Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Daily Iowan gets it right

The dankprofessor is in awe re the Daily Iowan’s editorial of February 26 on the response of the UI administration to the UI sexual harassment problem.  Following are the two key paragraphs from said editorial

But the nature of this particular resource (sexual harassmnt training) is foundationally suspect. It lends itself more to calming the ripples of an upset image and hand-hidden gossip caused by the accusations, and subsequent suicides, of Arthur Miller and Mark Weiger, and not the more latent problem of harassment itself. As a reaction to general publicity of sexual harassment, the university is setting up this “training” program, which changes neither the effectiveness nor application of existing policy but merely draws attention to the problem and some of its potential solutions. The program is disingenuous because all it manages to accomplish is a heightened atmosphere of what could be called paranoia, in the sense that the main thrust of the university is to scrub away the blemishes left by the “scandals” themselves and not the root causes: ignorance and disrespect.

Students need ready options for this kind of education, but the tactic of pure “brochure-ism” is not working. A forum of discussion and support could provide the groundwork for a solid system for counteracting harassment, involving all tiers of academic society. In fact, this might resolve into a culture of safety instead of one of apparent vanity. Reiterating and drawing attention to policy will not affect its success. We need a more efficient method of creating a safe, educational environment, not merely reactive measures of highlighting previously existing programs while ignoring their faults.


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February 26, 2009 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Writing out University of Iowa buffoonery

In terms of the recent faculty sexual harassment cases and faculty suicides at the University of Iowa, the dankprofessor believes it would be fair to state that things are not going well at UI.  But such is not the view of the UI administration.

UI officials are now touting progress in their fight against faculty sexual harassment and suicide. UI Provost Wallace Loh says that “extraordinary progress'” is occurring at UI since the university has put 4,800 faculty and staff and teaching assistants thru their sexual harassment education program.  Note that the program is now called education and not training.  So in one foul swoop the UI administration is now playing both a numbers game and a name game.  Their stated goal is for 17,800 faculty, staff and TAs to become educated in the ins and outs of sexual harassment.

To argue that so-called educational progress is reflected in these numbers is ludicrous.  Such would be similar to arguing that police training in “cultural sensitivity” means that more police are more sensitive on the beat.  Outcomes and program numbers are not one in the same, whether it be on the beat or in the classroom.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of faculty and staff and TAs who have gone thru said education or training or indoctrination believe that such does not reflect so-called progress but are more likely to believe it is simply an attempt to avoid the University of Iowa becoming involved in legal entanglements.

The dankprofessor  believes that UI communications studies professor Steve Duck who recently completed the UI program got it right when

he said the program is an ineffective public relations move and …many faculty members want to know what (President) Mason will do if another accusation arises.

“Sally Mason’s requirement that all faculty take a mandatory course, which I passed at a level that won me a badge and a free plastic cup, was an ineffective response that does little more than attract bad publicity,” Duck said.

“In fact most faculty, TAs and students have a greater deal of common sense than she recognizes, and her required course doesn’t solve the problem either,” he said.

Handing out a badge and a cup to those who complete this so-called education is downright insulting and patronizing.   Such “gestures” show how little regard, show how little respect the UI administrators have for faculty and students.

What a simple world it would be if we could solve harassment and suicide problems through some pseudo education and the awarding of a badge and a cup.  Or to put it in more blunt terms- the aforementioned represents a form of pablum designed for the simple-minded.

Obviously, the major problem at UI is that the UI President Sally Mason and her administrator underlings do not take these problems seriously.  If they took the problems seriously they would stop treating their faculty as children who they order around while playing mindless word games. 

THE problem at UI and at many other universities is essentially one of authoritarianism. Authoritarians love to give out rewards to those who obey them; obedience is always their game.   However, when the authoritarians also embrace buffoonery over and over again, one ends up with a bad comedy with no one taking anything seriously.  Obviously, the University of Iowa needs some new script writers who will write out these clowns and replace them with persons engaging each other on the serious problems of the day.

February 22, 2009 Posted by | ethics, higher education, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Saving lives at the University of Iowa

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a major story today on the suicides of two University of Iowa professors who were charged with sexual harassment and then committed suicide.  The two cases were unrelated to each other.  Both professors committed suicide days after the sexual harassment charges became public.  Professor Mark Weiger committed suicide three months after the suicide of Professor Arthur Miller.

The CHE reported that after Professor Miller was banished from his classroom by the University that UI President, Sally Mason

“issued a statement saying she would not tolerate the kind of conduct Mr. Miller had been accused of. She also said the case had prompted her to make sexual-harassment -awareness training mandatory for all professors. And while she said that “every person is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” she then went on to “applaud the courage of the student victims in coming forward” to charge Mr. Miller.

President Mason declined to answer questions about her statement, but Ms. (Dean) Maxson defends it, saying the president had to take a tough stand because Mr. Miller had been “accused of a very serious infraction of behavioral and legal rules.” To the professor, his wife, and some of his colleagues, however, it felt like the president was pronouncing him guilty before he had even had a chance to defend himself.

Of course, in the dankprofessor’s opinion, President Sally Mason was pronouncing Professor Miller guilty. She not only suspended him from the classroom, but ordered that all faculty go thru sexual harassment training as well as applauding the courage of student victims coming forward.

Maybe Mason should have drawn on some of her own courage to publicly call for the adherence of to the principle of the presumption of innocence.  But such was not the case.  And three months later when Professor Weiger’s situation became public, Weiger knew what to expect and obviously could not deal with this kind of public degradation.

What boggles the mind of the dankprofessor is that President Mason instead of calling for mandating suicide prevention training after these two suicides, she mandates sexual harassment training.  Certainly this gives insight into the values of the President.   Sexual harassment trumps suicide in her hierarchy of values.  The lethality of suicide simply is not as weighty as the effects of being sexually harassed.

In the CHE article, the UI administration stated that UI stays neutral in these sorts of cases.  I guess neutrality means giving short shrift to having any sort of reaching out to the charged professors that would help them psychologically get thru these travails.  I guess this would be considered to be coddling the sexual predator professor.  Of course, one does not coddle the guilty, only the innocent.  And it is obvious that the UI administration did not honor the presumption of innocence.

Helping those who are held to be victimized is expected.  The UI is not neutral in such matters, they  attempt to psychologically help the student victim but not the professor who they de facto treat as an offender.

For example, in December the Daily Iowan reported on the programs that were being implemented at the UI to help student victims of sexual misconduct-

To establish one point of contact for victims, the UI hired Monique DiCarlo from the Women’s Resource Action Center to act as the school’s coordinator for sexual-misconduct response.

Each school would also establish new victim-advocate positions. DiCarlo will assign a victim-advocate to each sexual-assault report.

“Having an advocate on hand at all times is crucial for any victim,” said Cathlene Argento, a Women’s Resource and Action Center volunteer. “It’s great that victims can form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”

The mother of the alleged UI sexual-assault victim complained in a letter to UI President Sally Mason that she felt there were too few UI officials looking out for her daughter.

Parrott said the UI will now strongly encourage victims to take their sexual-assault allegations to the police as well as the UI.

Employing the rhetoric of Cathlene Agento, the Women’s Resources and Action Center volunteer, wouldn’t it be great if faculty and others so charged be able to “…form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”  And if such a policy had been applied to the charged faculty at UI during the past year, maybe, just maybe, two faculty lives could have been saved.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sex offenders, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Student professor relationships as awkward fantasies?

The Washington University of St. Louis student newspaper, STUDENT LIFE, published a pre-Valentines Day article, “Professor Student Couplings Remain Awkward Fantasies”.

In the dankprofessor’s opinion the major awkwardness regarding the article is that no student interviewed had ever had a romantic relationship with a professor, and no professor interviewed had ever had a romantic relationship with a student.  This goes beyond awkwardness.  I call it shoddy journalism. 

The article did state that professor student dating is rare.  But rare or infrequent dating is not the same as non-existent dating.  If the article writer had simply asked around, the probability is overwhelming that either a student or professor could have been found.   Such ruminations remind me of the Iranian president’s statement at Columbia University that there are no homosexuals in Iran.

There was one interview with a professor.  Interviewed was Dean Jami Ake, professor of English and women and gender studies, who serves as a co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Assault.

Wow! In an article on student professor consensual relationships, the student newspaper decides that the one professorial interview should be with a person who serves as co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Assaults.  The choice of a sexual assault specialist says it all.  If the paper was doing an article on marriage, would they have selected a specialist on rape to be interviewed?  If doing an article on gay marriage would they have selected a specialist on child molestation? 

But Dean Ake was not all that bad, she

“agreed that there is a potential connection between academic and romantic interest.  Even the vocabularies overlap. ‘I want you to be passionate about something. I want you to be inspired by it,'” Ake said. “It’s easy to see how that kind of intense interest in somebody and everything they stand for can translate more in terms of passion.”

Ake said that navigating the boundaries between close and too-close relationships is difficult, in part because of the worry that the student will feel uncomfortable or harassed.

Dean Ake certainly got it right when she imparts the understanding that in essence love of knowledge can lead to knowledge of love.  However, she does end up on a patronizing note when she states that things may end up being difficult and worrisome and this could lead to the student feeling uncomfortable or harassed. Such is patronizing since she ignores the potentiality of the professor also feeling uncomfortable or harassed. Or, of course, in more general terms the potentiality of both the professor and student ending up in a state of love and happiness is ignored.

However the news reporter did ask Ack if a student could have a healthy relationship with a teacher.  Note the questioner did not bother to ask if the professor could have a healthy relationship with a student.  Her response was “I would say the odds are against you, but anything’s possible.”  Anything is possible, I guess her response would be similar to believing that in Sarah Palin’s terms it is possible that President Obama could end up paling around with terrorists.  And in the dankprofessor’s opinion it becomes a fool’s game to attempt to characterize almost any romantic relationship as healthy or unhealthy.

But all was not for naught in this article.  There was one interviewee who appeared to be quite knowledgeable on issues related to student professor relationships.

Senior Emma Cohen is writing her senior humanities thesis on the discourse of sexual harassment and consensual relationship policies in universities, and its implications for pedagogy. She argues that fear of student-teacher relationships is based on the incorrect assumption that students are powerless in those situations. According to Cohen’s thesis, intimacy on certain levels can be productive in an academic relationship.

“While policies are rightly concerned about preventing exploitation of students, they tend to sort of shut down tendencies for personal intimacy without sex,” Cohen said.

Yes, Cohen’s bottom line is of critical importance.  The fear and stigma that is occurring in regards to student professor relationships has led to all close relationships between students and professors becoming suspect.  Too many profs fear that a close relationship with a student will lead to the imputation by others of a sexual component.  Such leads to too many professors having an open door policy; open door policies simply do not facilitate closeness or intimacy.  What it does facilitate is impersonality.

What this article fails to note is that student professor intimate relationships may very well lead to the discarding of the student professor labels.  True intimacy undermines the power of such labels.  In Martin Buber’s terms, an I-it relationship is replaced by an I-thou relationship.  In this framework, it does not become surprising that the powers that be who are committed to preserving the ongoning hierarchy, almost always attempt to control love, love and marriage, and romance.  The freedom to choose who to love and how to love simply has no place in authoritarian organizations.  In such frameworks, love that crosses boundaries becomes the societal enemy par excellence.

February 14, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, love, passion, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Washington University | 1 Comment

Harvard coed reveals sexual relationship with Harvard TF

If one wants to know about the sex life in explicit terms of a Harvard coed, then the blog to go to is Sex and the Ivy moderated by Lena Chen.   The dankprofessor has been reading Lena’s blog for some time as she reports on her various sexual exploits and as others condemn her for being an exhibitionist and being unabashedly promiscuous.  But Lena was not content.  She was lonely and she wanted to find a special other but felt that such was unlikely because of her notorious reputation. 

Now Lena reports in her most recent post that she has found the one in the form of her former sociology TF (Teaching Fellow).  Her description of how this relationship was initiated and developed is probably the most detailed account of a “student-professor” relationship. 

Lena’s relationship is a relationship that is inappropriate in terms of Harvard’s official policy.  Said policy and the dankprofessor’s commentary follows Lena’s narrative-

…Then a couple weeks after my trip to New York, I found myself at dinner with a guy I mostly remembered for his inability to keep me awake during statistics. Patrick was eight years older, German, and a Ph.D candidate in my department. He also happened to be the most attractive person who’d ever been in charge of my grading me. Over the previous year and a half, my best friend Jason and I took three classes with Patrick, and though I’d like to say that it was because I found him impossibly charming, I was mostly just fulfilling sociology requirements. Nonetheless, I silently rejoiced every time I was assigned to his section, especially after I realized my piece of eye candy was a rather efficient and helpful teaching instructor and not merely a hot guy with a funny accent. To Patrick, however, I was then just a sleepy student. Statistics, which I got a C+ in, was a particularly harrowing experience. I recall Jason pinching me a lot in that class … and really not much else.

By the time Patrick and I finally went out, it’d been over two months since I last saw him and even longer since he graded one of my mediocre papers. The prelude to the actual date was fairly undramatic. Following a thinly veiled public declaration of my affection, initial contact was made over email and the date was suggested over text message. Well, actually, I suggested hooking up over text message. But Patrick, for some crazy reason I’ve still yet to figure out, thought that dinner would be more acceptable. I was pretty much thinking, “Yeah, this really isn’t necessary. Can we just fuck?” I somehow suppressed the urge to reveal this thought and along with it, my slutty nature. It would certainly be revealed soon enough.

I immediately gloated to Jason who called me crazy more than once and insisted that I was completely misinterpreting the situation and  going to make things extremely awkward with a former TF who we actually might want to take classes with in the future. Basically, Jason had the mindset of someone who wanted to get into law school. I had the mindset of someone who wanted an interesting story to tell at post-grad cocktail parties. I was already getting started by telling every friend in close proximity about the TF fantasy-turned-reality and spent the day feeling rather smug about myself, despite a looming deadline for some mediocre paper I had not yet written. I probably would’ve taken out an announcement in The Crimson if possible. After all, it’s not everyday you get to fulfill a crush three semesters in the making.

Yet somehow, about an hour before the actual date, my excitement over going out with and potentially fucking my former TF turned into total trepidation over going out with and potentially fucking my former TF. What the hell was I getting myself into? I knew next-to-nothing about Patrick, even less about what to expect out of the evening, and I was pretty sure that Jason was right when it came to me totally misinterpreting the situation. By the time I got off the train to meet Patrick, I was ready to get right back on. In fact, I felt a mild wave of nausea, then panic, followed by paralyzing fear. Um, I had a date in five minutes and I was on the verge of an anxiety attack. After taking several deep breaths, I called Jason and told him, “I can’t do this. I’m about to hyperventilate.” Jason, ever so reasonable and probably fearful of jeopardizing his letter of recommendation by association with a whore whore slut, suggested calmly that I tell Patrick I was sick and then go home. Discouragement was exactly what I needed to snap out of it. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” I declared. “You’re totally useless. I’ll call you when the date is over.”

About 30 seconds after the exchange with my truly unadventurous best friend, I found myself face-to-face with Patrick who looked considerably taller than I remembered and was dressed in decidedly un-academic clothing. He looked hot, and not even in a scholarly kind of way. Given our previously limited interaction and his non-American background, I didn’t have any idea how to read him. Maybe he thought that I’d be an easy lay, but then again, he always seemed so proper in class. No, it was more likely that his intentions were genuine, which was almost endearing. Here was a semi-awkward foreign grad student too culturally unaware to realize that asking out a former student is a mildly scandalous affair. Poor thing. Also, I thought: he so does not know about my sex blog. It occurs to me in retrospect that I was being extremely condescending, but in all likelihood, I probably employed every defense mechanism available to stay calm and feel in control. Surprisingly, as soon as we got into a cab and started talking, my anxiety dissipated along with my theory that Patrick was awkward with women and clueless about American prudishness. We compared frat life at Yale (where he did undergrad) to the final club scene at Harvard and discussed the “athletic” rivalry between our schools. Patrick actually seemed normal, and my stomach seemed calm. It appeared as if I was not going to puke after all.

Dinner was at a South End establishment with live music and dim lighting, the key facilitators to close-up conversation, which is like the foreplay to foreplay. It was a relatively grown-up venue given my recent romps in fraternity houses and dorm rooms, and I realized early in the evening that I felt uncharacteristically nervous. Typically on dates, I acted self-assured and liked to challenge guys by teasing them or being playfully argumentative. With Patrick, however, I couldn’t muster up my usual feistiness. I was so used to viewing him as an instructor that it seemed inappropriate to treat him like a peer. For the first time in a long while, I actually felt flustered. Patrick, on the other hand, was completely at ease which only disarmed me further. When I failed to look him in the eye while clinking glasses, he said to me, “You know what that means, right? Seven years of bad sex.” I almost choked on my drink. My TF just the word “sex” in a reference to me. Thankfully, my nerves were nothing alcohol couldn’t fix. I rarely drank but on this night, I happily chugged glass after glass of wine. Liquid courage along with Patrick’s disarming attitude made for surprisingly entertaining conversation. I was regaining my confidence and ten-fold at that. Two hours and several courses into the date, I put my hand on his knee and leaned in closer. I wanted to kiss him and was too drunk to even be subtle about it.

All in all, the turnaround from initial email to his cock in my mouth took about 24 hours. We had sex that first night. And again the next night. And then he went away to New York for two days, picked up the pair of flats I left at  a West Village repair place during that miserable Valentine’s weekend, and returned them to me first thing when he got back, not even stopping by his apartment beforehand. I spent spring bouncing from my Harvard Square dorm to his place in Beacon Hill and summer bouncing from Kennedy’s Heidelberg flat to his home in Osnabrück. When September came, I paid a full month’s rent for a sublet I never moved into. I cancelled it and have been in Beacon Hill ever since.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like we went out and it was happily ever after that, not unless your fairy tales include Internet sex scandals advanced by overzealous online stalkers or unprecedented emotional outbursts from yours truly. The path toward cohabitation has hardly been a smooth one, but slowly, I infiltrated Patrick’s life and apartment to the point where breaking up would have been both awkward and inconvenient. And now, here we are today: me, Patrick, Hamlet, and two suitcases of my stuff under the bed! It’s more than I ever could’ve hoped for. And to think, all I wanted on our first date was to get laid.

I write all this because a year ago, I really, truly didn’t believe in the possibility of love (at least not for myself) and it wasn’t just because I was single during Valentine’s Day. My blog was a legitimate barrier to meeting guys, and as the nude photo leak and subsequent breakdown suggested, it was perhaps a barrier to, um, life. Maybe if my friends were different people, they would’ve told me to shut it down instead of insisting that I was lovable, blog or no blog. Maybe if I were a different person, I would’ve listened. I’m glad I didn’t, not just because my friends were right, but because I would’ve always thought from then on that the only desirable version of myself was the sanitized version. The fact that I’m now happily playing house with the Adorno-spouting, bulldog-owning German of my dreams indicates that there is hope for pretty much ANYONE out there. If I can finagle a boyfriend with my reputation and dismissive attitude toward dating “rules”, then love is a possibility for everyone.

Now here is the Harvard policy regarding relationships such as the one between Lena and Patrick-

Officers and other members of the teaching staff should be aware that any romantic involvement with their students makes them liable for formal action against them. Even when both parties have consented at the outset to the development of such a relationship, it is the officer or instructor who, by virtue of his or her special responsibility and educational mission, will be held accountable for unprofessional behavior. Graduate student teaching fellows, tutors, and undergraduate course assistants may be less accustomed than faculty members to thinking of themselves as holding professional responsibilities. They may need to exercise special care in their relationships with students whom they instruct, evaluate, or otherwise supervise, recognizing that their students might view them as more powerful than they may perceive themselves to be.

Amorous relationships between members of the Faculty and students that occur outside the instructional context can also lead to difficulties. In a personal relationship between an officer and a student for whom the officer has no current professional responsibility, the officer should be sensitive to the constant possibility that he or she may unexpectedly be placed in a position of responsibility for the student’s instruction or evaluation. This could involve being called upon to write a letter of recommendation or to serve on an admissions or selection committee involving the student. In addition, one should be aware that others may speculate that a specific power relationship exists even when there is none, giving rise to assumptions of inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved. Relationships between officers and students are always fundamentally asymmetric in nature.

So should Patrick and Lena be concerned that others may speculate that “a specific power relationship exists even when there is none”?  Should they be concerned that others may think that there may be “inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved”?  Should Lena and Patrick discard their relationship because it will always be “fundamentally asymmetric in nature”?

In terms of Lena’s description of the relationship, she and by implication Patrick, never gave a thought to the Harvard policy and warnings.  The policy for them was probably an irrelevancy.  And if it was an irrelevancy for them such should not be surprising since TF’s are essentially novices who are learning to navigate the teaching process.  Those who wish to have the TF punished for what they consider to be a flagrant violation are simply out of order, whether they be in favor or in opposition to such rules.  Learning by a novice as a result of ones “mistakes” represents a positive outcome; punishment of a novice for ones mistakes may very well represent a form of sadism or simply small-mindedness.

The irony for Lena who has flagrantly violated the societal dominant sexual norms as applied to women is that she now embraces a loving relationship in cohabitation which may be in violation of Harvard’s official norms as applied to students and teaching fellows.  And it also should be piointed out that the Harvard rules, like most rules in this area, are ambiguous.  But when it comes to sexual norms or rules, ambiguity almost always rules the day.

The dankprofessor believes that Lena has made a significant contribution albeit unintentional in exposing the utter absurdity and impossibility of Harvard’s policy regulating student professor relationships, a policy which is both anti-sexual and conformist in nature.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, exhibitionism, Harvard University, higher education, love, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating | 4 Comments

A view from Canada

U-news of Canada has a collection of recent essays, including one by the dankprofessor, on student professor relationships.  Most of the essays are indicative of the retarded thinking on this issue.   A close reading of the Dalhousie pamphlet on helping their professors and students could lead one to become diagnosed as paranoid.  Ultimately, it is fair to state that these policies are driven by a fear of sexuality.  Until said fears are overcome, the campus fear mongers will continue to rule the day with their cadre of campus police and lawyers.

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Canada, consensual relationships, Dalhousie University, ethics, higher education, outing students, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Warwick University | Leave a comment

Meddling campus moralists

The University World News article “Ban sex between lecturers and students?” in the UK which I cited in my last post merits more attention from the dankprofessor.

The article cites Rob Briner, a professor of organisational psychology at Birkbeck University who bemoans the loss of the old Oxbridge ideal of meeting students for a glass of sherry at 11am.

“When I was a student, the lecturer would close the door for a tutorial but now lecturers are wary of doing things like that – most just wouldn’t do it,” Briner said. “Staff are aware of the need to keep away from situations where they might be accused of doing anything.”

Where they might be accused of doing anything?  How utterly sad that the passage of these fraternization rules has led to fear and paranoia on campus and the destruction of campus community.  Better to do nothing than anything.  Keep those doors open on the closed campuses?

British universities have become more wary of possible allegations of abuse on the one hand but have also in many cases come to accept they cannot prevent relationships taking place.

A survey by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2005 found that 52 out of 102 institutions had developed policies on the issue with many, like Birkbeck, requiring that any such relationship be declared to the employee’s line manager.

“Like in a lot of other policy areas, the organisation is trying to acknowledge that it [sexual relations] is going on and then they can deal with it,” Briner said.

Most universities contacted by University World News were either reluctant or unable to give numbers of lecturers who had been forced to resign as a result of a sexual relationship with a student. In America – where many universities have an outright ban on student-lecturer relationships – the American Association of University Professors was unable to provide any statistics on the issue.

“Although we handle hundreds and even thousands of inquiries and complaints each year… there is no central source for statistics on the nature of those cases,” said Dr John Curtis, Director of Research and Public Policy at the AAUP.

Of course, there are no statistics on student professor consensual relationships due to the fact that they are consensual!   Are parties to a consensual relationship motivated to turn themselves in and thereby become part of a campus statistic? 

As for the inability of campuses to prevent consensual relationships,
why would any academic expect that there could be effective prevention?  Have same sex consensual relationships been prevented in the context of centuries of persecution?

What astounds the dankprofessor is that journalists almost always buy into the myth that consensual relationships between students and professors represent a danger to the university.  For example, I am not aware of any case in which a lawsuit has been brought against a university due to a consensual relationship between a student and a professor?  Yes, there have been many lawsuits regarding sexual harassment involving a student and a professor, but consensual relationships between a student and a professor are not a subpart of sexual harassment no matter how many times the two are confounded by journalists, academics and assorted ideologues.  And, yes, a consensual relationship can turn into a situation of sexual harassment, but the absurdity of banning consensual relationships due to a bad outcome becomes transparent if when using this logic one argues that consensual heterosexual relationships should be banned because they can result in situations of rape. 

Overall, though, it seems as if policies that require lecturers to reveal any intimate relationships they are having with students – now common in the UK and US – are likely to spread.

If they are likely to spread then academics who value privacy and autonomy and do not feel good about universities embracing an authoritarian corporate model, should fight the spread of these nefarious policies

In conclusion, the University World News cites Professor Manola Makhanya, Pro vice-chancellor of the University of South Africa who they stated was

certainly enthusiastically considering whether such specific policies could be applied in South Africa: “It is important to focus on this because my sense is that it will increase,” he said. “Clearly we have to come up with policies rather than sit back, be confronted with a situation and not know how to deal with it.”

My advice to Professor Makanya is that it is better to do nothing.  Better to reject the American university model of the meddling moralistic authoritarians.  In fact, I am sure that the good professor knows that the American electorate just got rid of its number one meddler after a history of eight years meddling in the affairs of just about everybody.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

Sexual hell at the MLA meetings

An attendee at the recent meetings of the Modern Language Association (MLA) has set the dankprofessor straight about the dankprofessor’s belief that the MLA has no sexual harassment policy.  In fact, every registered attendee at the MLA meetings was given a copy of the MLA sexual harassment policy.  I gather that members did not receive a copy of the MLA sh policy before the meetings; if they did, attendance at the meetings may have precipitously declined. 

And interestingly enough, the MLA sh policy could not be found online, at least the dankprofessor could not find it.  But the dankprofessor’s readers should be pleased since a copy of the policy received by the members has been emailed  to the dankprofessor.  Key excerpts follow; those persons wishing to read the whole policy, email me your request and I will forward it to you.

THE MODERN LANGUAGE ASSSOCIATION (MLA) is committed to providing a convention environment that promotes equal opportunity and treats all persons with respect.  Discriminatory practices, including sexual harassment are prohibited.  Sexual harassment, whether verbal, physical or environmental and whether at the convention site or premises off-site is unacceptable and and will not be tolerated.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when …  (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the person’s performance or of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive convention environment.

Sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to, between persons of the opposite or same sex.


. sexual jokes, flirtations, or innuendos

. display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures.

…If you believe you have been the victim of sexual  harassment in  any guise or have witnessed an act or acts of sexual harassment, you are urged, encouraged, and expected to discuss the incident promptly with a representative of the offender’s educational institution or company who is present at the convention.  If no such person is present, you are encouraged and urged to report the incident immediately to the institution or company.

OK, in this MLA nightmare vision of convention sexual hell, the dankprofessor’s alter ego was in attendance at the MLA meetings in the city by the bay and imbibing and bantering over dinner with six other alcohol fueled MLA attendees.  And much to my dismay I heard a comment that was directed by one of the diners to another diner that “I not only have a hunger for dinner, but I also have a hunger to get to know you better”.  Obviously, such represents a thinly disguised sexual innuendo, even the dankprofessor’s alter ego got it.  But no one at the dinner, no one to my knowledge, has reported this incident to the powers that be.  I couldn’t report it since I could not remember who made the comment and to whom it was made, nor could I remember the sex of the commentator or of the recipient. 

Of course, what anyone in attendance at the dinner should have done was to immediately take out the MLA sexual harassment policy and read it to those in immediate attendance.   But there were no readers. We all just wanted to eat and drink and drink.  And no matter there was no MLA drinking policy.  We all could  drink to that and we did over and over again.

But, of course, the MLA wants its sexual harassment policy to be taken seriously.  In all probability the policy was written by persons who are hardly ever taken seriously by anyone and now they had the opportunity to get back at those who never hear or see them and are hardly ever the subject of sexual innuendos. 

But if the MLA wants to be taken seriously and get the attention it does not deserve, it needs the following additions to its sexual harassment policy. 

. Require all members who register for the MLA meeting to go thru a MLA approved sexual harassment module.
. Have MLA approved town criers read the MLA sexual harassment policy throughout the meetings and at nearby dining venues.
. Require all registered attendees to adhere to an MLA approved dress code.
. Attendees be prohibited from consuming spirits of any kind during the MLA meetings.

OK, that’s it for now.  But, of course, there must and will be more.

Anti-sexual crusaders are never satisfied; they know there is always so much more they can do.  Now that they have their policies in place at the MLA, they can believe they can have them in place at any place, at any time, even at Sarah’s Alaska place.

So I hope I have not offended any MLA members, at least not offended those who are in good standing; good standing meaning those who know they have not violated MLA policies.  Go ahead stand up and be counted.

January 8, 2009 Posted by | conference sex, ethics, higher education, MLA, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights | Leave a comment

Conference sex “explained”

Inside Higher Education reports on a Modern Language Association (MLA) conference panel on conference sex.  Conference sex is, of course, sex which occurs at academic conferences.  Actually there was no sex of any kind at the conference sex panel although at least one panelist seemed prepared for such an eventuality since she was dressed in a bathrobe.  Of course, being dressed in a bathrobe can also indicate that one is about to go to sleep; such might very well represent a practical wardrobe since many presentations at academic conferences do facilitate sleeping behavior.

So what was this panel all about? 

Jennifer Drouin, an assistant professor of English and women’s studies at Allegheny College, argued that there are eight forms of conference sex (although she noted that some may count additional forms for each of the eight when the partners cross disciplinary, institutional or tenure-track/non-tenure track, or superstar/average academic boundaries).

The categories:

“Conference quickies” for gay male scholars to meet gay men at local bars.
“Down low” sex by closeted academics taking advantage of being away from home and in a big city.
“Bi-curious” experimentation by “nerdy academics trying to be more hip” (at least at the MLA, where queer studies is hip). This “increases one’s subversiveness” without much risk, she said.
The “conference sex get out of jail free” card that attendees (figuratively) trade with academic partners, permitting each to be free at their respective meetings. This freedom tends to take place at large conferences like the MLA, which are “more conducive” to anonymous encounters, Drouin said.
“Ongoing flirtations over a series of conferences, possibly over several years” that turn into conference sex. Drouin said this is more common in sub-field conferences, where academics are more certain of seeing one another from year to year if their meetings are “must attend” conferences.
“Conference sex as social networking,” where academics are introduced to other academics at receptions and one thing leads to another.
“Career building sex,” which generally crosses lines of academic rank. While Drouin said that this form of sex “may be ethically questionable,” she quipped that this type of sex “can lead to increased publication possibilities” or simply a higher profile as the less famous partner tags along to receptions.
And last but not least — and this was the surprise of the list: “monogamous sex among academic couples.” Drouin noted that the academic job market is so tight these days that many academics can’t live in the same cities with their partners. While many colleges try to help dual career couples, this isn’t always possible, and is particularly difficult for gay and lesbian couples, since not every college will even take their couple status seriously enough to try to find jobs for partners. So these long distance academic couples, gay and straight, tenured and adjuncts, must take the best academic positions they can, and unite at academic conferences. “The very fucked-upness of the profession leads to conference fucking,” Drouin said.

Milton Wendland of the University of Kansas linked the jargon and exchanges of academic papers to academic conference sex. The best papers, he said, “shock us, piss us off, connect two things” that haven’t previously been connected. “We mess around with ideas. We present work that is still germinating,” he said. So too, he said, a conference is “a place to fuck around physically,” and “not as a side activity, but as a form of work making within the space of the conference.”

At a conference, he said, “a collegial discussion of methodology becomes foreplay,” and the finger that may be moved in the air to illuminate a point during a panel presentation (he demonstrated while talking) can later become the finger touching another’s skin for the first time in the hotel room, “where we lose our cap and gown.”

And Israel Reyes, of Dartmouth College

devoted most of his paper to a critique of Jane Gallop’s 1997 book, Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (Duke University Press), which recounts accusations that Gallop harassed two graduate students. Gallop has written frankly of her sexual relations with her professors and students. The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, where she teaches, cleared her of the harassment charges, but found that in one case, her relationship with a graduate student was inappropriate.

The charges against Gallop, Reyes noted, came out of an incident that included banter and kissing at … an academic conference, and this is no coincidence, he argued. Generally, Reyes praised Gallop for questioning some widely accepted definitions of harassment, but he said she was “less perceptive” when writing about herself, and the reasons that may have led the graduate students to complain about her.

OK, here’s the rub according to the dankprofessor.  Academic conferences are one of the few places left where the sexual harassment advocates have not made a play.  The MLA and the myriad of other academic associations have no sexual harassment policy.  This is fertile ground for the sexual harassment industry.  All it will take is for one sexual harassment lawyer to get one conference attendee to testify that she was subject to repeated unwanted sexual attention or was offended by some sexually tinged remarks made at a panel presentation, and we will have a whole new ballgame.  If such ends up being the case, then academic conferences will become boring ad nauseam.

And then there is the matter of student professor sexual dalliances and alliances at academic conferences.  No mention of this at the MLA panel.  Academic meetings are one of the few remaining places that student/professor couples can come out of the closet to some degree.  They have a little breathing room.  I can testify that such is not the product of a dank imagination.  When will the campus sexual puritans become the conference anti-sexual zealots and crack down on this space?

I guess I should also note that the MLA meeting was in San Francisco.

January 2, 2009 Posted by | conference sex, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, MLA, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating, the closet | 2 Comments

Dealing with sexual intruders from the UK to the USA

The Independent of London has taken a strong stand against unnecessary and intrusive laws which regulate the sexual lives of the denizens of the UK.

What the Independent is concerned about is the continuing attempt in the UK  to ban extreme pornography.  Most immediately The Independent is concerned about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008 which takes effect in less than a month.  Section 63 of this law prohibits pictures on the internet of someone having sex with a corpse as well as images of bestiality.

The Independent points out that-

The usual problems with such legislation are that in the first place the law is adopted in a mad hurry and is thus vague and unclear and, second, a set of general principles is wrongly deduced from truly exceptional circumstances.

With this law, the evidence of haste and a knee-jerk response to a specific event can be seen from the imprecise wording. As a result, the viewing of images of a number of practices that are legal, and which most people would consider acceptable if not exactly desirable behaviour between consenting adults, will become as illegal as viewing images of bestiality and necrophilia. All such viewers will have the same potential to be caught under the same dragnet.

Regrettably, the Government will probably get away with it. In these “on-message” days, no politician wants to be seen as the spokesperson for sexual freaks. A reputation for a partiality to bondage is not the way to boost the career of a junior minister or rising backbencher. And so a few more of our civil liberties are done away with – and the opportunities for police surveillance increased.

Ministers may even think they are on to a winner, by giving unpopular Sixties-style liberals a good drubbing – and a good dose of New Labour Puritanism at the same time. Well, perhaps so. It’s also possible that the Government’s obsession with regulating every aspect of peoples lives will rebound on it. We can only hope so, for the Government should beware of poking its long nose into people’s sex lives, and when it is far from clear that such intervention is necessary.

The tactics used in the UK are not unique and are rather simple.  Get some significant percentage of the public riled up about some sexual behavior which almost all persons agree is disgusting and obnoxious and then pass a law that goes way beyond the behaviors that led to the hysteria.  In essence this is what happened in California with the passage of proposition 8.  Make gay marriage illegal since if we have gay marriage then in some way this will facilitate the predatory sex crimes against children.  Or as Rick Warren does, associate homosexuality with child abuse and incest.

And what is most germane to this blog, use cases of relationships between students and professors which involve coercion and harassment to ban all consenting sexual relationships between students and professors.  And then present as a taken for granted assumption that such relationships undermine the integrity of the university.  And, of course, once these rules are in effect, consenting student professor couples are unlikely to come forward to challenge these rules since they would then become subject to being penalized by the powers that be.

And what becomes most galling to the dankprofessor is that the belief comes into being that the laws have been successful since student professor couples have scant visibility on campus.  Of course, they are not visible since they have been forced into the closet.  As gays have come out of the closet on campus, student professor couples now occupy that closet.  The campus moral entrepreneurs  and zealots have carried the day with barely a peep from the liberty advocating professoriate.  Of course, it is fear that carries the day on campus; with or without tenure, almost all faculty will not speak up for their colleagues, colleagues who only want the basic right of sexual privacy and to be left alone.

And when it comes to this blog, I know that fear prevents many professors and students from posting comments.  In 2008 I received many emails sent directly to me from students who have found these campus fraternization laws to be oppressive and hurtful.  I have done my best to write helpful responses to these students.  And I have done the same for a much smaller number of professors.  So even though there are few comments on the dankprofessor blog from students and professors, I do believe that I am getting the dank word out. And the dankprofesssor will continue to blog.

I greatly appreciate the support of my readers in 2008 and am looking forward to the dankprofessor blog doing more good in 2009.

January 1, 2009 Posted by | 2008, blogs, censorship, consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, gay marriage, higher education, pornography, privacy, sadomasochism, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, the closet, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

UNH Freshman camp abolished because of counselor nudity

Freshman camp at the University of New Hampshire is no more.  Such is a result of freshman camp counselors, both male and female counselors, getting naked.

The New Hampshire Union Leader quoted a UNH disciplinary report in the following terms-

Counselors got naked for campers on two occasions: during a skit and when campers were departing on a bus, the report says. In the second incident, female counselors lifted their shirts for campers, while several male counselors mooned campers and other male counselors stood by naked, with only socks or hats covering themselves.

In addition, one counselor urinated on herself during a talent show skit, the report says.

“The counselors all wildly clapped and cheered” in response to the urination, the report says.

Although UNH faculty members attend portions of the three-night, four-day camp, none were on hand for any of the antics that led to the camp’s closure.

The disciplinary report indicated that counselor nudity was nothing new going back as far as 2004.  The report also expressed concern that counselor nudity could potentially be considered as a form of sexual harassment.  Although no harassment charges had been filed or represented a clear and present danger of filing, the powers that be felt that the prudent thing to do was to close the camp down.

Anne Lawing, UNH’s senior assistant vice president for student affairs said “the university is replacing freshman camp with an as-yet-undecided program that will focus on leadership skills and healthy involvement in campus life.

Freshman camp is not funded by UNH, but UNH has the final say as to the continuance of Freshman camp.

As for students who attended Freshman camp this past summer, one camper framed the situation in the following terms in a letter to Union Leader.

I was very taken aback by the above article as I have myself went to camp this past summer. The activities that took place may have gotten slightly out of hand, but were not like this article describes. I got to know many of the counselors personally and I highly doubt that they would not want to cooperate with the administration and devise a board to side step the university. I met the people I feel most comfortable with today at camp and I truly believe it is because the counselors were able to help break the ice by acting foolish themselves so we might all have something to talk about.

And another student commented-

I would wonder exactly what kind of reporting goes on at the Union Leader, reading this newspaper. Being an alcohol/substance free student at UNH for the fall 2007 Semester I attended, I cannnot agree with much of what this article has to say. I attended freshman camp, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I had at UNH. The counselors were supportive, friendly, helpful…for someone like me, who is not good in social situation, and doesn’t do well with crowds, I had thought that Freshman Camp would not be at all for me. Furthermore, I can report NO nudity whatsoever during my stay at the camp. There were certainly suggestive themes to some of the activities, but that is not only a fact of life, but a very unavoidable fact of life at university. If anything, the camp prepared those who attended for the real side of UNH and most college campuses – the truth that sex and substances are ubiquitous and common throughout the post-secondary education system in this country, and no amount of conservative right-wing narrow-mindedness can change that. I would question the responsible journalism of this article as it seems that no priority was given whatsoever to interviewing those who attended this organization, those who were responsible for its administration, or indeed anyone except those responsible for its end. As an attendant of UNH and Freshman Camp 2007, I am both offended and disgusted that reporting has fallen to this level of mud-slinging one-sided opinion-based slander.
– Travis Gates, Pembroke

Clearly, Freshman camp had much to offer.  Such camps help students to transition to entirely new environs.  And very importantly, these students when they arrive on campus, already have friends which helps to make this transition a little less difficult.

The dankprofessor cannot read the minds of the counselors as to their motivations for engaging in the reported nudity antics.  However, given that these behaviors had been going on for a number of years, such can be viewed as social bonding rituals, rituals which function to differentiate group members from the larger society and then make the exiting process a little less difficult.

No matter that the antics did not include any sexual contact, Freshman camp had to go.  We have two different worlds here- the world of the young at heart and the world of the prudent and the conservative. And for the prudent and conservative, it may have been that their final judgment was based on fear of sexual harassment suits; that some anonymous other at some future time may be offended and decide to sue.  If such be the case, how terribly sad that the legalists and the lawyer possessed play such a pervasive role in campus life.

Oh, and let us not forget that the antics of the Freshman camp were nothing compared to the booze based bonding rituals of university based fraternities and sororities throughout the United States.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | ethics, exhibitionism, higher education, nudity, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, University of New Hampshire | , | 2 Comments

Shame on the University of Iowa

The Daily Iowan, the student newspaper of the University of Iowa, reported on Monday that new policy recommendations relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment have been unveiled by all three University of Iowa campuses and have been forwarded to the Board of Regents for their consideration at tomorrow’s meeting of the Board.

UI representative Steve Parrott said there are key elements to the UI’s new policy that will change the way officials handle all cases.

The elements that peaked the dankprofessor’s attention follow.

To establish one point of contact for victims, the UI hired Monique DiCarlo from the Women’s Resource Action Center to act as the school’s coordinator for sexual-misconduct response.

Each school would also establish new victim-advocate positions. DiCarlo will assign a victim-advocate to each sexual-assault report.

“Having an advocate on hand at all times is crucial for any victim,” said Cathlene Argento, a Women’s Resource and Action Center volunteer. “It’s great that victims can form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”

The mother of the alleged UI sexual-assault victim complained in a letter to UI President Sally Mason that she felt there were too few UI officials looking out for her daughter.

Parrott said the UI will now strongly encourage victims to take their sexual-assault allegations to the police as well as the UI.

Now the dankprofessor is not adverse to universities developing resources for alleged victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.  But given that there have been two recent suicides at the University of Iowa by faculty members charged with sexual harassment, one would hope that there would be some consideration given to the well being and rights of those charged with sexual offenses on campus.

Employing the rhetoric of Cathlene Agento, the Women’s Resources and Action Center volunteer, wouldn’t it be great that faculty and others so charged be able to “…form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”  And if such a policy had been applied to charged faculty at UI during the past year, maybe, just maybe, two faculty lives could have been saved.

The fact that the UI ignored these recent events in the promulgation of these policies is indicative of an utter callousness of the UI administration.  Maybe the callousness is part and parcel of an avoidance and denial syndrome by the UI administration. Or might it represent a revenge mentality that has been prevalent among too many campus feminists in the area of sexual harassment. 

Of course, in the larger society and criminal justice system, it is the desire for revenge particularly at in the context of a police state mentality that has led to the implementation of due process which puts restraints on police and civilians seeking quick “justice”.  Due process protections are not put forth to facilitate efficient police work; due process reflects barriers which police should have to handle with care.

At the University of Iowa, and I expect many others Americans universities, the response to due process concerns reflects a feeling that universities may end up coddling male sex offenders, and rather the coddling should be directed toward their student victims (always the victims not the alleged victims).  But in the dankprofessor’s opinion these policies may help to save the lives of accused faculty.  If  this is considered to be coddling, the dankprofessor believes that such is a necessary coddling.

Shame on the University of Iowa administration for its callousness and avoidance and denial.

December 10, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sex offenders, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, shame, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Faculty sexual harassment training trumps suicide prevention training at UI

Presented below is a copy of an email from the University of Iowa Crisis Center which was distributed on campus on December 1 announcing that suicide prevention training is being offered to interested UI students.  The dankprofessor notes that no suicide prevention training is being offered to UI faculty.

And it becomes particularly noteworthy that after the suicide of Professor Arthur Miller last August the university mandated sexual harassment training for all faculty.  No suicide prevention training for faculty then or now. Such represents the priorities of the administration of the University of Iowa.  Shame on the University of Iowa administration for viewing sexual harassment by faculty as meriting more intervention than for faculty killing themselves!
________________________________________
From: Crisis Center [sarah-benson@uiowa.edu]
Sent: Monday, December 01, 2008 1:40 PM
Subject: [NonAcadStudorg] Suicide Prevention Training on Campus

The Crisis Center is providing free training on suicide prevention to interested students. The trainings cover four basic aspects of suicide prevention:

1. Recognizing the warning signs of suicide
2. Asking someone if they are suicidal
3. Persuading someone who is suicidal to get help
4. Referring a suicidal person to appropriate resources

There are two upcoming training dates:
Thursday, December 4, 6:00-8:00pm in 104 EPB
Tuesday, December 9, 6:00-8:00pm in 104 EPB

SPACE IS LIMITED, SO REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. To register, email Sarah Benson Witry at sarah-benson@uiowa.edu with the session you want to attend.

This training is meant for people who have no prior education in this topic, although anyone is welcome. The training will not make attendees “experts” on suicide, but will help them intervene in situations where someone may be considering suicide. The trainer is certified in suicide prevention training, but is not a licensed professional.

If you are thinking about suicide, please seek help. The following is a short list of possible resources:
University Counseling Service (for students): 335-7294
Faculty & Staff Services (for staff/faculty): 335-2085
Crisis Center Crisis Line (24-hours): 351-0140

/***********
Distribution of this message was approved by the VP for Student Services. Neither your name nor e-mail address was released to the sender. The policy and guidelines for the UI Mass Mail service, including information on how to filter messages, are available at:
http://cs.its.uiowa.edu/email/massmail.
***********/

December 1, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Second thoughts on due process at SIU

When the dankprofessor sees recommendations such as those put forth by the SIU Faculty Senate, a tendency may develop to initially screen out the bad. Such was the case on my prior posting on SIU. So after regaining my wits, I searched out the SIU policy on consensual relationships.  And it is bad and following are the key sections of the policy as well as my commentary.

Consensual amorous or sexual relationships between faculty and students or between a supervisor and an employee may result in claims of sexual harassment, even when both parties appear to have consented to the relationship. The power differential inherent in such relationships may compromise the subordinate’s free choice. When those in authority abuse or appear to abuse their power in a relationship, trust and respect in the University community are diminished. Moreover, others who believe they are treated/evaluated unfairly because of such a relationship may make claims of harassment.

Therefore, it is a violation of this policy if faculty members become involved in amorous or sexual relationships with students who are enrolled in their classes or subject to their supervision, even when both parties appear to have consented to the relationship. No faculty, staff, or graduate assistant shall become involved in an amorous relationship, consensual or otherwise, with a student for whom that person currently has any teaching responsibility, including counseling and advising, coaching, supervision of independent studies, research, theses, and dissertations. In all cases in which an amorous or sexual relationship exists or develops, it is the obligation of the faculty member, staff member, or graduate assistant whose University position carries the presumption of greater power to disclose the relationship immediately to the appropriate supervisor who will contact the Office of the Provost for assistance in avoiding an appearance of impropriety and a potential conflict of interest.

Really the THEREFORE of the second paragraph is a non-sequitur since not all those in authority abuse or appear to abuse.  SIU dropped the third category- those in authority who do not abuse and do not appear to abuse. 

Then in the second paragraph, SIU appears to throw in the towel on appearances since the violations remain “even when both parties appear to have consented to the relationship.”   Well, I said appears, and it “appears” to the dankprofessor that SIU is muddled or confused when it comes down to appearances and consensual relationships.

And last but not least the policy mandates that the faculty member disclose the relationship to an SIU supervisor.  Or to put it in an unvarnished dank manner, the policy mandates the faculty member out the student lover, the student is not entitled to privacy.   If the SIU had minimal concern for student rights and privacy, student consent would be basic and elementary.  So much for due process and fairness at SIU.

The dankprofessor hopes that the FreeU blog will recognize how the SIU consensual relationships policy tramples on freedom and due process.

November 26, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, Southern Illinois University, student professor dating | Leave a comment

Southern Illinois University and sexual harassment

The FreeU Blog reports that the Faculty Senate of Southern Illinois University has recommended changes to a new SIU sexual harassment code that embraces the fundamentals of due process of law. The proposed faculty amendments are as follows-

1. Due process rights shall be afforded to all parties.
2. A Sexual Harassment Review Board shall be formed to work with the compliance officer.
3. A person shall be banned only if he or she poses an immediate threat.
4. Judicial Review board members may be appointed to the Sexual Harassment Panel for cases
involving faculty.
5. The accused shall be notified about the complaint within five working days.
6. The accused and complainant shall have access to a redacted version of the preliminary
investigative report.
7. The accused and complainant shall have the right to appeal and present their own cases.
8. The Sexual Harassment Panel shall submit a report to the chancellor.
9. Records of cases shall be kept under strict confidentiality.
10. The definition of sexual harassment shall be consistent with the Illinois Human Rights Act.

The dankprofessor enthusiastically endorses these recommended amendments, but with full knowledge that the university administration may choose to reject some or all of these recommendations.

The FreeU blog notes:

This is progress but the Faculty Senate only went halfway. The overly broad definition of “sexual” harassment still includes everything but the kitchen sink, and still intrudes on the classroom.

The new code expands the definition of “sexual” harassment and adds to the laundry list of possible infractions. This is precisely the kind of “chilling” approach that the Office for Civil Rights (U.S. Department of Education) rebuked several years ago. The code’s definition allows accusers to claim “hostile environment” in the face of innocent quips, humor, gestures, and “sexually-explicit” material that is “inappropriate.” It extends the code to on and off-campus activities. I went over this ground in my “Open Letter.”

What SIU needs to do as well as most other universities is to seek out the counsel of the FreeU blog on sexual harassment policy.  The FreeU blog has the dankprofessor’s seal of approval.

November 26, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, Southern Illinois University | 1 Comment

Suicide and its aftermath

After the suicide  this past August of  University of Iowa  political science professor Arthur Miller, the President of UI mandated sexual harassment training for all faculty.  In a sexually obsessed culture, such is to be expected.  What President Sally Mason should have considered is the mandating of suicide prevention training and the creation of campus suicide prevention hotlines.  If the University of Iowa had such a program in place, maybe the recent suicide of Professor Mark Weiger could have been prevented.

Of course, we will never know what could have been, but what we do know is that the University of Iowa administration valued suicide prevention training as having lesser value than sexual harassment training.
As reported by The Daily Iowan of November 19:

While more than 50 universities have received a federal grant to set up suicide-prevention training, the University of Iowa likely won’t apply for the funding because of a lack of time and resources.

The UI considered the grant in past years but hasn’t applied because of the extensive time commitment in the proposal process, said Sam Cochran, the director of University Counseling Service.

“We struggle to fulfill student demand for appointments on a daily basis,” he said. “That grant-proposal process would require a part-time or full-time position to [handle], which just can’t happen right now. Our priority is serving the students lining up at our door.”

Such is the case of the University of Iowa even though “…suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students in the United States. Ten percent of college students report having seriously considered killing themselves, according to the American College Health Association.”

No data or attention is given to the prevention of suicide by suicide prevention programs for university faculty.

The fact that the UI administration response to a faculty suicide was to order faculty sexual harassment training is surreal.  Someone at the UI needs to try to get the University of Iowa beyond its present sexual myopia.  In the dankprofessor’s opinion, a good starting point would be the resignation of UI President Sally Mason.

November 23, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Rooting out the problem at the University of Iowa

I greatly appreciated the UI professor’s willingness to have his/her comments published anonymously
in the dankprofessor post- Shame and suicide at the University of Iowa.

The professor noted that the Weiger sexual harassment suit may have represented a situation of hostile environment sexual harassment.  The Inside Higher Ed article presented this case in the following manner-

A former student and teaching assistant’s lawsuit, filed in federal court against Weiger and the university, charged that he had a romantic relationship with another student, engaged in repeated classroom banter and touching of an inappropriate nature, and created a sexually hostile environment

The dankprofessor speculates that the suit against Mark Weiger evolved out of a consensual student professor relationship that ended up being framed as sexual harassment and most likely as hostile environment sexual harassment.   Such may have occurred in the context of sexual jealousy and rivalry as experienced by a spurned student.  Such escalation and conflation is more likely to occur in a culture where reputation is of paramount importance.  And according to the UI professor this represented the dominant culture at the University of Iowa.

Approximately one year ago on November 24, 2007 I published a post entitled  “Fear and Loathing at the University of Iowa” which was on the consensual relationships policy at UI.  A review of this policy demonstrates that UI did not simply ban these relationships, but viewed them in totally demeaning and dehumanizing terms.  A professor who was very sensitive concerning his public status and reputation could very well have been psychologically traumatized by having himself publicly presented as a sexual predator/harasser.

And if one takes the policy statements of UI seriously, ultimately there is little differentiation in terms of the seriousness of the charge of sexual harassment versus the seriousness of being charged with violation of the consensual relationship policy; in both instances the professor so charged de facto becomes a sexual predator.

UI President Sally Mason in a recent communication to students and faculty stated that now is not the time to speculate as to the causes of the recent campus suicides.  The dankprofessor holds that this is an example of the UI President engaging in avoidance and denial.

November 19, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, shame, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Solving the sexual harassment problem via video

The following comment in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on the University of Iowa recent sexual harassment problems caught the dankprofessor’s attention. 

guyinic1 wrote:
It’s a sad day when faculty need to have any interactions with students videotaped but if that is what it takes, then so be it. And maybe departments should provide a conference room adjacent to the department offices so that everyone can see the interaction of the student and teacher. Again, this is so sad that a student can’t just stop by a teacher’s room and chat!
I also think that the policy needs to be very explicit not only with faculty but also students, telling them that if any sort of accusation is made, it will be investigated publically and since it is a public investigation, they will be named and will also be subject to laws regarding slander and liable if their allegations are false. College students who make allegations are not children, they are adults and I’m tired of them hiding behind the excuse of being intimidated by a person in authority. Too much is at stake here for both the accusors and the accused!

The dankprofessor admits that he has never given consideration to the possibility of having video cameras in  faculty offices and even in classrooms since classrooms are often the scene of hostile environment harassment. 

Such may represent an effective way of controlling/preventing sexual harassment events from occurring.  Of course, videotaping will not eliminate sexual harassment, but would likely lead to a decrease of these suits. 

No matter that there will no longer be privacy regarding student prof interactions.  Privacy rights and other rights become irrelevant if institutions are to have effective
control of students and professors.  And control becomes key as universities are gradually transformed into quasi police states.  If control mechanisms are not implemented we could end up with a complete abolition of university campuses which would be replaced, of course, by online education.

November 19, 2008 Posted by | higher education, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, suicide, University of Iowa | Leave a comment

Shame and suicide at the University of Iowa

I have had communications from some UI faculty as to the situation of the recent faculty suicides in the context of sexual harassment charges.  I present below one of those communications and I do so without any name attached which is at the request of the writer.

I think that it can’t be dumb coincidence that the UI should have an epidemic of suicidal professors within a single semester. It defies plausibility. And on the rule that if one person asks a question, ten people have the same question, then presumably there are a lot more people in the same situation we simply don’t know about. So what about the University of Iowa in particular makes it epidemically miserable, when virtually all universities have comparable anti- harassment and anti-fraternization policies?

 

I have an hypothesis to which I think I can lend a certain amount of evidence and plausibility. It’s a perception that the UI (being an Upper Midwestern institution heavily servicing angst-ridden Germanic populations) is more of a shame culture than a guilt culture, although of course we have formal “guilt culture” institutional mechanisms of social control such as policies, procedures, investigations, and sanctions. People here will be influenced much more by self-policing (shame, fear of social stigma, etc.) long before they will be influenced by fear of formal reprisals, and will tend to police their actions to a greater extent than any policy actually stipulates – for instance, if it’s wrong to harass, then we will interpret it as wrong to talk about sex at all; or, if it is wrong to go out on a date, we will ban conversations in coffee shops; etc. and so forth. The result will be a culture in which almost any informal interaction (even of the innocent sort) between students and faculty will be so massively stigmatized that it is unlikely that any such interactions can occur without all parties (both concerned and unconcerned) believing they are inappropriate, and pro-actively signaling avoidance and/or disapproval.

 

I think I can lend plausibility to this. If you look at the first comment on the “Inside Higher Ed” article, you will see that it came from a student of the University of Iowa probably circa the 80s (it references a certain Professor Forell, who was head of the department of religious studies). It shows that a certain complex of attitudes about fraternization – a sense of its obvious impropriety combined with smug self-satisfaction about this prudery – was an element of the culture long predating the institution of formal mechanisms of social control. (And is it a coincidence that the UI has the first formal mechanism of this kind ever imposed in US higher education? No – what you appear to have is a perfect storm of Upper Midwestern shame culture/repression of sexuality combined with the elements you have everywhere else too, like fear of sexual harassment lawsuits and the usual neo-feminist academic Puritanism). The difference is that we have the usual academic Puritanism, but in the context of a shame culture. When do the people involved kill themselves? When they are outed – exposed to massive social shame – before any institutional finding of wrong-doing has actually been made. No one is afraid of what the institution may do to them formally, at least not to the extent of suicide. They are afraid of social stigma.

 

And the Weiger situation is doubly bad. If you look at the Inside Higher Ed article’s summary of the lawsuit, apparently a major part of the aggrieved student’s strategy to show hostile environment sexual harassment is that some sexual banter happened and that there was a consensual relationship between Weiger (who was single) and a student. It is not clear that the student is claiming actual, personal harassment, as opposed to having to endure an environment where fraternization could occur. Surely these aren’t the same thing.

November 19, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, shame, suicide, Uncategorized, University of Iowa | 1 Comment

University of Iowa avoidance and denial in faculty suicides

The University of Iowa is attempting to come up with some new ideas as to how to prevent faculty suicides which occur in the context of sexual harassment charges lodged against faculty members.

One idea that is being emphasized is the involvement of the UI Ombudsman Office.  The following was reported on the Ombuds Blog

A UI professor accused of sexual harassment apparently committed suicide Wednesday afternoon, prompting university officials to reiterate the availability of resources to avoid such incidents. UI spokesperson Steve Parrott said faculty accused of misconduct can go to the Office of the Ombudsperson and have confidential conversations to determine how to protect their reputation and resolve the problem. Coincidentally, the UI Ombuds Office made a presentation to the Graduate Student Senate the same afternoon as the professor’s death.

The dankprofessor considers this proposal to be surreal and leads to avoidance and denial when it comes to basic and elementary steps that UI could have taken and can still take in cases such as that of Professor Mark Weiger.

Simply stated the UI can do the same things they do for professors that they already do for students and others who allege sexual harassment.  In the case of the accuser, the accuser’s identity is confidential and is shielded from public view.  If such was applied to the accused, the reputation of the accused is protected and the accused is not subject to a public stigmatization.  Such does not mean that the accused cannot be suspended with pay.  But what this does mean is that the university attempts to minimize punishment without trial and honor the presumption of innocence.

As a result of the Duke University lacrosse team fiasco, university administrations throughout the nation know of the possible dangerous consequences of  the rush to judgment.  By not rushing to judgment and protecting the confidentiality of the accused, universities such as the University of Iowa could save lives.  But universities such as UI are unlikely to implement these sorts of polices.  The dankprofessor asks why is this the case.

November 16, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, rape, secrecy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Victims and victimization at the University of Iowa

The University of Iowa student newspaper the Daily Iowan reported on the campus reaction on the suicide of Professor Weiger.  One of the more bizarre and insensitive reactions was by Karla Miller, director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program.

Karla Miller…declined to comment specifically about Weiger, but she said after such apparent suicides, it could emotionally affect the victim who reported the harassment.

“It would be only natural to wonder why an individual would do this,” she said. “Unfortunately, what can happen is the response that some people make is to blame the victims, and that’s inappropriate.

“The victims are never to blame.”

A right-on response to this comment was by the False Rape Society blog; their letter to the editor of the Daily Iowan follows-

In your story, “Accused U. Iowa music professor victim of apparent suicide” (Nov. 13), you report on the tragic death of Professor Mark Weiger from an apparent suicide following an accusation of sexual harassment. One of the persons you interviewed properly noted that “sexual-harassment lawsuits frequently result from false accusations.”

However, you also quote Karla Miller, the director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program, who refused to speak about Prof. Weiger specifically but used the occasion of his tragic death to implicitly assume the guilt of every person accused of sexual harassment. Specifically, she said that the suicide of a person so accused “could emotionally affect the victim who reported the harassment.” She makes sure to add that after such a suicide, “some people . . . blame the victims, and that’s inappropriate. The victims are never to blame.”

Did you get that? Before a single scrap of evidence is admitted at trial, the person who reported the sex offense is declared the “victim” who is “never” to blame for a tragedy such as Prof. Weiger’s suicide — the facts, the evidence, and due process itself be damned. While Ms. Miller’s comments were not directed specifically at Prof. Weiger, it is difficult to see how he could not be included in her rush to judgment that improperly assumes the guilt of every person accused of a sex offense.

The dankprofessor gets it.  The dankprofessor also gets the fact that the sexual harassment training ordered by UI in response to these so-called harassment suicide cases probably does not communicate anything about due process and presumption of innocence.  And if such material is included in their training, it apparently has had no effect on Karla Miller.  Unquestionably Miller is in need of some training, and it is in the areas of sensitivity and legal due process training.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, rape, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Suicide and sexual harassment at the University of Iowa

Inside Higher Education reports that University of Iowa music professor Mark Weiger has killed himself one week after he was accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit.

A former student and teaching assistant’s lawsuit, filed in federal court against Weiger and the university, charged that he had a romantic relationship with another student, engaged in repeated classroom banter and touching of an inappropriate nature, and created a sexually hostile environment. According to the suit, the university conducted its own investigation of the situation last year, found Weiger had violated policies against sexual harassment, and then resolved the issue “informally.” He was found in his car, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, with the garage door at his home closed. Authorities said he left a note.

This was not the first suicide by a UI professor who had been accused of sexual harassment.  “This past August UI professor Arthur H. Miller “was arrested on bribery charges and accused of telling female students that he would give them higher grades if they let him fondle their breasts. In one case, he is alleged to have grabbed and sucked on a student’s breast and then sent her an e-mail telling her that she had earned an A+. He then shot himself in a local park”.

Michael W. O’Hara, president of the Faculty Senate at Iowa and a professor of psychology, called the two deaths “a horrible coincidence.” He added that “sometimes in the great big wide world, events converge that are totally coincidental yet you begin to wonder if there is a pattern, and my view is that this is like having our 500-year flood. It seems inexplicable but it happened.”

When Miller was arrested in August the university announced that all faculty members would undergo sexual harassment training.  Such appeared to be a rather draconian move by the university targeting all professors in the context of only one professor being involved in the Miller sexual harassment case.

What concerned and perplexed the dankprofessor occurred when the University of Iowa did not order mandatory suicide prevention training for all of the UI faculty after Miller’s suicide.  Now that another professor has committed suicide in the context of a sexual harassment charges, the University of Iowa administration remains silent as to the need of suicide prevention training for its faculty.

If the UI administration is truly concerned about the well being of its faculty and believes that sexual harassment training will diminish that problem for its faculty, I think it is fair to ask why the administration does not order suicide prevention training for its faculty which ideally would function to diminish a problem that is a much more lethal problem than sexual harassment

However the university did do something as a consequence of the Weiger suicide when “Sally Mason, president of the university, on Thursday issued a statement expressing condolences to Weiger’s family and friends, and letting people know of the availability of counseling services. She also urged people “to refrain from speculation about this event, but to support all who need assistance.”

But the dankprofessor must ask why would President Mason assume that faculty have the ability to determine which faculty are in need of assistance?  Advocates of mandatory sexual harassment training argue that those trained become skilled in determining when sexual harassment has occurred or is likely to occur and therefore the trained are more likely to report to the appropriate campus authorities the existence of sexual harassers and potential sexual harassers.

Obviously, there is a double standard here, and it is the dankprofessor’s opinion that the double standard is related to the fact that sexual harassment involves sex and and American universities are well known for being sexphobic and then, of course, there is the money issue.  Faculty mandated sexual harassment training functions to diminish the probability of sexual harassment lawsuits being successfully promulgated against universities, at least such is the belief of many university administrators.  

And, of course, such does not mean that sexual harassment training is effective in diminishing sexual harassment on campus.  The dankprofessor believes that almost all faculty and university administrators know this.  And almost all academics know this and go along with the myth that sexual harassment training functions to prevent or diminish sexual harassment on campus.  And when a faculty member refuses to go along with this charade, and attempts to undermine the notion that sexual harassment training is effective, he or she is threatened with sanctions, as in the case of UCI professor Alexander McPherson.

Unfortunately, most universities have become money making playgrounds for those associated with the sexual harassment industry, including sexual harassment chasing lawyers.  

For most universities in both good and bad economic times, universities are predominantly interested in saving money rather than in spending money to save faculty lives.

So the end result in most American universities is that faculty problems relating to matters such as suicide receive only incidental attention, e.g., condolences are sent to the family of the suicide victim.  And as far as sexual harassment is concerned, the response of sexual harassment training is a money draining charade.  The dankprofessor is suggesting that this is not simply his opinion, but is the opinion of 99.9% of those who are knowledgeable about said training.  Such of course excludes those people and organizations that profit from the sexual harassment industry.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, UC Irvine, University of Iowa | 1 Comment

Lethbridge professor to be reinstated

Congratulations to Psych Prof Gregory Bird for winning his legal challenge against Lethbridge College.  A Canadian court judge has ordered that Bird to be reinstated as a psych prof at Lethbridge.  Lethbridge had suspended Bird on the grounds that he had sex with three female students.  No harassment charges had been filed against Bird, and Lethbridge College had no policy banning student prof sexual relationships.   Based on my knowledge of the situation, the relationships were consensual and two of the relationships were established prior to the women becoming students at Lethbridge.   Prior to the Court decision, an arbitration board had ruled that Lethbridge must reinstate Bird.  The Court ruling in effect affirmed the arbitration board’s decision.
 
Rick Buis, vice-president of corporate and international services for the college, stated “We’re disappointed it didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but obviously we have to comply with the justice’s decision.”
 
However, the court’s and the arbitration board’s decisions put constraints on Bird’s affairs.  His return is conditional on him not having sex with any student of the college.
 
But Lethbridge is apparently committed to implementing the court decision while at the same time undermining it since the college does not see his reinstatement as necessarily including a teaching component. According to Buis, “Our requirement is to assign a workload that is appropriate for a faculty member, that can include teaching, research, curriculum development and distance education.”

So Lethbridge is apparently going to implement their version of sexual morality by barring him from  classroom teaching.  So they are reinstating a teacher but at the same time may not allow him to teach.  If Lethbridge bars Bird from teaching, it becomes incumbent upon Lethbridge to indicate that the reason for barring him from teaching is based on something more than the application of their sexual moral judgments.

In the Canadian press story, the writer goes beyond Lethbridge to understand the basis of barring him from the classroom by interviewing a sexual harassment adviser for the University of Calgary, Voyna Wilson.  Choosing to interview Wilson seems to the dankprofessor to be a poor choice since Wilson’s area is sexual harassment, not consensual relationships.  My speculation is that they interviewed Wilson since she gives the same old puritanical feminist cant as she told the press that the imbalance of power between student and professor entering a relationship can lead to disastrous results. Of course, such relationships may also lead to good results.  In the Lethbridge case, there were no disastrous results for students but the results were disastrous for the anti-sexual zealots at Lethbridge.

Voyna Wilson then went on to state that faculty members are also risking permanent damage to their reputation by such behavior.

I suggest to Ms. Wilson that she not worry about the the reputation of faculty members such as Bird.   Wilson apparently sees herself as a sort of mother figure, albeit an authoritarian mother figure, who should warn faculty about the reputational effects of their behavior. Then Voyna Wilson warned all faculty to steer clear of sexual relations with students.

Clearly Voyna Wilson unabashedly embraces an authoritarian agenda as she attempts to put her faculty (children) in their place.  But there are still some faculty who believe that as adults they have autonomy, specifically sexual autonomy, and that they will resist authoritarian policies which attempt to recreate them as children.

In addition, when you have university administrators warning faculty about their sexual behavior, obviously, in Wilson’s terms, this also represents an imbalance of power.  But she is not concerned with this imbalance since she is the one on top with the power to engage in institutionally legitimatized abuse.  It is persons of the genre of Voyna Wilson that faculty should be warned about and to speak out against their abuses of power.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™

© Copyright 2008

 

June 13, 2008 Posted by | academic freedom, consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, higher education, Lethbridge College, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, University of Calgary | Leave a comment

Feminist bell hooks on erotic student/faculty relationships

Following are key excerpts from an article by feminist author Bell Hooks, “Passionate Pedagogy; erotic student/faculty relationships,” Z MAGAZINE, March 1996, 45-51. This is one of the best articles written on this subject and I urge readers to savor and critically scrutinize this article.

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When I became a professor I was amazed at the extent to which students, male and female, approached me for romantic and/or sexual encounters. Like many unattached female professors in the academy, I was constantly the subject of student gossip. Often the students I loved the most did the most talking. When I complained to them about their obsession with my sex life, they simply responded by telling me to get a grip and accept that it goes with the turf. They wanted to understand female sexual agency. They wanted to know how women professors are coping with working in patriarchal institutions, and how we were juggling issues of sexual desirability, agency, and careerism. They saw us as charting the path they will follow. Many of these students were more than hip to the dangers of getting involved with someone older and more powerful.

Contemporary feminist movement has usefully interrogated the way men in power within patriarchal culture often use that power to abuse and sexually coerce females. That necessary critical intervention is undermined when it obscures recognition of the way in which desire can be acknowledged in relationships between individuals where there is unequal power without being abusive. It is undermined when any individual who is in a less powerful position is represented as being absolutely without choice, as having no agency to act on their own behalf. As long as young females are socialized to see themselves as incapable of choosing those situations of erotic engagement which would be most constructive for their lives, they will always be more vulnerable to victimization. This does not mean that they will not make mistakes, as countless female students did when they chose to have disappointing nonproductive romantic liaisons with professors. Everyone I interviewed for this piece had no regret about these liaisons. We all knew they did not have to be negative. The point is that we were not embracing a psychology of female victimization that would have been utterly disempowering. There is clearly a connection between submitting to abuse and the extent to which any of us already feel that we are destined to be victimized.

The vast majority of women who are heterosexual in this society are likely to be in intimate relations with men at some point in their lives who have greater status and power, however relative, given the nature of capitalism and patriarchy. Clearly, it is more important to learn ways to be “just” in situations where there is a power imbalance, rather than to
assume that exploitation and abuse are the “natural” outcome of all such encounters. Notice how such logic fixes those in power in ways that deny their accountability and choice by assuming that they act on behalf of their interests exclusively. And that their interests will always be antithetical to the interests of those who are less powerful.

Contemporary focus on victimization tends to leave very little cultural space for recognition of the erotic as a space of transgression that can undermine politics of domination. Rather than perceiving desire between faculty and students as always dangerous, negative and destructive, what does it mean for us to consider the positive uses of that desire, the way the erotic can serve to enhance self-actualization and growth. We hear much more about the way in which individuals have abused power in faculty/students relations where there is erotic engagement. We rarely hear anything about the ways erotic desire between teacher and student enhances individual growth. We do not hear about the affectionate bonds that spring from erotic encounters which challenge conventional notions of what is appropriate behavior.

Most professors, even the ones who are guilty, would acknowledge that it is highly problematic and usually unproductive to be romantically involved with students you are directly working with, either in the classroom or on a more individual basis. Yet, prohibitions, rules and regulations, will not keep these relationships from happening. The place of vigilance is not in forbidding such encounters but having a system that effectively prevents harassment and abuse. At every college campus in this country there are individual male professors who repeatedly harass and coerce students to engage in sexual relations. For the most part, even when there have been ongoing complaints, college administrators have not confronted these individuals or used the already institutionalized procedures governing harassment to compel them to stop abusive behavior. Even though everyone seems to be quite capable of recognizing the difference between those professors who abuse their power and those who may have a romantic relationship with a student that is consensual, by imposing rules and regulations that would effect all faculty and students they deny this difference. Some folks want to argue there is no difference that the student is always more vulnerable. It is true that relationships where there are serious power  imbalances  can be  a  breeding ground for victimization. They can begin with mutual consent yet this does not ensure that they may not become conflictual in ways that lead  the more powerful party to become coercive or abusive. This is true in all relationships in life.  Power must be negotiated.   Part  of maturing is learning how to cope with conflict. Many of the cases where students cite serious exploitation on the part of  professors involve graduate students and professors. It is difficult to believe that any graduate student is not fully aware of the risks when they become erotically involved with a professor who has some control over their career.  Concurrently,  sexism and misogyny have to be seen as factors at   work, when individual powerful male professors direct their attention at exceptionally smart female graduate students who  could easily become their competitors.  If campuses really want to effectively address the problems of abuse in faculty-student relations then we should be socializing undergraduates to be realistic about the problems that can arise in such encounters.

The Time magazine story on romantic relations between students and faculty begins with this confession: “During the three months in 1993 when she was sleeping with her English professor, Lisa Topol lost 18 pounds. She lost interest in her classes at the University of Pennsylvania, lost her reputation as an honor student and wondered if she was losing her mind. If she tried to break up, she thought, he could ruin her academic career. Then she made some phone calls and learned a bit more about the professor she had come to view as a predator.” If one took out the words academic and professor this would read like the troubled narrative of anyone involved with someone on the job who is their supervisor. The problem with this story is not that it does not tell the truth but rather that it tells a partial truth. We have no idea why Lisa Topol entered this relationship. We do not know if it was consensual. We do not know how or why the male involved became abusive. We do know that he did not become abusive simply because he was her professor. The problem here does not lie with faculty-student relations but with this individual male, and the large numbers of men like him who prey upon females.  The cultural context that condones this abuse is patriarchy and male domination. Yet most men and women in the academy, like society as a whole, are not engaged in activism that would target patriarchy. There are many faculty-student romances that end in friendship, some that lead to marriage and/or partnership. The professors in these relationships are able to conduct themselves in a way that is not exploitative despite the imbalance of power. There are many more male professors involved with students who are not abusive than those that are.

Realistically, our pedagogy is failing both inside and outside the classroom if students have no awareness of their agency when it comes to choosing a relationship of intimacy with a faculty member. Some folks oppose faculty/student erotic bonding because they say it creates a climate of favoritism that can be deeply disruptive. In actuality, any intimate bonding between a professor and a student is a potential context for favoritism, whether or not that intimacy is erotic. Favoritism often surfaces in the classroom and has nothing to do with desire. For example: Most professors are especially partial to students that do assigned work with rigor and intellectual enthusiasm. This is as much a context for favoritism but no one is seeking to either eliminate, question, or police it. Young females and males entering college are in the process of claiming and asserting adult status. Sexuality is as much a site where that evolution and maturation is registered as is the classroom.

A college environment should strengthen a student’s ability to make responsible mature decisions and choices. Those faculty members who become involved in romantic relationships with a student (whether they initiated it or responded to an overture by the student) who are not exploitative or dominating will nurture this maturation process. In my teaching career I have had a relationship with one student. Although he was a student in my class, I did not approach him during the time that he studied with me because I did not want to bring that dynamic into the classroom or into my evaluation of his work. He was not an exceptional student in my class. When the course ended, we became intimate. From the start we had conflicts about power. The relationship did not work yet we became friends. Recently, I shared with him that I was writing this piece. I wanted to know if he thought I had taken advantage of him. He reminded me of how shocked he was that I desired him because he primarily thought of me as this teacher that he admired and looked up to. He shared his perspective: “I did not feel in any way coerced. I found it intriguing that I would be able to talk to you one on one about issues raised in the class. I was happy to have a chance to get to know you better because I knew you were this smart and gifted professor. We all thought you were special. I was young and inexperienced and even though it was exciting that you desired me, it was also frightening.” Our romance failed. We had our share of miserable conflictual moments. Our friendship has deepened over the years and is grounded in respect and care.

Student devotion to a teacher can easily be a context where erotic longings emerge. Passionate pedagogy in any setting is likely to spark erotic energy. It cannot be policed or outlawed. This erotic energy can be used in constructive ways both in individual relationships and in the classroom setting. Just as it is important that we be vigilant in challenging abuses of power wherein the erotic becomes a terrain of exploitation, it is equally important to recognize that space where erotic interaction is enabling and positively transforming. Desire in the context of relations where hierarchy and unequal power separate individuals is always potentially disruptive and simultaneously potentially transformative. Desire can be a democratic equalizing force—the fierce reminder of the limitations of hierarchy and status—as much as it can be a context for abuse and exploitation. The erotic is always present, always with us. When we deny that erotic feelings will emerge between teachers and students, this denial precludes the recognition of accountability and responsibility. The implications of entering intimate relations where there is an imbalance of power cannot be understood, or those relations handled with care in a cultural context where desire that disrupts is seen as so taboo that it cannot be spoken, acknowledged, and addressed. Banning relations between faculty and students would create a climate of silence and taboo that would only intensify dynamics of coercion and exploitation. The moment power differences are articulated in a dialogue where erotic desire surfaces, a space is created where choice is possible, where accountability can be clearly assessed.

June 1, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, passion, secrecy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized, victimization | 6 Comments

Fear rules at Indiana University

Indiana University has played a pivotal role in the history of sexual behavior in the United States since at IU is located the famous Kinsey Institute.  Of course,  IU functioned as the headquarters for the sex research of Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s.  Since that time some of the most respected sex researchers have become IU professors due to the fact that the Kinsey Institute is located on the IU campus.  Such would have never occurred if in the 1940s and 1950s, IU had the student professor consensual sexual relationships policy that is currently existent at Indiana University. Given this policy, Kinsey would have been dismissed for unprofessional conduct due to his relationships with students and research assistants.

In any case, since there are so many scholars at IU with an interest in sexual behavior and sexual policy issues, one would expect that sexual policy regulations would be presented in a manner that is empirically grounded and adhere to the rules of logic.  To determine if such is the case, presented below is the IU consensual relationships policy; the dankprofessor’s criticisms are presented in blue in the text of the policy.

Policy on Consensual Relationships
Academic Handbook: (A. Right and Responsibilities, I. General Statement : Relations with Students)
With regard to relations with students, the term “faculty” or “faculty member” means all those who teach and/or do research at the University including (but not limited to) tenured and tenure-track faculty, librarians, holders of research, lecturer, or clinical appointments, graduate students with teaching responsibilities, visiting and part-time faculty, and other instructional personnel including coaches, advisors, and counselors.

The University’s educational mission is promoted by professionalism in faculty/ student relationships. Professionalism is fostered by an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Actions of faculty members and students that harm this atmosphere undermine professionalism and hinder fulfillment of the University’s educational mission. Trust and respect are diminished when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their power. Those who abuse their power in such a context violate their duty to the University community.

Of course, professionalism is not defined; it is presented as a given even though there has been much argumentation over what is professional or non-professional.  Whatever professionalism is,  it must be a good thing since mutual trust and respect are good things; even the dankprofessor is for mutual trust and respect. And I am also against diminishing trust and respect when authority abuses power or appears to abuse power.  But nowhere in this document is abuse of power defined and I am quite sure that I would not equate abuse of power with the appearance of the abuse of power.  Might I raise the following questions- Is it  OK to equate murder with the appearance of murder? To equate adultery with the appearance of adultery?  To equate crime with the appearance of crime?

To equate appearances with reality certainly should not be an accepted policy in the halls of academia.  In theory, professors have learned to engage in critical thinking, have learned to teach critical thinking, but now they become a party to the IU statement that passes off the conflating of fact with fiction as being OK.  Well, the dankprofessor says it is not OK, and that any university which is against the abuse of both students and professors would make the effort of separating appearances from reality. We all should know the danger of not doing so as represented by the actions of Duke University in their persecution of the Duke lacrosse team members who appeared to the powers that be at Duke and too many Duke faculty as having engaged in rape.

Faculty members exercise power over students, whether in giving them praise or criticism, evaluating them, making recommendations for their further studies or their future employment, or conferring any other benefits on them. All amorous or sexual relationships between faculty members and students are unacceptable when the faculty member has any professional responsibility for the student.

The two prior sentences represent a non sequitur.  A statement that X has power over Y does not necessarily mean that X and Y are incapable of having a consensual sexual relationship.  Of course, there are some academics who embrace cant and rant such as “Differential power precludes consent.”  If this cant is accepted, such means that when persons of differential power engage in a sexual relationship, the situation becomes one of rape.  The dankprofessor holds that such is utter poppycock and is indicative of a form of heterophobia, possibly homophobia as well, or may be it is more accurate to state that such represents a fear of sex or is sex phobic.

Such situations greatly increase the chances that the faculty member will abuse his or her power and sexually exploit the student.

The sex phobia is illustrated in the prior sentence since the sex phobic always feels that sex in some form or the other will lead to harm and abuse.  It is always better to be abstinent.  In fact, this sort of thinking comes right out of the Bush sponsored sex abstinence sex education agenda.

Voluntary consent by the student in such a relationship is suspect, given the fundamental asymmetric nature of the relationship.

Again, back to the assumption that differential power precludes consent, and even if it does not preclude consent, it is still bad since it makes the “relationship suspect”.  The dankprofessor asks do real persons in the real world of love and romance and marriage and parenthood, and divorce and dissolution really believe that if one person is seen as having greater power than ones partner that the relationship is seen as suspect?  Of course, there are many persons who exist with fear being omnipresent; such persons have fully embraced a paranoid world view.  The fearful and weak-minded may be the subject of such rhetoric, but attempting to pass this off on the Kinsey sophisticates at IU is just too much for the dankprofessor to handle.

Moreover, other students and faculty may be affected by such unprofessional behavior because it places the faculty member in a position to favor or advance one student’s interest at the expense of others and implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors.

About the possibility of other students being affected, of course, it should be pointed out that there are also many other students who would not be affected or offended.  And offended is the word that should be used here; IU is arguing that students should be protected from offense.  The possibility of the right to offend is simply ignored.  The IU argument is a dangerous argument, an argument that could be used to ban or criminalize just about anything.  The California Supreme Court recently dealt with this in overturning arguments to ban same sex marriage just as in a prior decision the California Supreme Court made short shrift of the arguments in support of banning interracial marriage.

And as for the rest of the statement about “implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors”.  I do not see anything here implicit or explicit.  If people want to think the worst of others, it is easy to impugn the motives of others.  But to do this on a group level, to use a prostitution framing for student professor relationships goes beyond the pale for the dankprofessor.

Therefore, the University will view it as a violation of this Code of Academic Ethics if faculty members engage in amorous or sexual relations with students for whom they have professional responsibility, as defined in number 1 or 2 below, even when both parties have consented or appear to have consented to the relationship. Such professional responsibility encompasses both instructional and non-instructional contexts.

1. Relationships in the Instructional Context. A faculty member shall not have an amorous or sexual relationship, consensual or otherwise, with a student who is enrolled in a course being taught by the faculty member or whose performance is being supervised or evaluated by the faculty member.

2. Relationships outside the Instructional Context. A faculty member should be careful to distance himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize a student with whom he or she has or has had an amorous or sexual relationship, even outside the instructional context, especially when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit or in units that are allied academically.

Of course section 2 goes way beyond the instructional context.  Ever having a sexual relationship at any prior time, five months ago or five years ago with a current student, makes the faculty member suspect.  No matter that the relationship is now “ancient history”, the faculty member must distant himself or herself from the permanently sexually impaired (stigmatized) student.  Such distancing is what I would call unprofessional behavior.

Handbook for Student Academic Appointees (Duties and Responsibilities particular to Associate Instructors: Relations with Students)
If faculty members (including graduate students with teaching responsibilities) engage in amorous or sexual relations with students for whom they have professional responsibility, even when both have consented to the relationship, it will be viewed as a violation of the “Code of Academic Ethics”.

Such ends the presentation of the IU consensual relationships policy.  The dankprofessor finds the policy to be outrageous. Such represents the product of the small minded, and the fear obsessed.  Or could it be the product of cynical fear mongers who know they can communicate the inane as accepted IU policy because the IU intellectual and scholarly elite fear to dissent or even worse, the thinking represented in this policy has now become the thinking of the IU professoriate.

The dankprofessor welcomes and encourages input from IU professors who dissent from the IU consensual policy.  However, it is the dankprofessor’s opinion that receiving such dissent for blog publication is just about nil.

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

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

May 22, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, Indiana University, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating | 2 Comments

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