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?
I recently blogged on the new Duke University policy which regulates in detail Duke University students sexual behavior. The major rationale given for such intrusion into the private lives of Duke students is that the policy attempts to insure that all sexual interaction between students is ‘absolutely’ consensual.
What the dankprofessor finds bemusing is that Duke does not apply this policy to faculty, staff or administrators. Shouldn’t Duke be concerned that all the sexual behavior engaged in by their employees is absolutely consensual? The dankprofessor thought it would be of interest to see how Duke handles student professor relationships and if said policy is consistent with their coercively administered sexual code.
Their 2002 policy begins with the following statement-
Duke University is committed to maintaining learning and work environments as free as possible from conflicts of interest, exploitation, and favoritism.
Where a party uses a position of authority to induce another person to enter into a non-consensual relationship, the harm both to that person and to the institution is clear.
Note that the person inducing is the person in authority; the person not in authority cannot induce. We shall see that the rest of their policy is consistent with this since students are hardly ever seen as being agents of their own behavior.
The policy continues-
Even where the relationship is consensual, there is significant potential for harm when there is an institutional power difference between the parties involved, as is the case, for example, between supervisor and employee, faculty and student, or academic advisor and advisee.
But even when there is no power differential there is risk of harm. On the other hand, there is also the potentiality of good- romance, love and marriage and children. But the Duke administration can never entertain that sexual behavior is good. They embrace the notion that sexuality is intrinsically bad EXCEPT when there is regulation from above. Only the powers that be can protect Duke students from such evil consequences; such is why Duke passed the draconian policy regulating sexual behavior of students.
The policy continues-
…the student–teacher relationship represents a special case, because the integrity of this relationship is of such fundamental importance to the central mission of the university. Students look to their professors for guidance and depend upon them for assessment, advancement, and advice. Faculty–student consensual relationships create obvious dangers for abuse of authority and conflict of interest actual, potential, and apparent. Especially problematic is such a relationship between a faculty member and a graduate student who is particularly dependent upon him or her for access to research opportunities, supervision of thesis or dissertation work, and assistance in pursuing job opportunities.
Interesting is their assertion that relationships between grad students and faculty are “especially problematic”. Interesting since Yale in its newly revised policy only applied blanket bans to undergraduates. Graduate students were given more leeway since they were seen as more mature.
Duke University has adopted a consensual relationship policy for the following reasons: to avoid the types of problems outlined above, to protect people from the kind of injury that either a subordinate or superior party to such a relationship can suffer, and to provide information and guidance to members of the Duke community. Most of all, this policy seeks to help ensure that each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity and without regard to any factors that are not relevant to that person’s work.
The last sentence brings us into the land of the absurd- policy insures each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity. Is attempting to control the sexual decision making of others dignified? Can outright coercion of others insure the dignity of others? This policy as formulated may help the policy enforcers to feel more dignified, and facilitate their work of attempting to take dignity away form others.
The policy continues-
No faculty member should enter into a consensual relationship with a student actually under that faculty member’s authority. Situations of authority include, but are not limited to, teaching, formal mentoring, supervision of research, and employment of a student as a research or teaching assistant; and exercising substantial responsibility for grades, honors, or degrees; and considering disciplinary action involving the student.
No faculty member should accept authority over a student with whom he or she has or has had a consensual relationship without agreement with the appropriate dean. Specifically, the faculty member should not, absent such agreement, allow the student to enroll for credit in a course which the faculty member is teaching or supervising; direct the student’s independent study, thesis, or dissertation; employ the student as a teaching or research assistant; participate in decisions pertaining to a student’s grades, honors, degrees; or consider disciplinary action involving the student.
Students and faculty alike should be aware that entering into a consensual relationship will limit the faculty member’s ability to teach and mentor, direct work, employ, and promote the career of a student involved with him or her in a consensual relationship, and that the relationship should be disclosed in any letter of recommendation the faculty member may write on the student’s behalf. Furthermore, should the faculty member be the only supervisor available in a particular area of study or research, the student may be compelled to avoid or change the special area of his or her study or research.
If nevertheless a consensual relationship exists or develops between a faculty member and a student involving any situation of authority, that situation of authority must be terminated. Termination includes, but is not limited to, the student withdrawing from a course taught by the faculty member; transfer of the student to another course or section, or assumption of the position of authority by a qualified alternative faculty member or teaching assistant; the student selecting or being assigned to another academic advisor and/or thesis or dissertation advisor; and changing the supervision of the student’s teaching or research assistantship. In order for these changes to be made and ratified appropriately, the faculty must disclose the consensual relationship to his or her superior, normally the chair, division head, or dean, and reach an agreement for remediation. In case of failure to reach agreement, the supervisor shall terminate the situation of authority.
What the dankprofessor finds to be most degrading in regards to students is that the faculty member must disclose the consensual relationship to his or her superior. What about the consent of the student re disclosure? What about the student’s right to privacy? And as for a faculty member unilaterally disclosing this relationship to a so-called superior, such behavior is damning. The faculty member who ends up as being an informant should have grownup and had the ability to say no to arbitrary authority who refer to themselves as “superiors”.
Of course, there are ethical issues involved here. But ethics are too important to be left to an authority which imposes its will on non-consenting others. Ethical engagement should always be at the core of university life. But the Duke student policy and student professor sexual relationships policy do not promote ethics. The ethic they promote is one of force; is one of authoritarianism. Consenting sexuality of adults is too important, too private to be controlled by university administrators, no matter how superior they consider themselves to be. The dankprofessor feels that university administrators who end up being part of a sexual police are utterly morally repugnant.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE) in a news release, April 7, 2010, charges that Duke University in a recently implemented sexual misconduct policy has rendered students as unwitting rapists and removed protections for students accused of sexual misconduct. The entirety of the FIRE news release appears at the end of this post and by clicking here one can read the entirety of the Duke sexual misconduct policy.
The dankprofessor views this new sexual misconduct policy as both draconian and authoritarian. The policy attempts to regulate the most intimate aspects of student lives. The major rationale given for such intrusion into the private lives of Duke students is that the policy attempts to insure that all sexual interaction between students is ‘absolutely’ consensual. The irony is that the policy has been applied to Duke students without their consent. There was no vote taken by Duke students authorizing this policy. The policy is being imposed on Duke students by the powers that be at Duke. In essence, Duke administrators and their confreres come off as authoritarian adults disciplining their children.
The utter hypocrisy of the creators of this policy is apparent. They argue that this policy in essence functions to upgrade the principle of consent and to sexually protect Duke students. If such be the case, then why do the creators and implementors of this policy exempt themselves? Why aren’t all Duke administrators, staff members, and faculty also beneficiaries of this policy? Aren’t they deserving of the same protections granted to Duke students? Aren’t these policies applied to Duke students with the hope that students will apply these approved practices throughout their lives?
The dankprofessor feels that he knows why these policies are not applied to Duke constituencies beyond students. Such non-application occurs because administrators, faculty and others would not tolerate being treated like children, would not tolerate having their sex lives governed by self-serving authoritarians. In the area of sexual civil liberties Duke students deserve the same basic rights as their so-called superiors.
The dankprofessor hopes that Duke faculty and administrators stand up for the rights of their students. Too much abuse has gone at Duke. Too many authoritarians have already hurt too many innocent Duke students in their zealous quest for so-called justice.
“Duke’s new sexual misconduct policy could have been written by Mike Nifong,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. “Members of the men’s basketball team could be punished for consensual sexual activity simply because they are ‘perceived’ as more powerful than other students after winning the national championship. Students who engage in sexual behavior after a few beers could be found guilty of sexual misconduct towards each other. This is not just illogical and impractical, but insane. Given its experience during the lacrosse team rape hoax, Duke, of all schools, should know better than to institute such unjust rules about sexual misconduct.”
The new policy was introduced at the beginning of the school year with fanfare from the Duke Women’s Center—the same center that apologized for excluding pro-life students from event space in a case FIRE won last month. Women’s Center Director Ada Gregory was quoted in Duke’s student newspaper The Chronicle justifying the new policy, saying, “The higher [the] IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are … imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke—cream of the crop.” (In a follow-up letter to The Chronicle, Gregory claimed that the quote was inaccurate and did not reflect her views, but stood by her analysis that campuses like Duke are likely to harbor smarter sex offenders who are better able to outwit investigators.)
Duke’s vastly overbroad definition of non-consensual sex puts nearly every student at risk of being found guilty of sexual misconduct. Students are said to be able to unintentionally coerce others into sexual activity through “perceived power differentials,” which could include otherwise unremarkable and consensual liaisons between a varsity athlete and an average student, a senior and a freshman, or a student government member and a non-member.
Further, students are said to be unable to consent to sexual behavior when “intoxicated,” regardless of their level of intoxication. Duke has turned mutually consensual sexual conduct, which might merely be poorly considered, into a punishable act. Adding to the confusion, if both parties are intoxicated at all, both are guilty of sexual misconduct, since neither can officially give consent. North Carolina law does not support this definition of consent.
“Of course, there is no way that everyone who was intoxicated during sexual activity, let alone ‘perceived’ as more powerful, is going to be charged with sexual misconduct,” said Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “Add to that the provision about an unintentional atmosphere of coercion, and anyone can see that Duke’s policy is impossible to rationalize or to fairly and equitably enforce. As a result, this policy effectively trivializes real sexual misconduct, which is a gravely serious crime.”
The new policy even makes reporting of so-called sexual misconduct mandatory for any Duke employee who becomes aware of it, regardless of the wishes of the alleged victim.
Furthermore, Duke has made fair enforcement of the sexual misconduct policy even more difficult by establishing different procedures and even a different “jury” to judge sexual misconduct complaints. For instance, sexual misconduct charges are judged by two faculty or staff members and only one student, but all other offenses are judged by a panel of three students and two faculty or staff members. Duke fails to explain why a jury with a majority of one’s peers is necessary for charges like assault or theft but not sexual misconduct.
Other problems in the sexual misconduct policy, detailed in FIRE’s letter to Duke President Richard Brodhead of March 4, include giving the complainant more rights than the accused, requiring the results of a hearing to be kept secret in perpetuity even if one is found not guilty or is falsely accused, and allowing anonymous and third-party reporting so that the student may never be able to face his or her accuser.
FIRE wrote, “As a private university, Duke is not obliged to agree with the authors of the Bill of Rights about the value of the right to face one’s accuser. Nevertheless, Duke ignores their wisdom at the peril of its own students and reputation.” Duke has declined to respond to FIRE’s letter in writing.
“More than any other school in the nation,” Shibley said, “Duke should be aware that its students deserve the best possible rules and procedures for ensuring that rape and sexual misconduct charges are judged fairly. Sexual misconduct is a serious offense. Duke students deserve a policy under which true offenders will be punished but the innocent have nothing to fear.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Tell Duke University to give its students the protections they deserve. Write to President Brodhead here.
Richard H. Brodhead, President, Duke University: 919-684-2424 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 919-684-2424 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; firstname.lastname@example.org
A professor at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) has launched an intemperate attack on fellow professors who have an amorous affair with a university student. Professor Edward T. Wimberley, who teaches courses in philosophy, ethics and environmental public policy, labeled such professors as “unscrupulous, self-serving and narcissistic adults.”
Unfortunately, Wimberley feels that it is OK to apply such degrading rhetoric to any professor who engages in such a relationship. Surely Professor Wimberley must know of some professors and students who had an affair and ultimately settled into marital tranquility and ultimately parenthood. In fact, it may be that some of the children of these relationships may even be in one of the professor’s classes and now find that their esteemed professor labels their father as simply an unscrupulous narcissistic adult.
Of course, Wemberley totally ignores the likelihood that these relationships are often initiated by female students.
In fact, the whole anti-student professor relationships movement either ignores the female student or treats female students as children. The fact is that if female students were not attracted to some of their professors and did not consider these professors as eligible, there would be very few of these relationships. Remove female professorial attraction and the so-called problem in essence is resolved. But, of course, this will not occur since we do not live in an authoritarian therapeutic state.
Professor Wimberley goes on to state-
Personally, I fervently hope that the very concept of permissible and acceptable consensual relationships between students and faculty will be rejected outright. As a parent and professor, I can see no situation where it is acceptable for an undergraduate student — particularly one younger than 21 years of age — to be engaged in a sexual relationship with someone significantly older who is legitimately expected to provide a wholesome role model to students. I suspect that a stronger case could be made for consensual relationships with older students — such as graduate students. However, given the poor self-restraint of so many of our FGCU faculty over the years, I would have to assume that the adoption of a consensual-relationship policy will implicitly sanction inappropriate relationships among university faculty and staff with students and will serve to perpetuate the idea that such relationships are acceptable as long as they don’t violate the letter of university guidelines.
Clearly the professor regards students as children or childlike. If such was not the case, why does he invoke his parental status? Although he acknowledges the possibility of consensuality when the student is older, he still opts out for the draconian banning of all student prof intimacies at FGCU. Of course, the professor would have trouble confronting the fact that the average age of FGCU students in 2008 was 23 years old. No matter the reality that most students are adults at FGCU, Wemberley still speaks as an authoritarian parent who wants the university to apply his authoritarian values to all of the FGCU student children or “kids”,a term often used to refer to students by authoritarian professors.
But there is much more to this story. It turns out that the ongoing evaluation of student professor relationships has been speeded up by the “revelation” that there is an investigation of a specific student and professor at FGCU.
The naplesnews.com has reported-
Professors in the counseling department filed a complaint against Associate Professor Patrick Davis, accusing him of being engaged to be married to a graduate student who he has advised and taught. They also raised concerns that he has retroactively changed some grades issued to the student, whose name was redacted from reports.
Note that the accusation as reported was that he was engaged to marry a student who he HAS advised and taught. As for the serious charge that he has prejudicially changed a student grade, such can be dealt with without banning all student professor intimate relationships. Prejudicial grading and grade changing is wrong, no matter as to whether there was or was not a sexual component. The fact that some apparently consider the student professor consensual sexual relationship issue as more important than the problem of prejudicial grading reflects the deterioration of academic ethics.
The best thing that the FGCU administration could do is simply suspend the effort to regulate/control intimate relationships between students and professors; if not such will inevitability lead to abuse of too many students and professors and the violation of their privacy. Of course, the FGCU administration should be vigorous in enforcing grading practices so that they will be uniformly non-prejudicial.
Rice University has recently been the subject of accolades from rather diverse sources. Rice was the highest ranked Texas college or university in the 2009 Forbes Magazine ranking of student friendly universities; Rice was ranked 43rd in a field of 600 ranked universities.
And Rice made the Chronicle Of Higher Education listing of colleges that are particularly employee friendly during the current economic downturn. In the CHE issue of July 10, 2009, Professor of History Alex X. Byrd had this to say about the Rice administration-“They really know the dilemmas that are facing people that work at universities, and they really work hard to have the universities meet those issues. They’ve really got us covered.”
I am not sure how covered the Rice professors were in prior years, but as of this Fall semester, all Rice faculty will be more sexually covered than in prior years. As reported in the student newspaper, the Rice Thresher–
The Faculty Senate updated its Statement on Consensual, Amorous Relations with Students for the first time in over a decade…The new statement, which goes into effect in September, prohibits any romantic relationships between faculty and all undergraduate students, and between faculty and graduate students directly under their supervision or in their department.
The updated statement, which was approved in a 17-2 vote by the Senate on April 15, includes stricter language and more precise definitions of expected behavior, Faculty Senate Speaker Deborah Harter said.
The Chair of the Working Group on Rice’s Amorous Relations Policy was Rebekah Drezek, a bioengineering professor. She urged faculty to carefully read the document. Drezek said “Many faculty felt it was a confusing document and did not provide clear guidance on expected behavior. In addition, it was among the least restrictive policies in the country.”
Of course, for those who believe it is best to have sexual rules and regulations even for consenting adults, having non-restrictive “liberal” rules becomes an anathema. But the fact of the matter appears to be that at Rice undergraduate students are not viewed as adults, no matter what their age. Adulthood apparently is partially achieved when one becomes a graduate student.
The Thresher also quoted a Professor Harter, a French Studies Professor, who stated that at the Academic Senate meeting “Drezek noted that weak policies on amorous relations often end up hurting female students disproportionately.” The dankprofessor is sure that no data was presented in support of this rather ambiguous statement. Even if there was data that showed that female student disproportionately benefited from liberal policies such would have then also been a basis for opposition to amorous student faculty relationships.
The irony is that strong controlling policies function to benefit the weak who feel the need for rules from above to control their behavior and the behavior of others. Adults who believe in personal autonomy even in sexual relationships are likely to view the controllers as engaging in unwarranted intrusion into private personal relationships. An additional irony is that Rice, a Texas university, now takes the initiative in this area after the US Supreme Court rules in Lawrence, a case coming out of Texas, that the state could not regulate private consensual relationships between persons of the same sex.
In addition, the updated statement says that “in an academic setting such romantic or sexual relationships conflict with the implicit trust we encourage our students to enjoy vis-à-vis their professors [and] can result in emotional and psychological damage, and always have the potential for an abuse of power that constitutes unprofessional conduct.” The policy then states that “accepting or exercising professional responsibility for any student with whom a faculty member has had a previous sexual or romantic relationship within the previous three years is presumed to create a conflict of interest and to violate professional ethics.”
Really, the above represents the same old traditional argument-that sex is dangerous and the only safe sex is marital sex.
However, not all Rice faculty bought into the evils of student professor amorous relationships. The Thresher reported that some faculty “argued strongly that students over 18 are in a position to make good decisions, and that to prohibit relationships with them is to meddle unnecessarily in the private lives of consenting adults.” However, there were only two dissenting votes cast in the Academic Senate.
And at least one Rice student publicly expressed opposition. Sophomore Jeff Miller said he was concerned about the policy’s impact on student life. He said- “This will restrict the already-limited dating options here at Rice.”
The dankprofessor’s response as to the restricting of dating options at Rice is that such will be surface restrictions. Sexual lives at Rice are probably in general undercover. For the romantically inclined, the love of knowledge at Rice can still lead to the knowledge of love.
I have posted and reposted and probably posted too much on the Mark Bourrie’s commentary on student professor sexual relationships. But just when the dankprofessor feels finished with Bourrie, something comes up. And what has come up is a commentary by Keith Reader on the Bourrie strand; here it is-
Keith Reader said…
UK policy – all but universally accepted and applied – is conflict-of-interest based and thus requires any faculty member involved in an intimate relationship to renounce *all* professional contact with the student concerned. The issue of favouritism in marking etc. seems to me paramount, and it may be worth noting that in UK universities all assessed work is seen by a second marker as well as in borderline cases by an external examiner. Work is also submitted anonymously (it bears the student’s matriculation number and not his/her name). All very labour-intensive, but worth it in my judgement to obviate allegations of malpractice. I certainly do not criticise such relationships en bloc and in principle (I know many people who are in long-term partnerships with their former students), but share Dr Bourrie’s concerns about their potential for abuse, and believe that a recusal/disclosure approach is the besy way of forestalling this. And I don’t post anonymously …
And here is the dankprofessor’s response-
Keith Reader states that he shares Dr. Bourrie’s concern about the potential for abuse in regards to student prof sexual relationships. I suggest that Reader reread Bourrie’s comments- for Bourrie there is something more than potential for abuse; Bourrie finds these relationships to be inherently damaging to the university and to be mind-boggling. In his terms and in the terms of most of those who vigorously advocate for the abolition of student professor sexual relationships, these relationships are not simply another example of conflict of interests; they are something more. They are condemned and
special policies are promoted because they are dealing with sexual matters and sexual outrage.
Mr. Reader feels that the UK way of handling these cases is good since
“UK policy – all but universally accepted and applied – is conflict-of-
interest based and thus requires any faculty member involved in an intimate relationship to renounce *all* professional contact with the student concerned.”
Renouncing professional contact with the student seems quite medieval to me since the student appears to end up being of the genre of leper. Is such renouncing public? If not, why not? Does the renounced have any grounds for appeal? If the renouncing is private/confidential, just another personnel matter, how does the university monitor both the student and the professor as to their adhering to the renouncing. And since the policy allows personal interaction, but not professional, how is it possible for the university to know that in the context of an intimate relationship professional matters are not discussed. In the dankprofessor’s opinion, the policy as outlined by Reader is patently absurd.
But then Reader goes on to state:
“The issue of favouritism in marking etc. seems to me paramount, and it may be worth noting that in UK universities all assessed work is seen by a second marker as well as in borderline cases by an external examiner.”
If favouritism in marking is the paramount issue, then it should be paramount in all cases of professors marking students. But the reality as described by Reader is that it only becomes paramount in borderline cases. Of course, Reader makes no attempt to differentiate borderline from non-borderline cases. If all cases were treated the same, all cases would have an external examiner, then the problem is solved. No one is treated differentially, no need for a sexual investigation, no need for a renouncing, etc. Problem solved! Uniformity and fairness in grading becomes affirmed.
But I really doubt that Reader and Bourrie would go for this. For Bourrie, no moral outrage, everything uniform, just doesn’t fit the Bourrie profile. I expect that Reader will elaborate on why having an external examiner for all would not be a good way to go.
Finally, the dankprofessor wishes to bring up the question as to who would occupy the position of external examiner, and what would be the qualifications of said examiners. Certainly said examiners would not be members of the faculty, too many prejudicial factors would then enter into the situation. And, of course, faculty do not like to have their grading judgments routinely questioned so said examiners may end up in rather tenuous situations. And presently, does one know who are the external examiners? Might Mr. Reader know? Might Mr. Reader be an external examiner? Might someone refer me to an external examiner so I can become more conversant as to the problems facing external examiners? Or is the reality that no one knows anything about external examiners, that no one knows any one who is or was an external examiner, that no ones knows how one can become an external examiner?
From Taiwan to Ottawa, from Los Angeles to London, professors and students who are in sexual congress with each other have become fair game for those wishing to engage in unrestrained sexual bigotry. By sexual bigotry, I am not referring to those who assert that such relationships may or do represent some form of conflict of interest, but rather to those who who degrade and demean and dehumanize both the involved professor and the involved student.
The dankprofessor finds it difficult to accept that academics find it to be OK to refer to their colleagues who have dated students as scum and disgusting and to imply that they are rapists or statutory rapists. But what I even consider to be more disturbing is that hardly any academics on the sidelines come forth and challenge the acceptability of using such degrading rhetoric. When such challenging does occur, it is likely to be of the anonymous kind.
One anonymous professor commenter recently stated on the dankprofessor blog- “It’s pretty darned hard for me to look into the eyeballs of my older male colleagues and tell them that they AND their wives are scum.” The commenter is referring to older professors who had married one of their students. I would hope and expect that addressing or thinking about a colleague, senior or otherwise, as scum would not exactly be easy, particularly on a continuing basis. It wouldn’t be easy since continuing personal contact would most likely function to humanize and normalize the targeted professor. Having the targeted professor as a predatory alien existing outside of our everyday lives facilitates for some a commitment to the imagery of the professor as a sexual outsider. The accompanying imagery of the female student is usually that of a non-person (she is often anonymous and socially invisible) or that of an exploited child who cannot fend for herself. She is usually seen as not having the ability to consent even if she states that she has consented.
For a professor to come forward and risk the stigma being seen as a sexual outsider and also being terminated as a professor has pretty effectively put these professors in the campus closet. And those who may come out and support the rights of professors and students to consent to a sexual relationship with each other will frequently lead to others as seeing the supportive professor as being one of those professors. And such was the situation in the past for gay men and lesbians. Gay men and lesbians existence depended on their ability to be out of sight and out of mind, to live closeted lives. Of course, the irony is that as gays came out of the campus closet, said closet then came to be populated by professors who were or had been in sexual congress with a student or students.
The answer for gays was coming out of the closet. If there is to be a ceasefire on professors in sexual congress with students, it will occur because these professors and others who support these professors will come out. It will occur when these professors and their supporters will be able to effectively deal with their fears. And it is both fear and loathing that has dominated the social sexual climate at all too many campuses.
A small step forward could occur if student professor relationships would become a part of campus sex education weeks. Organizers of these events advocate openness in terms of sexuality but when it comes to campus sex of the genre referred to here, there is no openness, there is nothing. Of course, nothing can be better than something when the something only includes rants against so-called offending professors.
Another small step forward would include recognition of how the anti student professor sex movement, has impacted on campus friendships
between students and professors, how such has led to increasingly impersonal campuses. It should lead to the recognition that many professors and administrators have come to realize that anyone, irrespective of their behavior, can become labeled as a so-called sexual deviant. Professor open door policies are no solution to the paranoia on campus, particularly when third party informants are encouraged to come forward.
Under the mantel of a so-called professionalism, sexual bigotry, sexual
policing, sexual paranoia has become a dominant reality in campus life.
And as in all authoritarian states, the persecution most often occurs in secret; secrecy is rationalized under the guise of this being a “personnel” matter. Again, the closet carries the day.
And the dankprofessor asks these questions of the readers of this post.
Are you a professor or administrator or a student who might agree with the dankprofessor in whole or in part, but you feel you can’t speak out because of fear? Might you attempt to overcome your fears by emailing the dankprofessor at email@example.com or posting a comment, albeit anonymously on this post?
“There is something perfectly sick about universities — filled with fat, balding, middle-aged men (and women) and a constantly replenished crop of gorgeous 20-something girls (and boys). Like the Catholic church, with its scheming pedophiles and innocent choir boys, it’s a recipe for disaster…
Why would an intelligent female ever sleep with a disgusting professor?”
Such is how Erik Ringmar, a professor in Taiwan, begins his post “Sex With Students, Pt 1, on his blog, Too Many Mangoes.
Maybe the good professor knows too many disgusting professors who have eaten too many mangoes or maybe the not so good professor considers himself to be a disgusting professor whose lecherous meandering have run amok?
Whatever the specifics may be, Ringmar’s imagery tells us more about himself and his imagination then anything about the multiple realities of student professor intimate relationships.
As for his question as to why an intelligent female would ever sleep with a disgusting professor, I would surmise that the intelligent female would not consider the professor disgusting. The same would be said about the professor who sleeps with an intelligent female, the overwhelming probability is that the professor does not consider the female to be disgusting? Maybe Ringmar’s problem is that he considers any party to such a relationship to be disgusting in the same manner that people who are anti-gay consider all gay relationships to be disgusting.
Professor Ringmar’s problem is that apparently he can’t get beyond his disgust, and that he feels uninhibited in degrading persons who are or have been in a student professor relationship.
Well, Ringmar should know that more than a couple of professors who have been subjected to such degrading rhetoric do not feel degraded. Far from it. They live their private lives in private, not engaging in any sort of sexual spectacle. Some have had the good fortune of meeting an intellectual confrere who they found attractive and such attraction was reciprocated. Some, including the dankprofessor, eventually transitioned from student professor to husband and wife.
I have no doubt that even in Taiwan the love of knowledge can lead to the knowledge of love. For those of you who have an open mind as well as having their eyes wide open, it can also happen to you.
Mark Bourrie on his Ottawa Watch Blog responds to my critique on his wanting to ban student prof intimacies at Concordia University. He states-
An American university professor/blogger doesn’t get it. He says I want to “coerce” people. Actually, no. I want them to act professionally. I don’t want them to come on to, date and/or sleep with someone, then grade their work, decide on their scholarships, etc.
Of course, Dr. Bourrie is playing words games. He wants to coerce them if they act in a manner that he finds unprofessional. If they act like he wants them to act, if they act like him, no problem. Nothing new here, particularly in the area of sexuality. Follow my sexual standards or else! Nothing new here in reference to authoritarianism, just follow the ethic handed down from above, and all will be OK.
And then there is Bourrie’s naivete or is it verbal manipulation? Note his statement- “I don’t want them to come on to, date and/or sleep with someone, then grade their work, decide on their scholarships, etc.” This is sexism to the nth degree! Male active, female passive. A female student coming on to a male prof is nothing unusual, such has never been unusual and will never be unusual. Maybe the case is that female students do not find Bourrie attractive but such does not mean that they do not find other male profs attractive. I know this to be a fact based on my 35 years of experience as a professor as well as based on the experiences of many other professors and the many female students who have contacted me in regards to their love of their professor. And if Bourrie is unaware of male profs and female students marrying, such is other worldly. If female students were not attracted to male profs then the issue of consensual relationships would not be an issue.
Then Bourrie states-
“If sex between profs and students is so right, why do the profs involved keep it a secret? I figure anything that can’t take public scrutiny tends to be illegal, immoral or fattening. U of T gets that aspect, too, and it’s a good start.”
I ask Bourrie and his confreres, if in the past homosexuals believed their homosexuality right, then why did homosexuals keep their homosexuality secret? Why were homosexuals so closeted? Any person with some degree of common sense knows the answer to these questions. Being in the closet, keeping such things secret, does not mean that the secreted believe they are wrong, but often means that they do not want to be harassed, stigmatized and fired. As persons without power, they do not want to be subject to the power abuse of bureaucrats, police and various agents of moral zealots; moral zealots who act self-righteously in the name of their morality , their professionalism, etc.
And in more general terms about Bourrie’s feeling that “anything can’t take public scrutiny tends to be illegal, immoral or fattening.” Very funny if one does not believe in the right to privacy, in this case the right to privacy by consenting adults. I assumed that even so-called professionals believe sexual relationships between adults in private was OK. If the Concordia prof and student came out publicly, I guess Bourrie would feel OK about this rather than feeling that they were flaunting their relationship. I believe most people who are opposed to student professor relationships want them to be in the closet, not out in public for all to see, not engaging in marriage ceremonies, etc.
Bourrie then cites the University of Toronto policy in he following terms-
Here’s U of T’s policy. At least they recognize the conflict and say the affair must be disclosed, but look at the weasel word “should” in the first paragraph. I would prefer “must”:
University policy does not prohibit sexual relations between consenting adults. However, if you form any kind of intimate personal relationship with someone who teaches you or otherwise makes academic decisions affecting you, that teacher has a conflict of interest. She or he should disclose the conflict of interest to their academic supervisor – usually the Chair of the department or the Dean of the faculty – and should ensure that your work is graded by a colleague.
If your teacher does not disclose the conflict of interest, s/he is not simply in breach of University policy: s/he is showing a negligent disregard for your academic interests, and placing the legitimacy of your academic accomplishments in question.
Has Dr. Bourrie really thought thru the implications and possible consequences of policies of this sort? If not, I suggest that the good professor put himself in the position of the involved student and the professor who is committed to following university rules. One day, you as the student are removed from the classroom and theoretically put in another class for your own good. (Sometimes the student may not be physically removed from the class, but graded by another prof, no matter whether she stays or goes, the problems remain essentially the same.) And, in addition, you know that the university administrators who are “helping” you, know of your sexual activity that led to your removal. And then you will have to deal with the reality that it is your special professor who informed on you and has helped to remove you from his class. What kind of professor would do this? What kind of professor would do this to a woman who he supposedly loved? And for the involved professor his life goes on, no serious disruption since the disclose dispose policy, as some call it, has been implemented. I ask Dr. Bourrie, who professes to be a person who believes in this policy, have you ever given one iota of thought to the exiled student? Or was she simply a non-person who was disposed of? And this policy is implemented by some to correct a power imbalance; this is power imbalance at its worst.
But, of course, there is more, much more which is damning about this sort of policy. Supposedly the student is removed from class so that differential non-prejudicial grading can take place. But once the student is removed one can be assured that differential grading will take place since all the students but one will have the same grader. For the professor who is committed to fair and objective grading, the professor grades all the students using the same standard irrespective of whether the prof likes or dislikes the student.
However, dealing with the possible reality of the student being removed from class, who will be the grader and will the grader be able to grade this student as the regular prof grades all of the other students? How can it be assured that a colleague of the “special” professor will grade the student objectively, that his or her feeling about the special prof or the student, will not interfere with the grading? Will the grader be told that the student is the lover of the prof? And what if the grade is based on an in class project, on class participation, how will this be dealt with? And what if the student is taken out of an art or music or theatre arts or sports class? How can the prof deal with this? Shouldn’t the grading prof be forced to sit thru the entire class and then grade the student?
It is amazing that so many people, so many academics, are taken in by a policy that after a bit of thought one cannot help but label said policy as a sham. Academics often have knee jerk responses to these policies. Why? Because most academics give little thought to the intricacies, complexities and ethics of grading. Grading is at the bottom of the academic totem pole. Tell me about one professor at Concordia or UT who was hired in part because of their grading practices. Tell me about any university that has workshops for new or old faculty on grading practices. Of course, many faculty don’t grade, they ship out grading to teaching assistants. So much for the importance of grading.
Bottom line is that the policies that Bourrie, et. al., advocate are not based on a commitment to good grading but are rather based on rooting out those who they see as sexual deviants. In the dankprofessor’s opinion the irony regarding Bourrie and his concern for his daughter at the hands of a so-called predator professor is that his daughter would probably be at much greater risk if she becomes involved in the hookup and drinking culture associated with all too many colleges than if she became involved with her English or Theatre Arts professor. As the dankprofessor has indicated previously-
the love of knowledge can lead to the knowledge of love. Such passions simply cannot be destroyed or regulated by campus bureaucrats or professionals of any kind.
Mark Bourrie of the Ottawa Watch blog has complained to the Dean of Arts of Concordia University about a fellow university instructor who allegedly is having an intimate relationship with a Concordia student. Bourrie does not name the professor or student in his letter of complaint to the dean.
He states that his concerns relate to unprompted conversations he has had with eleven of his female students. He goes on to state that “The alleged affair is common knowledge among students in one of the university’s departments.”
The problem that Bourrie has is that a consensual sexual relationship between a student and professor is not prohibited at Concordia University. The Concordia Dean of Arts responded to Bourrie in these terms-
“Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. You should be aware that “Concordia does not forbid intimate [consensual] relationships between faculty and students”. We recognize that such relationships are intrinsically problematic, and strongly advise both students and faculty members against engaging in them, but they are not forbidden.”
The fact that the alleged relationship falls outside of the purview of regulation by the Concordia administration and treats students and professors as having the right to engage in autonomous decision making in regards to choice of romantic partners does not impress Dr. Bourrie. Far from it , he responds to said policy in these terms-
“That’s outrageous. Your answer is completely unacceptable. The power imbalance between a professor and a student is such that sexual relationships cross the boundaries of exploitation. I will bring this matter to the attention of the president of the university. Quite frankly, the conduct and attitudes of administrators and professors at Concordia borders on the bizarre.”
So Bourrie knows that in the alleged current situation, boundaries of exploitation have been crossed; he knows that such is the case since he believes that there is a power imbalance in any student professor sexual relationship and such crosses the boundaries of exploitation. Of course. Bourie ends up thoroughly objectifying and dehumanizing any student professor relationship. He doesn’t have to talk to the parties involved; he has already defined the parties in his cartoon world imagery. As for the female student, no matter that she may feel that she is not being exploited, no matter that she may see herself as an adult who has consented to the relationship, Bourrie knows her mind better that she knows her mind.
Bourrie goes on and the dankprofessor believes that he eventually tells us what is the dynamic fueling his opposition to student professor relationships-
“I am quite scandalized by this. The idea of, say, a 40-year-old prof and an 18-year-old student having a “relationship” just boggles the mind. I have a 14-year-old daughter. In four years, she could be “dating” some prof at Concordia. Quite frankly, I have found academia to be the most disfunctional and downright corrupt thing I have ever come into contact with… Apparently, the Senate of Concordia has considered the issue, and it’s OK for profs to have sex with students. Guess where my kids aren’t going…”
Bourrie’s story is the same old story for many of those opposing student professor relationships. The story is about protecting ones children or others peoples children from the evil adult predatory professors.
Of course, what Bourrie wants is the administration to represent authoritarian parents in helping them regulate the lives of their children. Viewing college students as adults is simply out of the question. Entertaining the notion that some students are older adults and wish to date professors who are also younger adults of a similar age is also out of the realm of possibility for Bourrie. Of course, at many universities many students are well beyond their teens, many are in their twenties thirties and forties and even some beyond. And, yes, I met my wife to be when she was a student of mine and in her fifties.
But as far as age is concerned, younger students deserve the same rights as older students. They have a right to be free of the power control and abuse of more powerful abusers, whether the abusers be authoritarian parents or administrators. The irony for Bourrie and likeminded others is that in the name of attacking a so-called power imbalance between students and professors they want a power imbalance in which they want absolute control. What utter hypocrisy!
Now the dankprofessor wishes to make it clear that he is not opposed to Bourrie, to university administrators providing their advice to students or to whomever they wish to provide advice. What the dankprofessor opposes is Bourrie and university administrations having the right to coerce others in
terms of romantic choice. Concordia University provides advice to their students and professors in this area. The problem is that they provide bad advice. The remainder of this post is devoted to presenting and critiquing said advice.
Presented below is the official university advice on student professor relationships; the text of this statement is highlighted. The dankprofessor’s comments appear unhilighted in the text of the statement.
Concordia does not forbid intimate relationships between faculty and students that are consensual. However, such relationships are fraught with danger and the recommendation from the Advisor is that it is better to avoid them.
There are several reasons for this recommendation, not the least of which is the observation that when such relationships sour – and they often do – it is the student who usually loses, not the faculty member. Offices that provide services to students often hear these tales, and know that, more often than not, the student drops out of a course, a program or even the university. Professionally speaking, faculty should be encouraging students to learn, not taking risks with their academic futures.
Of course, consistent with this advice is that persons never take risks in context of romantic and sexual relationships. In all relationships there are risks of relationships terminating; in marriage there are risks in marriages ending in divorce. In all human endeavors, there are risks of failure. Of course, no evidence is presented in the Ottawa statement that student prof relationships are more risky than other relationships. And the writer of this statement very well knows that when one goes to counseling services, one almost always hears “tales” of woes. If the observer/researcher can’t get out of his office and observe the myriad world of relationships, such represents laziness and incompetence. The statement is also insulting to faculty implying that the faculty psyche is beyond frailty and they do not experience loss when a relationship with a student ends. The last sentence- “Professionally speaking, faculty should be encouraging students to learn, not taking risks with their academic futures” – is particularly absurd and insulting. The notion that if the faculty member is romantically involved with the student he or she cannot encourage the student to learn is beyond the pale. In fact, I would argue based on the experience of many others, that the situation is just the opposite, that the prof is devoted to student learning. As the dankprofessor has pointed out- the love of knowledge can very well lead to the knowledge of love.
What faculty members may not realize is that they also place themselves and the University at risk by crossing this particular boundary. If a student who has entered a relationship with a professor decides, upon its termination, to file a complaint of sexual harassment, the case will turn on the issue of consent. There is a view that, given the considerable power differential between student and professor, a student’s consent to a relationship is always compromised. Whether one subscribes to this argument or not, human rights tribunals have supported it. The question becomes, is it worth the risk?
The dankprofessor would like to see the citations of so-called tribunals that there cannot be consent when there is a power differential between a student and a professor. If so, then Concordia is de jure governed by these cases and by definition there can be no such consensual relationships between students and profs. In any case, if all consensual relationships ended tomorrow, sexual harassment cases will continue unabated at universities. To conflate sexual harassment and consensual relationships does a disservice to those who are attempting to combat sexual harassment on campus and ends up trivializing sexual harassment.
There are other, less controversial legal arguments that suggest that faculty refrain from such relationships, namely breach of trust and conflict of interest. Here too, human rights tribunals and arbitration boards have found against faculty members. Faculty have a duty to avoid conflict of interest and to exercise their power over students only in the students’ interests, not in their own interests.
Again, it is presumptuous that faculty involved with students do not take the interests of students seriously. Conflict of interest issues deserve attention in respect to all aspects of university life. Given this, there is no special need for a category regarding student prof relationships. Campaigns against such relationships are sexually based, have an anti-sexual basis, and are generally not conflict of interests based
Faculty members should be mindful of Concordia’s own Code of Ethics, which defines the conflicts of interest that arise when there is a personal relationship between a faculty member and a student.
The requirement is that if the relationship cannot be avoided, the faculty member should excuse him- or herself from any supervisory or evaluative role with regard to the student concerned. It is not necessary to declare the reasons for the conflict. So at the very least, if you cannot avoid the relationship, you should declare it.
And declaring it, is this in the interest of the student? Shouldn’t the student have a say in the matter? Declaring the relationship makes the relationship a public relationship and now will fall officially within the purview of university administration decision making. My advice is to never declare these relationships to the university. By doing this the danger to both the student and prof goes way up.
As for students, the advice given by a student quoted in a University Affairs article is: “Do not have sex with anyone you sometimes have to call Mister, Doctor or Professor” – it may cost you dearly.
OK, lets get down to the nitty-gritty, the fear here is that the title will be replaced by the first name or darling or my love, or love, etc, etc. Such opposition to terms of endearment might represent a fear of undermining the university stratification system. And in terms of authoritarian structures or states, love is always the enemy.
U-news of Canada has a collection of recent essays, including one by the dankprofessor, on student professor relationships. Most of the essays are indicative of the retarded thinking on this issue. A close reading of the Dalhousie pamphlet on helping their professors and students could lead one to become diagnosed as paranoid. Ultimately, it is fair to state that these policies are driven by a fear of sexuality. Until said fears are overcome, the campus fear mongers will continue to rule the day with their cadre of campus police and lawyers.
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 dankprofessor has repeatedly argued but to no avail that university regulations that require a professor who is in a sexual relationship with a student to report said relationship to the appropriate university administrator is a gross violation of the student’s privacy. In terms of this policy, there is no requirement that the student must give permission to the professor to report their relationship to the University.
My advice to professors who are in such a situation is to not report unless there is student consent. More generally my advice is that if the professor does report to the administration, the probability is that said relationship will become known to the university community. In effect, the professor will be outing both himself or herself and the student.
In terms of the Warwick case, the outing of the student was disastrous for the student. She has framed it in the following manner-
“To be frank, this story has never been newsworthy and should never have come to light. Aside from the fact that the details disclosed have been of a deeply personal nature, the widespread disclosure of this has proved very upsetting. It really has.”
And the University World News has reported the following:
When Professor Istvan Pogany, 57, began a consensual relationship with one of his students at Britain’s University of Warwick, he did what many would consider ‘good practice’ and informed his line manager. But the student, who is in her 30s, then fell pregnant and her subsequent anguished decision to have an abortion led to lurid headlines that raised the question again whether intimate relationships between academics and students should be more strongly discouraged, or even prohibited.
Of course, the University World News didn’t get it quite right. The Warwick case raises the question as to whether professors should be forced to report on their students and their intimate relationships. If privacy had been respected at Warwick, there is little likelihood that this would have become a media story. Laissez faire in terms of intimate relationships between adults may at times be problematic, but it is far better than forcible intrusion by government authorities and university administrators into the sex lives of those who they consider to be their subjects.
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.
The following comment in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on the University of Iowa recent sexual harassment problems caught the dankprofessor’s attention.
It’s a sad day when faculty need to have any interactions with students videotaped but if that is what it takes, then so be it. And maybe departments should provide a conference room adjacent to the department offices so that everyone can see the interaction of the student and teacher. Again, this is so sad that a student can’t just stop by a teacher’s room and chat!
I also think that the policy needs to be very explicit not only with faculty but also students, telling them that if any sort of accusation is made, it will be investigated publically and since it is a public investigation, they will be named and will also be subject to laws regarding slander and liable if their allegations are false. College students who make allegations are not children, they are adults and I’m tired of them hiding behind the excuse of being intimidated by a person in authority. Too much is at stake here for both the accusors and the accused!
The dankprofessor admits that he has never given consideration to the possibility of having video cameras in faculty offices and even in classrooms since classrooms are often the scene of hostile environment harassment.
Such may represent an effective way of controlling/preventing sexual harassment events from occurring. Of course, videotaping will not eliminate sexual harassment, but would likely lead to a decrease of these suits.
No matter that there will no longer be privacy regarding student prof interactions. Privacy rights and other rights become irrelevant if institutions are to have effective
control of students and professors. And control becomes key as universities are gradually transformed into quasi police states. If control mechanisms are not implemented we could end up with a complete abolition of university campuses which would be replaced, of course, by online education.
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