Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Getting rid of attractive students

The dankprofessor has argued that at the core of banning student professor sexual relationships is an anti sexual dynamic, a dynamic that is often stated in rather stark terms which puts such relationships in a child molestation framework with the professor being the sexual predator and the student being the innocent child or childlike female student. Some times the framework is closer to a rape framework with the professor being an adult rapist and the student an adult or near adult rape victim. Whatever be the specifics of the framework, the outcome is the same- the female student is unable to give consent. This sounds pretty outlandishly anti-sexual . However, some have argued that this sexual banning really is not anti-sexual, and that the reason for such bans is to protect the grading process, to eliminate the possibility that the enamored professor will prejudicially grade the loved one. To put the argument in a nutshell, professors are committed to non-prejudicial grading and sacrificing the rights of students and professors from loving each other in a grading context is a necessary sacrifice. On the surface this sounds like a reasonable argument. However, the overwhelming predominant academic reality is that professors provide only lip service to the sacredness of the grading process; lip service since professors generally do not emotionally invest themselves in grading; “good” grading does not help one get hired, promoted or tenured. Investing oneself in good grading, emphasizing how one is a committed non-prejudicial grader will not help one advance in academia. At whatever university and in whatever discipline, valued and remembered professors will be remembered as good teachers or good researchers or good scholars and not as outstanding non-prejudicial graders.

And given the lack of value put on grading, there is little or no emphasis on the prevention of prejudicial grading. There are no workshops on the prevention of prejudicial grading. There is much rhetoric in contemporary academic life about matters relating to race, gender and class, but nothing of a formal or informal nature directed toward professors as to how to avoid race, class and gender biases as such effect the grading process, whether the grading relates to grading a student one likes or one dislikes. One can politically and ideologically bond with students, one can fight and demonstrate with students to take back the night, but hardly anyone argues that one cannot grade these same students. Of course, students frequently complain that professors engage in prejudicial grading, that so and so students received a high grade because the professor liked him or her. But such talk is seen by almost all professors as just talk, certainly no talk that would lead one to take some sort of action or to lead the talked about to take a self-inventory.

If professors were really concerned about prejudicial grading, they would overtly demand that faculty deal with what heretofore has been unmentionable- that faculty, both male and female faculty, both married and unmarried faculty, both feminist and sexist professors are sexually attracted and sometimes very sexually attracted to some of their students some of the time. Every person who has ever professed knows this to be true and every professor know that being differentially attracted to students can lead to differential grading to some degree based on said attractiveness. Of course, we all know that the the physically attractive, the beautiful people are advantaged in just about all sectors of everyday life.

Robert Cialdini, in Influence: Science and Practice, summarizes the dynamic in these terms-

“Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence (for a review of this evidence, see Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, & Longo, 1991). Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process. Some consequences of this unconscious assumption that “good-looking equals good” scare me. For example, a study of the 1974 Canadian federal elections found that attractive candidates received more than two and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates (Efran & Patterson, 1976). Despite such evidence of favoritism toward handsome politicians, follow-up research demonstrated that voters did not realize their bias. In fact, 73 percent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance; only 14 percent even allowed for the possibility of such influence (Efran & Patterson, 1976). Voters can deny the impact of attractiveness on electability all they want, but evidence has continued to confirm its troubling presence (Budesheim & DePaola, 1994).

A similar effect has been found in hiring situations. In one study, good grooming of applicants in a simulated employment interview accounted for more favorable hiring decisions than did job qualifications – this, even though the interviewers claimed that appearance played a small role in their choices (Mack & Rainey, 1990). The advantage given to attractive workers extends past hiring day to payday. Economists examining U.S. and Canadian samples have found that attractive individuals get paid an average of 12-14 percent more than their unattractive coworkers (Hammermesh & Biddle, 1994).

Equally unsettling research indicates that our judicial process is similarly susceptible to the influences of body dimensions and bone structure. It now appears that good-looking people are likely to receive highly favorable treatment in the legal system (see Castellow, Wuensch, & Moore, 1991; and Downs & Lyons, 1990, for reviews). For example, in a Pennsylvania study (Stewart, 1980), researchers rated the physical attractiveness of 74 separate male defendants at the start of their criminal trials. When, much later, the researchers checked court records for the results of these cases, they found that the handsome men had received significantly lighter sentences. In fact, attractive defendants were twice as likely to avoid jail as unattractive defendants. In another study – this one on the damages awarded in a staged negligence trial – a defendant who was better looking than his victim was assessed an average amount of $5,623; but when the victim was the more attractive of the two, the average compensation was $10,051. What’s more, both male and female jurors exhibited the attractiveness-based favoritism (Kulka & Kessler, 1978).

Other experiments have demonstrated that attractive people are more likely to obtain help when in need (Benson, Karabenic, & Lerner, 1976) and are more persuasive in changing the opinions of an audience (Chaiken, 1979)…”

And the dankprofessor asks, are there any believers that such is different in the academic world, that physical attractiveness plays no role in grading and in academic gamesmanship in general?

If professors were really honest about this dynamic and at the same time committed to non-prejudicial grading, what might they do to minimize prejudicial grading? Might they recuse themselves from grading attractive students? Not possible. Might the university have dual classes, one class for the attractive and the other for the non-attractive? No way. But what about bringing about what had been not a rarity in the past in academia and that is the introduction of a student dress code. And the dress code would be that students dress in an absolutely uniform and bland manner, and that code be strictly enforced by administrators who have been specially trained to create and enforce dress codes. Unquestionably, there would be misdirected faculty and students who would hold such a code to be in violation of student civil liberties and rights. But the sacrifice of such rights would be a small sacrifice to make in the pursuit of fair and non-prejudicial grading. And, of course, students and professors have been asked (demanded) that they sacrifice the right to have sex with each other, the right to romance each other, the right to love each other all in the supposed name of protecting fair and non-prejudicial grading. And if as has been pointed out by banning advocates that students have not fully developed the ability to consent in sexual matters why would one assume that these same students have developed the ability to decide how to dress on an everyday basis? Better to let the specially trained to decide how you dress as long as you are a student at our university.

OK, for the distraught students who believe that they just can’t accept a dress code, they better get with the code or they will get a public dressing down. And remember Big Brother and Big Sister loves all students equally in all their surface blandness and sameness. No need to fret about the physically attractive getting an unfair better deal. Right?

More to follow in upcoming posts.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

January 18, 2008 Posted by | attractive students, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, grading, higher education, love, recusal, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | Leave a comment

Duke University and prejudicial faculty

Michael Nelson in the October 5 issue of The Chronicle Review has an excellent essay on the Duke U lacrosse fiasco entitled STEREOTYPE, THEN AND NOW.  And one of the constituencies that on the whole embraced stereotypes and groups labels in determining guilt or innocence was the Duke faculty.

As Nelson notes-

“As for Duke’s faculty members, they either rushed to condemn the students (speaking as the so-called Group of 88) or stood by silently for months while their colleagues did. On April 6, 2006, shortly after some protesters banged pots and hoisted banners (the largest read “CASTRATE!!”) outside the lacrosse captains’ house and others hung “Wanted!” posters around the campus with photos of team members, the Group of 88 ran a full-page ad in the student newspaper. The ad thanked “the protesters making collective noise … for not waiting and making yourselves heard.” So much for critical thinking based on weighing evidence.

A week after the Group of 88’s ad appeared, one of its authors, the literature professor Wahneema Lubiano, wrote an essay describing the students on the lacrosse team as “almost perfect offenders” because they are “the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus.” Her colleague Houston Baker had already weighed in on March 29 with an open letter to Duke’s provost, Peter Lange. Baker demanded that Duke order the “immediate dismissal” of the students and coaches of the lacrosse team because they embodied “abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken, white male privilege loosed amongst us.”

Of course, Duke professors routinely evaluate students in terms of course grading.  So theoretically they are experienced professionals when it comes to evaluating students, evaluating students in an objective and dispassionate manner.  If such be the case, when it comes to evaluating students and others concerning more weighty matters, matters than can lead to freedom or imprisonment, one could expect/hope that said professors would be even more objective and dispassionate in their evaluation of the accused students.  But we know such was not the case at least in general terms.  We also know that the President of Duke remained in office after functioning as a cheerleader for faculty and others in his condemnation of the accused students and the lacrosse team.  President Brodhead did not resign just as none of the faculty who engaged in muckraking behavior resigned, and to my knowledge none of these faculty have recanted or have recused themselves from grading members of groups they have openly condemned.

Of course, professorial voluntary recusal is unheard of in the academic world.  If faculty, such as the Duke faculty, were ordered to recuse themselves, they would be up in arms and undoubtedly would have great support throughout the academic world.  Forced recusal in the academic world is not politically correct except for the exceptions, eg, professor dating a student in ones class.  Then recusal is OK because prejudicial grading cannot be tolerated.  What utter hypocrisy!  Prejudicial grading is widely tolerated in the academic world and faculty hardly ever recuse themselves because given the hierarchy of professorial values, grading is not in the upper echelon. 

I wish to make it clear that I believe recusal should be a viable option for the ethical professor but recusal from above, forced recusal does not represent engaging in an option.  I wish that more professors would seriously confront the possibility that they are at risk of prejudicial grading.  On the other hand, it has been argued that “The only way to ensure impartial grading is never to learn yours students names.”  I doubt that any of us academics would want to embrace the impersonality of nameless students which in such a highly impersonal environment would also probably mean that the faculty remain nameless as well. Nameless faculty evaluated by other nameless faculty who were hired to educate and grade nameless students.  No romance here.  No love.  Anonymity would be the norm although some of the nameless might embrace such an environment in their search for anonymous  sex.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007

October 5, 2007 Posted by | Duke University, ethics, grading, higher education, recusal, sexual politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dismantling the grading smokescreen

Continuing on the grading issue which I have in part addressed in two recent posts.

More needs to be said about grading since grading is held by student-professors romantic ban advocates to be sacrosanct. Sacrosanct in that it is held at such a sacred level that it trumps other values that are held in high regard by almost all persons who take the following values seriously-freedom of association, privacy, and the autonomy of the individual in regards to decision making, such as choice of romantic partners, choice of husband/wife etc.  What I mean by trumps is that if a student is enrolled in professor Y’s class and dates professor Y while in class, such dating must be immediately stopped since non-prejudicial grading is held to be impaired. And it must be stopped at all costs, at the cost of the privacy of the student and the right of the student to remain in class.

Caroline Forell, a University of Oregon law professor, who played a major role in creating the University ofOregon Law School policy on this issue, puts it in the following stark terms-“If such a relationship occurs, the faculty member must disclose it to a supervisor and relinquish authority over the student.
Violating the policy could result in sanctions, ranging from a written reprimand to reassignment or dismissal.
Universities need such clear-cut policies to prevent abusive relationships.”

For Forell, abusive relationships include consensual relationships which she holds cannot really occur since the student is incapacitated by the power differential.  So for Forell, a professor informing on a student about a student’s personal and private relationship without the student’s consent is not only good but is mandated by the university and if the professor does not inform, he or she may be sanctioned, may be terminated.  Of course, it should be apparent to any fair minded person that it is the student who is being abused by persons such as Professor Forell and administrators who implement such policies  However, and here we get to the nub of the matter, Professor Forell is not opposed to all student-professor relationships, only relationships in which the relationship and the class are occurring at the same time.  It is the supreme value of grading that the good professor professes to be protecting; without such protection prejudicial grading will occur and the student in her terms becomes at risk of abuse.

Of course, I am opposed to prejudicial grading; students should be graded on the merits of their work, nothing else matters in terms of fairness.  I was a university teacher/professor for some thirty plus years and I always adhered to this principle. However, I also wish to make it clear that I did not regard my grading component as the supreme component in my professorial role; the supreme component was that of being a teacher.  And clearly, because one is a good teacher one is not necessarily a good grader, a good exam writer, etc.   In terms of being a grader, I never met a colleague who entered the professoriate because of the desire to write exams and grade students and held education to simply be a byproduct of exams and grading. And now we get to the core of my argument which is that throughout academia professors almost always do not psychologically invest themselves in exams and grading, and spend little or no time dealing with matters relating to prejudicial grading. In fact, many of the best teachers delegate much of the grading responsibilities to their teaching assistants.  Student assistants are held to be competent and fair-minded graders; persons with the least professional educational experience are assigned to do this sacred work.  Of course, if it was sacred, if it was of supreme value, professors would never delegate this responsibility to others. Such delegation would represent a lack of concern about prejudicial grading.  And such is my argument that professors on the whole give lip service to the importance of non-prejudicial grading except when it becomes a part of political cant, except when in today’s academic world it becomes a part of a political or sexual correctness.

What I find to be ironic is that it has been feminist professors, particularly women’s studies professors, who have been atthe forefront of the movement to ban student-professor intimate relationships.  This movement came into being in full force in the 1990s.  What is ironic is that in the prior decade of the 1980s the feminist academic cant was that women faculty should bond with their students, such was particularly strongly advocated by women’s studies faculty. However, few persons (one notable exception being Daphne Patai)  within or outside of women’s studies raised questions as to how such bonding may impact on impartial grading, how such bonding may impact on impartial grading of those students who did not bond with their professors, and how such bonding which was always put in a female to female framework could impact on the impartial grading of male students.  The risk of prejudicial grading simply was considered to be irrelevant.  And do note that in the situation under discussion such bonding became central in the educational experience, became a central dynamic in the classroom while those such as myself who speak out against banning student-prof relationships hold that student-prof relationships should never impact on the classroom dynamic, they should never be of any relevance to what is happening in the classroom.  Of course, women’s studies faculty in the context of the bonding process engage in joint student professor political activism, literally marching to the same tune, the same flag, the same slogan.  It may be that the people who march together are more likely to stay together, become one with each other.  And, of course, one may ask the question, what has non-prejudicial grading have to do with it?  Absolutely nothing.  To invoke any kind of academic intervention strategy to deal with the effects of classroom bonding would be an abuse, would be in violation of the rights of students and professors.  Except, of course, when the intervention is seen to be in support or defense of a feminist cause.

I hope that I have been able to effectively communicate my point that impartial grading in academia is very low in the academic value totem pole. It is all too often used as a smokescreen to attack student/professor relationships; it is used as smoke screen to excommunicate professors and students who have violated academic sexual taboos.  Of course, now the purview of grading has widened to include students grading professors.  And many professors arguing that such evaluations are all too often based on how the professors have graded their students and how such leads to grade inflation.  Such is the nature of contemporary academic degradation.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.

© Copyright 2007

October 3, 2007 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, grading, higher education, recusal, sexual politics, student professor dating | 1 Comment

Grading and Degrading in Higher Education

In my prior posting on attractive students and attracted professors, I did overlook a major point I should have made.  And that is when it comes to the student-professor relationship while in an ongoing class, the point is made over and over again by critical professors that such a situation should not be allowed since it would lead to prejudicial grading, and prejudicial grading should be avoided even if it would involve not allowing the student in the classroom or removing the student from the classroom or having some other prof grade the student.  What irks me about this situation is that the complaining professors overlook other situations that are rife in academe and could lead to the dreaded prejudicial grading.  One such situation is the situation of being physically attracted to a particular student; no one ever advises profs who are attracted to students to not grade these students since the grading may be prejudicial.  Of course, prejudicial feelings also may enter when the prof finds a particular student to be physically repulsive or when a student reminds the professor of a person whom one may have intensely negative or positive feelings. The potentiality of prejudicial grading is hardly ever considered when one may have a friend enrolled in the class, or a friend of a friend enrolled or a child of a friend, etc. etc. I could go go on and on.  My ultimate point here is that opposition to student-prof relationships while the student is enrolled in the profs class is not really about the possibility of prejudicial grading, prejudicial grading is often a smoke screen for opposition to professors being involved sexually/romantically with their students.  It is the sort of reaction one has when some strong taboo has been violated, such as an incest taboo, a feeling of repulsion, a feeling that  the offender has violated us and is not now a part of us.  In higher education, the student-prof relationship is now all too often seen or felt as equivalent to an incest taboo violation.  Such is the reason that there is so little dispassionate discussion of this issue.  Dispassionate discussion cannot take place in the context of hysteria.  And it is those suffering from hysterical thinking that are the major promulgators of these taboos.  Of course most faculty stay essentially on the sidelines, nodding in agreement with those who pornographise student-prof relationships.  Of course, there is much more that can and should be presented about this visceral reaction against student-prof relationships. And such will be forthcoming in future blog postings.

And some ending observations on the potentiality of prejudicial grading whatever the source may be of said potentiality.  Ethically engaged professors in all aspects of their professorial activities should engage in self-inventories, self-questioning about the ethical implications of their work.  Such self-questioning and self-inventory taking should be a sort of a taken for granted process when it comes to grading and evaluating.  Grading students or grading anyone else for that matter is an activity that profs should be ethically invested in.  But in the real world of academia such work, such investment, is almost always held to have little value.  In the academic hiring process, teachers are hired, scholars are hired, writers are hired, researchers are hired but no one is hired because they are accomplished graders!

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007

September 24, 2007 Posted by | attractive students, consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, grading, higher education, recusal, sexual politics, student professor dating | 1 Comment

Attractive Students and Attracted Professors

In 2005 Michal Gee an instuctor at Boston University posted on a blog his sexual ideation/fantasies concerning a current female student  who he felt to be extraordinarily beautiful/attractive. As a result of this posting he was terminated by Boston University.  Said posting was removed from the blog but was republished in another blog which went into some detail concerning the firing of Michael Gee.  Eventually the Washington Post reported on this story- “Don’t Blog So Close to Me” by Robert McMillan, July 15, 2005; excerpts follow-

“Gee, a 17-year-veteran of the Boston Herald who left the paper in the spring, was fired this month from a part-time journalism school position at Boston University after sharing inappropriate thoughts about a student on a blog.

“‘Of my six students, one (the smartest, wouldn’t you know it?) is incredibly hot,'” Gee wrote, according to the Associated Press reported . “Gee was fired July 13, according to Bob Zelnick, chairman of BU’s journalism department. Zelnick said the posting violated the trust essential to the student-teacher relationship. Students ‘have to be confident their work will judged impartially’ and not on the basis of their looks, he said.”

Gee posted his comments on July 5th on the sportsjournalists.com blog. The blog’s administrators later removed Gee’s posting. But just because his words are gone doesn’t mean they haven’t been preserved elsewhere… like right here in this column, and over at Boston Sports Media, where blogger David Scott posted them on July 15 so the rest of us could wonder at them: “Gee, Gone. Again“: “Today was my first day teaching course 308/722 at the Boston University Dept. of Jounralis (sic). There are six students, most of whom are probably smarter than me, but they DON’T READ THE PAPER!!! Not the Globe, Times, Herald or Wall Street Journal. I can shame them into reading, I guess, but why are they taking the course if they don’t like to read. But I digress. Now here’s the nub of my issue. Of my six students, one (the smartest, wouldn’t you know it?) is incredibly hot. If you’ve ever been to Israel, she’s got the sloe eyes and bitchin’ bod of the true Sabra. It was all I could do to remember the other five students. I sense danger, Will Robinson.

Gee’s senses were right on. If only he had heeded them.

Scott asked BU about Gee’s remarks on July 12th before writing about them. Here’s his commentary: “What on earth was Gee thinking, when he made these inappropriate comments? Further, what editor would hire a guy who publicly admits to drooling over his student? Even more perplexing was Gee’s response after at least one SJ poster gave this friendly advice: ‘Congrats on the gig and the proximity to a hottie, but be careful. Not with her, but with this site. She or your bosses could Google your name and the university at any point and find this thread. ‘ Even that lucid warning didn’t seem to have an effect on Gee’s libido or his proud postings: ‘Dear Folks: I suppose I should be flattered that many of you think this gorgeous woman who’s half my age would consider having sex with me. Which, if I have any news instincts, she won’t. My problem is losing my focus when I meet her to-die-for eyes.‘”

Holy mackerel! That’s some hot journalism action! And boy, does it spread. Gee’s burying the lede instead kicked it into high gear in the blogosphere.

He can probably forget freelance opportunities at Ms. magazine where the comments on his actions are less than complimentary“.

The Dankprofessor continues-

 Of course, being attracted to ones students is nothing new, publishing them on the web as a blog posting is new!  However, blog posting continues as evidenced by a very recent posting in which the posters are not identifiable.  One such posting follows-

 I once had a VERY pretty woman in one of my classes in LaLaLand (where hotness is de rigeur), and though she wasn’t quite on the level of NFL cheerleader distraction (she was fairly professional in dress and not super-ornamented or made up), she was pretty incredibly lovely. She had a Halle-Berry-without-makeup beauty. And on top of all that, she had…how shall I say this?…a *perfect* rack. And the fit of her clothes emphasized this in a tasteful but nevertheless attention-drawing way.Anyway, I say all of this to demonstrate that I, too, was distracted by her hotness and the perfection of her secondary sexual characteristics. And *that* finally convinced me that “the gaze” is indeed male and that I’ve learned to look at all women, including myself, through that gaze. I thought I had escaped it and reinvented it, but this woman made me realize how much I was kidding myself.

The dankprofessor believes that professors finding themselves attracted to some of their  students is commonplace, attractions which are experienced by both male and female professors, feminist and non-feminist professors.  But what is not commonplace is writing about it; talking about it with selected colleagues is probably more frequent; such was my experience.  What I hold to be universal in academia is a universal formal exclusion of this topic; nothing in the faculty handbook; no formal workshops dealing with the subject.  No guidelines of any sort of how not to be distracted by attractive students; how to avoid differential treatment of attractive students, e.g., how to avoid giving higher grades to attractive students.  Such, of course, is not out of the realm of the possible since social psychological research  has demonstrated over and over again in a multitude of contexts that the beautiful people are treated more favorably than the non-beautiful.  How to avoid such differential treatment in academia?  Might the ethical professor and at the same time the very attracted professor recuse himself from grading to avoid  biased grading?  After all such is what is often mandated for the prof who is dating a student to avoid prejudicial grading, to avoid differential grading based on what is ones psychosexual involvement with a student.  Of course, as I have previously pointed out recusing oneself from grading a student based on an ongoing dating relationship is in itself a form of differential treatment.  And as I think we can agree the ethically engaged prof who refuses to grade students who he or she finds attractive would not be seen as acting from some high ethical ground but rather from some base exhibitionistic level, a level that would be seen as leading to exclusion from the classroom.  So what is an ethical prof to do??


Well, I didn’t get it quite right in this blog on attractive students and attracted professors. I cited a blog in which profs write about having attractive students; I indicated that the profs were not identifiable, such was not the case.  I went back to that blog and clicked the online identity and at least for some of the entries, this led me to their real world identity.  And the quote I had given  in my posting was that of a female prof, not a male prof.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.
© Copyright 2007

September 22, 2007 Posted by | attractive students, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, ivory tower romance, recusal, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment

Recusing and grading

In the previous posting on recusing, I responded to the comments

of an anonymous other.  He has invoked the option to respond to

my comments; his response follows.  I will give a relatively brief

response after his comment.

“A big, big problem with blogs is that it
is virtually never possible to be short and that replies never end. 
Even a short published note can only garner a published reply if a
gatekeeper cannot foresee good answers to the reply.

In this instance, Professor Dank did not interpret recusal as I
would–or as anyone would–and so he ends up with knocking down a
nonsensical position that, as he notes, no one in the academy actually

In a legal or quasi-legal setting, recusal is a formal action, often
announced with an opinion, and with some other authority making the
decision as to the replacement judge.

In the ethical setting, recusal is an inaction, not announced, and not
handed over to come campus authority.  The professor simply goes to a
trusted colleague who grades like he does and asks–informally–for an
opinion; that opinion becomes the student’s grade.  This type of thing
happens all the time in academe for many reasons, although the formal
variety does not and yes would only create problems and conflicts.

Let me respond to a few select remarks within Professor Dank’s text:

“Of course, the professor should have foreseen the definite possibility
that he or she would be unable to dispassionately grade a student who
he or she is romantically involved with.  If  this is the case, such
should have been communicated ahead of time to the student and if such
involvement occurs then the student would be treated differentially and
would not have the  same grader as all the other students have in
class.   Recusal in this sort of situation does not appear to me to be
an honorable way to acquit oneself; such is not honorable since the
relationship is violated and as well as the student.”

No; the relationship is not violated; the colleague need not even be
told why his opinion is being sought.  Nor is the student
violated–unless Professor Dank feels uniquely situated as *the* Grader
par excellence.  There are many equally competent faculty members, are
there not?  Moreover, I am sure this was foreseen and discussed with
the student in *this* case.  My point was that since recusal is needed
when things are not foreseen or are not foreseeable, it cannot be right
that it is *per se* unethical to recuse one’s self.

“One simply does not unilaterally exile a student into never-never

Why does Professor Dank consider a Grader other than himself a form of
exile?  And why are all other faculty “never-never land”?  The student
stays in the class, takes the test with the class; the grading is not
done in-class anyway.  Where does exile come in?

“If this is to be done, the student-professor relationship is no longer
a private one and will end up being subsumed under the mantel of
insitutional authority.  If there is differential treatment, it should
of the last resort and is indicative that the professor is now in deep
trouble as well as the student.”

Here, the formal version of recusal is assumed.  And, the deep trouble
may simply be a heated romance.

“In addition, it does become relevant that recusal from grading in a
university is almost unheard of.  Of course, in legal situations
recusal is frequently employed.  In my 35 years of university teaching
I never heard of a situation of recusal occurring or being
contemplated.  Also, in said 35 years, I cannot recollect being privy
to any discussion of the issue, nor receiving any official university
notifications about the issue.  Is the recusal process referred to in
Faculty Handbooks?”

What I meant is not a “process” and would never be in a Book of

“It  wasn’t easy to give a poor grade to students who I liked, but such
was the case.”

There is equal alarm at a self-imposed backlash resulting in a harsher
grade.  A neutral arbiter (not “arbitrator”, the legal equivalent) is
often best.


Albeit a brief response.  I did not consider myself THE grader or a star grader or an outstanding grader.  I did think of myself as a dispassionate grader.  To be honest, I did not become a professor because of the grading component, because of my love of grading or because I wanted to do to others what had been done to me over and over again.   I do not know if my former colleagues were more competent or less competent graders than myself.  Grading was simply not discussed.  Hiring committees did not seek out candidates who were outstanding graders.  The fact of the matter is that in higher ed, students are interested in grading and seek out those who they consider to be “outstanding” graders.  The chasm between students and professors as to the importance of grading is huge.

In any case, I never liked to grade students.  I wish I could have farmed out grading to others, such as TAs or grading machines.  But I could not do this since I was the one who taught my students, I had to be the one to grade my students.  I knew what happened in the class better than any other potential grader; I was there all the time, and there was no one who could be interchangeable with me.  In the first session of most of my classes, I told my students that if you want to get a poor grade do not come to class regularly; you are conning yourself if you think otherwise.  I would have been conning myself and my students if I had a professor grade any of my students who had not attended all of my class lectures. 

My respondent writes of grading exams and one grader being equal to another. His concerns are just not germane to my situation which was in part outlined above.  I generally did not give exams, and when I did, in-class material was a major component of the exam.  I could not ask a colleague to grade such an exam.  Grades were to a significant degree based on papers and other projects.  Asking another prof to grade  a particular student would not work; one could only grade what one was familiar with.  Asking a colleague I should not be asking to do all this work while giving no reason why this student merits such special attention is other worldly.  By my own standards, I could not give a student special attention since I was committed to not having any dating relationship impact on the class; the relationship had nothing to do with the class.  My special other may be special in many ways, but she is not a special student.  Treating her as a special student would be a betrayal of my ethics.  Professors are entitled to a private life free of institutional surveillance.  Subjecting ones significant other to special treatment in class subverts privacy and invites institutional surveillance.

Enough said.

September 1, 2007 Posted by | grading, recusal | Leave a comment


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