Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Middlebury College Update

The Burlington Free Press published an article entitled “Academic Affairs Rile Middlebury”( February 10) which deals with the ongoing consideration of a new student professor consenting sexual relationship policy. The dankprofessor has published a number of prior posts on the Middlebury situation.The headline of the article “Academic Affairs Rile Middlebury” was a misnomer since there was no academic affair of any sort mentioned in the article, and the dankprofessor has been unable to find any mention of any academic affair at any time of any kind, riling or otherwise, at Middlebury College. The fact of the matter is that the current Middlebury College policy discouraging such relationships has worked.

What riled up the Middlebury campus community was the visit of Ann Lane this past September to Middlebury College in the context of her presentation of a talk entitled “Consensual Relations in the Academy: Gender, Power and Sexuality”. The Burlington Free Press article stated: “Her speech lent some perspective to a discussion Middlebury’s faculty was beginning to have about one of academia’s thornier issues: faculty-student “amorous relationships” and what to do about them.” Of course, no where in the article was it demonstrated that the need had come up in the past at Middlebury to do anything about them.

However, Professor Lane did not see it that way. She stated in the Free Press article: “What struck me about my presentation at Middlebury were the number of students who attended, particularly the male students, probably half and half,” Lane wrote in an e-mail, “and the interest they showed in questions. I was impressed….At dinner that evening with administrators, faculty and students, what was interesting was that the faculty and administrators, thanking me for my talk, then went on to say how such relationships are rare or non-existent in their school. The students made eye contact and began to talk about several such relationships they all knew of, not naming anyone.”

So the good Professor Lane simply discards professorial input that these relationships are rare or non-existent at Middlebury and rather cites student scuttlebutt to support her position. Of course, the issue becomes whether gossip, and rumor should ever be the basis of any academic policy. Professor Lane or the Free Press did not report that any of these students have testified or are planning to testify concerning any such affairs. I think it is fair to say that at this point such affairs are simply a part of Lane’s fertile imagination.

In contrast to Professor Lane’s perception that there is great student interest in this issue, the Free Press reported the following student input:

“Among Middlebury students, by one account, this is not exactly a hot issue. Sarah Franco, a senior who writes Midd Blog, said she has “broached the subject of faculty/student relationships at least twice” but received no comments. “I stopped writing about it,” she said in an e-mail, “because students do not seem interested. I can only speculate as to why. For one thing, students speak up only if they fervently disagree with something and no student is going to openly advocate to have a relationship with a professor.”

Yes, I agree with Ms. Franco that no student is likely to advocate for student professor relationships and no professor is likely to engage in a similar advocacy. At Middlebury any such relationships if they have occurred remain out of sight
and out of mind, and this is as it should be if we respect the privacy rights of those engaging in intimate relationships.

What I find to be most depressing is the absence of any student or professor advocating for the right of any student or any professor to have a consensual relationship. Nowhere in the article is a rights perspective included or alluded to. If the Free Press writer had done his homework he would have found that over the last six months there has been much attention given in the media to a civil liberties perspective, particularly by UCLA professor Paul R. Abramson in his book ROMANCE IN THE IVORY TOWER: THE RIGHTS OF LIBERTY AND CONSCIENCE.  In fact, the Boston Globe recently carried an excellent op ed piece by Abramson which was totally ignored in the Free Press piece.

For example, the Free Press writer fails to understand the civil liberties implication when the opinion of feminist Bernice Sandler is cited: “A better option, Sandler said, citing an approach adopted at the University of Michigan, is a policy that requires disclosure. Such a policy “handles it without prohibiting,” she said, “but it gets at the professional issues involved.” After disclosure, a professor’s duties with respect to the student in question are assigned to someone else.”

What the article fails to note is that the student’s privacy is violated by a policy that would force the professor to reveal her identity to college authorities with the consequence that she is forcibly removed from the classroom. This seems like a pretty major omission, but never does Bernice Sandler in her media interviews state how this policy directly impacts on female students. The amazing thing is that for a feminist such as Sandler female students are invisible.

Another place where the article did not get it right was in the interview with Frank Vinik , a lawyer and risk manager for United Educators. The Free Press article reported:

“We think having no policy is a mistake,” said Frank Vinik, a lawyer and risk manager for United Educators, an insurance co-op with 800 college and university members. Vinik cited as an example the University of California, where a law school dean resigned in 2002 after engaging in an affair that he termed “consensual” and that the student deemed “harassment.” After that, Vinik said, the university formulated a consensual-relationships policy to go along with its harassment policy.”

One of the problems with the Vinik statement is that the law dean and the law student never had an affair. The length of their knowing each other was for a couple of hours. They met at a bar/restaurant in the context of a dining and drinking celebration of other students recent achievements. The student became inebriated; the dean drove her home, and while at her home while she was asleep the dean was reported to have assaulted her. How could one characterize such as representing an affair? How could one argue that this incident had any relevance to the current policy evaluation at Middlebury? Vinik must know that UC had a sexual harassment policy at that time that was applicable to the dean’s actions. The dean quickly resigned in the context of an impending sexual harassment charge. In fact, Frank Vinik engages in the same misstatement of the facts of this situation in a report on WCBV-TV Boston. If Mr. Vinik believes the dankprofessor has misrepresented him, I would welcome his input on this matter and if he wishes, I would publish his response on the dankprofessor blog.

The writer of the Free Press article, Tim Johnson, characterized this issue as being one of “academia’s thornier issues”. If such be the case, one would have been led to believe that the article would have made some attempt to bring forth the
conflicting perspectives on the student professor consenting sexual relationships issue. Such was not the case.
I had expected more from one of Vermont’s leading newspapers, a newspaper which is well known for its concern with civil liberty issues.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

February 11, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, Middlebury College, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Middlebury College “capitulates”

Middlebury College has taken a giant step toward the promulgation of a student professor consensual relationship policy regulation.  Such occurred on November 12 at a meeting of the Community Council of Middlebury College.  In a near-unanimous decision, Middlebury’s Community Council ultimately endorsed the spirit of the proposed policy.  The spirit of said policy was delineated by University of Virginia professor Ann Lane who on September 24 at a lecture at Middlebury which according to middleburycampus.com “urged administrators to take a stand against relationships that place students in a position of relative weakness.”  “What does it mean when you are having a relationship with someone who has great power over you?” asked Lane during her talk.

Middleburycampus.com never does tell the reader what it means, but whatever the meaning may be, Lane considers it to be a negative meaning.  Of course, whether an intimate relationship be asymmetric or symmetric, meaning would vary from relationship to relationship.  Lane engages in gross stereotyping and never considers the possibility of such relationships having positive meaning.  She is more concerned not with the parties to the relationship but the meanings that persons such as herself attach to the relationship. And Professor Lane does not like any such relationship.  Of course, it is much easier for her to deal with her advocacy of this position without having to confront the couples she wishes to regulate and dismiss.

The Community Council meeting of November 12 was characterized by middeburycampus.com as “a short but heated 20 minute debate.”  The nature of the heat was not delineated, but said heat did not last very long in the Council with only one dissenting vote against recommending a revision in the proposed Middlebury consensual relationship policy. The Council did not incorporate that part of the proposed policy that allowed for the dismissal of the offending professor.

In any case,  I expect that in reaching their decision the Council was satisfied that the Middlebury College community was presented with only one side of the issue represented by Ann Lane.  If Middlebury had lived up to its history of providing a liberal education for its students, they would have not only presented Ann Lane but an academic opposing such bans as well.  The fact of the matter is that Ann Lane has engaged in one on one debates on this issue.  I know that such has been the case since in the 1990s I engaged in such a debate with Professor Lane.  Assuming that Middlebury has not invited a person representing the other side, such still can still be done prior to the adoption of any policy on consensual student professor relationships.  In fact, I will go out on a limb and volunteer myself to engage in a presentation on this issue at Middlebury College.

From what I know of the debate on this issue, I do not believe that a scintilla of evidence was presented that demonstrated that Middlebury has suffered in any way during its 200 year history as a result of having a consensual policy which did not go beyond simply discouraging romantic or sexual relationships between students and professors. The Community Council ended up embracing a Carleton College policy which held that student professor relationships have been “found to undermine the trust, respect and fairness that are central to the success of Carleton’s educational mission.” 

To take away the mating/dating rights of adult students and professors at any college, the burden should be on the college to provide evidence that such relationships have undermined the success of the educational mission of the college.  I believe that no such evidence has been presented at Middlebury, and that the promulgation of this policy simply represents a form of sexual Puritanism with a feminist veneer. 

In the 1970s, the anti-homosexuality campaign had for a period of time the anti-homosexual crusader Anita Bryant, now in the 2000s anti-homosexuality has been replaced by anti student professor relationships with Ann Lane replacing Anita Bryant.  We have gone from an Anita Bryant campaign to “save our children” to an Ann Lane campaign to “save our students” since Lane de facto regards students as children who need the protection of persons such as herself.  Nothing new here, persons arguing against the power abuse of others and then arguing that they should have the power to take away the rights of others.

Following is a list of members of Middlebury College Community Council, o7/08.

 Tim Spears, Dean of the College, co-chair
Eric Hoest ’08, co-chair

Administration Appointees:
David Donahue,
Associate VP for College Advancement
Alfredo Ramirez, Special Advisor for Student Community Development
Liza Sacheli, Marketing Manager, Center for the Arts (alternate)

Faculty Appointees:
Noah Graham, Assistant Professor of Physics
Emily Proctor, Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Staff Council Appointees: 
Michael Glidden, Counter Worker Barista, Dining Services (ex-officio)
Linda Ross, Assistant Director of Custodial Services
Peggy Fischel, Manager of Telecommunications Services (alternate)

Student Appointees:
Mary Dwyer
Dean Atyia
Peyton Coles
Canem Ozyildirim
Cordelia Ross
Caitlin Sargent
Elizabeth Goffe
Sarah Attman
Abigail Blum
Eric Hoest
Thomas “Max” Nardini

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.  Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2007

November 18, 2007 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, Middlebury College, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment

More on Middlebury College

More needs to be said about the article by Tracy Himmel-Isham and Jon Isham advocating a ban on consensual student professor romantic relationships at Middlebury College.  The writers present a myriad of negative effects which supposedly occur on campuses without  a consensual relationship policy. Such negative effects include an undermining of trust in the classroom, an undermining of parental faith in the integrity of the College and a demeaning of the professional reputation of the faculty.  Given the writers’ vision of a college or university without a consensual relationships policy, few students and faculty would find such an environment to be hospitable to the teaching and learning enterprise.

But here is the nub of the problem for Himmel-Isham and Isham, Middlebury College has been a college for over 200 years without a consensual relationships policy, and as far as I know Middlebury has not suffered any of the negative effects that the authors outlined in their article.  If what they profess is true, all the accolades that have been given to Middlebury College over the decades and centuries is just hype; all the goods words simply represent a thin veneer protecting naïve others from seeing Middlebury College as a den of iniquity.  However, I do not believe that Middlebury is a den of iniquity.  What the dankprofessor believes is that the writing of Himmel-Isham and Isham is pure hype; that the authors ignore the history and culture of Middlebury in their usage of scare techniques in order to recreate Middlebury College.

Of course, the dankprofessor cannot help but speculate as to what led to these two writers to be outspoken on this issue at this time.  Might they have been spurred on by “outsiders” who wish to change Middlebury into being a sexual regulating college?   The writers published their article in October 2007 and in September 2007 the Middlebury community was preached to by Ann Lane, University of Virginia Women’s Studies professor, who has crisscrossed America spreading her vision of what universities like Middlebury should do to save their students from so-called predatory and sexually obsessed professors.

Make no mistake about it Ann Lane is a zealot when it comes to having her vision of student professor relationships as being the one true vision.  Such zealotry is apparent in the writing of Himmel-Isham and Isham.  Such zealotry apparently led these authors to become true believers and forget about the illustrious 200 year history of Middlebury without any Lane approved policy. Such are my speculations.  Maybe these two writers have a history of being outspoken on this issue.

Maybe they opposed and/or boycotted the 2007 Middlebury commencement address given by our former president, William Jefferson Clinton who as we know engaged in a president-intern sexual tryst with Monica Lewinsky.  Maybe it is and was their belief that great presidents and great professors simply are no longer great if they engage in this genre of relationship and merit impeachment as president or termination as professor.  Fortunately, Middlebury did not take this position and honored President Clinton by inviting him to be the keynote speaker for the 2007 commencement.

And the invitation to Clinton for the 2007 commencement speaker was preceded by Rudy Giuliani as the keynote speaker for the 2005 Middlebury commencement.  So the invitation to Clinton cannot be written off as being idiosyncratic.  For Middlebury, greatness in public life cannot be written off by private conduct, sexual or otherwise.  Of course, Giuliani’s sexual escapades when he was the mayor of NYC were not exactly private, publicly appearing as a married man with his mistress and then publicly announcing he was divorcing his wife in a news conference prior to even telling his wife of the impending divorce.  Of course, sexual politics do make strange bedfellows as indicated by the recent endorsement of Rudy Giuliani by Pat Robertson.  But the sexual political reality at Middlebury until recently has not been strange; commencement invitations are extended to Clinton and Giuliani, not to Pat Robertson or persons of the genre of former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr.  What is strange is Middlebury not simply extending an invitation to Ann Lane, but the apparent willingness of so many persons in the Middlebury community buying into the sexual politics of Ann Lane.

In any case, the bottom line in regards to  the present issue is whether Middlebury College will respect adult students and adult professors right to privacy, a right which is consistent with the history of Middlebury College.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2007

November 10, 2007 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, Middlebury College, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Middlebury College

Middlebury College is in the process of developing a policy regulating student professor consensual relationships and the  following op ed article by Tracy Himmel-Isham who is the Assistant Director of Career Services and Jon Isham who is the Luce Professor of International Environmental Economics present arguments in favor of adopting a policy at Middlebury.  Following are key excerpts from this article accompanied by my comments.

“Consider the negative effects when a professor and a student whom s/he supervises are engaged in a romantic and/or sexual relationship. Multiple conflicts are bound to arise because of the power differential. Fellow students are justified in questioning, “What has happened to the mutual trust in this classroom?” Departmental colleagues of the professor should ask: “How will this relationship affect our professional reputation?” And if the College turns a blind eye, parents of Middlebury students have the right to demand “What kind of a community is this?!””

Of course the advocates of the ban know with certainty that there will be negative effects of a student professor relationships  and said effects are bound to impact on mutual trust in the classroom.  For some reason, they appear to believe that the intimate aspects of the relationship takes place in class rather than outside of class.  Why would a professor integrate his or her personal intimate relationships into the class framework?  If such is the case, it is inappropriate not because the relationship is between a student and professor but rather because one of the parties in the relationship is an exhibitionist.  If a professor engages in verbiage unrelated to the class relating to the beauty of his girl friend or how evil was his mother, such a professor should be warned that such behavior is inappropriate.  For some reason, the writers believe that professors involved in such relationships are adolescents who cannot control their behavior and will exhibit their conquest to others in the classroom.  Such is absurd,; of course all stereotyping is absurd.  Might the embracing of this stereotypical imagery by highly educated persons   possibly represent a reflection of the writers projecting their own feeling on to these professors who they severely condemn?   Could such condemnation represent a form of self-flagellation? 

As to effecting the professional reputation of Middlebury, such is unlikely to occur, and as far as I know has not occcurred.  I say such is unlikely to occur since so few student professor relationships ever receive public attention.  Again, the people involved in these relationships are not exhibitionist, are not celebrities seeking the attention of the masses.  It would be fair to characterize their relationships as pedestrian, eligible men and women seeking to be loved in the context of meeting in a university community.  Often the couple meets in the context of the love of knowledge, sharing the similar intellectual passions, which in time may be transformed in part into a knowledge of love.  These two writers simply seem unable to understand that loving and learning can go together.  Nothing extraordinary or perverted about that ?

Then the writers express concern about the parents of Middlebury students and their right to demand.  It is unclear what they have the right to demand.  I gather that the writers believe that they have the right to demand the the university control their children as to whom their children are intimately associated.  Such is a type of control many parents would like to have, but should not have in the university since at the university their children are not the children of the university but are adult students attending Middlebury.  In any case, as stated previously, in the real world many parents are delighted that their daughter has affiliated with a university professor, has escaped the hookup culture and the binge drinking which are often a part of student culture.  As I have indicated previously, I personally have never met a parent who disapproved of my dating their daughter; being welcomed into their family was the norm.

The banning advocates continue by invoking Carleton College as being a model for Middlebury as to their consensual relationships policy.

“The well-being of the learning and teaching community at Carleton College depends upon the existence of a relationship of trust, respect, and fairness between the faculty and the students. Romantic and/or sexual relations, even if consensual, between faculty members and their students (those whom they currently teach, advise, supervise, coach, or evaluate in any way) violate the integrity of the student/teacher relationship as described above. Such relations are therefore prohibited by the College and constitute grounds for disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

This language gets it exactly right. Trusting, respectful and fair relationships between faculty and students are central to a college’s academic mission. Indeed, the teacher-student relationship, as celebrated in the recent launch of the Middlebury Initiative, defines our community.”

Carleton nor the Middlebury advocates present an iota of evidence that the integrity of the academic enterprise is affected or been affected by consensual student professor relationships  The reality is that such relationships have become the boogeyman of academia.  If the writers are concerned about integrity I suggest that they focus on student cheating, both faculty and student cheating; plagiarism, both faculty and student plagiarism.  These are issues dealing with academic integrity, not ones dealing with whom one dates.

I do agree with the writers that there should be trust, respect, and fairness between the faculty and students.  Of course, such should also entail trust between faculty and faculty.  Intruding into the personal lives of professors and students does not reflect trust, it reflects meddling. As for fairness, fairness in this case is not treating professors differentially based on who they choose to date but rather fairness is professors treating students the same in the classroom irrespective of any other relationships they may have regarding any particular student, eg, whether any particular student be a son or daughter of a colleague or of an administrator or if they like or dislike a student, or if they find a particular student attractive or unattractive, etc., etc.

“Note that the Carleton policy does not – repeat, does not – forbid all sexual relationships between faculty member and student. Specifically, it acknowledges that some romantic and/or sexual relationships do not “undermine the trust, respect, and fairness that are central to the success of Carleton’s educational mission.” This is an essential part of such a policy. A respected colleague of ours recently told us: “I have been at Middlebury for a long time, and I have seen loving relationships develop between professors and students, relationships that have become strong, long-lasting marriages.” At the same time, this colleague pulled no punches: “Of course, sexual relations between a faculty member and a student whom he or she currently supervises are indefensible.”

I can’t help but imagine if the aforementioned colleague checked out each of these couples determining with certainty that the relationship did not begin with the student in class or continued with the student in class.  If the professor pulls no punches, such would mean he would have thoroughly checked out these couples and become a meddling ogre in the context of defending the integrity of  Middlebury.

“We wonder about those who might object to Middlebury adopting a version of Carleton’s “Statement on Consensual Relations.” Perhaps some might think that it violates a tenured faculty member’s freedom of expression. But consider the following: if you are reading this article and somehow object to the Carleton Policy, then would you be willing to speak up for its converse?”

Well,  the dankprofessor is not at Middlebury and am speaking up for its “converse”.  What the policy does is violate both the students’ and professors’ freedom of association, of ones freedom to choose ones date and/or mate.

“We encourage all members of our community ­- students, faculty, staff, parents, alums, and trustees – to ask: “What kind of a community does Middlebury want to be?” Should our community dismiss sexual relationships between faculty and students as just one more privileged expression of academic freedom? Or, just as Carleton College did five years ago, should we declare support for “trust, respect and fairness” and therefore prohibit sexual relations between a professor and a student whom s/he supervises? Faculty council not only needs to take this issue seriously: they should recommend a policy that reflects the aspirations and moral integrity of our community.”

Yes, it is a decision as to what sort of community there is at Middlebury.  I would hope that the Middlebury community does not want to dismiss any consensual relationship.  Relationships between students and professors are not a “privileged expression”; they are expressive of basic rights of adults.  One can dismiss children, but not adults.  Those who take away such rights, no matter for what principles, end up demonizing others, infantilizing students and turning over the private lives of students and professors to administrators who are free of sexual biases and prejudices, who gain no gratification from controlling the sexual lives of others.  Getting beyond this fantasy thinking, it is more likely that professors and students who simply wanted to be left alone are now put in the hands of Big Brother and Big Sister administrators who simply are into power and control in the name of protecting the integrity of Middlebury.

Unfortunately I must end now since I want to keep up with the mass arrests of political dissidents in Pakistan, arrests which are, of course, being made to protect the integrity of the democratic process in Pakistan.  Let the elections begin.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2007

November 9, 2007 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, Middlebury College, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 1 Comment


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