The Daily Telegraph engages in shoddy journalism when it stated the following about the Yale embroglio-
As the Ivy League alma mater of five U.S. presidents, 18 Nobel laureates and countless captains of industry, Yale has one of the loftiest names in education.
But the $40,000-a-year university has found its reputation being dragged through the mud by a sex scandal that threatens to leave a stain on 300 years of academic excellence.
Oh, please, a stain on 300 years of academic excellence. The antics of some fraternity chaps at Yale has nothing to do with academic excellence. Academic excellence and fraternity mischiefs both have long histories at Yale and I expect at all so-called Ivy League colleges. They co-exist in their own separate realities.
And as for the Daily Telegraph assertion that there is a sex scandal at Yale, the dankprofessor asks “What sex scandal?” Filing complaints about frat boy pranks does not make a sex scandal unless one is a sexual obsessive.
Sexual harassment, so-called hostile environment sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape continue to be conflated as indicated by a the complaint of 16 Yale students to the Dept. Of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (the OCR) and the public responses to said complaint.
As dissident feminist Wendy Kaminer points out the group’s complaint
“reportedly includes testimony about sexual assaults, but the hostile-environment charge against the university rests as well on a litany of complaints about offensive exercises of First Amendment freedoms. A December 2010 draft complaint letter, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), focuses on these “incidents”: In 2006, a group of frat boys chant “No means yes, yes means anal” outside the Yale Women’s Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women’s dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women’s Center holding signs saying, “We love Yale sluts.” In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers “it would take to have sex with them.”
It is these public incidents that have engaged the public’s attention and brought forth a condemnation of sexual harassment/assault by Vice President Biden. But what some call sexual harassment boils down in the dankprofessor terms as obnoxious and offensive behavior. And the terms used are of import since offensive and obnoxious behavior are constitutionally protected and university sexual harassment codes, particularly of the hostile environment genre, may impinge on constitutionally protected speech.
For example, take the “Yale Sluts” sign which was held up by a group of Zeta Psi Fraternity members in front of the Yale Women’s Center and then the circulation of this imagery in the wider campus community. In response to this incident the Women’s Center called for “an overhaul of the University’s sexual-harassment and assault education policies, increased regulation of fraternities, disciplinary actions against Zeta Psi members…” The Center’s board indicated they will continue in their ongoing quest to end the “fraternity-sponsored or enabled sexual harassment, assault and rape” they had observed on campus.
So putting it in rather blunt terms condemning the Zeta Psi actions as offensive is not enough; the problem according to the Women’s Center is that the Zeta Psi members are rape enablers. And the dankprofessor surmises that those who assert that the actions of the Zeta Psi members are constitutionally protected, they too are at risk of being labeled as rape enablers.
What was and is needed at Yale is some form of conflict resolution between fraternities and women’s organizations. But based on my information in the three years since the 2008 incident, there has been no communication at Yale between Zeta Psi and organizations such as the Women’s Center.
Name-calling whether it be sluts or rape enablers is puerile. The basic problem at Yale is one of civility. The problem of civility will not be ameliorated by taking this situation into an adversarial legal system, and using the media as a means of demonizing the “other side”.
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?
The president of the University of College Cork has becomes uncorked re a sexual harassment charge relating to fellatio and bats. Read the story as presented below. Absurdity knows no limits when it comes to how universities handle sexual matters.
London, May 18 (ANI): An academic at the University College Cork in Ireland found himself at the centre of a sexual harassment scandal after he discussed a scientific paper, titled ‘Fellatio in fruit bats prolongs copulation time’ with a female colleague.
And now his university is coming under international pressure to lift the punishment meted out to Dylan.
As part of what he says was an ongoing discussion on human uniqueness, Evans showed a copy of the fellatio paper to a female colleague in the school of medicine.
“There was not a shred of a sign of offence taken at the time. She asked for a copy of the article,” New Scientist quoted Evans as saying.
A week later he got a letter informing him that he was being accused of sexual harassment.
Evans said that the whole case is “utterly bizarre”.
The complainant’s side of the argument is that she was “hurt and disgusted”, and asked Evans to leave a copy of the paper with her as way of cutting short the meeting.
Apparently, there was more to the grievance between Evans and the complainant than the fellatio paper incident, but an independent investigation found that Evans was not guilty of sexual harassment.
The investigation stated that it was reasonable for the colleague to have been offended and that showing the paper was a joke with a sexual innuendo, but that it was not Evans’ intention to cause offence.
Nevertheless, the university’s president, Michael Murphy, imposed a censure, which Evans says has prevented him getting tenure.
An online petition calling on the university authorities to back down has been set up and has been signed by high-profile academics including philosopher Daniel Dennett of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and Steven Pinker of Harvard University.
Dennett called the punishment “an outrageous violation of academic freedom” and Pinker says the “absurd and shameful” judgment “runs contrary to the principle of intellectual freedom and freedom of speech, to say nothing of common sense”.
The paper, which was carried out by many popular journals, had a certain prurient interest, which was only heightened by an explicit video that went with itMovie Camera.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers has written to Murphy asking him to rescind the two-year period of monitoring. (ANI)
Thank you very much for taking the on-line sexual harassment training program that was recently offered by the University. Preventing sexual harassment on campus is the responsibility of all of us. I greatly appreciate your participation.
One concern has been raised regarding the training program. The specific scenario of concern involved a faculty member taking a student to dinner on a weekend. The program indicated that this conduct was not, in and of itself, sexual harassment.
The University wants to make clear that while this might not be sexual harassment in the absence of other facts, it is not good practice to engage in this type of activity with students as it can clearly lead to charges of sexual harassment. Of course, University policy forbids any faculty member from having a dating relationship with any student with whom he or she has a teaching, research or advisor relationship.
I am not sure what university issued the above statement. Link is provided so those who are familiar with the script may be able to determine which university.
Of course, the absurdity is apparent. The dankprofessor notes that it is not clear that having dinner with a student can lead to harassment. The risk of food poisoning, of indigestion, of soup slurping would seem to be higher risk behaviors. In any case, if one is interested in having a better understanding of this scenario maybe the scenario should be fleshed out a bit, such as the dinner being in celebration of the student graduating, or of the student being accepted into a graduate program or a gesture in helping the student deal with a death in her family. Or maybe a result of a mutual attraction which could lead to a dating relationship and to marriage and to parentage and to divorce.
But as noted by the higher authority- “Of course, University policy forbids any faculty member from having a dating relationship with any student with whom he or she has a teaching, research or advisor relationship.”
But if one really attempted to live by these rules one could end up being normal and engaging in everyday worship of the God of Normal and, of course, engaging in appropriate dining behavior
In recent years there has been a major change in university policies banning student prof sexual relationships. The change has been the incorporation of “sexual or amorous” relationships. Almost all new or revised statements incorporate amorous relationships, eg, the new Yale statement incorporates amorous. And this change has been without critical comment.
The dankprofessor has been delinquent in addressing the incorporation of amorous. No longer will such be the case.
OK, let’s start out by being quite clear that these policies do not state sexual AND amorous; it is sexual OR amorous. So said policies definitely cover relationships that may not have a sexual component. This hugely increases the size of the population covered by the anti-fraternization policies.
We all know that being in love, that falling in love can occur without sex. And we know that some loving couples do not engage in sex because for one reason or the other they feel the time is not right. And some loving couples believe that their relationship should not be consummated until marriage. The makers of these policies know this, including the erudite members of the Yale Women Faculty Forum who play a critical role in creating Yale policy.
So are we really confronted here not just with a war against student prof sex but also a war against student prof love? On the surface, the answer is yes, but there is more, much more.
The reality is that if there was just a ban on sex between student and professors, many couples would be untouchable. They would be untouchable because they could simply deny having sex and there would be no one available who could dispute this. Faculty and students come under suspicion based on words and deeds, and appearances. Loving words, walking too close to a student, being seen too often with a student, having dinner with a student, notes of love to a student, loving emails to a student, a look of love directed toward a student or a look of love directed to the professor, this is what gets people in trouble. The assumption that underlying all of the foregoing is sex is just that- an assumption.
And, of course, what the amorous clause does is to not make it necessary to prove that sex has occurred. For the accusers, staying at the amorous level is just fine. Being found to be amorous with a student makes one a sex code violator.
But there is still more. What the amorous clause does is to make all close relationships with a student suspect. And therefore to diminish the possibility of becoming suspect many faculty refuse to be close with any particular student. Or for some profs playing it safe means that all interactions with students occur in a group context, never on a one to one basis. Sure having lunch with a student is OK as long as there are others who are partaking in said lunch.
It comes down to professors keeping their distance, and student professor couples becoming more and more closeted. Such is the nature of contemporary university life.
The dankprofessor has been very critical of university policy statements on consensual relationships regulating student professor sexual relationships. Invariably these policies function to degrade both students and professors and subject professors to disciplinary actions, sometimes actions that include dismissal.
Now the West Hills Community College District has come up with a policy statement that is minimally invasive and punitive and not degrading of student prof couples. There are still some problems. So here it is followed by my comments-
Romantic or sexual relationships between supervisors and employees or between administrators, faculty or staff members and students are discouraged. There is an inherent imbalance of power and potential for exploitation in such relationships. A conflict of interest may arise if the administrator, faculty or staff member must evaluate the student’s or employee’s work or make decisions affectingthe employee or student. The relationship may create an appearance of impropriety and lead to charges of favoritism by other students or employees. A consensual sexual relationship may change, with the result that sexual conduct that was once welcome becomes unwelcome and harassing. In the event that such relationships do occur, the District has the authority to transfer any involved employee to eliminate or attenuate the supervisory authority of one over the other, or of a teacher over a student. Such action by the District is a proactive and preventive measure to avoid possible charges of harassment and does not constitute discipline against any affected employee.
Note that throughout this statement MAY is used, such as “A conflict of interest may arise…” There is a POTENTIAL for exploitation. Of course, all relationships have a MAY; there is nothing intrinsic about relationships that pre-determine a result. But most policy statements have no may and simply state that there is a conflict of interest, etc.
The major difference in the policy is that there will be no “discipline taken against any affected employee.” Bravo to West Hills. Of course, never ever should there have been any discipline taken against any party to a consensual relationship at any university.
But there is one caveat regarding the goodness of this policy and that is the statement that “the District has the authority to transfer any involved employee to eliminate or attenuate the supervisory authority of one over the other, or of a teacher over a student.” OK, most policies state that the university can unilaterally pull out a student from the class. This policy leaves that out which is good, but pulling out a prof from a class in the middle of a semester functions to disrupt the entire class and may lead to punishing an entire class of students.
The dankprofessor still believes that this policy is a step in the right direction.
The insidehighereducation article, A Bathroom of Her Own(along with the comments) on gender segregated or gender integrated bathrooms in college dormitories explores just about all the issues/concerns/solutions regarding the gendering of bathrooms in college dorms. The dankprofessor hold that this is a must read article for persons who are seriously interested in campus sexual and gender politics.
Almost all but not all the issues are explored in the article, such as why the all gender bathroom option does not exist on the campus as a whole? Or why should the option only apply to dorms?
On some of the campuses where there are non-gendered bathrooms, there are still faculty and non-faculty bathrooms. I have no doubt that the existence of non-gendered bathrooms on campus with no attention given to student, faculty or staff status would not be given the green light. Why? Potential sexual harassment issues would be immediately brought up as well as fraternization issues- if persons who are banned from having sex with each other are allowed to frequent the same bathroom said bans would be undermined. Or to put it in other terms, bathroom fraternization could very well lead to the undermining of the whole campus stratification system.
No mattter what is happening in the dorms, outside of the dorms whether it be at Oberlin or Williams or Reed, et. al, people are expected to know their place. People who are seen out of place may very well be at risk of being displaced or replaced.
The witch hunt for sexual deviants is just beginning at Yale. As reported in the Yale Daily News, the Women Faculty Forum wants to employ the new consensual relationships policy as a launch pad for a more encompassing sexual control policy.
In its report, the Women Faculty Forum also recommended that new, University-wide policies against sexual misconduct replace existing policies, which vary across Yale College, the Graduate School and the professional schools. They also want Yale to shift its focus from sexual harassment to the broader issue of sexual misconduct — an umbrella term that applies to both sexual harassment and assault, and includes other sexually motivated behaviors intended to intimidate or threaten.
The Women Faculty Forum also called for the creation of a centralized sexual misconduct grievance board to administer the new policy and address complaints from undergraduates, graduate and professional students, faculty and staff alike. Currently, complaints are evaluated by four different grievance boards across the University.
“We don’t think there’s a lot of additional study necessary in terms of outside research,” Woman Faculty Forum report co-author and School of Management professor Connie Bagley said. “I hope the group is serious about the issues and willing to roll up their sleeves, dig into the [Women Faculty Forum] report and policy and just get this done.”
Miller said the University’s quick response to the report’s demand for a review committee and new policy on student-faculty relationships signals a “recommitment” to preventing sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
“The administrators we’ve been working with agree that sexual misconduct has no place at Yale,” Bagley said last month. “They’re serious about trying to take additional steps to eliminate it.”
Both Bagley and Priya Natarajan, a professor of astronomy and physics and a co-chair of the committee that authored the report, said they are pleased with the University’s response to the Women Faculty Forum report so far, but added that this is just the beginning of the process. The new committee must act quickly and decisively and follow the policy changes outlined in the report, Bagley said.
The report came from over a year of research, writing and consultation with faculty and administrators, most of whom supported the group’s proposed policies, Bagley said. Members of the committee responsible for the report worked with the General Counsel’s Office to ensure that the policy changes offered in the report were legally feasible.
The Women Faculty Forum began work on its report on sexual misconduct in fall 2008, after several pledges to the fraternity Zeta Psi posed for pictures outside the Women’s Center with signs that read “We Love Yale Sluts” and 100 medical students wrote a letter to School of Medicine administrators in December 2007 expressing concern over the prevalence of sexual harassment at the school, according to the report. The Women Faculty Forum’s goal in writing the report was to help administrators to develop a workable, University-wide anti-sexual misconduct policy, Bagley said.
The dankprofessor finds it breathtaking that the report promulgates a policy of eliminating all sexual misconduct at Yale while at the same time insuring that the policies are legally “feasible”. Eliminating/eradicating sexual misconduct is simply not compatible with law that recognizes due process and civil liberties. Such elimination can occur but only in an authoritarian state ruled by sexual zealots. Of course, “elimination” should be in quotes since so-called sexual misconduct is never completely eliminated. The anti-sexual zealots know this and know that their work is never completed; vigilance is always necessary in their world view.
What this and other similar policies also foment is the use of informants, third party informants who will report on sexual dissidents. Based on reports to me from distraught students and profs, the usage of informants is commonplace in American universities. Getting a handle on this situation is difficult since the identity of such informants is kept secret by university authorities. In fact, most often the entire proceeding against sexual dissidents is of a secretive nature. What makes the Yale policy even more fertile for the fomenting of informants is the usage of the nebulous term “amorous relationships”. So if the behavior is perceived as not sexual but amorous such is enough to initiate the charges.
But one may ask who would be prone to become informants at Yale or any other university? The prone would be distraught or jealous students or faculty. A student who believes that she or he was unfairly given a poor grade may come forward with a false charge knowing that ones identity is protected and knowing in some cases that there are no rules regarding false charges. Or one may be jealous of a fellow student or fellow faculty member or one may be a distraught ex-boyfriend. The list can go on and on.
The world of Yale is no different than the worlds beyond the walls of ivy. The small minded are everywhere. The paranoid are everywhere. The sexual zealots are everywhere. The question is whether they will be allowed to takeover Yale and recreate Yale in their image.
For my prior posting on the Zeta Psi fraternity controversy, click here.
The dankprofessor will also be reporting on prior incidents of sexual hysteria at Yale and on a faculty member who was subjected to said hysteria.
Albuquerque TV station KOB has reported on the lawsuit of Sharon Warner against the administration of the University of New Mexico. To see segment and text of the report click here.
The KOB report has nothing really new to say. The dankprofesor says that Warner’s lawsuit is simply about getting her own way. UNM would not discipline Lisa Chavez and now Warner will attempt to discipline UNM. Warner is a stern disciplinarian; she won’t take no for an answer. I know the type; all too many of these people in the university world. They won’t be satisfied until they obtain an academic position from which they can work their will.
As for Professor Chavez, she was thoroughly investigated by the UNM administration. The investigation revealed that she had not violated UNM rules. Now all she wants is to do her professorial work and to be left alone.
To read all my posts on Warner, Chavez and the University of New Mexico, click here.
The sexual puritans will now have a field day as a result of the revelations that there was an attempt to blackmail David Letterman for having sex with with staffers and his admission that he did have staffer sex.
From the right he will be blasted for being a philanderer and an adulterer. From the left he will be condemned as a sexual harasser who had sex with staffers who could not say no since differential power precludes consent. Of course, the worst is yet to come.
The BBC News reports (my comments are in the text)
A university leader has caused controversy by saying curvy female students are a “perk of the job”.
Terence Kealey, of the University of Buckingham, said lecturers were aware of females who “flaunted their curves”.
In a tongue-in-cheek article for Times Higher Education Magazine on the seven deadly sins of academia, he advised academics to “look but not touch”.
The National Union of Students condemned the comments as insulting and disrespectful to women.
Dr Kealey, a clinical bio-chemist and vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, likened the classroom to a lap dancing club and said admiring the curves of attractive students could help “spice up” marital sex.
In his article about the sin of lust, Dr Kealey wrote: “Most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays.
“What to do? Enjoy her! She’s a perk.” …
Dr Kealey recalled the days when sex between student and tutor, in return for academic favours, could go by unchecked.
“Thanks to the accountability imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency [the university watchdog] and other intrusive bodies, the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades.”
OR to put it more accurately, the days are gone when a scholar and student can have a consensual relationships
Olivia Bailey, womens’ officer for the NUS, said: “I am appalled that a university vice-chancellor should display such an astounding lack of respect for women.
The dankprofessor is appalled that Olivia Bailey is not appalled at the lack of respect shown by the university vice-chancellor toward male lecturers. To think that the curves of attractive female students could spice up marital sex, simply outrageous. Of course, the good vice-chancellor neglects female lecturers who may get spiced up when in the vicinity of an attractive male student. The vice-chancellor should be admonished for desexualizing female lecturers.
“Regardless of whether this was an attempt at humour, it is completely unacceptable for someone in Terence Kealey’s position to compare a lecture theatre to a lap dancing club, and I expect that many women studying at Buckingham University will be feeling extremely angry and insulted at these comments.”
I doubt it. The dankprofessor thinks that Ms. Bailey should also be admonished for stereotyping female students as being “extremely angry and insulted”. Ms. Bailey should restrain herself from creating female students in her own image.
His article has prompted a lively debate on the Times Higher Education website.
“I’m amazed that Terence K has a position in any university, and I’ll be damn sure never to apply for a job at Buckingham,” said one reader.
Another added: “Any scholar, who assumes that female students who show interest in the subject and ask for help because they have a crush on you or hope to manipulate you with their sexual charms, is a reality-challenged idiot.
Oh, please, he did not say all female students. Does the reader really believe that no female student will ever attempt to manipulate a male lecturer with her female charms? Manipulation goes on and on, everywhere, even at UK colleges, even by scholars using their scholarly abilities to manipulate their students and the their colleagues.
“And anyone who thinks that female students are there in the classroom expressly as objects of the instructor’s viewing pleasure needs to retire.”
But another said: “I’m appalled that everyone’s so appalled! – it’s just not that important, or offensive.”
Ditto from the dankprofessor.
Adding his own voice to the online debate, Dr Kealey said his article was a “moral piece” which used humour to encourage people to exercise self-restraint.
And he told the BBC: “It says that sex between middle-aged academics and young undergraduates is wrong. It also says that academics should enjoy the company of their students. That too is unexceptionable.
OK, for Kealey it’s all about age, no problem for the younger academic or for the older female student?
“The Times Higher readership is composed mainly of academics who would be expected to appreciate articles written at more than one level. The crudeness of some of the examples was to underpin the inappropriateness of transgressional sex and that is a conventional literary device.
Oh, God, it’s all about the crudeness of transgressional sex. Or maybe its also about the crudeness of pedestrian sex.
“Sex between staff and students is not funny and is not a legitimate source of humour but it is legitimate to use humour to illuminate the ways that people finesse the dissonance between what is publicly acceptable and what is sometimes privately desired.”
Or maybe it’s about Dr. Kealey trying to finesse himself so he won’t lose his job.
A spokesman for the University and College Union said: “Harassment is not something to be taken lightly and I would be surprised, and deeply concerned, if any university, or vice-chancellor, tried to laugh it off.”
Isn’t this the first mention of harassment. What has harassment got to do with anything? I would hope that just about anyone would laugh off this comment.
Dr Kealey has been vice-chancellor at Buckingham – the UK’s only independent university – since 2001.
The Hofstra student who charged that she was the victim of a group rape on campus is now reported to have completely recanted her story. Hofstra has apparently suspended her as a student and she faces criminal charges. Those she charged as rapists have been released from jail.
The dankprofessor takes note of this in the context of an East Georgia College prof who was suspended after he protested that his university had no section in their university’s sexual harassment policy regarding false sexual harassment charges.
The dankprofessor had hoped that after the Duke university false rape charges against the lacrosse team members that more university faculty and students and administrators would be less prone to jump to conclusions and really embrace notion of the presumption of innocence in relation to alleged criminals, including those accused of rape.
I guess that such hopes unfortunately represent a form of pipe dreaming.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports that
The abuse of campus sexual harassment policies to punish dissenting professors has hit a new low at East Georgia College (EGC) in Swainsboro. Professor Thomas Thibeault made the mistake of pointing out—at a sexual harassment training seminar—that the school’s sexual harassment policy contained no protection for the falsely accused. Two days later, in a Kafkaesque irony, Thibeault was fired by the college president for sexual harassment without notice, without knowing his accuser or the charges against him, and without a hearing. Thibeault turned to FIRE for help.
And help he needs. It is surreal, to say the least. Complain about the lack of protection for the falsely accused then you are accused of literally some unspeakable crime against something and are led away from campus and barred from returning.
I remember when I was a full time academic and at one of those so-called training seminars I pointed out that there was nothing in the policy about false accusations but then I went further and stated that the university policy inverted the values of our criminal justice due process system. In the civilian world the accused is given all sort of rights, and may take avail of a public defender, but in the university world the defendant is provided with no rights while the complainant is given all sorts of assistance. Could it be that in the university world the accused is presumed guilty and treated as one of the guilty, no pretense of fairness here while in the civilian world it is generally all pretence- due process on the surface, but the presumption of guilt structures the system; the only thing to be determined is what is the guilty person formally guilty of.
Please do click this link, it is all there for your viewing. Of course, it is easier to engage in avoidance and denial.
Ruth Padel was elected to the position of Oxford Professor Of Poetry after Derek Walcott withdrew as a candidate once allegations surfaced that Walcott had been involved in sexually harassing students. But now Padel has resigned from the professorship after serving for only 9 days. Such was the case after Padel admitted that she played a role in having the press cover Walcott’s sexual harassment history.
A number of the British literati were disturbed by the resignation.
Novelist Jeanette Winterson said: “It’s a pity she has been backed into a corner. What she has done is so much more trivial than her contribution to poetry. This feels malicious and nasty. We ought to be able to look beyond the woman to the poetry. This is a way of reducing women; it wouldn’t have happened to a man. But then Oxford is a sexist little dump.”
Now wasn’t this in essence what the defenders of Walcott had said- that we ought to look beyond the man to his poetry; that what he had done is so much more trivial than his contribution to poetry; that this would not have happened to a woman.
But when Winterson characterizes Oxford as “a sexist little dump” such goes beyond the poetic fringe. In the dankprofessor’s opinion, the Oxford debacle represents a form of poetic license, of poets running amok.
Poets have been making the headlines over the last couple of weeks, not in the USA, but in the UK. Ruth Padel is now Britain’s first female Oxford Professor of Poetry. Initially such was quite unexpected. Heavily favored to assume the Oxford Professor of Poetry was Caribbean Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. But Walcott dropped out of the race at the last moment, and a race it was, which made Padel the leading vote getter.
Walcott dropped out since he did not want to publicly engage in a controversy concerning his past sexual behavior. As reported by the Guardian’s Katy Evan’s Bush-
“…an anonymous “smear” campaign alerted between 50 and 200 academics to his history of sexual harassment, as recounted in a 1984 book called The Lecherous Professor. John Walsh (an “old friend” of Padel’s) tore strips off Walcott…Accusations and recriminations flew and Walcott withdrew, saying he had never commented on the matter and wasn’t about to. Padel was voted in with her detractors’ boots in her back.
…Walcott was disciplined by Harvard University in 1982 (after which the university updated its sexual harassment policy) and settled out of court with another student, Nicole Niemi (now Kelby), at Boston University in 1996. He justified himself on the first occasion saying his teaching style was “deliberately personal and intense”. In fact, it was so intense, according to the student who complained, that after she refused his advances, he refused to discuss her work and gave her a C, which the university later raised to a pass.”
Ms. Evan-Bush goes on to state-
Whether or not you think this should bar Walcott from the Oxford professorship, the lack of clarity around the terms of the debate is disturbing. The press refers to “smears” against Walcott. “Smears” means slanderous untruths; Walcott has admitted making some of the comments attributed to him, been disciplined, had his grade reviewed, and settled out of court.
It may have been settled out of court and Walcott demurs to engage in the court of public opinion and withdraws from the Oxford candidacy, but the “victim” of his 1996 sexual harassment, Nicole Kelby, finds the whole thing quite unsettling. She feels that Walcott should be the Oxford Professor of Poetry-
I am appalled and saddened by the anonymous smear campaign against my former mentor Derek Walcott. Everyone has a right to face his or her accusers. That’s why I sued Boston University. I wanted to discover if Professor Walcott was actually harassing me. At first, I thought he was joking. Anyone who knows him knows that it is his way to be sexual, to push the envelope of both decorum and good taste. I didn’t really want to think that this man whom I placed so much trust in, and had so much affection for, would actually be bartering sex for favours. It didn’t seem possible. But as events unfolded, I needed clarification.
Do I think that it’s appropriate for a professor to joke about sex with a student? No. I do not. Many years ago my daughter Hannah died, so I understand how dangerous the world can be. As a mother, I can not tolerate the idea of a young woman being harassed. Sexual harassment is not about lust, it is about asserting power over the powerless.
However, while I believe that it is not appropriate to be sexual towards students, I also realize that it happens. Writers, by nature, have reckless hearts. Poetry is a passionate art. That is why it is crucial that institutions have strict policies against sexual harassment and are not too embarrassed to allow concerns to be heard. It is impossible to legislate behaviour, but to allow a student an opportunity to question behaviour in a safe and open forum is within our grasp. I believe that Oxford is capable of dealing with any situation of this nature.
Derek Walcott is not an evil man. Like any man, he is flawed. But, like any great man, he is retrospect and understands that his flaws are universal. And from them, he creates art.
His role in this society is crucial. Art forces our minds to reinvent what we think and so we build impossible buildings, find improbable cures and make changes that could never have been dreamed of before. With every artistic moment the paradigm shifts and civilisation grows stronger for it.
I can only hope that Oxford decides to stop the election and allow everyone more time to reconsider what has just happened. Derek Walcott should not walk away from this post. He is the greatest living poet in our time and what he has to say is vital to all of us.
Well, Oxford didn’t stop the election and as a result of a 27 year old Harvard sexual harassment case and a 1996 Boston University sexual harassment case in which the so-called victim now engages in the bizarre, Walcott is out. In Kelby’s terms the paradigm shifts but the dankprofessor believes that civilisation has not grown stronger.
In fact the book in which the Walcott case was written up, THE LECHEROUS PROFESSOR, was a paradigm shifting book. It was this book by Billie Dziech and Linda Weiner which put forth a previously bizarre notion that differential power precludes consent, that there can never be a consensual relationship between a student and a professor. This idea galvanized the campus anti-sexual feminists at the time and ultimately led to the initiation of a campaign to ban all student professor sexual relationships. Or to put it another way, the Dziech argument conflated sexual harassment and consensual relationships. In terms of the Walcott case, if the student had protested that she had consented, no matter to Dziech, it is still sexual harassment. It also energized the dankprofessor who had always been wary of persons who wanted to take the right of sexual consent from others in the name of protecting them from themselves.
Unfortunately, universities throughout North America bought into this gibberish and power was taken away from student professor couples and the power was given to Big Brother and Big Sister administrators. The damage was done and continues to be done, and is now being done in the UK.
And as for the successful moral campaign against Derek Walcott becoming the Oxford Professor of Poetry, it can be called many things, but one thing it cannot be called is poetic justice.
And one final question- What’s wrong with a poet/professor telling a joke about sex in front of a student???
Deresiewicz is one of the very few academics who has directly opposed what has become a campus “truth” which is that female students never initiate anything sexual with a professor. Almost all campus fraternization policies say that such is the case. Female students are never seen as having any agency in this area. Female students are not seen as being attracted to male profs.
Deresiewicz puts it in in these terms:
Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul. Students will sometimes mistake this earthquake for sexual attraction…
I think that Deresiewicz has it right in terms of professors igniting students, at least some of the students some of the time. Of course, there are many profs who never ignite students. I surmise that it is the non-igniting professors who are the profs who are likely to become involved in sexual harassment charges; their advances are hardly ever welcomed by students. On the other hand, the fully engaged and engaging professors are the ones likely to become involved in consensual sexual relationships with students since they are dealing with students who are ignited as a byproduct of their involvement in the class. Or to put it in what may be overly simplified terms, professors who love teaching their subject are likely to become the subject of student love. Of course, in the end Deresiewicz cops out- the students are mistaken, their “earthquake” has nothing to do with sexual attraction;
professors should help these jolted students avoid the excesses of campus love.
What Deresiewicz also fails to understand is that what he calls an earthquake experience is not unique to female students on campus. In traditional terms, such is called being swept away. The swept away feeling although applicable to both men and women, tends to be viewed as more often sought and experienced by women. It is also used as a rationale for having sex-
“he just swept me off my feet”- although the swept away feeling may be less often invoked for sex in todays hookup and binge drinking campus culture.
Now someone who understands the swept away experience is unlikely to state to the swept away, as Deresiewicz states, that ‘you are mistaken, you are not really attracted to the prof, you are just experiencing brain sex.’ The dankprofessor response to Deresiewicz and others giving this sort of counsel to the swept way is that the professor counselors know little or nothing about love and romance and sex in the real world. The fact that they often attempt to enforce their sexual biases as formal campus rules for sexual behavior is otherworldly. What we pedestrian students and professors are often left with are campus administrators who suffer from both puffery and buffoonery in their everyday campus sexual rule making and enforcing.
Daphne Patai has written a powerful critique of university policies on student professor relationships and on sexual harassment policies in the context of writing a review essay on six novels dealing with university life. Following are excerpts from her essay focusing on Roth’s THE DYING ANIMAL which has been adapted as a movie under the title, ELEGY and Prose’s BLUE ANGEL. All six novels are listed at the end of the essay.
Excerpted from Daphne Patai, “Academic Affairs,” SEXUALITY AND CULTURE, vol. 6, No. 2, June 2002, pp.65-96.
The original publication of this review is located at
While academic bureaucrats busied themselves in the 1990s with a
quixotic but persistent attempt to regulate both speech and personal interactions on their campuses, a group of creative writers struck blows against such a narrowing of our lives by providing us with delicate and nuanced, or satirical and scathing, imaginings of the complexities of actual relationships between real (though fictional) persons who find themselves caught up in the new vigilantism.
Their novels demonstrate that the politically correct script of male/professorial power and female/student powerlessness is a pathetically thin distortion which negates the texture of human life and produces little but propaganda tracts ranting against a purported patriarchy and its hapless victims. In the hands of a spirited and talented writer, the resources of fictional narrative–its potential for shifting points of view, for negotiating huge jumps in time and sudden reversals, for interior monologues and musings, startling imagery and evocative turns of phrase—can at least attempt to do justice to the dense inner life and complex events that define human existence, in the academy and out of it.
The novels under discussion here take for granted a reality so simple
and obvious that it has somehow escaped the notice of many social
critics. People meet each other, and that is how relationshipsbegin.
Many of these encounters take place in schools and workplaces,
where people spend most of their waking hours. Given
thesecircumstances, it is likely that many of the ensuing interactions
will be tainted by one or another kind of “asymmetry,” since no two
humans are exactly alike or occupy precisely the same
positions.What makes the concept of asymmetrical relationships
resonate so negatively in the minds of those who would govern
personal interactions is, of course, the obsession with power.
Asymmetrical relations are bad–so this line of thinking goes–
because no romantic or sexual intimacy should exist where one
person has power over another. Such power imbalances are
inherently evil to those for whom a simplistic conception of
“equality” has become the standard of justifiable social relations.
This phenomenally narrow viewpoint ignores the obvious fact that
the “power” people act out in their relationships is of many and
varied types, and that one person’s predominance in one sphere is
often matched by the others in another sphere. Who has more
brains? More charm? Morebeauty? More vigor? Greater emotional
resources? Better health? Better taste? Not to mention more wealth,
status, and all the other material aspects of life? Might a professor’s
ability to give a bad grade not be countered by his student’s
opportunity to write him a
damaging evaluation? And is not virtually all professorial omnipotence
these days trumped by the threat that the “weaker” party (ostensibly
the student) might initiate a complaint against some
supposedly offensive word or gesture that may or may not have
actually occurred? A mere moment’s reflection reveals that the usual
critique of asymmetrical relations relies on a stunted and feeble
definition that is stacked–and of course is meant to be against
Sex is power, yes; but so are brains, charm, wealth, status, and,
as Philip Roth teaches us over and over again, health and youth.
But since it’s patently absurd to try to outlaw relationships defined
by all or any of these inequalities, the new academic vigilantes
go for the broadest possible category and thus simply target
all personal interactions. For who is there on campus who is not
hierarchically differentiated from some other individual one way
or another? The overly broad definitions of “sexual harassment”
that have ensued, which invariably include “verbal acts” that may
make someone uncomfortable, allow all other imbalances to be
covered, by implication. And the stigma resulting from a charge
of sexual or verbal harassment is so great (and the financial stakes
of potential law suits so high) that, these days, a charge of harassment–
a mere accusation, however flimsy, however transparently
fabricated–may well cost the accused his (for men are the primary
Unable to do away with “power” altogether (and without even
considering seriously whether it would be desirable, let alone remotely
possible, to do so), we scurry to regulate relationships. For
the Church fathers’ view of women as representing sexual danger,
capable of luring men from their higher concerns, we have substituted
an opposing view that now dominates our secular society: of
men as a threat to women, compromising, impeding, and exploiting
them at every turn. And since the pattern of young women
seeking out older and more accomplished men does not seem to be
retreating in the face of feminist critiques, what can we hope to do
but discourage those relationships as best we can by stigmatizing
flirtation, invitations, stares, touches, jokes (all of these explicitly
addressed by the latest sexual harassment policy of my own university)
even when they have nothing to do with sexual extortion
or coercion but are merely incidents of ordinary human interaction?
Fortunately, the current preeminence of sexual harassment specialists
and other micromanagers of collegiate life is not without
challenge, as the novels under discussion here demonstrate. True,
these literary works (and others of similar tenor) are small in number-
nothing to compare to the thousands of sexual harassment
codes the vigilantes have composed and are attempting to enforce,
egged on by the federal government and fortified by some rulings
signed into law by, ironically, Bill Clinton. But long after sexual
harassment codes are gone, these novels will be read both as reflections
of American life in the late twentieth century and as examples
of the unique abilities of fiction to reveal the human condition
in all its subtle intricacies and embroilments…
The Human Stain is the third novel in what Roth (in a New York
Times interview conducted with Charles McGrath, May 7, 2000)
described as a “thematic trilogy, dealing with the historical moments
in postwar American life that have had the greatest impact
on my generation”–the McCarthy era, the Vietnam War, and the
impeachment of Bill Clinton each story told through the mediating
perspective of Nathan Zuckerman, whom Roth has referred to
as his “alter brain” The first work in the trilogy was American
Pastoral, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, followed a year later
by I Married a Communist. The Human Stain, in turn, was succeeded
by a short novel once again taking up a character-narrator
we have met before. The Dying Animal, Roth’s most recent novel,
ressurrects David Kepesh, first introduced in 1972 in a Kafkaesque
novel The Breast, and narrator as well of Roth’s controversial 1977
novel The Professor of Desire. Now 70 years of age, Kepesh, in
The Dying Animal, relates the story of his affair, eight years earlier,
with Consuela Castillo, a 24-year-old Cuban-American student of
his, possessed of enormous “erotic power” that is both “elemental
and elegant” (p. 98). Roth does not directly address the issue of
current attempts to regulate professor-student relations except
to ironically note Kepesh’s habit of avoiding involvement with
his students till the semester is over and grades are turned in, at
which time he typically invites them all for a party at his house and
notes which ones stay late. Who is pursuing whom in his various
relationships is never entirely clear. But some of these studentteacher
liaisons persist in the form of lasting friendships, as we
learn near the novel’s end.
Kepesh speaks in a monologue to an unidentified interlocutor
whose questions and comments are implicit in Kepesh’s answers,
but who only on the novel’s very last page (just as in Portnoy’s
Complaint) responds and, indeed, is given the last word. No longer
a professor in The Dying Animal, Kepesh is now a well-known
culture critic and media personality. In laborious detail, on an occasion
that is revealed only at the novel’s end, he tells the story of his
obsession with Consuela, whose voluptuous beauty–and especially
her gorgeous breasts–enraptured him. A year and a half into
their affair, she breaks it off in anger over his failure to put in an
appearance at her graduation party. Recalling this episode, Kepesh
The smartest thing I did was not to show up there. Because I had been
yielding and yielding in ways that I didn’t understand. The longing never
disappeared even while I had her. The primary emotion, as I’ve said, was
longing. It’s still longing. There’s no relief from the longing and my sense
of myself as a supplicant. There it is: you have it when you’re with her and
you have it when you’re without her. (pp. 94-95)
But Kepesh by his own account then spent three more years
longing for her, and a few years beyond that she suddenly re-enters
his life, bringing not joy but tragedy as she tells him she has breast
cancer and not great odds for survival. Kepesh is not particularly
admirable (nor does Roth attempt to make him so) as he confesses
his dismay at the thought of her soon-to-be “mutilated” body, which
undoes his sexual desire even as his heart breaks with tenderness
for her plight (p. 138). Why has she come back? Apparently to ask
Kepesh to photograph, before her surgery, the breasts he so adored.
In recounting his affair, Kepesh delineates his indefatigable efforts
to avoid emotional entanglement and to hang on to physical
lust as the wellspring of manly energy, always contrasted to the
death-in-life that he considers marriage to be. Roth even subjects
Kepesh to some scathing analyses by a disgruntled middle-aged
son (from a failed early marriage that he’d walked out of), telling it
as he sees it, and often quite on target about his father’s many faults
Seducing defenseless students, pursuing one’s sexual interests at the expense
of everyone else–that’s so very necessary, is it? No, necessity is
staying in a difficult marriage and raising a little child and meeting the
responsibilities of an adult. (p. 90)
But none of this sensible criticism detracts from the compelling
narrative Kepesh weaves, with its topsy-turvy version of who’s
really in control in this affair between an older man, who sees the
end in sight, and an exuberantly beautiful much younger woman
who shouldn’t have to face her mortality but does, out of season.
Time, Kepesh says, for the young is always made up of what is
past; but for Consuela, sick with breast cancer,
time is now how much future she has left, …Now she measures time counting
forward, counting time by the closeness of death …. her sense of time is
now the same as mine, speeded up and more forlorn even than mine. She,
in fact, has overtaken me. (p. 149)
It is Kepesh’s intimate friend, George O’Hearn, who, in analyzing
Kepesh’s predicament after the affair with Consuela ended,
evokes the earlier novel’s image of Kepesh as “the professor of
desire” (p. 99). Recognizing that Kepesh will “always be powerless
with this girl” (p. 98), O’Hearn urges him to avoid all contact
with her. Lust and life are one thing; love quite another, and O’Heam
worries that Kepesh is “failing in love” Far from restoring a Platonic
unity to the lovers, O’Hearn argues, love is a danger, because,
“love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked
open” (p. 101).
But if it is Consuela’s “erotic power” that has kept Kepesh in
thrall to her, the only power he, by contrast, held over her, Kepesh
believes, was his pedagogy, his ability to instruct her in music and
literature (p. 101). Most importantly, orgasm, for Kepesh, meant a
momentary end to the sickness that is desire. It is in this context that
he cites Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” from which the novel takes
its melancholy title, alluding to the process of aging:
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is. (p. 103)
Even a dying animal, however, can retain some sense of propriety.
“Ridiculousness” to Kepesh, is relinquishing one’s freedom
voluntarily (p. 104). While fully recognizing this, he had not been
able in his relationship with Consuela to avoid it and had experienced
emotions unbearable to him: jealousy and attachment: “No,
not even fucking can stay totally pure and protected, “Kepesh says
(p. 105), in lines similar to those spoken by Faunia Farley in The
Human Stain. What makes his suffering touch the reader is that
Kepesh doesn’t even know just what he’s longing for: “Her tits?
Her soul? Her youth? Her simple mind? Maybe it’s worse than
that–maybe now that I’m nearing death, I also long secretly not to
be free” (p. 106).
In a nasty review of The Dying Animal feebly entitled “Tedium
of the Gropes of Roth” (The limes [London], 27 June 2001), Elaine
Showalter dismisses the novel as “cowardly, sterile, and intellectually
shallow.” She can muster no sympathy for Kepesh’s insistence
on his “freedom” as being the fulfillment of American individualism.
Showalter considers the novel’s ending to be its protagonist’s
one shot at being a “mensch” a shot we’re not sure he’ll take. But
the novel’s focus on a man who uses sex as a weapon against his
mortality is no reason to despise it, unless we are prepared to judge
all works of art on the basis of whether their civic message is one
we wish to endorse. Showalter quotes with disdain Roth’s line about
the “astonishing fellators” found in this generation of young women
(~ la Lewinsky). Another reviewer, Anthony Quinn, refers to
Kepesh’s obsession with Consuela’s gorgeous breasts as “just a bit
creepy and objectifying” (“An Old Man’s Fancy,” The Times [London],
24 June 2001). It appears that critics are not very eager to
hear what Roth is really saying. We seem to want our aging men to
be heroes, mature and wise. We don’t like seeing them as vulnerable
individuals not yet finished with sexual desire, as Roth insists
on representing them.
To immerse oneself in Roth’s bold and erotic prose is to confront,
however unwillingly, the habitual denigration of eroticism in
American society, which celebrates the marriage-and-commitment
narrative despite its notorious failures in our time. Roth’s Kepesh
wants never to pay any price for his sexual indulgences and egocentric
behavior. But his protest against age and infirmity, his insistence
that desire continues, that sex can be an affirmation of life
against the inevitability of decay and loss–all these are worth hearing,
even coming from a character as complicatedly unsympathetic
as David Kepesh…
Starting with his first novel, Goodbye, Columbus, and ending
with The Dying Animal, his latest one, Philip Roth has, over a 40
year period, lavished an unflagging energy on the effort to dissect
the sexual and emotional lives of male protagonists who often resemble
himself (Jewish author/professors with little talent for marriage
and a great taste for self-analysis). What is at times referred to
by critics as his “misogyny” is, it seems to me, rather a willingness
to probe the heart of the egocentricity and lust that drive his male
characters. It takes courage to do this in Roth’s unabashed way, to
celebrate–as he does in The Dying Animal–“the charm of the
surreptitious” and to make such provocative statements as: “Marriage
at its best is a sure-fire stimulant to the thrills of licentious
subterfuge” (p. 110). Roth does not allow us to see his narrators
and protagonists as unproblematic or admirable exemplars. Nor
does he–like critics such as Bell Hooks and Jane Gallop defend
“asymmetrical” relationships on the self-congratulatory grounds that
brilliant professors and their best students are naturally attracted to
one another and that these associations are crucial to the intellec
tual and creative development of both. He insists that such relationships
need no academic defense. He makes no pretense that there
is a cerebral or pedagogic value to them. Life and lust are their own
justification. Nor does he, on the other hand, idealize the ensuing
relationships. Far from it, he exposes their seaminess and comic
aspects, but also the passion and vulnerabilities from which they
spring, above all the vulnerability of older men confronting their
fear of aging and death, susceptible to female sexual power in a
manner that is presented poignantly and, I suspect, realistically…
Quite a different emphasis governs Francine Prose’s latest novel,
Blue Angel, a darkly comic story of a besotted 47-year-old writing
professor and the talented and ambitious 19-year-old student who
causes his downfall. In a witty and biting third-person narrative
confined strictly to the point of view of her protagonist, Ted
Swenson, Prose exposes the smelly little orthodoxies (as Orwell
put it, in quite another context) of the contemporary academic scene.
Because this novel of a professor ruined by sexual harassment
charges is of particular relevance to the travesties of justice actually
being played out on many university campuses today, it is worth
considering it in some detail.
Ted Swenson, a writer-in-residence at Eust,on College in northern
Vermont, has been married for twenty-one years and is still in
love with his wife, Sherrie, and capable of, as she puts it, “leering”
at her. As a professor in contemporary America, however, he knows
the rules, and the narrative gives us his thoughts about them:
Such are the pleasures of intimacy: he can look [at Sherrie] as long as he
wants. Given the current political climate, you’d better be having consensual
matrimonial sex with a woman before you risk this stare. (p. 16)
At his college’s obligatory meeting to review the sexual harassment
policy, Swenson thinks heretical thoughts:
What if someone rose to say what so many of them are thinking, that
there’s something erotic about the act of teaching, all that information
streaming back and forth like some…bodily fluid. Doesn’t Genesis trace
sex to that first bite of apple, not the fruit from just any tree, but the Tree of
Knowledge? (p. 22, italics in original)
Devoted to his wife and daughter, Swenson acknowledges that
“teacher-student attraction is an occupational hazard” and has therefore
avoided entanglements with his students, though over the years
several have made overtures to him. And he’s well aware, too, of a
case at the State university (where his daughter Ruby studies), involving
a professor who, while showing a classical Greek sculpture
of a female nude, had commented “Yum” Accusing him of
“leering” his students charged that he’d made them uncomfortable.
Suspended without pay, the professor had taken his case to
court. Swenson is wary of a similar climate at his own college, and
of the increasing power of the “Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance”
waiting to pounce on any male word or gesture. And he is suspicious
of a colleague who is head of the Alliance and is also the
English Department’s “expert in the feminist misreading of literature?’
For reasons he can’t fathom (but guesses it’s a “testosterone
allergy”), she seems to want him dead.
How, then, after so many years of sound judgment, does it happen
that he falls into the role of Professor Rath to his student’s Lola
Lola (as in the classic film The Blue Angel, from which the novel
takes its title)? Prose’s autopsy of Swenson’s fall is a bracing work,
funny and sly and politically incorrect at every turn, right up until
the end when Swenson realizes that the movie he should have been
watching was not The Blue Angel but All About Eve.
Can a talent for writing be a seducer? In the case of Ted Swenson,
decades of teaching “creative writing” to mediocre students (whose
stories, often involving bestiality, we get to sample), along with ten
frustrating years of never quite getting around to working on his
long-awaited third novel, have left him fatally vulnerable to talent,
no matter how unlikely its source.
Angela Argo is far from the best looking young woman in
Swenson’s class at Euston College. In fact, she has sat for weeks
squirming and sighing instead of speaking, calling attention to herself
primarily by means of her abundant face piercing, the orange
and green streaks in her hair, and the black leather motorcycle jacket
with theme-related accouterments that covers her skinny body.
But poor Swenson has few defenses against the spark of talent
that Angela reveals to him after seeking a meeting in his office.
And his first reaction to her work is the very thing that today gets
professors in trouble: differential treatment. Wanting to protect her
talent from the ritual hazing that his class has turned into as students
savage one another’s writing week after week, he agrees to
read and comment on Angela’s work in private. Thus begins the
special relationship–initiated by Angela at each successive stage–
that will eventually cost him his reputation, his job, and his marriage.
Interwoven into this realistic tale of a contemporary campus liaison
is a sympathetic portrait of the plight of writing teachers and of
writers, especially those stuck in a dry season that can last a decade.
The novel captures perfectly Swenson’s enraptured response
to the discovery of Angela’s talent. It is a generous, tender response.
Swenson is alert to the students’ ambiguous attitude toward him:
“He’s the teacher, they’re the students: a distinction they like to
blur, then make again, as needed” (p. 10). But this sensibility and
foreknowledge won’t save him from enthusiastically gravitating
toward the genuinely talented. And as Angela feeds him chapter
after chapter of her novel, Swenson falls into the very mistake he
constantly warns his students against: taking the story as autobiography.
Thus, he begins to imagine that he himself is the teacher Angela’s
protagonist is enamoured of, and that her first-person narrative is really
a confession, made to him privately, of her troubled life.
It doesn’t help matters much when a colleague who teaches poetry
tells him about the graphic sexual poems Angela had written
for that class. Soon the sexual content of Angela’s writing and her
intense anticipation of Swenson’s reactions week by week lead
him to sexual fantasies about her. When she says that she thinks all
the time about his reactions to her writing, what he hears is that
“she thinks about him all the rime” (p. 158). So they lurch from one
encounter to the next, each less clear than the last. Everything in
their relationship initially revolves around her writing–her eagerness
for his reaction; her computer’s collapse, which leads her to
ask him to take her shopping for a new one, and in turn leads to his
presence in her dorm room whose door (he finds out later) she’d
locked as soon as they had entered.
Francine Prose explores with great subtlety Swenson’s seduction
and betrayal. She does not present him as a total innocent. As
a man in mid-life, he is aware of his mortality and the appeal of
glowing youth all around him. “Age and death–the unfairness of
it, the daily humiliation of watching your power vanish just when
you figure out how to use it” (p. 145). But Angela’s rapid transformarion
after their brief escapade is no joke; she begins demanding
more of his attention to her writing, berating him when he doesn’t
provide it quickly enough. “What happened to the worshipful student
who hung on his every word” Swenson wonders. “Now that
she’s let Swenson sleep with her she doesn’t respect him anymore”
(p. 187). Prose shows the reversal of all the traditional rules and
values, as Angela quickly moves in for what turns out to be her real
goal: getting him to show her novel to his agent. But still Swenson
argues with himself about her motives:
Does Angela–did she ever–have a crush on him, or is she just using him
for his professional connections? Is Angela blackmailing him, or simply
asking a favor? What does a favor mean when you have the power to wreck
someone’s life? (p. 190)
By coincidence, a woman colleague also wants the same favor:
“This is really too much. Two women in twenty minutes cozying
up to Swenson as a way of getting next to his editor” (p. 191). And
to make matter worse, he must face the open resentment of his
other students when he, with complete sincerity, praises Angela’s
writing in class.
Angela’s fury when she learns that Swenson hadn’t fought for
her book with his agent finally makes her clarify her behavior: “The
only reason I let you fuck me was so you would help me get this
novel to someone who could do something” (p. 236). And next
thing he knows, she’s charged him with sexual harassment, taken a
tape of this last conversation to the dean, and is threatening to sue
the college. The dean immediately urges Swenson to resign.
Reviewing his own responsibility, Swenson thinks:
He knew about the power differential between teacher and student. But
this wasn’t about power. This was about desire. Mutual seduction, let’s say
that at least, lie’s too embarrassed to let himself think, This was about love.
Barred from his classroom, dangerously indifferent to his school’s
sexual harassment proceedings (not a “court of law”), Swenson
insists on a hearing instead of resigning quietly.
When he tells his wife, in a restaurant, about the trouble he’s in,
she blames him entirely and informs him that Angela spent half her
time at the school’s medical clinic (where Sherrie is a nurse), ostensibly
because she’s suicidal–but actually, Swenson realizes, because
Angela was pumping the staff for details about his life to
work into her novel.
The couple sitting beside them seems to have gotten up and left. At some
point when he and Sherrie were at once so engrossed and distracted, the
lovers must have retreated into their cocoon of protection and light and
grace, of chosenness, of being singled out and granted the singular blessing
of being allowed to live in a world in which what’s happening to
Sherrie and Swenson will never happen to them. (p. 256)
As the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance demonstrates against
him, and Swenson rents the film of The Blue Angel (a film he knows
Angela too has seen), he realizes at last that “there’s no chance of
winning, of proving his innocence” (p. 266).
The night before the hearing, he lies in bed composing and revising
speeches about what he thought he was doing, about his respect for Angela’s
novel, about the erotics of teaching. And the dangers of starting to see
one’s student as a real person. (p. 267)
But he is totally unprepared for the actual hearing process, in
effect a trial in which he faces six colleagues, one of them the head
of the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance (p. 270). As “agreed”
upon (but not by him), witnesses are called, but no cross-examination
of them is permitted, since this “is not, after all, a trial” (p.
273). So much for due process.
When Angela appears, parents in tow, at the hearing, Swenson
notes her changed appearance. Her hair is now a
shiny, authentic-looking auburn . . . . And how bizarrely she’s dressed–
bizarre, that is, for Angela. Neat khakis, a red velour sweater, ordinary
college-girl “good” clothes. For all he knows, the piercing and the black
leather were always the costume, and this is the real Angela, restored to her true
self. For all he knows. He doesn’t know. All right. He gets that now. (p. 272)
In a particularly subtle scene, Swenson, having deluded himself
for so long, having somehow managed to avoid noting that Angela’s
real interest was in promoting her writing, not in him, finds at his
“trial” that he would rather play the “sullen guilty lecher” that his
colleagues think he is, would rather confirm their “image of him as
the predatory harasser” than admit “to the truer story of obsession
and degradation, the humiliating real-life update of The Blue Angel”
Colleagues and students come forth to testify. A brave student
from Swenson’s writing class, initially showing far more discernment
than his elders, tries to argue: “I can’t see what the big deal is.
Shit happens. People get attracted to other people. It’s not that big a
deal” (p. 284). But Swenson watches the change that comes over
the student as he realizes that what Swenson is charged with is
having extorted sex from Angela in return for showing her work to
his editor in New York. The student’s face shows his perception of
unfairness warring with his sense of loyalty to his teacher: “Swenson
wants to tell him that the real unfairness involves the distribution of
talent and has nothing to do with whatever happened between him
and Angela Argo” (p. 285). Bravely, the student tries to stick to his
But nothing has prepared him to resist the seduction of having the dean of
his college calling him a writer and a half-dozen faculty members hanging
on his every word. How can he disappoint them? How can he not offer up
any scrap of information he can recall. (p. 286)
Francine Prose gets the details of all this just right: the banality
and venality of academic vindictiveness and piety; the stereotypical
assumptions about professorial misconduct; the eagerness to
find sexual wrongdoing; the unavoidable small-minded
Schadenfreude as colleagues and students get to revisit old grievances
and slights, and the sheer cynicism of faculty and administrators
claiming to be concerned with students’ welfare. When Claris,
the class beauty, testifies that he took no inappropriate actions toward
her, Swenson can see that no one believes her. Or they think
Swenson is insane.
How pathetic. What is wrong with him? He never even entertained a sexual
thought about Clads and spent months mooning over Angela Argo? How
abject, how ridiculous. He isn’t a normal male. (p. 288, italics in original)
Another student testifies that they all knew something was going
on because all their work was criticized, while Angela’s was
not. No one is interested in discussing the other possible reasons
for admiring a student’s work. “Swenson’s learned his lesson.
He’ 11 never criticize another student. Not that he’ll get a chance”
Finally, Angela gets to speak–if she feels “strong enough to
address the committee” (p. 296). “As she moves [toward the table],
Swenson thinks he can still see sharp angles of sullen punkhood
poking through the fuzzy eiderdown of that Jane College getup”
(p. 296). Following the familiar ritual, Angela is praised for her
courage in coming forward, and spared the ordeal of listening
to the tape she had orchestrated to make it sound as if Swenson
had indeed persuaded her to trade sex for showing her book to
On her face is that combustive chemistry of wild irritation and boredom so
familiar from those early classes, but now it’s become a martyr’s transfixed
gaze of piety and damage, lit by the flames of the holy war she’s waging
against the evils of male oppression and sexual harassment. (p. 297)
Throughout Angela’s distortions and deceptions; Swenson tries
to keep “his grip on the truth—-on his version of the story….A grip
on recent history…. On reality” (pp. 298-299). The committee, he
sees, is ready to believe the worst because he asked to see more of
a student’s writing. Yet, he admits to himself, her testimony isn’t all
Well, there is something sexy about reading someone’s work: an intimate
communication takes place. Still, you can read…Gertrude Stein, and it
doesn’t mean you find her attractive …. Once more, the committee’s version
of him–the scheming dirty old man–seems less degrading than the
truth. (p. 301)
Prose avoids turning her story into a postmodern narrative in
which we can never hope to learn the truth. Earlier episodes have
shown us what took place, and we recognize Angela’s lies in her
testimony before the committee, her insistence that the sexual initiatives
were his. But the author’s voice gives us a different perspective
on where the harm really resides:
How pornographic and perverted this is, a grown woman–a professor–
torturing a female student into describing a sexual experience to a faculty
committee, not to mention her parents. Swenson could have slept with
Angela on the Founders Chapel altar, and it would have seemed healthy
and respectable compared to this orgy of filth. Meanwhile he has to keep
it in mind that Angela started all this. Angela chose to be here. (p. 303)
Only at her father’s urging that she share her “good news” does
Angela admit to the assembled group that Swenson’s editor in fact
wants to publish her novel (p. 305). Swenson thinks:
Len Currie is publishing Angela’s novel. So what is this hearing about?
Angela should be kissing Swenson’s feet instead of ruining his life. As she
must have decided to do when she still believed that Swenson, her white
knight, had failed to get her manuscript published. If that’s when she decided.
Who knows what she did, and why? (p. 305)
On cue, Angela describes the lingering effects of the whole
wretched experience, her nightmares, her distress. As Angela’s testimony
draws to a close, the women’s studies professor once more
congratulates Angela and commiserates with her:
“Angela, let me say again that we know how tough it was for you to
come in and say what you did. But if women are ever going to receive an
equal education, these problems have to be addressed and dealt with, so
that we can protect and empower ourselves”
“Sure,” Angela says. “You’re welcome. Whatever.” (p. 307)
When it is finally Swenson’s turn to speak, he knows what he
should do is apologize—but of the many things he is sorry for,
breaking the college’s rules about professor-student relationships is
not one of them:
He is extremely sorry for having spent twenty years of his one and only
life, twenty years he will never get back, among people he can’t talk to,
men and women to whom he can’t even tell the simple truth. (p. 308)
And then, in an entirely predictable almost last-straw moment,
Swenson’s daughter’s boyfriend tells the committee that Ruby told
him her father had sexually abused her when she was a child.
Swenson watches his colleagues’ reactions:
they have taken off their masks. Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather,
Torquemado. Swenson’s crime involves sex, so the death penalty can be
invoked. No evidence is inadmissible. They’re hauling out the entire
arsenal for this mortal combat with the forces of evil and sin. (p. 310)
Thus, at novel’s end, Angela’s career is starting and Swenson’s
careerwalong with his marriage is ending. Sounding somewhat
like one of Philip Roth’s heroes, Swenson finally recognizes the mystery
of femaleness, acknowledging that he can never fathom Angela’s
motives. Only she will ever know the truth. As he hears the campus
bells tolling, he wonders why they’re ringing now, at 5:25 p.m.
Then, gradually, it dawns on him. It’s the Women’s Alliance, announcing
their triumph over another male oppressor, one small step along the path
toward a glorious future. He’s glad to be out of that future and headed into
his own. (p. 314)…
Does it take a woman writer, a Francine Prose, to unabashedly
demonstrate the stupidity of the current shibboleths regarding male
professors’ “power” and female students’ “powerlessness”? To protest
the prurient attitude that lies behind the apparent obsession with
sexual relations on campus? To delineate so scathingly a young
woman’s methodical and self-serving manipulation of her professor?
When men writers do this (e.g., David Mamet in his play
Oleanna), their work is often dismissed with the presumptively
devastating charge of “misogyny.” Francine Prose’s novel is an
effective rejoinder to this canard. It is both touching and true: written
in a melancholy self-deprecating style befitting her protagonist’s
essential decency and ironic awareness, and at the same time profoundly
insightful into the mechanisms of academic life at the present
Philip Roth presents us with a scathing portrait of the harm unleashed
by the stupidity of vigilantism of language and personal
relations in today’s America. In novel after novel, he offers a celebration
(sardonic and pathetic though it often is) of the erotic power
of young women and the deep conflicts of the men who love and
fear them. Nicholas Delbanco portrays a costly and enduring love,
which comes in guises and moments that defy academic proprieties,
and he leaves no doubt that the price is worth paying. Francine
Prose details the seductiveness of talent and the egocentric drives
that motivate women as much as men, despite all the lies currently
circulating on this subject. Eric Tarloff, writing in a far lighter vein
than these three, opts for happy endings as the essential sanity of his
protagonists somehow prevails. Perhaps, indeed, he is the most idealistic
of the group. But all four are writers of great skill, opening our
eyes to the hidden dimensions and potentialities of those “asymmetrical”
relationships conventionally viewed today as merely sordid
or exploitative on the professor’s part, deprived of life, forced into caricatured
tableaux in which all roles are set out in advance according to
the position–in terms of race, sex, and status of the protagonists.
One turns from these works of fiction, these portraits of academic
life at the end of the twentieth century, back to the everyday
reality of sexual harassment officers, codes, and committees, threats,
and public displays of virtue, with a profound sense of wonder.
How can it be that rules and guidelines that should be an embarrassment
to any sensible society now govern every school and
workplace? How have the supposedly powerless so successfully
altered the terms of everyday interactions that the supposedly powerful-
who, we are constantly told, prey on them–are now so
vulnerable, so much at their mercy? Is this some demented dream
from which we’ll soon all wake up? Not, I fear, in the short run.
But the commitment of writers such as these four to the craft of the
novelist rather than to the cant of current ideologies gives us reason-
however fragile–for hope.
HOT FOR TEACHER is the attention getting headline for the University of Minnesota student newspaper article authored by Ashley Dresser on student professor sexual relationships. Although the headline is a tad sensationalistic, the dankprofessor believes that this is one of the very few student newspapers articles on this subject that generally gets it right.
Much of the article is based on an interview with a female student referred to as Prudence, who is having a relationship with a professor. Prudence is a pseudonym; such was, of course, the prudent thing to do. Prudence referred to the professor as MY professor. As the article states:
“Well, I find MY professor to be hot.” When we asked her exactly what she meant with that kind of emphasis on ownership, she proceeded to unveil every girl’s college fantasy:
“I’ve known him, my professor boyfriend, since I started working in his department about two years ago. I never took a class under him, but he always flirted with me…I blew him off mostly, but a couple of months ago he asked me out to dinner. We have had many, many discussions about whether or not it’s okay to pursue this, but so far it’s working out well enough. We just have to be discreet about it.” Before I could even get the question out of my mouth, Prudence added, “And yes, I call him ‘professor’ in bed.”
So much for all the articles that phrase student professor relationship in terms of professors being attracted to the student but generally via omission deny the reality that students are often attracted to professors.
As stated by the writer-
My classmates and I were awestruck by her academic prowess, but it did cross our minds that he could just be a hairy old man. A couple of Facebook clicks later, however, and Prudence proved us wrong. He is, in fact, a gorgeous specimen – perhaps heightened by the fact that he is not opposed to scandalous romance. (As a side note: the fact that we now have the ability to friend our professors on Facebook to learn more about their personal lives, sift through their photos, etc. makes this dating scene even more hot to handle.)
And then the writer violates campus journalistic tradition and provides material from an interview with the professor, albeit the professor is cloaked in anonymity-
“It is highly likely that us professors are attracted to our students,” Prudence’s professor said when asked for comment. “We see our students every single day and if they are taking a class with us, that probably means we have the same interests…And in general, guys don’t really care about age or profession with girls, so the fact that they are attracted to one of their students isn’t necessarily going to bother them.”
Well, in the dankprofessor’s opinion the professor gets it right. This is why the dankprofessor uses the phraselogy of “from the love of knowledge to the knowledge of love”.
The author then states-
Yet it does seem to bother a lot of other people. A simple Google search of “professor-student relationships” brings up a wealth of commentary about its pros and cons. In particular, check out www.dankprofessor.wordpress.com . It is a weblog that “examines the sexual politics in higher education and beyond.” Parents and the university administrations tend to be the two major groups that are having the qualms, which is ironic, since neither of them are the ones in the actual relationship itself.
Well, the author gets it right about the dankprofessor weblog. But she doesn’t get it completely right when she states that parents and university administrators are the two major opposing groups. She omits the major grouping- women’s studies faculty and feminist faculty who adhere to a hardcore anti sexual and anti male agendas. This group was the prime mover in the adoption of the sexual codes regarding student professor relationships and it is this group which would attempt to make trouble for any professor sexually involved with a student, no matter whether the student had ever been in the professor’s class. And it is this group that administrators are adverse to challenging and generally are willing to go along with their effort to make life miserable for any professor dating any student. Such is consistent with the decision of the student and professor who are the subjects of this article to not reveal their identity. And it should also be pointed out that some universities formally ban all student professor fraternization. But even when the relationship are not de jure banned as in the present case, the relationship is de facto banned in the framework of the professor becoming subjected to an array of punishments- from being treated rudely by fellow faculty to getting a horrid teaching schedule to being terminated.
As for parents, the following is stated-
“My parents would try to talk me out of it, if they knew,” Prudence said. “They would say I’m squandering my youth or that he’s using me for sex…The professor and I are sixteen years apart, but I would definitely recommend dating a professor to any student. They are more worldly and mature and they know how to treat a lady. I’m not knocking college boys, but they still have a lot of growing up to do.”
Well, Prudence may be a bit off base re parental response. Based on my experience and knowledge of the experience of others, most parents are unlikely to respond with horror to their daughter dating a professor, particularly if they have met the professor. And, of course, if one of the parents is a prof, rapport may develop quickly between the professor parent and the professor who loves the daughter. So I urge Prudence to be a bit more prudent, and not to assume that her parents will be rejecting parents.
The article ends with the following quote from Prudence-
“It’s all media and society hype that makes it seem so bad. Over the years, people have also given relationships in which the male is significantly older than the female a bad name…They make it seem like the guy is just after sex. Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but aren’t all guys, no matter what age, after sex? At the end of the day, we are just two people looking for some companionship.”
Amen from the dankprofessor. And this is what I have been trying to do- get beyond the hype to the everyday realities of these relationships. What is two people looking for companionship has been demonized over and over again by moral zealots and the morally perverse. To argue as Mark Bourrie has argued that professors involved in these sorts of relationships are “scum” and Erik Ringmar that such professors are disgusting is morally perverse.
Congratulations to Ashley Dresser for writing this article and I encourage my blog readers to read the entirety of this article.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or posting a comment, albeit anonymously on this post?
Well once again Professor Mark Bourrie’s response to the dankprofessor is a non- response.
Here it is unexpurgated, uncensored.
I’ve answered your worthless critique many times.
All you seem to care about is rationalizing your seduction of your students. You are scum”
Bourrie’s usage of the scum rhetoric strips away his cloak of professionalism. No attempt to use professionalism here as a rationalization for his attitudes toward professors who have been intimate with their students. No attempt here for Bourrie to engage in any minimal form of academic or polite or enlightening discourse. His tactics are those of a hatemonger- objectify and dehumanize those who are on the other side. “Create” them in whatever terms the hatemonger wishes. No matter that Dank has never seduced anyone, Bourrie can still create and communicate Dank as a seducer without any need to cite supporting evidence since Dank is a creation of Bourrie’s imagination. Bourrie can imagine Dank and other professors who are intimate with students in what ever terms he wishes. Of course, such tells us more about Bourrie than it tells us about Dank, et .al. The fact that he homogenizes us, makes us all the same, allows no possibility that some of us seduce and some do not, is quite damning of Bourrie. As the philosopher Martin Buber would likely state, Bourrie lives in an I/it world, a world of impersonal categories, a world that is never allowed to transcend into an I/thou framework, a framework where there is personalization, where individuals are experienced as unique beings, where relationships are explored, where people can be appreciated and even loved. It is also a world that has been described by the anthropologist Mary Douglas, as a world of dirt and pollution and scum; a world infected by those who have engaged in violations of what is considered to be sacred.
In this world which Bourrie has created, there is no love. Bourrie along with many others
whose opposition to student professor relationships mainly has an anti-sexual dynamic, cannot comprehend that there can be a loving relationship between a student and a professor. The idea that a mutual love of knowledge can lead to love, a passion for each other is out of their world. The idea that some of these relationships become long term and lead to marriage, and even marriage at times without divorce is not considered. I think that I am on pretty firm ground when I believe that Bourrie has never given any consideration to the possibility that some of the professors and administrators he riles against at Concordia for not advocating student professor bans may very well have fallen in love with and married a student. And I am also quite sure that Bourrie has never entertained the possibility that some of his students may very well be the children of persons who were once in student professor relationships.
The mundane world of love, marriage and children is not there for Bourrie as applied to student professor relationships. Well, this mundane world is and was part of my world, and Bourrie’s writing me off and others like me as scum is not just beyond good taste, it reflects a descent into indecency and degradation. It reflects an attempt to pull his readers into his pornographic imagination.
And more must be said about love. It is striking that Mark Bourrie and his confreres say nothing about love, and nothing about falling in love. Such is striking since their often avowed goals is to preserve fairness and objectivity when it comes to grading. But never once does Bourrie say that the professor who has fallen in love with a student, a love which may be only known to the professor, should recuse oneself from grading the loved student or go to his supervisor to insure said love should not bias the grading process.
And as for barring student professor relationships that entail friendship without sex, Bourrie in his recent posting discounts such relationships as being different, not applicable. But, if ones goal really is to protect fairness in grading, one must know that at times close friendships, loving friendships can produce bonds that could threaten the fairness of the grading process. But Bourrie and apparently many others do not care about love and friendship interfering with grading. What they care about is sex and furthering their anti-sexual agenda. The fairness in grading appeal helps them to rationalize their goals, and that is too stamp out sex between students and professors.
As long as universities are not replaced by online education, there will be love and sex between students and professors. Such has become and will unfortunately continue to be at least into the near future, the love that dare not speak its name. And dankprofessor blog readers can be assured that the dankprofessor will continue to speak its name. Such is my pledge.
Mark Bourrie’s response to my blogging merits a reply. His response follows-
No, Dank, I want professors to act professionally, in the context of the power inequity that exists, the disruptive aspects of these affairs to the rest of the students, the possibility of litigation, the real and perceived conflicts re: marks, scholarships, internships, references, etc. You need not put words in my mouth. I have made myself very clear. The legal profession views clients as adults, and it bans sexual relationships between lawyers and clients because of the power imbalance and the coercive power that comes from the lawyer/client relationship. I believe this is the same type of power imbalance that exists between profs and students.
Of course, I agree with Dr. Bourrie that we should all be concerned about the disruptive aspects of these affairs if there be any. Of course, if affairs of any kind are introduced into the classroom and such is disruptive of the class agenda, remedial action should be taken. Remedial action should be taken in terms of any kind of disruptive behavior, such as students talking to others during lecture, or persistently interrupting others, being rude to to others, etc. However, I expect that we would agree that students do not have a right not to be offended in the classroom. If we systematically avoid dealing with subjects that we fear would be offensive to some students, then education would be reduced to a form of pablum.
As for the possibility of litigation in regards to consensual student professor intimate relationships, the dankprofessor knows of no successful litigation that has been taken in this area. At least I know of none that has taken place in the United States. Maybe the situation is different in Canada. Maybe, Dr. Bourrie can give me some examples of successful litigation in regards to consensual student professor intimate relationships. And, of course, I am not referring to sexual harassment lawsuits in which there might have previously been a consensual relationship. I will not defend persons who are a party to sexually harassing another. I will hold that the behavior of persons who engage in mutual consent in the present situation under consideration should not and do not fall within the purview of litigation; such should be considered basic and elementary.
As for real and perceived conflicts of interests in regards to grading, etc., if I could wave a magic wand and remove all sexual interaction between students and professors, perceived conflicts of interests would remain rife in the university. It is par for the course for students to believe and often state that another student received a higher grade than oneself because the professor liked him or her or the professor does not like me as much as him or her. Students usually use this technique or psychological ploy to avoid attending/dealing with their own work; it is often a way of refusing to accept criticism and it is widespread in academia. Of course, any prof who feels he/she cannot objectively evaluate any student should recuse him or herself from evaluating that student. Unfortunately, such is unlikely to occur; said recusing prof would probably be stigmatized or even terminated.
Problems relating to prejudicial grading should be at the forefront of university concern, e.g, how to avoid prejudicial grading when the professor finds the student exceptionally physically attractive, reminds one of ones ex-girlfriend, etc., or is repelled by the appearance of the student. Nothing on this in the university. These sorts of grading issues usually only come up by those who suffer from a “keen” interest in the sexual behavior of others, whether it be of a professional or non-professional nature. If so-called professionalism rationalizes or justifies such an interest, such is most unfortunate. In my opinion, in general terms, terms like professionalism often function to cover up the real underlying interests. Such is my non-professional but professorial opinion. The dankprofessor also has an opinion as to why charges of prejudicial grading are never lodged against womens studies professors who hold that they should bond with their female students or who have overtly expressed hateful comments about men. But I will withhold my opinion on this. Maybe Bourrie can help us out on this one.
As for the university adopting policies similar to those adopted by the legal profession or the lawyering class being held out as a model for the professor class, God help us. Yes, there are many ethical problems and other problems in the university world, particularly plagiarism by both students and professors and administrators, but such I believe dwells into insignificance as to the the ethical problems of the lawyering class. Putting ethics and lawyers together is often considered to be an oxymoron. In any case, the lawyer client relationship is simply not analogous to the student professor relationship.
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.
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- David Cass
- David Lettterman
- Debra Tate
- Duke University
- East Georgia College
- East Surrey College
- Emma Thompson
- false rape charges
- Florida Gulf Coast University
- fobidden love
- Francine Prose
- Gabrielle Giffords
- gay history
- gay marriage
- gay rights
- Gonzaga University
- Harvard University
- Heather Mac Donald
- higher education
- Hofstra University
- Hugh Hefner
- Indiana University
- Iowa State University
- Islamic law
- ivory tower romance
- Jared Loughner
- Jerzy Kosinski
- Jewish Journal
- John Bonnell
- John McCain
- Julian Assange
- just words
- Larry Craig
- Laura Bush
- Laura Kipnis
- Lethbridge College
- lisa chavez
- Louisiana Tech
- Mark Bourrie
- Marquette University
- Michelle Obama
- Middlebury College
- Moscow State University
- Northwestern University
- Oberlin College
- office romance
- Ohio State University
- Otero University
- outing students
- Oxford College
- Pasadena City College
- Philip Roth
- political correctness
- political violence
- Princeton University
- Proposition 8
- public sex
- Rice University
- Roger Ebert
- Roman Polanski
- Sarah Palin
- Saudi Arabia
- Seattle university
- Senator Craig
- Senator McCain
- sex offenders
- sex toys
- sex work
- sex workers
- sexual harassment
- sexual identity
- sexual policing
- sexual politics
- sexual rights
- Sharon Tate
- Sharon Warner
- Smith College
- Southern Illinois University
- St. John's University
- student professor dating
- student slavery
- student-prof dating
- the closet
- The Tenant
- trophy wives
- UC Berkeley
- UC Irvine
- UC San Diego
- UC Santa Barbara
- United Kingdom
- University of Bristol
- University of Calgary
- university of charleston
- University of Chicago
- University of Connecticut
- University of Georgia
- University of Hawaii
- University of Iowa
- University of Michigan
- University of Minnesota
- University of New Hampshire
- University of New Mexico
- university of pennsylvania
- University of Southern Maine
- University of Sussex
- University of Texas Houston
- University of the Philippines
- University of Toronto
- Warwick University
- Washington University
- William & Mary College
- William Buckley
- Yale University