques, what can we hope to do
but discourage those relationships as best we can by stigmatizing
flirtation, invitations, stares, touches, jokes (all of these explicitly
addressed by the latest sexual harassment policy of my own university)
even when they have nothing to do with sexual extortion
or coercion but are merely incidents of ordinary human interaction?
Fortunately, the current preeminence of sexual harassment specialists
and other micromanagers of collegiate life is not without
challenge, as the novels under discussion here demonstrate. True,
these literary works (and others of similar tenor) are small in number-
nothing to compare to the thousands of sexual harassment
codes the vigilantes have composed and are attempting to enforce,
egged on by the federal government and fortified by some rulings
signed into law by, ironically, Bill Clinton. But long after sexual
harassment codes are gone, these novels will be read both as reflections
of American life in the late twentieth century and as examples
of the unique abilities of fiction to reveal the human condition
in all its subtle intricacies and embroilments…
The Human Stain is the third novel in what Roth (in a New York
Times interview conducted with Charles McGrath, May 7, 2000)
described as a “thematic trilogy, dealing with the historical moments
in postwar American life that have had the greatest impact
on my generation”–the McCarthy era, the Vietnam War, and the
impeachment of Bill Clinton each story told through the mediating
perspective of Nathan Zuckerman, whom Roth has referred to
as his “alter brain” The first work in the trilogy was American
Pastoral, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, followed a year later
by I Married a Communist. The Human Stain, in turn, was succeeded
by a short novel once again taking up a character-narrator
we have met before. The Dying Animal, Roth’s most recent novel,
ressurrects David Kepesh, first introduced in 1972 in a Kafkaesque
novel The Breast, and narrator as well of Roth’s controversial 1977
novel The Professor of Desire. Now 70 years of age, Kepesh, in
The Dying Animal, relates the story of his affair, eight years earlier,
with Consuela Castillo, a 24-year-old Cuban-American student of
his, possessed of enormous “erotic power” that is both “elemental
and elegant” (p. 98). Roth does not directly address the issue of
current attempts to regulate professor-student relations except
to ironically note Kepesh’s habit of avoiding involvement with
his students till the semester is over and grades are turned in, at
which time he typically invites them all for a party at his house and
notes which ones stay late. Who is pursuing whom in his various
relationships is never entirely clear. But some of these studentteacher
liaisons persist in the form of lasting friendships, as we
learn near the novel’s end.
Kepesh speaks in a monologue to an unidentified interlocutor
whose questions and comments are implicit in Kepesh’s answers,
but who only on the novel’s very last page (just as in Portnoy’s
Complaint) responds and, indeed, is given the last word. No longer
a professor in The Dying Animal, Kepesh is now a well-known
culture critic and media personality. In laborious detail, on an occasion
that is revealed only at the novel’s end, he tells the story of his
obsession with Consuela, whose voluptuous beauty–and especially
her gorgeous breasts–enraptured him. A year and a half into
their affair, she breaks it off in anger over his failure to put in an
appearance at her graduation party. Recalling this episode, Kepesh
The smartest thing I did was not to show up there. Because I had been
yielding and yielding in ways that I didn’t understand. The longing never
disappeared even while I had her. The primary emotion, as I’ve said, was
longing. It’s still longing. There’s no relief from the longing and my sense
of myself as a supplicant. There it is: you have it when you’re with her and
you have it when you’re without her. (pp. 94-95)
But Kepesh by his own account then spent three more years
longing for her, and a few years beyond that she suddenly re-enters
his life, bringing not joy but tragedy as she tells him she has breast
cancer and not great odds for survival. Kepesh is not particularly
admirable (nor does Roth attempt to make him so) as he confesses
his dismay at the thought of her soon-to-be “mutilated” body, which
undoes his sexual desire even as his heart breaks with tenderness
for her plight (p. 138). Why has she come back? Apparently to ask
Kepesh to photograph, before her surgery, the breasts he so adored.
In recounting his affair, Kepesh delineates his indefatigable efforts
to avoid emotional entanglement and to hang on to physical
lust as the wellspring of manly energy, always contrasted to the
death-in-life that he considers marriage to be. Roth even subjects
Kepesh to some scathing analyses by a disgruntled middle-aged
son (from a failed early marriage that he’d walked out of), telling it
as he sees it, and often quite on target about his father’s many faults
Seducing defenseless students, pursuing one’s sexual interests at the expense
of everyone else–that’s so very necessary, is it? No, necessity is
staying in a difficult marriage and raising a little child and meeting the
responsibilities of an adult. (p. 90)
But none of this sensible criticism detracts from the compelling
narrative Kepesh weaves, with its topsy-turvy version of who’s
really in control in this affair between an older man, who sees the
end in sight, and an exuberantly beautiful much younger woman
who shouldn’t have to face her mortality but does, out of season.
Time, Kepesh says, for the young is always made up of what is
past; but for Consuela, sick with breast cancer,
time is now how much future she has left, …Now she measures time counting
forward, counting time by the closeness of death …. her sense of time is
now the same as mine, speeded up and more forlorn even than mine. She,
in fact, has overtaken me. (p. 149)
It is Kepesh’s intimate friend, George O’Hearn, who, in analyzing
Kepesh’s predicament after the affair with Consuela ended,
evokes the earlier novel’s image of Kepesh as “the professor of
desire” (p. 99). Recognizing that Kepesh will “always be powerless
with this girl” (p. 98), O’Hearn urges him to avoid all contact
with her. Lust and life are one thing; love quite another, and O’Heam
worries that Kepesh is “failing in love” Far from restoring a Platonic
unity to the lovers, O’Hearn argues, love is a danger, because,
“love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked
open” (p. 101).
But if it is Consuela’s “erotic power” that has kept Kepesh in
thrall to her, the only power he, by contrast, held over her, Kepesh
believes, was his pedagogy, his ability to instruct her in music and
literature (p. 101). Most importantly, orgasm, for Kepesh, meant a
momentary end to the sickness that is desire. It is in this context that
he cites Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” from which the novel takes
its melancholy title, alluding to the process of aging:
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is. (p. 103)
Even a dying animal, however, can retain some sense of propriety.
“Ridiculousness” to Kepesh, is relinquishing one’s freedom
voluntarily (p. 104). While fully recognizing this, he had not been
able in his relationship with Consuela to avoid it and had experienced
emotions unbearable to him: jealousy and attachment: “No,
not even fucking can stay totally pure and protected, “Kepesh says
(p. 105), in lines similar to those spoken by Faunia Farley in The
Human Stain. What makes his suffering touch the reader is that
Kepesh doesn’t even know just what he’s longing for: “Her tits?
Her soul? Her youth? Her simple mind? Maybe it’s worse than
that–maybe now that I’m nearing death, I also long secretly not to
be free” (p. 106).
In a nasty review of The Dying Animal feebly entitled “Tedium
of the Gropes of Roth” (The limes [London], 27 June 2001), Elaine
Showalter dismisses the novel as “cowardly, sterile, and intellectually
shallow.” She can muster no sympathy for Kepesh’s insistence
on his “freedom” as being the fulfillment of American individualism.
Showalter considers the novel’s ending to be its protagonist’s
one shot at being a “mensch” a shot we’re not sure he’ll take. But
the novel’s focus on a man who uses sex as a weapon against his
mortality is no reason to despise it, unless we are prepared to judge
all works of art on the basis of whether their civic message is one
we wish to endorse. Showalter quotes with disdain Roth’s line about
the “astonishing fellators” found in this generation of young women
(~ la Lewinsky). Another reviewer, Anthony Quinn, refers to
Kepesh’s obsession with Consuela’s gorgeous breasts as “just a bit
creepy and objectifying” (“An Old Man’s Fancy,” The Times [London],
24 June 2001). It appears that critics are not very eager to
hear what Roth is really saying. We seem to want our aging men to
be heroes, mature and wise. We don’t like seeing them as vulnerable
individuals not yet finished with sexual desire, as Roth insists
on representing them.
To immerse oneself in Roth’s bold and erotic prose is to confront,
however unwillingly, the habitual denigration of eroticism in
American society, which celebrates the marriage-and-commitment
narrative despite its notorious failures in our time. Roth’s Kepesh
wants never to pay any price for his sexual indulgences and egocentric
behavior. But his protest against age and infirmity, his insistence
that desire continues, that sex can be an affirmation of life
against the inevitability of decay and loss–all these are worth hearing,
even coming from a character as complicatedly unsympathetic
as David Kepesh…
Starting with his first novel, Goodbye, Columbus, and ending
with The Dying Animal, his latest one, Philip Roth has, over a 40
year period, lavished an unflagging energy on the effort to dissect
the sexual and emotional lives of male protagonists who often resemble
himself (Jewish author/professors with little talent for marriage
and a great taste for self-analysis). What is at times referred to
by critics as his “misogyny” is, it seems to me, rather a willingness
to probe the heart of the egocentricity and lust that drive his male
characters. It takes courage to do this in Roth’s unabashed way, to
celebrate–as he does in The Dying Animal–“the charm of the
surreptitious” and to make such provocative statements as: “Marriage
at its best is a sure-fire stimulant to the thrills of licentious
subterfuge” (p. 110). Roth does not allow us to see his narrators
and protagonists as unproblematic or admirable exemplars. Nor
does he–like critics such as Bell Hooks and Jane Gallop defend
“asymmetrical” relationships on the self-congratulatory grounds that
brilliant professors and their best students are naturally attracted to
one another and that these associations are crucial to the intellec
tual and creative development of both. He insists that such relationships
need no academic defense. He makes no pretense that there
is a cerebral or pedagogic value to them. Life and lust are their own
justification. Nor does he, on the other hand, idealize the ensuing
relationships. Far from it, he exposes their seaminess and comic
aspects, but also the passion and vulnerabilities from which they
spring, above all the vulnerability of older men confronting their
fear of aging and death, susceptible to female sexual power in a
manner that is presented poignantly and, I suspect, realistically…
Quite a different emphasis governs Francine Prose’s latest novel,
Blue Angel, a darkly comic story of a besotted 47-year-old writing
professor and the talented and ambitious 19-year-old student who
causes his downfall. In a witty and biting third-person narrative
confined strictly to the point of view of her protagonist, Ted
Swenson, Prose exposes the smelly little orthodoxies (as Orwell
put it, in quite another context) of the contemporary academic scene.
Because this novel of a professor ruined by sexual harassment
charges is of particular relevance to the travesties of justice actually
being played out on many university campuses today, it is worth
considering it in some detail.
Ted Swenson, a writer-in-residence at Eust,on College in northern
Vermont, has been married for twenty-one years and is still in
love with his wife, Sherrie, and capable of, as she puts it, “leering”
at her. As a professor in contemporary America, however, he knows
the rules, and the narrative gives us his thoughts about them:
Such are the pleasures of intimacy: he can look [at Sherrie] as long as he
wants. Given the current political climate, you’d better be having consensual
matrimonial sex with a woman before you risk this stare. (p. 16)
At his college’s obligatory meeting to review the sexual harassment
policy, Swenson thinks heretical thoughts:
What if someone rose to say what so many of them are thinking, that
there’s something erotic about the act of teaching, all that information
streaming back and forth like some…bodily fluid. Doesn’t Genesis trace
sex to that first bite of apple, not the fruit from just any tree, but the Tree of
Knowledge? (p. 22, italics in original)
Devoted to his wife and daughter, Swenson acknowledges that
“teacher-student attraction is an occupational hazard” and has therefore
avoided entanglements with his students, though over the years
several have made overtures to him. And he’s well aware, too, of a
case at the State university (where his daughter Ruby studies), involving
a professor who, while showing a classical Greek sculpture
of a female nude, had commented “Yum” Accusing him of
“leering” his students charged that he’d made them uncomfortable.
Suspended without pay, the professor had taken his case to
court. Swenson is wary of a similar climate at his own college, and
of the increasing power of the “Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance”
waiting to pounce on any male word or gesture. And he is suspicious
of a colleague who is head of the Alliance and is also the
English Department’s “expert in the feminist misreading of literature?’
For reasons he can’t fathom (but guesses it’s a “testosterone
allergy”), she seems to want him dead.
How, then, after so many years of sound judgment, does it happen
that he falls into the role of Professor Rath to his student’s Lola
Lola (as in the classic film The Blue Angel, from which the novel
takes its title)? Prose’s autopsy of Swenson’s fall is a bracing work,
funny and sly and politically incorrect at every turn, right up until
the end when Swenson realizes that the movie he should have been
watching was not The Blue Angel but All About Eve.
Can a talent for writing be a seducer? In the case of Ted Swenson,
decades of teaching “creative writing” to mediocre students (whose
stories, often involving bestiality, we get to sample), along with ten
frustrating years of never quite getting around to working on his
long-awaited third novel, have left him fatally vulnerable to talent,
no matter how unlikely its source.
Angela Argo is far from the best looking young woman in
Swenson’s class at Euston College. In fact, she has sat for weeks
squirming and sighing instead of speaking, calling attention to herself
primarily by means of her abundant face piercing, the orange
and green streaks in her hair, and the black leather motorcycle jacket
with theme-related accouterments that covers her skinny body.
But poor Swenson has few defenses against the spark of talent
that Angela reveals to him after seeking a meeting in his office.
And his first reaction to her work is the very thing that today gets
professors in trouble: differential treatment. Wanting to protect her
talent from the ritual hazing that his class has turned into as students
savage one another’s writing week after week, he agrees to
read and comment on Angela’s work in private. Thus begins the
special relationship–initiated by Angela at each successive stage–
that will eventually cost him his reputation, his job, and his marriage.
Interwoven into this realistic tale of a contemporary campus liaison
is a sympathetic portrait of the plight of writing teachers and of
writers, especially those stuck in a dry season that can last a decade.
The novel captures perfectly Swenson’s enraptured response
to the discovery of Angela’s talent. It is a generous, tender response.
Swenson is alert to the students’ ambiguous attitude toward him:
“He’s the teacher, they’re the students: a distinction they like to
blur, then make again, as needed” (p. 10). But this sensibility and
foreknowledge won’t save him from enthusiastically gravitating
toward the genuinely talented. And as Angela feeds him chapter
after chapter of her novel, Swenson falls into the very mistake he
constantly warns his students against: taking the story as autobiography.
Thus, he begins to imagine that he himself is the teacher Angela’s
protagonist is enamoured of, and that her first-person narrative is really
a confession, made to him privately, of her troubled life.
It doesn’t help matters much when a colleague who teaches poetry
tells him about the graphic sexual poems Angela had written
for that class. Soon the sexual content of Angela’s writing and her
intense anticipation of Swenson’s reactions week by week lead
him to sexual fantasies about her. When she says that she thinks all
the time about his reactions to her writing, what he hears is that
“she thinks about him all the rime” (p. 158). So they lurch from one
encounter to the next, each less clear than the last. Everything in
their relationship initially revolves around her writing–her eagerness
for his reaction; her computer’s collapse, which leads her to
ask him to take her shopping for a new one, and in turn leads to his
presence in her dorm room whose door (he finds out later) she’d
locked as soon as they had entered.
Francine Prose explores with great subtlety Swenson’s seduction
and betrayal. She does not present him as a total innocent. As
a man in mid-life, he is aware of his mortality and the appeal of
glowing youth all around him. “Age and death–the unfairness of
it, the daily humiliation of watching your power vanish just when
you figure out how to use it” (p. 145). But Angela’s rapid transformarion
after their brief escapade is no joke; she begins demanding
more of his attention to her writing, berating him when he doesn’t
provide it quickly enough. “What happened to the worshipful student
who hung on his every word” Swenson wonders. “Now that
she’s let Swenson sleep with her she doesn’t respect him anymore”
(p. 187). Prose shows the reversal of all the traditional rules and
values, as Angela quickly moves in for what turns out to be her real
goal: getting him to show her novel to his agent. But still Swenson
argues with himself about her motives:
Does Angela–did she ever–have a crush on him, or is she just using him
for his professional connections? Is Angela blackmailing him, or simply
asking a favor? What does a favor mean when you have the power to wreck
someone’s life? (p. 190)
By coincidence, a woman colleague also wants the same favor:
“This is really too much. Two women in twenty minutes cozying
up to Swenson as a way of getting next to his editor” (p. 191). And
to make matter worse, he must face the open resentment of his
other students when he, with complete sincerity, praises Angela’s
writing in class.
Angela’s fury when she learns that Swenson hadn’t fought for
her book with his agent finally makes her clarify her behavior: “The
only reason I let you fuck me was so you would help me get this
novel to someone who could do something” (p. 236). And next
thing he knows, she’s charged him with sexual harassment, taken a
tape of this last conversation to the dean, and is threatening to sue
the college. The dean immediately urges Swenson to resign.
Reviewing his own responsibility, Swenson thinks:
He knew about the power differential between teacher and student. But
this wasn’t about power. This was about desire. Mutual seduction, let’s say
that at least, lie’s too embarrassed to let himself think, This was about love.
Barred from his classroom, dangerously indifferent to his school’s
sexual harassment proceedings (not a “court of law”), Swenson
insists on a hearing instead of resigning quietly.
When he tells his wife, in a restaurant, about the trouble he’s in,
she blames him entirely and informs him that Angela spent half her
time at the school’s medical clinic (where Sherrie is a nurse), ostensibly
because she’s suicidal–but actually, Swenson realizes, because
Angela was pumping the staff for details about his life to
work into her novel.
The couple sitting beside them seems to have gotten up and left. At some
point when he and Sherrie were at once so engrossed and distracted, the
lovers must have retreated into their cocoon of protection and light and
grace, of chosenness, of being singled out and granted the singular blessing
of being allowed to live in a world in which what’s happening to
Sherrie and Swenson will never happen to them. (p. 256)
As the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance demonstrates against
him, and Swenson rents the film of The Blue Angel (a film he knows
Angela too has seen), he realizes at last that “there’s no chance of
winning, of proving his innocence” (p. 266).
The night before the hearing, he lies in bed composing and revising
speeches about what he thought he was doing, about his respect for Angela’s
novel, about the erotics of teaching. And the dangers of starting to see
one’s student as a real person. (p. 267)
But he is totally unprepared for the actual hearing process, in
effect a trial in which he faces six colleagues, one of them the head
of the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance (p. 270). As “agreed”
upon (but not by him), witnesses are called, but no cross-examination
of them is permitted, since this “is not, after all, a trial” (p.
273). So much for due process.
When Angela appears, parents in tow, at the hearing, Swenson
notes her changed appearance. Her hair is now a
shiny, authentic-looking auburn . . . . And how bizarrely she’s dressed–
bizarre, that is, for Angela. Neat khakis, a red velour sweater, ordinary
college-girl “good” clothes. For all he knows, the piercing and the black
leather were always the costume, and this is the real Angela, restored to her true
self. For all he knows. He doesn’t know. All right. He gets that now. (p. 272)
In a particularly subtle scene, Swenson, having deluded himself
for so long, having somehow managed to avoid noting that Angela’s
real interest was in promoting her writing, not in him, finds at his
“trial” that he would rather play the “sullen guilty lecher” that his
colleagues think he is, would rather confirm their “image of him as
the predatory harasser” than admit “to the truer story of obsession
and degradation, the humiliating real-life update of The Blue Angel”
Colleagues and students come forth to testify. A brave student
from Swenson’s writing class, initially showing far more discernment
than his elders, tries to argue: “I can’t see what the big deal is.
Shit happens. People get attracted to other people. It’s not that big a
deal” (p. 284). But Swenson watches the change that comes over
the student as he realizes that what Swenson is charged with is
having extorted sex from Angela in return for showing her work to
his editor in New York. The student’s face shows his perception of
unfairness warring with his sense of loyalty to his teacher: “Swenson
wants to tell him that the real unfairness involves the distribution of
talent and has nothing to do with whatever happened between him
and Angela Argo” (p. 285). Bravely, the student tries to stick to his
But nothing has prepared him to resist the seduction of having the dean of
his college calling him a writer and a half-dozen faculty members hanging
on his every word. How can he disappoint them? How can he not offer up
any scrap of information he can recall. (p. 286)
Francine Prose gets the details of all this just right: the banality
and venality of academic vindictiveness and piety; the stereotypical
assumptions about professorial misconduct; the eagerness to
find sexual wrongdoing; the unavoidable small-minded
Schadenfreude as colleagues and students get to revisit old grievances
and slights, and the sheer cynicism of faculty and administrators
claiming to be concerned with students’ welfare. When Claris,
the class beauty, testifies that he took no inappropriate actions toward
her, Swenson can see that no one believes her. Or they think
Swenson is insane.
How pathetic. What is wrong with him? He never even entertained a sexual
thought about Clads and spent months mooning over Angela Argo? How
abject, how ridiculous. He isn’t a normal male. (p. 288, italics in original)
Another student testifies that they all knew something was going
on because all their work was criticized, while Angela’s was
not. No one is interested in discussing the other possible reasons
for admiring a student’s work. “Swenson’s learned his lesson.
He’ 11 never criticize another student. Not that he’ll get a chance”
Finally, Angela gets to speak–if she feels “strong enough to
address the committee” (p. 296). “As she moves [toward the table],
Swenson thinks he can still see sharp angles of sullen punkhood
poking through the fuzzy eiderdown of that Jane College getup”
(p. 296). Following the familiar ritual, Angela is praised for her
courage in coming forward, and spared the ordeal of listening
to the tape she had orchestrated to make it sound as if Swenson
had indeed persuaded her to trade sex for showing her book to
On her face is that combustive chemistry of wild irritation and boredom so
familiar from those early classes, but now it’s become a martyr’s transfixed
gaze of piety and damage, lit by the flames of the holy war she’s waging
against the evils of male oppression and sexual harassment. (p. 297)
Throughout Angela’s distortions and deceptions; Swenson tries
to keep “his grip on the truth—-on his version of the story….A grip
on recent history…. On reality” (pp. 298-299). The committee, he
sees, is ready to believe the worst because he asked to see more of
a student’s writing. Yet, he admits to himself, her testimony isn’t all
Well, there is something sexy about reading someone’s work: an intimate
communication takes place. Still, you can read…Gertrude Stein, and it
doesn’t mean you find her attractive …. Once more, the committee’s version
of him–the scheming dirty old man–seems less degrading than the
truth. (p. 301)
Prose avoids turning her story into a postmodern narrative in
which we can never hope to learn the truth. Earlier episodes have
shown us what took place, and we recognize Angela’s lies in her
testimony before the committee, her insistence that the sexual initiatives
were his. But the author’s voice gives us a different perspective
on where the harm really resides:
How pornographic and perverted this is, a grown woman–a professor–
torturing a female student into describing a sexual experience to a faculty
committee, not to mention her parents. Swenson could have slept with
Angela on the Founders Chapel altar, and it would have seemed healthy
and respectable compared to this orgy of filth. Meanwhile he has to keep
it in mind that Angela started all this. Angela chose to be here. (p. 303)
Only at her father’s urging that she share her “good news” does
Angela admit to the assembled group that Swenson’s editor in fact
wants to publish her novel (p. 305). Swenson thinks:
Len Currie is publishing Angela’s novel. So what is this hearing about?
Angela should be kissing Swenson’s feet instead of ruining his life. As she
must have decided to do when she still believed that Swenson, her white
knight, had failed to get her manuscript published. If that’s when she decided.
Who knows what she did, and why? (p. 305)
On cue, Angela describes the lingering effects of the whole
wretched experience, her nightmares, her distress. As Angela’s testimony
draws to a close, the women’s studies professor once more
congratulates Angela and commiserates with her:
“Angela, let me say again that we know how tough it was for you to
come in and say what you did. But if women are ever going to receive an
equal education, these problems have to be addressed and dealt with, so
that we can protect and empower ourselves”
“Sure,” Angela says. “You’re welcome. Whatever.” (p. 307)
When it is finally Swenson’s turn to speak, he knows what he
should do is apologize—but of the many things he is sorry for,
breaking the college’s rules about professor-student relationships is
not one of them:
He is extremely sorry for having spent twenty years of his one and only
life, twenty years he will never get back, among people he can’t talk to,
men and women to whom he can’t even tell the simple truth. (p. 308)
And then, in an entirely predictable almost last-straw moment,
Swenson’s daughter’s boyfriend tells the committee that Ruby told
him her father had sexually abused her when she was a child.
Swenson watches his colleagues’ reactions:
they have taken off their masks. Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather,
Torquemado. Swenson’s crime involves sex, so the death penalty can be
invoked. No evidence is inadmissible. They’re hauling out the entire
arsenal for this mortal combat with the forces of evil and sin. (p. 310)
Thus, at novel’s end, Angela’s career is starting and Swenson’s
careerwalong with his marriage is ending. Sounding somewhat
like one of Philip Roth’s heroes, Swenson finally recognizes the mystery
of femaleness, acknowledging that he can never fathom Angela’s
motives. Only she will ever know the truth. As he hears the campus
bells tolling, he wonders why they’re ringing now, at 5:25 p.m.
Then, gradually, it dawns on him. It’s the Women’s Alliance, announcing
their triumph over another male oppressor, one small step along the path
toward a glorious future. He’s glad to be out of that future and headed into
his own. (p. 314)…
Does it take a woman writer, a Francine Prose, to unabashedly
demonstrate the stupidity of the current shibboleths regarding male
professors’ “power” and female students’ “powerlessness”? To protest
the prurient attitude that lies behind the apparent obsession with
sexual relations on campus? To delineate so scathingly a young
woman’s methodical and self-serving manipulation of her professor?
When men writers do this (e.g., David Mamet in his play
Oleanna), their work is often dismissed with the presumptively
devastating charge of “misogyny.” Francine Prose’s novel is an
effective rejoinder to this canard. It is both touching and true: written
in a melancholy self-deprecating style befitting her protagonist’s
essential decency and ironic awareness, and at the same time profoundly
insightful into the mechanisms of academic life at the present
Philip Roth presents us with a scathing portrait of the harm unleashed
by the stupidity of vigilantism of language and personal
relations in today’s America. In novel after novel, he offers a celebration
(sardonic and pathetic though it often is) of the erotic power
of young women and the deep conflicts of the men who love and
fear them. Nicholas Delbanco portrays a costly and enduring love,
which comes in guises and moments that defy academic proprieties,
and he leaves no doubt that the price is worth paying. Francine
Prose details the seductiveness of talent and the egocentric drives
that motivate women as much as men, despite all the lies currently
circulating on this subject. Eric Tarloff, writing in a far lighter vein
than these three, opts for happy endings as the essential sanity of his
protagonists somehow prevails. Perhaps, indeed, he is the most idealistic
of the group. But all four are writers of great skill, opening our
eyes to the hidden dimensions and potentialities of those “asymmetrical”
relationships conventionally viewed today as merely sordid
or exploitative on the professor’s part, deprived of life, forced into caricatured
tableaux in which all roles are set out in advance according to
the position–in terms of race, sex, and status of the protagonists.
One turns from these works of fiction, these portraits of academic
life at the end of the twentieth century, back to the everyday
reality of sexual harassment officers, codes, and committees, threats,
and public displays of virtue, with a profound sense of wonder.
How can it be that rules and guidelines that should be an embarrassment
to any sensible society now govern every school and
workplace? How have the supposedly powerless so successfully
altered the terms of everyday interactions that the supposedly powerful-
who, we are constantly told, prey on them–are now so
vulnerable, so much at their mercy? Is this some demented dream
from which we’ll soon all wake up? Not, I fear, in the short run.
But the commitment of writers such as these four to the craft of the
novelist rather than to the cant of current ideologies gives us reason-
however fragile–for hope.
HOT FOR TEACHER is the attention getting headline for the University of Minnesota student newspaper article authored by Ashley Dresser on student professor sexual relationships. Although the headline is a tad sensationalistic, the dankprofessor believes that this is one of the very few student newspapers articles on this subject that generally gets it right.
Much of the article is based on an interview with a female student referred to as Prudence, who is having a relationship with a professor. Prudence is a pseudonym; such was, of course, the prudent thing to do. Prudence referred to the professor as MY professor. As the article states:
“Well, I find MY professor to be hot.” When we asked her exactly what she meant with that kind of emphasis on ownership, she proceeded to unveil every girl’s college fantasy:
“I’ve known him, my professor boyfriend, since I started working in his department about two years ago. I never took a class under him, but he always flirted with me…I blew him off mostly, but a couple of months ago he asked me out to dinner. We have had many, many discussions about whether or not it’s okay to pursue this, but so far it’s working out well enough. We just have to be discreet about it.” Before I could even get the question out of my mouth, Prudence added, “And yes, I call him ‘professor’ in bed.”
So much for all the articles that phrase student professor relationship in terms of professors being attracted to the student but generally via omission deny the reality that students are often attracted to professors.
As stated by the writer-
My classmates and I were awestruck by her academic prowess, but it did cross our minds that he could just be a hairy old man. A couple of Facebook clicks later, however, and Prudence proved us wrong. He is, in fact, a gorgeous specimen – perhaps heightened by the fact that he is not opposed to scandalous romance. (As a side note: the fact that we now have the ability to friend our professors on Facebook to learn more about their personal lives, sift through their photos, etc. makes this dating scene even more hot to handle.)
And then the writer violates campus journalistic tradition and provides material from an interview with the professor, albeit the professor is cloaked in anonymity-
“It is highly likely that us professors are attracted to our students,” Prudence’s professor said when asked for comment. “We see our students every single day and if they are taking a class with us, that probably means we have the same interests…And in general, guys don’t really care about age or profession with girls, so the fact that they are attracted to one of their students isn’t necessarily going to bother them.”
Well, in the dankprofessor’s opinion the professor gets it right. This is why the dankprofessor uses the phraselogy of “from the love of knowledge to the knowledge of love”.
The author then states-
Yet it does seem to bother a lot of other people. A simple Google search of “professor-student relationships” brings up a wealth of commentary about its pros and cons. In particular, check out www.dankprofessor.wordpress.com . It is a weblog that “examines the sexual politics in higher education and beyond.” Parents and the university administrations tend to be the two major groups that are having the qualms, which is ironic, since neither of them are the ones in the actual relationship itself.
Well, the author gets it right about the dankprofessor weblog. But she doesn’t get it completely right when she states that parents and university administrators are the two major opposing groups. She omits the major grouping- women’s studies faculty and feminist faculty who adhere to a hardcore anti sexual and anti male agendas. This group was the prime mover in the adoption of the sexual codes regarding student professor relationships and it is this group which would attempt to make trouble for any professor sexually involved with a student, no matter whether the student had ever been in the professor’s class. And it is this group that administrators are adverse to challenging and generally are willing to go along with their effort to make life miserable for any professor dating any student. Such is consistent with the decision of the student and professor who are the subjects of this article to not reveal their identity. And it should also be pointed out that some universities formally ban all student professor fraternization. But even when the relationship are not de jure banned as in the present case, the relationship is de facto banned in the framework of the professor becoming subjected to an array of punishments- from being treated rudely by fellow faculty to getting a horrid teaching schedule to being terminated.
As for parents, the following is stated-
“My parents would try to talk me out of it, if they knew,” Prudence said. “They would say I’m squandering my youth or that he’s using me for sex…The professor and I are sixteen years apart, but I would definitely recommend dating a professor to any student. They are more worldly and mature and they know how to treat a lady. I’m not knocking college boys, but they still have a lot of growing up to do.”
Well, Prudence may be a bit off base re parental response. Based on my experience and knowledge of the experience of others, most parents are unlikely to respond with horror to their daughter dating a professor, particularly if they have met the professor. And, of course, if one of the parents is a prof, rapport may develop quickly between the professor parent and the professor who loves the daughter. So I urge Prudence to be a bit more prudent, and not to assume that her parents will be rejecting parents.
The article ends with the following quote from Prudence-
“It’s all media and society hype that makes it seem so bad. Over the years, people have also given relationships in which the male is significantly older than the female a bad name…They make it seem like the guy is just after sex. Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but aren’t all guys, no matter what age, after sex? At the end of the day, we are just two people looking for some companionship.”
Amen from the dankprofessor. And this is what I have been trying to do- get beyond the hype to the everyday realities of these relationships. What is two people looking for companionship has been demonized over and over again by moral zealots and the morally perverse. To argue as Mark Bourrie has argued that professors involved in these sorts of relationships are “scum” and Erik Ringmar that such professors are disgusting is morally perverse.
Congratulations to Ashley Dresser for writing this article and I encourage my blog readers to read the entirety of this article.
The Washington University of St. Louis student newspaper, STUDENT LIFE, published a pre-Valentines Day article, “Professor Student Couplings Remain Awkward Fantasies”.
In the dankprofessor’s opinion the major awkwardness regarding the article is that no student interviewed had ever had a romantic relationship with a professor, and no professor interviewed had ever had a romantic relationship with a student. This goes beyond awkwardness. I call it shoddy journalism.
The article did state that professor student dating is rare. But rare or infrequent dating is not the same as non-existent dating. If the article writer had simply asked around, the probability is overwhelming that either a student or professor could have been found. Such ruminations remind me of the Iranian president’s statement at Columbia University that there are no homosexuals in Iran.
There was one interview with a professor. Interviewed was Dean Jami Ake, professor of English and women and gender studies, who serves as a co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Assault.
Wow! In an article on student professor consensual relationships, the student newspaper decides that the one professorial interview should be with a person who serves as co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Assaults. The choice of a sexual assault specialist says it all. If the paper was doing an article on marriage, would they have selected a specialist on rape to be interviewed? If doing an article on gay marriage would they have selected a specialist on child molestation?
But Dean Ake was not all that bad, she
“agreed that there is a potential connection between academic and romantic interest. Even the vocabularies overlap. ‘I want you to be passionate about something. I want you to be inspired by it,'” Ake said. “It’s easy to see how that kind of intense interest in somebody and everything they stand for can translate more in terms of passion.”
Ake said that navigating the boundaries between close and too-close relationships is difficult, in part because of the worry that the student will feel uncomfortable or harassed.
Dean Ake certainly got it right when she imparts the understanding that in essence love of knowledge can lead to knowledge of love. However, she does end up on a patronizing note when she states that things may end up being difficult and worrisome and this could lead to the student feeling uncomfortable or harassed. Such is patronizing since she ignores the potentiality of the professor also feeling uncomfortable or harassed. Or, of course, in more general terms the potentiality of both the professor and student ending up in a state of love and happiness is ignored.
However the news reporter did ask Ack if a student could have a healthy relationship with a teacher. Note the questioner did not bother to ask if the professor could have a healthy relationship with a student. Her response was “I would say the odds are against you, but anything’s possible.” Anything is possible, I guess her response would be similar to believing that in Sarah Palin’s terms it is possible that President Obama could end up paling around with terrorists. And in the dankprofessor’s opinion it becomes a fool’s game to attempt to characterize almost any romantic relationship as healthy or unhealthy.
But all was not for naught in this article. There was one interviewee who appeared to be quite knowledgeable on issues related to student professor relationships.
Senior Emma Cohen is writing her senior humanities thesis on the discourse of sexual harassment and consensual relationship policies in universities, and its implications for pedagogy. She argues that fear of student-teacher relationships is based on the incorrect assumption that students are powerless in those situations. According to Cohen’s thesis, intimacy on certain levels can be productive in an academic relationship.
“While policies are rightly concerned about preventing exploitation of students, they tend to sort of shut down tendencies for personal intimacy without sex,” Cohen said.
Yes, Cohen’s bottom line is of critical importance. The fear and stigma that is occurring in regards to student professor relationships has led to all close relationships between students and professors becoming suspect. Too many profs fear that a close relationship with a student will lead to the imputation by others of a sexual component. Such leads to too many professors having an open door policy; open door policies simply do not facilitate closeness or intimacy. What it does facilitate is impersonality.
What this article fails to note is that student professor intimate relationships may very well lead to the discarding of the student professor labels. True intimacy undermines the power of such labels. In Martin Buber’s terms, an I-it relationship is replaced by an I-thou relationship. In this framework, it does not become surprising that the powers that be who are committed to preserving the ongoning hierarchy, almost always attempt to control love, love and marriage, and romance. The freedom to choose who to love and how to love simply has no place in authoritarian organizations. In such frameworks, love that crosses boundaries becomes the societal enemy par excellence.
The University World News article “Ban sex between lecturers and students?” in the UK which I cited in my last post merits more attention from the dankprofessor.
The article cites Rob Briner, a professor of organisational psychology at Birkbeck University who bemoans the loss of the old Oxbridge ideal of meeting students for a glass of sherry at 11am.
“When I was a student, the lecturer would close the door for a tutorial but now lecturers are wary of doing things like that – most just wouldn’t do it,” Briner said. “Staff are aware of the need to keep away from situations where they might be accused of doing anything.”
Where they might be accused of doing anything? How utterly sad that the passage of these fraternization rules has led to fear and paranoia on campus and the destruction of campus community. Better to do nothing than anything. Keep those doors open on the closed campuses?
British universities have become more wary of possible allegations of abuse on the one hand but have also in many cases come to accept they cannot prevent relationships taking place.
A survey by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2005 found that 52 out of 102 institutions had developed policies on the issue with many, like Birkbeck, requiring that any such relationship be declared to the employee’s line manager.
“Like in a lot of other policy areas, the organisation is trying to acknowledge that it [sexual relations] is going on and then they can deal with it,” Briner said.
Most universities contacted by University World News were either reluctant or unable to give numbers of lecturers who had been forced to resign as a result of a sexual relationship with a student. In America – where many universities have an outright ban on student-lecturer relationships – the American Association of University Professors was unable to provide any statistics on the issue.
“Although we handle hundreds and even thousands of inquiries and complaints each year… there is no central source for statistics on the nature of those cases,” said Dr John Curtis, Director of Research and Public Policy at the AAUP.
Of course, there are no statistics on student professor consensual relationships due to the fact that they are consensual! Are parties to a consensual relationship motivated to turn themselves in and thereby become part of a campus statistic?
As for the inability of campuses to prevent consensual relationships,
why would any academic expect that there could be effective prevention? Have same sex consensual relationships been prevented in the context of centuries of persecution?
What astounds the dankprofessor is that journalists almost always buy into the myth that consensual relationships between students and professors represent a danger to the university. For example, I am not aware of any case in which a lawsuit has been brought against a university due to a consensual relationship between a student and a professor? Yes, there have been many lawsuits regarding sexual harassment involving a student and a professor, but consensual relationships between a student and a professor are not a subpart of sexual harassment no matter how many times the two are confounded by journalists, academics and assorted ideologues. And, yes, a consensual relationship can turn into a situation of sexual harassment, but the absurdity of banning consensual relationships due to a bad outcome becomes transparent if when using this logic one argues that consensual heterosexual relationships should be banned because they can result in situations of rape.
Overall, though, it seems as if policies that require lecturers to reveal any intimate relationships they are having with students – now common in the UK and US – are likely to spread.
If they are likely to spread then academics who value privacy and autonomy and do not feel good about universities embracing an authoritarian corporate model, should fight the spread of these nefarious policies
In conclusion, the University World News cites Professor Manola Makhanya, Pro vice-chancellor of the University of South Africa who they stated was
certainly enthusiastically considering whether such specific policies could be applied in South Africa: “It is important to focus on this because my sense is that it will increase,” he said. “Clearly we have to come up with policies rather than sit back, be confronted with a situation and not know how to deal with it.”
My advice to Professor Makanya is that it is better to do nothing. Better to reject the American university model of the meddling moralistic authoritarians. In fact, I am sure that the good professor knows that the American electorate just got rid of its number one meddler after a history of eight years meddling in the affairs of just about everybody.
The Independent of London has taken a strong stand against unnecessary and intrusive laws which regulate the sexual lives of the denizens of the UK.
What the Independent is concerned about is the continuing attempt in the UK to ban extreme pornography. Most immediately The Independent is concerned about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008 which takes effect in less than a month. Section 63 of this law prohibits pictures on the internet of someone having sex with a corpse as well as images of bestiality.
The Independent points out that-
The usual problems with such legislation are that in the first place the law is adopted in a mad hurry and is thus vague and unclear and, second, a set of general principles is wrongly deduced from truly exceptional circumstances.
With this law, the evidence of haste and a knee-jerk response to a specific event can be seen from the imprecise wording. As a result, the viewing of images of a number of practices that are legal, and which most people would consider acceptable if not exactly desirable behaviour between consenting adults, will become as illegal as viewing images of bestiality and necrophilia. All such viewers will have the same potential to be caught under the same dragnet.
Regrettably, the Government will probably get away with it. In these “on-message” days, no politician wants to be seen as the spokesperson for sexual freaks. A reputation for a partiality to bondage is not the way to boost the career of a junior minister or rising backbencher. And so a few more of our civil liberties are done away with – and the opportunities for police surveillance increased.
Ministers may even think they are on to a winner, by giving unpopular Sixties-style liberals a good drubbing – and a good dose of New Labour Puritanism at the same time. Well, perhaps so. It’s also possible that the Government’s obsession with regulating every aspect of peoples lives will rebound on it. We can only hope so, for the Government should beware of poking its long nose into people’s sex lives, and when it is far from clear that such intervention is necessary.
The tactics used in the UK are not unique and are rather simple. Get some significant percentage of the public riled up about some sexual behavior which almost all persons agree is disgusting and obnoxious and then pass a law that goes way beyond the behaviors that led to the hysteria. In essence this is what happened in California with the passage of proposition 8. Make gay marriage illegal since if we have gay marriage then in some way this will facilitate the predatory sex crimes against children. Or as Rick Warren does, associate homosexuality with child abuse and incest.
And what is most germane to this blog, use cases of relationships between students and professors which involve coercion and harassment to ban all consenting sexual relationships between students and professors. And then present as a taken for granted assumption that such relationships undermine the integrity of the university. And, of course, once these rules are in effect, consenting student professor couples are unlikely to come forward to challenge these rules since they would then become subject to being penalized by the powers that be.
And what becomes most galling to the dankprofessor is that the belief comes into being that the laws have been successful since student professor couples have scant visibility on campus. Of course, they are not visible since they have been forced into the closet. As gays have come out of the closet on campus, student professor couples now occupy that closet. The campus moral entrepreneurs and zealots have carried the day with barely a peep from the liberty advocating professoriate. Of course, it is fear that carries the day on campus; with or without tenure, almost all faculty will not speak up for their colleagues, colleagues who only want the basic right of sexual privacy and to be left alone.
And when it comes to this blog, I know that fear prevents many professors and students from posting comments. In 2008 I received many emails sent directly to me from students who have found these campus fraternization laws to be oppressive and hurtful. I have done my best to write helpful responses to these students. And I have done the same for a much smaller number of professors. So even though there are few comments on the dankprofessor blog from students and professors, I do believe that I am getting the dank word out. And the dankprofesssor will continue to blog.
I greatly appreciate the support of my readers in 2008 and am looking forward to the dankprofessor blog doing more good in 2009.
As more becomes known about the University of Michigan consensual prostitution case between UM Professor Yaron Z. Eliav and an anonymous UM law student, the uglier the case becomes. And the ugliness has nothing to do with prostitution per se but how this situation is being employed by those wishing to promulgate an anti-Semitic agenda.
It turns out that Professor Eliav is a Jean and Samuel Frankel Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature & Jewish History of Late Antiquity in the UM Department of Near Eastern Studies.
And along with the fact that Eliav is from or has spent some time in Israel is enough for some anti-Semites (specifically the zionistout blog) to view the Eliav alleged attack on the anonymous sex worker as being reflective of Jewish Israeli attitudes toward Gentile women.
The zionistout blog appears to assume that Professor Eliav is an Orthodox Jew and they hold that Orthodox Jews are major promulgators of prostitution both in Israel and in various western countries. For them Israel has become a major venue of international sex trafficking and sexual slavery of non-Jewsih women and consequently has withheld support for more stringent measures against international sex trafficking.
So now Professor Eliav has become a possible pawn in another attempt to employ a conspiracy of the genre of the Protocols of Elders of Zion to delegitimate the State Of Israel.
Of course caught in the middle of a fiasco that should have never happened is the University of Michigan. The dankprofessor cannot speculate as to UM future actions other than that they will state that they can’t comment on personnel matters. Of course, if prostitution was not illegal,
and it should not be illegal, then the Eliav case would be just another routine case of domestic violence, certainly not a case which would get national and international attention
And it also should be noted that the the zionistout blog assumes that the student sex worker is not Jewish. How do they know that such is the case? Of course, if she was Jewish their whole scenario about Jews in Israeli recruiting Gentile women into sexual slavery becomes an irrelevancy.
Warwick University is considering its stance in the wake of the romance between the law professor Istvan Pogany, 57, and a mature student in her 30s.
The human rights expert began a relationship with the woman following the death of his wife.
The affair started in 2007 and the pair travelled abroad on holiday together. When the couple informed the university about their relationship, it advised the professor not to flaunt the affair or mark her papers.
The student fell pregnant in earlier this year and agonised over whether to have an abortion.
She is said to have cancelled a series of appointments before finally going through with a surgical termination and taking the remains home in a conical flask for a proper burial.
The burial is said to have taken place in the professor’s back garden at his home in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The affair led to an internet gossip campaign among students and staff and two website petitions, one praising Professor Pogany as a brilliant academic and another that accused him of abusing his position of power. Both online petitions have been removed.
The Hungarian-born lecturer, who teaches Human Rights and international law, is currently abroad on arranged study leave and is not due back to Warwick University until the beginning of January. When contacted for comment, he answered in Hungarian.
The student said: “I just want to put this behind me.”
In a statement, Warwick University said: “The university is aware of a relationship between Professor Pogany and a student. We are aware that some institutions within the UK are moving towards the establishment of a code of conduct in respect of such matters and this is also presently under review at Warwick.
“We are mindful that the people involved are both adults and the university has to take this into account in the way it responds both to the situation itself, and also to enquiries about that situation.
“We take our responsibilities to both our students and staff very seriously.
“We are seeking to support and advise both the student and the member of staff. It is not possible to for us comment further without breaching the privacy of those individuals concerned.”
Such represents a most unfortunate and sad situation. Except for the most committed romantics, I think we all know that love affairs can have rather bitter endings, endings that can plague the parties to these affairs for many a year, even in some cases for a life time. On the other hand, I think we all know that there are love affairs that last for a life time at least in the sense of evolving into marriage and domesticity or just domesticity.
As for Warwick University (re)considering its stance in the wake of the romance between the law professor Istvan Pogany, 57, and a mature student in her 30s, the dankprofessor asks what is there to reconsider?
Warwick’s present stance is reflected in their statement-
“We are mindful that the people involved are both adults and the university has to take this into account in the way it responds both to the situation itself, and also to enquiries about that situation.”
Yes, they are adults and consenting adults. The parties to this relationship I am sure have many regrets. But Warwick should have no regrets. They have no responsibility for a student and professor who are both adults and choose to have an affair. If they should assume responsibility and develop more than a laissez faire policy on student professor consensual relationships then they will open
up a Pandora’s box for regulating the intimate lives of their constituents and subjecting themselves to a plethora of lawsuits. Such represents the American away and hopefully UK universities can avoid going the American way.
Also, it is interesting to note that Warwick in this press report is not treating both parties as adults. They
name the professor but the student is nameless. If both are responsible adults, shouldn’t both of their names be employed?
What also irks the dankprofessor is that this story was featured on the blog victimsover18 moderated by
John Heard who devotes his blog to highlighting “the fact that sexual assault and abuse occurs with people over 18 as well as under 18″.
Of course, Heard is correct that sexual abuse occurs with those over and under 18, but the problem is that Heard adopts the myopic assumption that the “Warwick couple” represents a situation of abuse. Maybe this assumption to him comes in the form of a revelation from a Higher Power. But the dankprofessor speculates that Heard has been inculcated with the American campus feminist anti-sexual agenda, and there is no quick fix for getting beyond said inculcation.
When the dankprofessor sees recommendations such as those put forth by the SIU Faculty Senate, a tendency may develop to initially screen out the bad. Such was the case on my prior posting on SIU. So after regaining my wits, I searched out the SIU policy on consensual relationships. And it is bad and following are the key sections of the policy as well as my commentary.
Consensual amorous or sexual relationships between faculty and students or between a supervisor and an employee may result in claims of sexual harassment, even when both parties appear to have consented to the relationship. The power differential inherent in such relationships may compromise the subordinate’s free choice. When those in authority abuse or appear to abuse their power in a relationship, trust and respect in the University community are diminished. Moreover, others who believe they are treated/evaluated unfairly because of such a relationship may make claims of harassment.
Therefore, it is a violation of this policy if faculty members become involved in amorous or sexual relationships with students who are enrolled in their classes or subject to their supervision, even when both parties appear to have consented to the relationship. No faculty, staff, or graduate assistant shall become involved in an amorous relationship, consensual or otherwise, with a student for whom that person currently has any teaching responsibility, including counseling and advising, coaching, supervision of independent studies, research, theses, and dissertations. In all cases in which an amorous or sexual relationship exists or develops, it is the obligation of the faculty member, staff member, or graduate assistant whose University position carries the presumption of greater power to disclose the relationship immediately to the appropriate supervisor who will contact the Office of the Provost for assistance in avoiding an appearance of impropriety and a potential conflict of interest.
Really the THEREFORE of the second paragraph is a non-sequitur since not all those in authority abuse or appear to abuse. SIU dropped the third category- those in authority who do not abuse and do not appear to abuse.
Then in the second paragraph, SIU appears to throw in the towel on appearances since the violations remain “even when both parties appear to have consented to the relationship.” Well, I said appears, and it “appears” to the dankprofessor that SIU is muddled or confused when it comes down to appearances and consensual relationships.
And last but not least the policy mandates that the faculty member disclose the relationship to an SIU supervisor. Or to put it in an unvarnished dank manner, the policy mandates the faculty member out the student lover, the student is not entitled to privacy. If the SIU had minimal concern for student rights and privacy, student consent would be basic and elementary. So much for due process and fairness at SIU.
The dankprofessor hopes that the FreeU blog will recognize how the SIU consensual relationships policy tramples on freedom and due process.
The dankprofessor believes that few people find dentistry very sexy. And most states have laws on the books that regulate and discipline dentists who might engage in sexual misconduct and exploitation of a patient.
But now the State of Pennsylvania has taken their dental regulations into never never land. The State has barred romance in the dental chair.
Dentists who find their perfect love match sitting in the patients’ chair must end the professional relationship and wait a few months before dating, according to new state regulations.
The new rules say that any sexual conduct – even consensual contact – with a current patient, including “words, gestures or expressions, actions or any combination thereof,” is subject to disciplinary action by the State Board of Dentistry. The regulations will apply to dentists, hygienists and other state-licensed dental practitioners engaged in sexual conduct with patients they have treated within the past three months. There are exceptions for relationships in which the patient is a spouse or a lives with the employee.
Of course, the Pennsylvania Dental Association is opposed to these prohibitions.
The (association) feels that a normal, healthy, romantic relationship between a dentist and a patient, with mutual consent, does not constitute sexual misconduct,” said Philadelphia dentist Dr. Thomas Gamba, the association’s president.
In defending these new regulations, “the board did not cite any specific incidents or complaints, but said its proposal “will protect consumers … and provide clear guidance to practitioners that sexual misconduct is considered unprofessional conduct.” The Board also stated “that it decided not to allow exceptions for relationships other than ones involving marriage or cohabitation because doing so would make the rules more difficult to enforce.”
Of course, the dankprofessor has heard this all before. Nothing really new here. Once again we have the conflating of a consensual sexual relationship with sexual misconduct. We have the campus feminist chant that differential power precludes consent dressed up in a dental garb.
Except it becomes OK if dentist and patient get married or live together. And as for the Dental Board’s assertion that their rules become too difficult to enforce if dentist and patient are married, the fact of the matter is that prohibitions against sexual relationships between consenting adults are never easy to enforce.
No matter what the Board states or requires, dental hygiene is not mental hygiene as in psychotherapy and does not merit the attention of the state.
In opposition to theses rules, Dr. Thomas Gamba stated-
The rules also could hamper the association’s efforts to encourage young dentists to relocate to underserved rural communities. We have a promotion to young dentists to consider Pennsylvania, and rural Pennsylvania. We have to give them incentives to come here.
Absolutely correct. And let us not forget that for those who are dentally attracted, such couples who do affiliate engage in significantly higher frequencies of flossing than non-dental couples although in time flossing frequency does decline for the dental couples.
Following are key excerpts from an article by feminist author Bell Hooks, “Passionate Pedagogy; erotic student/faculty relationships,” Z MAGAZINE, March 1996, 45-51. This is one of the best articles written on this subject and I urge readers to savor and critically scrutinize this article.
When I became a professor I was amazed at the extent to which students, male and female, approached me for romantic and/or sexual encounters. Like many unattached female professors in the academy, I was constantly the subject of student gossip. Often the students I loved the most did the most talking. When I complained to them about their obsession with my sex life, they simply responded by telling me to get a grip and accept that it goes with the turf. They wanted to understand female sexual agency. They wanted to know how women professors are coping with working in patriarchal institutions, and how we were juggling issues of sexual desirability, agency, and careerism. They saw us as charting the path they will follow. Many of these students were more than hip to the dangers of getting involved with someone older and more powerful.
Contemporary feminist movement has usefully interrogated the way men in power within patriarchal culture often use that power to abuse and sexually coerce females. That necessary critical intervention is undermined when it obscures recognition of the way in which desire can be acknowledged in relationships between individuals where there is unequal power without being abusive. It is undermined when any individual who is in a less powerful position is represented as being absolutely without choice, as having no agency to act on their own behalf. As long as young females are socialized to see themselves as incapable of choosing those situations of erotic engagement which would be most constructive for their lives, they will always be more vulnerable to victimization. This does not mean that they will not make mistakes, as countless female students did when they chose to have disappointing nonproductive romantic liaisons with professors. Everyone I interviewed for this piece had no regret about these liaisons. We all knew they did not have to be negative. The point is that we were not embracing a psychology of female victimization that would have been utterly disempowering. There is clearly a connection between submitting to abuse and the extent to which any of us already feel that we are destined to be victimized.
The vast majority of women who are heterosexual in this society are likely to be in intimate relations with men at some point in their lives who have greater status and power, however relative, given the nature of capitalism and patriarchy. Clearly, it is more important to learn ways to be “just” in situations where there is a power imbalance, rather than to
assume that exploitation and abuse are the “natural” outcome of all such encounters. Notice how such logic fixes those in power in ways that deny their accountability and choice by assuming that they act on behalf of their interests exclusively. And that their interests will always be antithetical to the interests of those who are less powerful.
Contemporary focus on victimization tends to leave very little cultural space for recognition of the erotic as a space of transgression that can undermine politics of domination. Rather than perceiving desire between faculty and students as always dangerous, negative and destructive, what does it mean for us to consider the positive uses of that desire, the way the erotic can serve to enhance self-actualization and growth. We hear much more about the way in which individuals have abused power in faculty/students relations where there is erotic engagement. We rarely hear anything about the ways erotic desire between teacher and student enhances individual growth. We do not hear about the affectionate bonds that spring from erotic encounters which challenge conventional notions of what is appropriate behavior.
Most professors, even the ones who are guilty, would acknowledge that it is highly problematic and usually unproductive to be romantically involved with students you are directly working with, either in the classroom or on a more individual basis. Yet, prohibitions, rules and regulations, will not keep these relationships from happening. The place of vigilance is not in forbidding such encounters but having a system that effectively prevents harassment and abuse. At every college campus in this country there are individual male professors who repeatedly harass and coerce students to engage in sexual relations. For the most part, even when there have been ongoing complaints, college administrators have not confronted these individuals or used the already institutionalized procedures governing harassment to compel them to stop abusive behavior. Even though everyone seems to be quite capable of recognizing the difference between those professors who abuse their power and those who may have a romantic relationship with a student that is consensual, by imposing rules and regulations that would effect all faculty and students they deny this difference. Some folks want to argue there is no difference that the student is always more vulnerable. It is true that relationships where there are serious power imbalances can be a breeding ground for victimization. They can begin with mutual consent yet this does not ensure that they may not become conflictual in ways that lead the more powerful party to become coercive or abusive. This is true in all relationships in life. Power must be negotiated. Part of maturing is learning how to cope with conflict. Many of the cases where students cite serious exploitation on the part of professors involve graduate students and professors. It is difficult to believe that any graduate student is not fully aware of the risks when they become erotically involved with a professor who has some control over their career. Concurrently, sexism and misogyny have to be seen as factors at work, when individual powerful male professors direct their attention at exceptionally smart female graduate students who could easily become their competitors. If campuses really want to effectively address the problems of abuse in faculty-student relations then we should be socializing undergraduates to be realistic about the problems that can arise in such encounters.
The Time magazine story on romantic relations between students and faculty begins with this confession: “During the three months in 1993 when she was sleeping with her English professor, Lisa Topol lost 18 pounds. She lost interest in her classes at the University of Pennsylvania, lost her reputation as an honor student and wondered if she was losing her mind. If she tried to break up, she thought, he could ruin her academic career. Then she made some phone calls and learned a bit more about the professor she had come to view as a predator.” If one took out the words academic and professor this would read like the troubled narrative of anyone involved with someone on the job who is their supervisor. The problem with this story is not that it does not tell the truth but rather that it tells a partial truth. We have no idea why Lisa Topol entered this relationship. We do not know if it was consensual. We do not know how or why the male involved became abusive. We do know that he did not become abusive simply because he was her professor. The problem here does not lie with faculty-student relations but with this individual male, and the large numbers of men like him who prey upon females. The cultural context that condones this abuse is patriarchy and male domination. Yet most men and women in the academy, like society as a whole, are not engaged in activism that would target patriarchy. There are many faculty-student romances that end in friendship, some that lead to marriage and/or partnership. The professors in these relationships are able to conduct themselves in a way that is not exploitative despite the imbalance of power. There are many more male professors involved with students who are not abusive than those that are.
Realistically, our pedagogy is failing both inside and outside the classroom if students have no awareness of their agency when it comes to choosing a relationship of intimacy with a faculty member. Some folks oppose faculty/student erotic bonding because they say it creates a climate of favoritism that can be deeply disruptive. In actuality, any intimate bonding between a professor and a student is a potential context for favoritism, whether or not that intimacy is erotic. Favoritism often surfaces in the classroom and has nothing to do with desire. For example: Most professors are especially partial to students that do assigned work with rigor and intellectual enthusiasm. This is as much a context for favoritism but no one is seeking to either eliminate, question, or police it. Young females and males entering college are in the process of claiming and asserting adult status. Sexuality is as much a site where that evolution and maturation is registered as is the classroom.
A college environment should strengthen a student’s ability to make responsible mature decisions and choices. Those faculty members who become involved in romantic relationships with a student (whether they initiated it or responded to an overture by the student) who are not exploitative or dominating will nurture this maturation process. In my teaching career I have had a relationship with one student. Although he was a student in my class, I did not approach him during the time that he studied with me because I did not want to bring that dynamic into the classroom or into my evaluation of his work. He was not an exceptional student in my class. When the course ended, we became intimate. From the start we had conflicts about power. The relationship did not work yet we became friends. Recently, I shared with him that I was writing this piece. I wanted to know if he thought I had taken advantage of him. He reminded me of how shocked he was that I desired him because he primarily thought of me as this teacher that he admired and looked up to. He shared his perspective: “I did not feel in any way coerced. I found it intriguing that I would be able to talk to you one on one about issues raised in the class. I was happy to have a chance to get to know you better because I knew you were this smart and gifted professor. We all thought you were special. I was young and inexperienced and even though it was exciting that you desired me, it was also frightening.” Our romance failed. We had our share of miserable conflictual moments. Our friendship has deepened over the years and is grounded in respect and care.
Student devotion to a teacher can easily be a context where erotic longings emerge. Passionate pedagogy in any setting is likely to spark erotic energy. It cannot be policed or outlawed. This erotic energy can be used in constructive ways both in individual relationships and in the classroom setting. Just as it is important that we be vigilant in challenging abuses of power wherein the erotic becomes a terrain of exploitation, it is equally important to recognize that space where erotic interaction is enabling and positively transforming. Desire in the context of relations where hierarchy and unequal power separate individuals is always potentially disruptive and simultaneously potentially transformative. Desire can be a democratic equalizing force—the fierce reminder of the limitations of hierarchy and status—as much as it can be a context for abuse and exploitation. The erotic is always present, always with us. When we deny that erotic feelings will emerge between teachers and students, this denial precludes the recognition of accountability and responsibility. The implications of entering intimate relations where there is an imbalance of power cannot be understood, or those relations handled with care in a cultural context where desire that disrupts is seen as so taboo that it cannot be spoken, acknowledged, and addressed. Banning relations between faculty and students would create a climate of silence and taboo that would only intensify dynamics of coercion and exploitation. The moment power differences are articulated in a dialogue where erotic desire surfaces, a space is created where choice is possible, where accountability can be clearly assessed.
In a previous posting, I reported that Gregory Bird, a psychology professor at Lethbridge College who had been fired by Lethbridge for having consensual relationships with three Lethbridge students had been ordered to be reinstated by a Lethbridge arbitration board.
Although the term arbitration implies a final judgment, such is not necessarily the case. Many universities and corporations involved in an arbitration proceeding and facing a judgment they do not like, appeal to the civil courts arguing that the arbitrator violated the rules of the arbitration. And this is exactly what the Lethbridge administration did- they appealed.
As reported by the Lethbridge Herald,
A judge’s decision was reserved Monday, more than 26 months after a Lethbridge College instructor was fired for having sex with his students.
Justice C.S. Phillips gave no indication of when her decision would be handed down, after hearing arguments from two Calgary lawyers over the college’s termination of psychology teacher Greg Bird. Earlier this year an arbitration board ordered him reinstated by May 1, but college officials went to Court of Queen’s Bench to appeal that ruling.
While Bird admitted to his actions, the instructors’ lawyer told the judge, the college’s response was too severe. College officials maintain their action was proper because he’d violated a professional code of ethics. Lawyer Bill Armstrong, acting for the college, said the provincially appointed arbitration panel’s decision was inconsistent with the facts it cited in reaching a verdict. He also held the college’s lack of a specific policy on personal conduct between students and teachers should not be sufficient to warrant reinstatement.
…William Johnson, representing the college faculty association, cited cases from other colleges and universities across Canada to show firing was too strong a punishment. A hot-tub party involving students and a faculty member at an Okanagan Valley college provides the most recent case law, he said.
In the college’s collective agreement with its faculty, he said it’s stated disciplinary actions would be “reasonable” under the circumstances. When he was hired more than a decade ago, Johnson said the dean of student services advised Bird and other new faculty there was no policy but they should “be discrete” about their interactions with students.
After two years and two months away from the classroom, he held, Bird has faced enough punishment.
Both lawyers submitted extensive written arguments as well.
“There’s a lot to go through here,” the Calgary judge said, reserving her decision. Court officials say issues like this, heard in Calgary chambers, could be resolved in less than a month or take as long as one year.
Of course, the Lethbridge administration may be hoping that the judge takes one year or more to reach a decision. Such may represent a strategy to simply wear down Bird so that he would voluntarily withdraw from the university in the context of a minimal financial settlement.
It is the dankprofessor’s hope that Bird cannot be forced out. I agree with Bird’s lawyer that firing is an excessive punishment for engaging in consensual relationships with students. I would also agree in the context of this case that Bird’s punishment has already been excessive. And, of course, based on the dankprofessor’s personal perspective, Bird should not have been punished at all. Any punishment in this case is too much punishment. Consensual relationships are simply not the business of persons other than the persons involved in the relationships.
In response to my prior posting on this case, I received personal communications from students of Bird praising him as a great teacher and lamenting the actions taken against him by Lethbridge College. If Gregory Bird should read this post, I encourage him to contact me; I would value the opportunity to personally communciate with him.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008
And the dankprofessor does not have in mind anything to do with the Spitzer case. Love contracts in the workplace have become increasing used in the context of the efforts to bans consensual relationship being a dismal failure. A summary of the key aspects of love contracts as presented by attorney Joseph W. Gagnon follows and then I will have some comments as to the applicability of these love contracts to the university.
The essential elements. Although the precise language will vary, an effective love contract should contain the following disclosures: 1. The relationship is consensual and is not based on intimidation, threat, coercion or harassment; 2. The employees have received, read, understood and agree to abide by the company’s policy against harassment and discrimination; 3. The employees agree to act appropriately in the workplace and avoid any behavior that is offensive to others; 4. The employees agree not to let their relationship affect their work or the work of their co-employees; 5. Neither employee will bestow upon the other any favoritism or preferential treatment; 6. Either employee may end the relationship at any time and no retaliation of any kind will result; 7. The human resources department will include its contact information in case either employee feels the relationship is affecting his or her work; and 8. The employees have had sufficient time to read the document and ask questions before executing it of his or her own free will.
. Unenforceability as a contract is a nonissue. Whether the document is an enforceable contract almost doesn’t matter, because the real strength of a love contract lies in the nature of the acknowledgements made. It shows that the employer took affirmative steps to maintain a workplace free from sexual harassment and retaliation, and it serves as powerful evidence that, at least at the time of execution, the relationship was consensual. Finally, it reaffirms that both employees are aware of the existence of a policy prohibiting sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation and their obligation to abide by it.
. A love contract will not prevent all litigation, but it will assist an employer’s defense. Like any other step an employer takes, a love contract can be a strong deterrent to employee claims, but it will not prevent all future litigation arising out of a workplace relationship. Nevertheless, a love contract will, if nothing else, lay the groundwork for a solid defense should litigation ensue. For example, an aggrieved employee can still claim he or she suffered retaliation after a breakup, but a love contract confirming that the relationship began consensually should support a defense that the perceived post-relationship retaliation was based on personal animosity rather than gender-based discrimination.
. Considerations before utilizing love contracts. Although not a concern in Texas, a GC should confirm whether privacy laws of the jurisdiction where the business operates prohibit or limit employer monitoring of workplace relationships. Also consider how to present the idea of a love contract to a couple; unless a relationship is brought to the employer’s attention, the employer must exercise sound judgment in deciding when to address what a manager’s own observations may lead him or her to suspect is a budding relationship. Decide in advance what to do if one of the participants denies the relationship or refuses to sign the document. Finally, since there is no one way of developing an effective love contract, a GC should retain experienced labor and employment counsel to draft the appropriate language that meets the particular needs and objectives of the GC’s company.
Properly implemented and appropriately drafted, love contracts will reduce the likelihood of litigation arising from workplace relationships. In the event of litigation, an effective love contract will bolster an employer’s defenses and increase the prospect for prevailing on summary judgment or at trial.
For the dankprofessor, love contracts as described by Joseph Gagnon definitely appear to be applicable to the university. However, I have not been able to find a single university which has employed a love contract or seriously considered a love contract to deal with student professor consensual sexual relationships. I can only speculate why such is the case. And my speculations are governed by the reasons given by the prohibitors of student professor relationships.
Most likely a reason that would be given to oppose these contracts is that it is impossible to stop prejudicial grading by the professor. When I have been challenged about my own past practices as a professor and I indicate that my grading of the loved one was not impacted by our relationship, many people state that they just do not believe me; they indicate it is an impossibility. Another reason might be that the underlying framework for these bans is that differential power precludes consent and therefore as a result of this situation the student is in a state of diminished capacity and could not consent to a sexual relationship with the professor and would not be able to engage in consent as part of a love contract.
Such are the hypotheticals. What I believe is the major reason for no consideration in the university place is simply that the banning agenda is anti-sexual, and the application of a love contract would function to legitimize these sexual relationships. In the workplace, concern about sexual relationships is generally of a pragmatic kind- avoid litigation. Of course, those companies which have an anti-sexual agenda would not embrace a love contract.
And one additional observation by the dankprofessor, love contracts would seem to me to be a misnomer at least as applied to the university. Universities are not attempting to ban love; their attempt is to ban sex, and I cannot recall a single university policy where love is mentioned. The professor who falls in love with a student and the loves remains a secret love has really no place to turn in the context of attempting to engage in non-prejudicial grading. Can one seriously entertain a professor being excused to grade a student because he or she is in love with the student? Of course, those most vociferously advocating these bans, committed campus purity feminists, have dehumanized male professors to such a degree that they do not consider them to be capable of love. They see them in terms of being lechers, predators, seducers, harassers, abusers, rapists, but as lovers, I have my doubts.
I hope to have more posts on love contracts. Input from blog readers on love contracts will be greatly appreciated!
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
Naplesnews.com of Naples, Florida reports that too many of the faculty of the Florida Gulf Coast University have in the past been too sexually involved with their students. Reporter Brad Kane found that FCGU fired two of its coaches over “suspicions of having improper affairs with students”. Interesting that suspicions, not findings of fact, are apparently enough for FGCU to fire faculty.
In the dankprofessor’s opinion it is pretty damning that any university would fire any faculty or administrator or staff persons because they had come under suspicion. If such be the case, maybe the university should screen out all suspicious persons during the hiring person. And, of course, they should be upfront about it in their employments ads- Suspicious persons need not apply. But maybe the problem is the dankprofessor’s. Maybe I am not suspicious enough, particularly not suspicious of the news media that all too often gets the story wrong, particularly when the story deals with sex. Maybe the naplesnews.com got it wrong when it is stated the suspicions relating to faculty having “improper affairs” with students. Of course, such implies that there also can be proper faculty student affairs. And, yes, it is the dankpofessor’s position that there are per se no improper student professor affairs; something more needs to have occurred to make them improper.
But upon further perusal of this article, I learn more about what might be considered to be improper as “…when two professors in 2001 were let go for the same reasons. One was even caught in the back of a van with a student.” Combining a student professor romance with auto erotica apparently goes beyond the moral sensibilities of many Floridians. Maybe it would have been a less serious offense if the affair was held in an indoor venue, such as an hotel or apartment or even in a condo.
However, I may be digressing from he main point of the article and that was to report that the FGCU administration is taking a dim view of student professor affairs. FGCU spokeswoman Susan Evans sets things straight when she stated-
“The issue is power and authority, whether it is professor/student or coach/student-athlete. All the students should be able to learn in an environment free of unwanted advances.”
Now the dankprofessor considers Ms. Evans thinking on this matter to be distorted, stereotypical and anti-female. What “offends” me is the part about all students being free of unwanted advances with the assumption being that students never make advances regarding faculty. Such is patently untrue. In any case, if these affairs are now regarded as improper by the administration, shouldn’t faculty also have the ability to teach in an environment free of unwanted advances?
In addition, the following is stated in the article-
FGCU employees are strictly forbidden from having amorous relationships with students directly under their authority whether it’s students in their classes, players on their teams or interns under their employment.
For students not directly under their authority, the issue gets slightly cloudier as affairs are frowned upon but not expressly against the rules.
“It is a serious offense that can and does include termination of an employee,” Evans said.
Even though the relationship may start between two consenting adults, it can descend into a sexual harassment situation, which undermines the learning process.
“Faculty should not have affairs with students even when the student is not in the faculty member’s class, because when the relationship goes sour – even if that relationship is based on mutual consent – that could be something that turns into harassment,” said Halcyon St. Hill, FGCU faculty senate president.
My God, both Ms. Evans and the faculty senate president share the same fears, a consensual relationship turning into a situation of sexual harassment. Maybe their fears might be lessened by their confronting the possibility that student professor relationships can end in friendship and love and marriage and even parenthood. Why trump student professor affairs because some have unhappy endings? Would they trump marriage since marriage often leads too divorce?
The reporter does allow a FGCU student to have the last word.
“It is pretty much the same stories you hear about in high schools all over, except, even now, we are all adult,” said Kimberly Freeman, a sophomore biotechnology major. “I don’t condone it, but everyone has their own moral standard.
“I’d never date a professor. That’s kind of wrong.”
Despite all FGCU’s rules and regulations, stopping student-professor affairs altogether might be impossible.
“It goes on everywhere,” Freeman said. “I’m sure there’s not one college out there where it hasn’t happened.”
As is the practice on the dankprofessor blog, the dankprofessor gets the last word. Of course, the student is right when she states it goes on everywhere. But in almost all of the everywheres there are the moral zealots eager to enforce their sexual agenda on unsuspecting others, unsuspecting others who believe in the right to privacy, the right of adults to have the freedom to choose with whom they have intimate associations. If the FGCU administration is to protect students and faculty from power abuse, the protection they need is from moral zealots who occupy positions of authority.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
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Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
Abusus Non Tollit Usum or Do Not Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water
Review of Paul R. Abramson: Romance in the Ivory Tower: The Rights and Liberty of Conscience, MIT Press, 2007, 176 pp.
Reviewed by Joseph S. Fulda
The original publication of this review is located at http://www.springerlink.com
Forthcoming in SEXUALITY AND CULTURE, vol. 12 #1, March 2008, pp. 68-70
The Conceptual Aims and Practical Goal of the Book
Abramson wrote this book with two aims in mind: (1) To avoid giving offense to any, while (2) arguing for “safeguarding the right to think and choose, according to one’s conscience, as it applies to faculty-student romance” and the choice of whom to romance, more generally. The explicit goal of the book is to “reverse [the] situation” where when “you lose your heart, you could lose your job.”
The False Issue and the Real Issue
Abramson does not deny that conflicts of interest are possible, but believes rather that such solutions as “recusal, disclosure, and third-party evaluations” are the answer, not simply banning romance. Moreover, Abramson does deny-and we agree-that were universities honestly motivated by conflicts of interest, they would not routinely place inappropriate pressure on faculty to favor athletes (who bring in money), and argues that when it comes to banning romances the issue is, once again, money. Money. Listen to Abramson on p. 30:
Why, you may wonder, do companies prohibit romance in the first place? …[T]he truth of the matter is that the primary motivation for the nonfraternization policy is the belief that it reduces civil liability in sexual harassment lawsuits …the rhetoric about power differentials and favoritism notwithstanding. …How, you may wonder, can this be true? Or more specifically, what does romance among consenting adults have to do with sexual harassment? The real answer is precisely nothing. …The big question, then, is why should consensual romance be denied in the service of protecting against sexual harassment lawsuits?
And, on pp. 32-33:
Is this fair? Or more important, is this legal?
It is, of course, patently unfair. The only real question is whether it is legal, or more significantly, treated as legal?
Before going on to Abramson’s own answer to this question, it is well to remark that he is not against saving money per se; he advocates that consenting partners sign a “love contract” releasing the university from liability. But the current approach, he likens to banning purses and laptops because some may be stolen or eliminating parking lots and cars on campus when problems arise in these domains.
The Framework of Abramson’s Argument
Space and the desire to leave something for the reader to discover on his own preclude us from giving more than a bulleted outline-a sketch-of Abramson’s argument, with one hopes not too considerable damage to the subtleties and nuances-for which, of course, the reader of this review must purchase the book. Here is the sketch: • The First Amendment protects both the free exercise of religion and precludes the establishment of a national religion or preference between religious systems.
• The draft of the Amendment originally written by Madison included a third clause regarding “the rights of conscience.”
• The constitutional archives, by which Abramson means the entire corpus of writings of the Founding and Framing eras, are not ultimately dispositive about whether the oft-mentioned rights of conscience were parallel to, underlay, or were a synonym for the free exercise of religion and the proscription of preference between religious systems-or perhaps some combination of all three.
• The constitutional archives are not ultimately dispositive as to whether the free exercise clause extends to behavior not injurious to others, but leans in that direction.
• The Ninth Amendment protecting unenumerated rights can certainly be read as extending to the rights of conscience broadly considered.
• Anchoring the liberty of conscience in the First or Ninth Amendments grants it affirmative protection as something inherently worthwhile, while recognizing a zone of privacy merely walls it off from certain intrusions.
• For something as fundamental as the liberty of conscience, extending both to beliefs and behavior not injurious to others, a firmer footing than the negative right to privacy is desirable.
• Sexual and romantic choices are ultimately matters of conscience and were pretty uniformly so regarded at the time and place of the Framing.
• Universities receiving federal funds ought to recognize the liberty of conscience in its entirety, because it is the right thing to do and because it is mandated by the Constitution’s core principles if not perhaps by its text and if decidedly not by the history of that text’s interpretation.
A few small problems mar this book, and one significantly larger issue. The small problems include, inter alia, the absence of citations for legal cases, the repeated use of “discrete” for “discreet,” and the reversal of meanings given “impartiality” and “partiality.”
The larger issue is that Abramson sees fit to properly ally the rights of religion and conscience in the choice of romantic partners throughout most of the book, but towards the ends adopts a strange (given his first aim) and entirely unnecessary (given his second aim) and, indeed, counterproductive hostility towards religion.
The Decalogue commands respect for parents, but a core religious teaching is that children may entirely disregard their parents’ wishes when it comes to a choice of spouse. Moreover, even the young are not to be married without their consent. This lesson is taught in Genesis where Rebecca, a child prodigy who spoke and reasoned at 3 years of age, had to be consulted before Milcah and Laban released her to Abraham’s servant Eliezer as a mate for Isaac.
This hostility undermines his own parallel throughout the book’s body between religion and conscience and I cannot divine what impelled him to do this to his own argument.
Still, the book remains largely persuasive and deserves a fair hearing from the (anyway) largely secular academy to which it is directed.
Out of the Campus Closet: Student Professor Consensual Sexual Relationships
Review of Paul R. Abramson: Romance in the Ivory Tower: The Rights and Liberty of Conscience, MIT Press, 2007, 176 pp
Reviewed by Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor
The original publication of this review is located at www.springerlink.com
Forthcoming in SEXUALITY AND CULTURE, Vol. 12 #1, March 2008, pp. 68-70
Might one be engaging in utopian thinking if one believes that universities, particularly American universities, are places where matters relating to conscience and liberty and freedom of association are taken very seriously? The answer is unequivocally yes since most American universities are no longer a refuge for persons believing in and wanting to act on these values, values which have been integrally linked to the American ethos. Rather than being a refuge for these values, American universities have embraced authoritarianism with a vengeance, discarding freedoms that have been held by many as taken for granted freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
Nowhere have these constitutional rights been more flagrantly violated than on American campuses where there have been concerted efforts, and generally successful efforts, to formally ban intimate sexual and romantic relationships between students and professors. Hardly any of the campus advocates for these bans have given any credence or recognition to the possibility that their agendas represent violations of civil liberties in any form. They have effectively disguised their attack on basic freedoms as a form of protectionism with their feminist engendered slogan that differential power precludes consent, which comes to be equated with the idea that students, particularly female students, are unable to consent to any form of sexual relationship with almost any professor since professors always are in a higher power position. Even if a female student should protest that her consent was given freely, the campus authoritarians believe that they know the mind of the student better than the student does, and that their will must replace the will of the incapacitated student.
The disputation of such views has not facilitated an open and polite exchange of ideas. Rather dissenters have been usually viewed as lecherous professors, whether they are male or female, who wish to have free rein for their alleged predatory behavior. In one way or the other campus sexual code dissenters are considered to be morally suspect while the sexual code advocators and promulgators are held to be above suspicion. Or, to put it in other terms, sexual banning supporters are held to be academic insiders while the banning dissenters are held to be dissident outsiders, outside of the post-modern, feminist ideologies of the day.
With the authorship of Romance in The Ivory Tower: The Rights and Liberty of Conscience, UCLA psychology professor, Paul R. Abramson, has fully entered into this fray as an outsider holding that campus predation has run amok in the form of academics discarding basic constitutional guarantees in their quest to “protect” and control both students and professors. Professor Abramson argues that the control they want is to prevent adults on university campuses from choosing whom they date, whom they love, whom they choose as romantic partners. In his words, “Choosing who we love, even on a university campus, is no less a fundamental part of choosing how we live.” And such is a choice that cannot in principle be taken away by university authorities since the power to make the choice resides in the parties directly engaging in the choosing. He notes that “For all intents and purposes, many universities throughout the United States have determined that the power is theirs to wield. This book challenges that assumption, arguing instead that the power is unquestionably within the province of the individual…”
For Abramson, taking away the individual rights of conscience is a direct attack on the autonomy of the individual. Rights of conscience go beyond matters of religion and “…can be extended to all matters of substance that require serious deliberations about right and wrong, consensual sex and romance included.” In Abramson’s view, this individual right of conscience should protect the “…right to make romantic choices without interference or refutation by governmental and institutional authorities.” And very importantly, the author argues that this right is embedded in the Constitution in the form of the Ninth Amendment which holds that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” And Abramson holds that the right to romance is one such important right that is protected by the Ninth Amendment. For those who might argue that the right to romance does not reach the level of importance meriting constitutional protection, he responds in the following terms: “Romance…is a quintessential right retained by the people. It is no less essential to our well-being and happiness, I assert than freedom of speech. It is hard to imagine liberty without either right. Furthermore the right to choose a romantic partner is a prerequisite right to romance itself. Romantic choice is therefore the vehicle via which we exercise romantic freedom.”
In terms of defending this interpretation of the Ninth Amendment, Abramson heavily relies on the writings of our nation’s founders, particularly Jefferson and Madison with the greatest emphasis put on Madison. For Madison, the protection of unenumerated rights of the people via the Ninth Amendment is of crucial import. If such was not the case, the governmental authorities can do just about anything to their subjects unless such was specifically forbidden by the Constitution. And for Madison and Abramson and for this reviewer, the people should not be subject to the unrestrained arbitrary impositions of a government without constitutional authority. In essence, Abramson takes seriously the notion that citizens are not subjects to be experimented upon, that their will to decide, reject or consent cannot be removed from above. And throughout this volume, the author is ethically engaged as he hopes that the citizenry in general be ethically engaged since for him it becomes axiomatic that an ethic imposed from above is a form of authoritarianism and such authoritarianism should not be employed to mandate what people believe or how people act.
Nor does Abramson hold that matters of individual liberty and autonomy are without ethical and legal constraints. Conduct harmful to others is not protected conduct. Abramson embraces John Stuart Mill’s perspective “…that society should only protect its citizens from harms that violate rights. Liberty prevails until someone’s rights have been violated.” Abramson does recognize that the boundaries defining what behaviors actually represent harmful behavior in the Millsian sense can be quite ambiguous. But for Abramson when it comes down to the issue at hand, there is no question that dating, including, of course, dating between students and professors is a “fundamental life choice.” And that “Most serious romantic relationships, in fact, begin with a date. It is therefore a necessary prerequisite to the intimate side of life.”
Of course, no matter how elegant he is in the presentation of this viewpoint, and in this reviewer’s opinion, he is quite elegant, almost all persons advocating banning student professor sexual relationships will not be impressed since generally they are not impressed by any sort of intellectual dissenters from their ordained truth. What Abramson is facing when it comes to this issue are many persons who are on a moral crusade, and will attempt to deal with him not simply by trashing his ideas but by trashing his very personage. The Chronicle of Higher Education was one of the first media sources to provide pre-publication coverage of the Abramson book and presented an interview with Abramson which functioned on the whole to provide an accurate depiction of his forthcoming book. But what the CHE also did was to publish an adjacent full-page picture of Professor Abramson. Initially I was perplexed as to why the CHE devoted so much space to Abramson’s picture; after all, Abramson was not a celebrity, much less an academic celebrity. But then I learned what I believed to be the reasons for the picture publication, and my learning was based on the reader forum that followed said publication in which so many readers were not concerned with the content of the interview but rather were concerned with the picture of Abramson which came to represent for them Abramson as a predatory and lecherous professor or as one reader commented “…looks like a letch right out of central casting.” This photo was enough for all too many of the CHE readers to simply dismiss Abramson and whatever he had to say. Unfortunately, appearances do count when they should not, and all too often trump the possibility of intellectual analysis and critical thinking.
Pre-publication dismissals of Abramson’s book have generally not reflected any careful scrutiny of the issue, but rather have generally been based on snap judgments and intensely visceral reactions. For example, one blogger wrote that Abramson will apparently do everything to justify sex between students and professors. “Thus, man will do everything to rationalize, normalize, legalize, and excuse everything; such as having sex with a professor…He (the professor) does not want to be told that sex between a student and an adult are wrong.” Of course, Abramson is not telling anyone that sex between and adult and child is right, morally or legally. However, the dilemma facing Abramson is that many persons in the general population and in universities will engage in a default assumption translating student into child, professor into adult and therefore feel that they are dealing with sex that cannot be consensual, since one party to the “relationship” is always a child; no matter what the age, student is equated with child. Such thinking most likely goes back into childhood when the teacher is always the adult and the student is always the child. Many persons just cannot get beyond this framework. This is also reflected by the tendency of some professors and some administrators referring to students as “kids” or “my kids,” regardless of age.
Abramson is aware of the stereotype of the student professor sexual relationship as representing “the lecherous male professor seducing gullible female undergraduates.” He is also aware of the writings and influence of Catherine Mackinnon and her thinking that all workplace romantic relationships represent sexual harassment. What Abramson does fail to represent is that the notion of the female student unable to provide consent was originally popularized by Billie Dziech and Linda Weiner in their 1984 book The Lecherous Professor: Sexual Harassment on Campus. It was this book that became the sacred book for campus feminists and part of the often repeated rant that differential power precludes consent. It was in this context that campus feminists fueled the banning movement in the framework of repeatedly infantilizing female students and presenting female students as victims in the same sense that children are victims of adult male predators. It was this feminist vision that fueled the banning movement and was ultimately combined with the assertion that when professors teach or supervise a student and engage in a sexual relationship with a student then it becomes a conflict of interest.
Abramson does attempt to deal with the conflict of interest issue in the context of the professor engaging in impartial grading of a student with whom he has a sexual involvement. In order to preserve the appearance of impartial grading, Professor Abramson suggests that a colleague may be asked to intervene to provide a third party evaluation of the student. I consider third party evaluation to be problematic since the sexually involved student ends up being treated differently than all other students who are graded by the same professor. In principle, in terms of the course requirements and course process, students should not be treated in any way differentially based on their relationship, sexual or otherwise, with the professor. Invoking matters of appearances is not an adequate rationale for differential treatment. Also, in many cases the usage of a third party evaluator is an impossibility since grading is often in part based on what happens in class, such as class participation, in-class projects, etc. Abramson does not go beyond suggesting third party involvement. As Professor Abramson indicates, some universities operate under a coercive disclose and dispose policy which means that the professor must inform the appropriate administrator of the situation, and said administrator then disposes of the situation with absolutely no consideration given to the privacy and the right of the student to non-disclosure.
But conflicts of interest issues are not the core fueling the banning movement. Professor Abramson knows that professors in general are not wracked out over conflict of interest issues. Professor Abramson also indicates that professors engage in myriad forms of favoritism that are not at all emotionally tinged. For example, students enrolled in a professor’s class may be a daughter or son of a colleague or even one’s own son or daughter or a friend or a relative of a friend, or a professor may preach feminist sister solidarity or racial solidarity while grading students who are not part of his or her group or a professor may engage in out of class political demonstrations with likeminded students and prejudicial grading hardly ever becomes an issue. Professors emotionally committed to banning student professor relationships are not conflict of interests obsessed; they are sexually obsessed; obsessed with stopping other professors from engaging in what they consider to be sexual abuse of female students/children. And therefore all of the good legal and historical analysis by Professor Abramson becomes an irrelevancy for them because they see the subjects of these professors as being in an incapacitated state, a state where consent is an impossibility, a state where the subjects must be removed from the power of the offending professor and taken out of the classroom and where the demand is that the lecherous offending professor be removed from all classrooms.
Professor Abramson bemoans the fact that so few professors have spoken out against such sexual banning, particularly the lack of public professorial critiques of the impending UC policy which was passed in 2003, and banned romantic relationships by professors with students who they supervise (teach) and students who are in academic areas in which there is some likelihood that the professor may be their teacher at some future time. Abramson in his 2003 Los Angeles Times Op Ed piece was one of the few UC professors publicly speaking against the impending policy. Abramson notes that student and faculty protest against the UC policy did not even occur at UC Berkeley where protests are almost a fact of everyday life. However, he does fail to note that UC Berkeley Professor of English Catharine Gallagher did initiate a protest of this policy after its passage and was joined by other UC Berkeley faculty in petitioning the UC Berkeley Provost, but the Gallagher protest and petition was too little and too late.
Professor Abramson understands that one of the major reasons there were so few faculty voices raised in protest is that “dissenting” professors are on the whole afraid, afraid of being treated as suspect, afraid of being treated in sexually objectified terms in the manner similar to how Professor Abramson has been treated. And, in fact, I believe that untenured professors at UCLA or at whatever university, whether it be an elite or not so elite university, are extremely unlikely to speak out. Even as a tenured professor and as professor who has strongly spoken out against these sexual bans, Abramson still has some trepidation about being presently identified as a sexual code violator as indicated by his publicly stating that he is out of the dating game, that he leads a staid married life and that at one time, 20 or so years ago, he did have a couple of relationships with students, but now he is beyond that, therefore he is OK. If Abramson takes his ideas seriously, he would be eager to state I am OK now and I was OK then. And I do understand the dilemma that if a UCLA professor wrote a book of the sort of book Abramson wrote and he stated that he presently dated students and such was OK, he would then end up being investigated and probably charged with violation of the UC sexual code.
However, even if there has been minimal response by academics critiquing these fraternization policies, and few persons doing empirical research on faculty student sexual/romantic dyads, Professor Abramson should still have done a more thorough review of this literature and reported on the highlights of this literature and indicated what he considers to be most germane to his concerns. For example, in the area of research on faculty student relationships, he could have cited two important empirical studies of student professor relationships (Bellas and Gossett 2001; Skeen 1983) as well as citing numerous scholarly critiques (Dank and Alberquerque 1998; Dank and Fulda 1998; Hooks 1996; Kincaid 1999, 2000; McWilliam 1996; Nehring 2001; Olivero 1994; Patai 1998, 2002; Pellegrini 1999; Pichaske 1995; Refinetti 2001; Tittle 1998).
Abramson rejects the notion that at the core of the movement to prohibit professor/student relationships is an emotional sexual dynamic which is fueled by an underlying child, adult sexual predator imagery. Rather Abramson embraces the idea that “The real reason for these prohibitions…is that universities want to further reduce their liability in civil lawsuits-no sex and romance means no negligence.” Such represents the idea that this movement to ban student professor relationships simply is an instrumental, rational based policy to save universities money. I do not deny that some academics support the banning policy for this reason, but the supporters of banning at UC have not cited any case in which UC was sued in whole or in part relating to a consensual relationship between a student and a professor. And Abramson does not cite such a case. And as Professor Abramson indicates the case employed by ban supporters to get this policy adopted dealt with an off campus sexual assault against a student by the dean of the UC Boalt law school. The invocation of the UC Boalt law school case demonstrates the mental gymnastics that UC ban supporters had to go through to implement their policy; as Abramson notes there were sexual assault laws on the books in California via which the dean could have been prosecuted. The bitter reality is that to get this policy implemented, the supporters had to assault the idea that sexual consensual relationships between adults and sexual assaults are not interchangeable.
For academia as a whole and for the population as a whole, if one takes the sexual out of this anti-sexual policy, interest in the policy would become just about nil. But the sexual component cannot be taken out of this policy. Sexual meddlers and crusaders would not tolerate it. Just as the prohibition of prostitution has never been about the state saving money, nor the prohibition of homosexual acts between consenting adults has ever been about the State saving money, the prohibition of student professor relationships has never been just about universities saving money.
Ultimately the issue is what can save our universities from the moral crusaders, no matter what causes and ideologies the crusaders may embrace. In his book, Professor Abramson has taken an important initial step in terms of elucidating the importance of adhering to basic constitutionally guaranteed sexual civil liberties and sexual rights in American universities. Vigilance in the area of civil rights and liberties is crucial if authoritarian interventionists are to be prevented from controlling the most intimate aspects of persons’ lives. But such vigilance must also be combined with an understanding of the social psychological dynamics propelling true believers to seek to control the sexual lives of others. If we are to succeed in affirming and protecting the value of conscience and liberty, those opposing these values cannot be allowed to pass themselves off as feminists just trying to protect those who supposedly cannot protect themselves, or university administrators just engaging in fiscal savings; they must be confronted and critiqued at every possible opportunity and exposed as authoritarians whose power and control agendas are antithetical to the ideals of higher education.
Bellas, M. L., & Gossett, J. M. (2001). Love or the lecherous professor: Consensual sexual relationships between professors and students. The Sociological Quarterly, 42, 529-558.
Dank, B. M., & Alberquerque, K. (1998). Banning sexual asymmetry. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 1.
Dank, B. M., & Fulda, J. S. (1998). Forbidden love: Student-professor romances. Sexuality and Culture, 1, 107-130.
Hooks, B. (1996). Passionate pedagogy: Erotic student/faculty relationships. Z Magazine, Mar 1996 (pp. 45-51).
Kincaid, J. (1999). Power, bliss, jane and me. Critical Inquiry, 25(3), 610-616.
Kincaid, J. (2000). Critical response. Critical Inquiry, 26(3), 615-618.
McWilliam, E. (1996). Touchy subjects: A risky inquiry into pedagogical pleasure. British Educational Research, June 1996 (pp. 305-307).
Nehring, C. (2001). The higher yearning: Bringing eros back to academe. Harper’s Magazine, Sept 2001.
Oliviero, T. H. (1994). Strange bedfellows, thoughts on the bans against faculty-student relations and how they can hurt us. Radical Teacher, Winter 1994.
Patai D. (1998). Heterophobia: sexual harassment and the future of feminism. Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield.
Patai, D. (2002). Academic affairs. Sexuality and Culture, 6, 65-96.
Pellegrini, A. (1999). Pedagogy’s turn: Observations on students, teachers and transference-love. Critical Inquiry, 25(3), 617-625.
Pichaske, D. (1995). When students make sexual advances. Chronicle of Higher Education, 24 Feb 1995 (pp. B1-B2).
Refinetti, R. (2001). Sexual correctness in academia: The case of the professor. Sexuality and Culture, 5(2), 91-94.
Skeen, R. E., & Nielsen, J. M. (1983). Student-faculty sexual relationships. Qualitative Sociology, 6(2), 99-117.
Tittle, P. (1998). On prohibiting relationships between professors and students. Sexuality and Culture, 1, 131-149.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
One of my greatest fears is that the campaign to prohibit student professor consensual sexual relationships would lead to an academic environment which would put a chill on student professor socializing and student professor friendships. The consensual relationship prohibition might function and I believe has functioned to create fear of professors by too many students and fear of students by too many professors. It has done so by the embracing of cartoon imageries, gross stereotypes, of the professor as lecher and the student as seducer or gradedigger. Embracing such imagery can lead to the destruction of any sense of community in academia. Such imageries function to facilitate a greater sense of impersonality on campus and create an atmosphere that is all too similar to public hospitals and DMVs. Indicative of this fear on campus is a recent comment the dankprofessor weblog has received in response to the February 14 post on “Female student speaks of her relationship with a professor”. This comment merits our attention-
I just wanted to ask you if there is a proper way to address a male professor, as I am a female student? I was told the following by a male(neighbor)professor:
Most male professors have a sort of “good old boy” understanding regarding when female students address them outside of class or come for extra help.professors see them as predators. He also said that female students who need extra help etc. from their male professors are viewed as having “father issues” and/or are considered grade diggers.
I am a 30 something college student (senior) at a California State University. I have experienced great friendships with my professors during, as well as, after my course has finished. I never imagined that any of my professors saw me in this light, as I often address my male professors, as well as, seek out extra help. I have a 4.0 GPA and I did not earn this by avoiding any of my professor, male or female. His advice seems very harsh to me!
Could you shed any light on this topic? I have recently experienced some fear when approaching my current male professor as I have that negativity circulating in my mind. Am I just being gullible or naive? Could the professor have given erroneous advice?
I would love to have your thoughts on the subject. Thank you for the opportunity to present my question.
My response to her was in part as follows-
Your neighboring male professor has an extremely cynical and jaded view of the world, The overwhelming probability is that your male professors as well as your female professors view you in a very positive light, a 4.0 very highly motivated student. As a prof in the CSU system at Cal State Long Beach for 35 years, I can tell you that when a bright student visits a prof at the prof’s office for extra help to deal with the course material, such is valued. What profs don’t like are students coming to ones office to continually complain about their grade. Also, what profs don’t like is that so few students are interested in the course material, and never come to ones office. It is the indifference of students that both male and female profs dread.
For professors to reject socializing with students out of fear means that the prohibitionists have really won, that they are defining the campus climate, a very chilly climate that freezes out informal student professor socializing. Unfortunately, such is to be expected since when categorical intimacy bans come into being the social distancing between persons in different categories significantly increases. In Martin Buber’s terms, bans facilitate I-it relationships; to get to the I-thou, one must transcend the categorical boundaries, and friendship and love between members of different categories is always the enemy of those with an I-it framework. Or to put the I-it relationship in different terms- “everyone must know their place, and keep in place”. People who transcend taken for granted social and political boundaries, boundaries that are believed in with emotional fervor, are always considered THE ENEMY by the boundary believers.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
ABC News had a report on student professor relationships that was not all that bad. There were a few errors, once again the law dean at UC Berkeley was portrayed as having an affair with a law student; maybe I am out of touch but when someone says so and so had an affair the implication is that the “relationship” was more than just a few hours.
In any case, the catalyst for this ABC report was the revelation by Michelle Robinson, now Michelle Obama, had met Barack in the context of a formal power differentiated relationship. Here is how ABC News put it in the context of discussing student professor relationships-
“But not all such love affairs end in disaster. In 1989, Chicago lawyer Michelle Robinson was assigned the role of adviser to a summer associate from Harvard University, her future husband and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. According to an interview in the Illinois Journal Gazette and Times-Courier, she took the high road and refused to go out with Obama for a month.”
Is the ABC implication that Michelle took the low road when she decided to go out with him? If it was a low road, it turned out to be a pretty good road.
Might there be some campus feminists out there who wish to apply the feminist tenet that Barack could not have freely consented since differential power precludes consent and he was in the subordinate position? According to Michelle he did the asking. Attempting to apply the feminist perspective leads one into the absurd.
Of course, the Hillary Clinton campaign might have had an initial inclination to exploit this situation, but such could not occur without an immediate flashing back to Bill and Monica with Monica doing the initiating in her role of subordinate intern. Employing the feminist doctrine, Monica could not consent because she was in the subordinate position.
The absurdity of the differential power precludes consent is so blatant but somehow so many academics accept it as axiomatic.
In addition, too may academics give lip service to the assumption that student professor relationships are doomed to a disastrous failure.
ABC did not accept this scenario and provided an example of a student view contrary to the cartoon stereotypes.
“Aarti, 22, who didn’t want her last name used, graduated from Harvard University last year. She told ABCNews.com that romances between professors and their students were “very, very prevalent” on her campus.
“For someone who loves learning, who is more appealing than the professor?” she asked.
She went on to state that “His vocabulary, which I have yet to see challenged, was a regular subject of discussion among the females,” “and for those females who didn’t feel this way at the beginning, well, they definitely changed by the end of the semester.”
One of her friends at Harvard dated her thesis adviser while he was teaching her class. That couple dated for a year.
“Frankly, I don’t think the romantic involvement itself is unethical, as long as the student is not receiving preferential treatment in any way,” she said. “Then, it is not just a private romantic endeavor, but rather a case of unfair treatment that essentially affects all the students in the class.”
Aarti said she would not pursue a teacher because of the double standard for women when it comes to sex.”
If you wish, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
Returning to the University of Southern Maine student newspaper story about student professor consensual sexual relationships, the story focused on the experiences of Rebecca, a student, who is in a four year relationship with a professor.
“When I walked into class, it was like, ‘this guy is my teacher,’ and it’s different than outside,” she said. “He never gave me preference, and since I was very good at the subject anyway, I knew, and it was obvious to everyone else, that I earned my grades.”
Her relationship, which began four years ago, has gone unreported to anyone of supervisory power over the professor, because by the time their friendship had evolved into something bigger, the couple saw no need for the ‘mediation’ provided by the university’s policy-they had already established boundaries for themselves, and she was no longer his student.
While she says that the relationship is great, she still struggles, because she has been forced to lie about it for so long: “It sucks to connect something I’m so uncomfortable about to something that makes me happy.”
It has affected her friendships and family relationships, because she is never able to be fully open about her life – even her two best friends don’t know about it.
“My time with him and the rest of my life are completely separate realities,” she says, “When they cross, it’s really uncomfortable, and I get paranoid.” She has also come to realize the affect it has had on her college experience, removing her from the social situations that most students traditionally become a part of.
The secrets have been painful. Her friendships, old and potential, have suffered, and there’s a constant paranoia – for his sake — that it will somehow come out.
“But at the same time,” she says, “I’ve had a blast! You think about it, he’s my boyfriend. I love him. And four years! That’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had.”
Rebecca puts a knuckle between her teeth and tugs at her collar with the other hand, looking at me with a sideways glance that is almost coy, “I was just sort of taken by him, his looks, and his intelligence – sometimes I think the bad outweighs the good, but, I’m still with him. I mean, he’s awesome, he’s the best!”
She pauses and smiles, straightening her neck. After a minute, she begins again, “The biggest thing is that I still have a lot of respect for professors – if anything, it has made me realize that really, they have the same issues everyone else has, they’re just people.”
What the dankprofessor finds most disturbing about this relationship is the secrecy. Neither the professor nor the student feel they have the option of integrating this relationship into the rest of their lives. Possibly, they are misjudging the reactions of others. During my 35 year career as a professor I dated many students and former students, and I met many of these students’ parents and siblings. And never did I find that parents were not accepting of their daughter’s relationship with me. Such was the case even when there was a significant age differential. Not one parent objected to the fact that their daughter was dating a professor. In fact, the reaction was just the opposite to rejection, it was enthusiastic acceptance. The reality was that I often found myself dating a very interesting woman and befriending her very interesting parents. It was a plus plus situation.
But universities which have these problems are not interested in hearing about parental acceptance. Advocates of these relationships do not want them to exist and if they do, they want them to be in the closet.
At the University of Southern Maine, an administrative apparatus has been set up which investigates complaints relating to student professor dating. As reported in this article: “Any concerns about sexual harassment or preferential treatment stemming from student-faculty romance are taken to the Office of Campus Diversity and Equity, which investigates all discriminatory complaints at USM. For the past couple years, the office has not received any complaints of this nature. The 2004-05 school year saw three complaints, and in 2003-04 there was only one.”
Obviously the parties to these relationships do not report to the appropriate authorities since it is likely that both parties to these relationships do not feel they need administrative regulation and do not feel that the administration is their to help them navigate thru the terrain of university life.
However, USM administrator Daryl McIlwain disagrees with my analysis, according to him “probably most issues are not reported, for fear of the grade or because they don’t want to cause problems for the faculty member or draw embarrassing attention to themselves.”
However, the dankprofessor believes it is the fear of administrators such as Daryl McIlwain which leads couples not to report. And based on the input I have received from couples around the nation, I would advise couples never to report. Better to deny than to report to the campus authoritarians. I have heard too many stories of couples feeling utterly betrayed by the powers that be who end up violating the confidentiality of the relationship and often demean both the student and professor.
If you wish, you can write to me directly at email@example.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008
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