OK, I will begin my reply post to Hugo Schwyzer’s response to me by picking a bone with him as to how he presents me. He indicates that at Cal State Long Beach I had built a name for myself “as a consistent (some would say relentless) advocate for legitimizing sexual relationships between teachers and students”. If the good professor had done his homework on me, he would have known that I built a name for myself in the area of legitimizing sexual relationships starting in the late 1960s when I relentlessly opposed discrimination against gays, wrote “Coming Out in the Gay World” which came to be regarded as a classic article in the sociology of homosexuality, created the first officially recognized undergraduate course on homosexuality in 1969, and worked to help create the first officially recognized GSU in California at CSULB and last but not least I wrote an article against Anita Bryant and her campaign against homosexuality which was reprinted throughout the United States and helped to defeat the Briggs initiative in 1977, and led to numerous threats against my life, see that article by clicking here. Post my involvement in the gay rights campaign, I became involved in issues regarding interracial dating and marriage and helped to found the Interrace Association at CSULB.
So prior to my getting involved in the student professor issue I had an extensive background regarding transcending sexual boundaries, standing up for sexual freedom and consent. In this area I was relentless and remain relentless. Such relentlessness was not stifled by the small mindedness of too many of my opponents and their attempts to objectify and demonize me. For example, Schwyzer states that I celebrate student professor sexual relationships. I do not celebrate any form of consensual sexuality. What I celebrate is the right of consenting adults to engage in sexual fraternization no matter how offensive such fraternization is held to be by others. What offends me are those who engage in coercion of consenting others who happen to violate their sexual “ethic”.
And as for Schwyzer not being able to see the similarities in the dynamics of those opposing interracial relationships and those opposing student professor relationships, I suggest that he is suffering from a form of cultural blindness. I suggest that he read Lillian Smith’s book KILLERS OF THE DREAM and then he may understand the southern “ethic” that embraced the notion that a white woman/black man relationship can never be consensual, such always precluded consent, that such always represented rape, and that white men were protective of “their” white women who could not consent for themselves and were in essence children or childlike. Of course, any dissident black man faced a sentence of death via hanging and/or burning for the sin of loving the wrong person. Of course, today’s sexual dissidents who engage in academia’s love that dare not speak its name do not face being physically killed but rather being socially and psychologically exiled from academia since they have violated the sacred principle of “differential power precludes consent”. Safer for them to remain in the closet which has historically been the home of the sexually persecuted or those in support of the sexually persecuted.
In response to me, Schwyzer states-
I’m not incapable of drawing distinctions between behavior which is criminal and behavior which is merely unethical. But I also think that folks like Dank fail to recognize three things:
1. College students in their late teens and early twenties are still developing intellectually and emotionally, as this New York Times Magazine article made clear recently. Many young people are in a space between, as the old saying goes, “the Already and the Not Yet.” They are already legal adults and are in many ways fully responsible, but in other key ways continue to need more time to develop the complete capacity for impulse control and moral reasoning. As the Times article put it, the only ones who “got it right” about how long it takes young people to grow up are the car-rental companies, who often refuse to rent their vehicles to drivers under the age of twenty-five. While nineteen year-olds may be ready for sexual relationships with their peers, they are vulnerable to exploitation (whatever protestations may be made to the contrary) by those who are substantially older.
Schwyzer continues to focus on students as young people, apparently teens or just post teenager. Such reflects Schwyzer’s hangups or possibly his complete immersion in the world of PCC. To assume that university students are young and immature is absurd.
To assume that being young reflects immaturity is absurd. To assume that being old reflects maturity is absurd. To assume nothing and treat and respect the individuality of the other is not absurd. Such reflects in Buberian terms the willingness to employ an I-thou framework. Schwyzer employs an I-it framework which makes coercing others so much easier.
Then comes his point 2-
2. The power imbalance between a professor and a student, regardless of the latter’s age, makes it impossible for the student to give consent as long as the professor is in a position to evaluate (or recommend) him or her. You can’t trust a “yes” unless the person who says the “yes” also feels free to say “no” in the confidence that there will be no deleterious consequences. And as long as a student is in any position to be evaluated professionally by their professor/lover, they can’t have that knowledge that a “no” will be safe. That’s not infantilizing; that’s common sense.
Here he states it really is not about age, but about power imbalance in general. He holds it axiomatic that students cannot give consent (such assumes of course that the student is not the initiator and the professor is the one consenting). Such represents the end point of his argument- students cannot consent so we will not allow the student to be in such a position. What he fails to note is that now he and his chosen colleagues are now in the power position and they have taken away the ability to consent of both students and professors. Both students and professors must consent to the will of the all powerful bureaucrat. Schwyzer and his confereres end up calling for what all authoritarians call for- OBEDIENCE, obedience to them. And as for his comments about possible deleterious consequences, freedom always represents the possibility of deleterious consequences; lack of freedom always represents the reality of deleterious consequences.
And now to his third point-
3. The damage that professor-student sexual relationships do to the broader academic community is enormous. I’ve written that some of the students with whom I had sexual relationships remembered what we shared fondly; otherssuffered lasting negative consequences for which I take full responsibility and a profound sense of guilt. But leaving aside the essential question of the impact of these relationships on young women’s lives, I can say with certainty that these affairs are impossible to keep secret. Campus gossip made them widely known. Not only was I labeled a lecher, but the legitimacy of the entire college was in some sense compromised. I’ll never know how many young people grew a bit more cynical, a bit less trustful of the system, a bit more suspicious of older men as a result of my sadly well-deserved reputation in the mid-to-late 1990s on this campus.
Is Schwyzer referring to PCC here being damaged in some way by his relationships with young women? I speculate that he is projecting his own sense of damage and guilt on to the wider academic community. He is seeing his campus world thru his guilt tinged lenses. He ends up dealing with his guilt by coercing others to be “better” than he was; he ends up being an authoritarian do-gooder. And as for campus gossip, my advice to him is to just get beyond the rumor mongers; do what you consider to be right and don’t focus on the opinions of others. And, of course, it will often be the case that no matter what one does, one can end up becoming rumor subject matter.
As for recommended pieces regarding this issue, he neglects the most powerful published essay written by then graduate student Cristina Nehring. You can find it on my blog, of course. I can’t reprint the whole article, but I have reprinted enough to capture the essence of her argument, and do read the recent student comments on this posting. Of course, you can read a couple of my pieces by clicking here and here as well as reading SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND CONSENT which I co-edited. Daphne Patai’s book although somewhat tangential gives a pretty good portrait of how campuses are becoming less free. And, of course, anything written by Dick Skeen, material based on his doctoral dissertation, should be required reading.
And I bemoan the loss of community on too many campuses. The implementation of these fraternization rules make informal interaction between students and professors problematic. Fear too often now structures student professor interaction; fear that there may be a sexual imputation. Schwyzer never mentions this; never mentions that many campus regulations prohibit both sexual OR amorous relationships. On a personal note, I became a professor already a part of academic life since I had married a professor’s daughter and took for granted the camaraderie, the informality that was a part of the community of learners, no matter what the age. It’s basically gone now; replaced by an impersonal bureaucracy, paid bureaucrats making sure things are under control which de facto means keeping things in the closet.
I also want to make clear that I do not condemn or disrespect Schwyzer for his attempt to come to terms with his past sexuality. His guilt feelings I do not doubt are real; his need for redemption is real. What I question that in his need for redemption or expiation he ends up advocating the coercing of others for engaging in consensual sex he disapproves of. In the dankprofessor’s framework he commits the sin of coercion which represents his own unacknowledged arrogance.
Hugo Schwyzer, a Pasadena City College professor, blogs on educational issues and at times on matters relating to student prof consenting sexual relationships. He strongly disapproves of these relationships, and has expressed his strong disapproval of my writings on the subject. He indicates in his last post and in his other posts on this subject that in the 1990s when he was single he engaged in a number of sexual relationships with students. But now such relationships are in the past since presently he is married. To a cynical outsider, it may appear that Schwyzer engages in an ethic of convenience- when single it was OK for him to find partners who were students, but now that he is married he disapproves of such relationships. Of course, such a cynical view also reflects a basic sociological tenet- ones attitudes change as a function of changes in ones social positions.
Schwyzer’s change in his attitudes and behavior in regards to student prof sex would have been of no importance to me except for the fact that he uses his past experience in part as a rationale for coercing students and professors in matters relating to their sexual behavior. Schwyzer admits to having done the wrong thing when he slept with some of his students.
He feels guilt about the errors of his past ways. Given his past wrongdoings, he wants to redeem himself. He states:
“Part of my own redemptive work was to chair a committee to write a policy for Pasadena City College on consensual relationships, a policy that was not in place during the years in which I was conducting a series of these affairs.”
So in order for him to feel good about himself, he is willing to take away the rights of others to engage in mutual date/mate selection where the dyadic relationship is student/professor.
Or to make this matter more personal for me, he would have supported policies that would have barred my dating/mating with my wife to be in the 1990s. Why? To relieve his sense of guilt. To stop students from acting on their crushes for particular profs. Crushes are his words. Its always student crushes, never professor crushes; he sees profs as falling in love. Profs don’t have crushes since profs are not children. For Schwyzer, students have crushes since students are de facto children. They are not yet grownups who can experience a mature love. Or translated- they have not yet graduated; once they graduate then they are adults. Reminds me of the old idea that a girl cannot become a woman, remains a girl or a child until she married.
If we’re doing our job right, we have the power to change the way a student thinks about himself or herself. At our best, those of us who love to teach are practiced seducers, Casanovas of the classroom. But my agenda isn’t about sexual conquest, it’s about creating an interest and a passion where none previously existed. It’s about getting students to want something they didn’t know they wanted! Though some students may sexualize their crushes, what they really want is to continue to feel the way you make them feel: excited, energized, provoked, challenged.
The key is to remember that old mantra of youth workers everywhere: “affirm, and re-direct.” Though it is surely almost always best for a faculty member not to name out loud his or her responses to a student, it is the job of teachers to say to themselves: “These feelings I have are normal, and quite understandable, and not bad at all. But desire is not an irresistible predicate to action, and while I affirm that there may be ’something here’, I’m going to take the responsibility to re-direct all of that intoxicatiing intellectual/sexual energy on to the work itself.”
When a student has a crush on a teacher or mentor, it’s the job of that prof to “affirm and re-direct.” The affirmation doesn’t have to be as obvious as calling the student out on the crush, unless the student has already confessed it. The key is avoiding three “wrong” responses: shaming or belittling the student, withdrawing from one’s mentoring role, or engaging in amorous relations. Each of these responses represents a different sort of betrayal, and a sensible teacher ought to avoid them all…
Advise and redirect reminds me of the “advice” of the elders of bygone days- to go take a cold shower, to deal with your needs in a solitary manner. Or going back a 100 years or so, children were coerced via having their hands forcibly tied at night. Crushes were obliterated by crushing children and others who had sexual desires. Oppression and repression were the traditional ways of dealing with those who deviated from sexual norms in an anti-sexual society.
And being anti-sexual is what Schwyer is ultimately “all about”. He often dresses up his rhetoric in a garb of maturity, responsibility and self-control. But his bottom line is the same as all the others who are at the core anti-sexual- coercion.
Billie Dziech is probably the most committed academic to obliterating student professor intimate relationships. She began her campaign in the 1980s with the publication of her tome THE LECHEROUS PROFESSOR and she continues her crusade to the present day. In 1998 in the Chronicle of Higher education she published an essay entitled“The Abuse of Power in Intimate Relationships”.
This essay has not been systematically critiqued and continues to circulate on the web. The CHE essay provides the dankprofessor an opportunity to critique Dziech’s “thinking” on this issue. So come along with me on this critical journey into the heart of Dziech; maybe we can find something of value. I have highlighted quoted material from her essay
While the tangled puzzle of the relationship between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky may appear far removed from life on American campuses, that is not the case. The current scandal recalls recent campus debates about intimate relationships between people with differing degrees of power — usually faculty members and students — and whether those relationships can be genuinely consensual.
In addition, the Clinton-Lewinsky controversy has become a litmus test of Americans’ attitudes toward male-female relations, and a harbinger of future positions on gender issues. Students and educators should listen carefully to the debate.
It is obvious that educators contemplating intimate relationships with students need to look hard at the portrait the media have painted of Monica Lewinsky. Reports depict her as a child deeply scarred by her parents’ acrimonious divorce; as an overweight teenager who developed a crush on a popular high-school classmate and then carried on a lengthy affair with a former high-school teacher; and as a young woman who at some point may have idolized or pursued Bill Clinton.
There is a simple message in the details of this young life. Whether or not we admit its pathetic quality, we must all recognize that people such as Monica Lewinsky exist, and that they pose a significant threat to those who choose to become intimately involved with them. The younger the person, the more likely that individual is to engage in fantasy and in actions based on whim. The more wounded the individual is at the onset of a relationship, the more vulnerable and unstable that person is likely to be during and after the affair.
Explicit in her analysis of Lewinsky is that we are on safe grounds in basing a psychological evaluation of her on media reports. And, of course, Monica Lewinsky posed no significant threat to Clinton or anyone else. The significant threat came from Linda Tripp and Special Prosecutor Starr who used Tripp’s surreptitiously taped conversations with Monica. Linda Tripp and Prosecutor Starr systematically invaded the privacy of Lewinsky in order to invade the privacy of Clinton. But Dziech in her essay never mentions Tripp and mentions Starr only once in passing. And no where in this essay is there any mention of the role of third party informants and the ethical issues involved when universities use or employ third party informants in their attempt to expose student professor couples.
Hence academicians, like Presidents, are either naive or reckless when they engage in physical contact (or what Mr. Clinton has described as an “emotional relationship”) with impressionable, unpredictable students who are unlikely to comprehend the true parameters of such interactions. Professors and Presidents alike should be sophisticated enough to realize the dangers inherent in singling out a subordinate for special attention. Monica Lewinsky is a chilling reminder that even the gift of a book of poetry (especially one with erotic material, such as Leaves of Grass) can lead to disaster.
Again Monica did nothing chilling. It was the people who were out to get Clinton who engaged in chilling and dastardly behavior.
People in positions of authority cannot ignore the vulnerabilities of those in subordinate positions. Perhaps that is why Andy Bleiler, the former drama teacher with whom Monica Lewinsky was sexually involved, seems so disreputable. Contending that the 19-year-old Ms. Lewinsky was “obsessed with sex” and that she “stalked” and “trapped” him into a five-year affair, Mr. Bleiler claimed that the young woman had been “no victim.” But his assertion rang hollow, even with the omnipresent supportive wife standing at his side.
Of course, observers cannot ignore the vulnerabilities of those in the so-called superordinate positions. Persons in power positions become targets of other who wish to bring them down; some times by false charges, sometimes by frivolous civil suits. The fact is that when it comes to power figures everyone close to the so-called powerful is vulnerable. And when it comes to love and sex, one cannot truly love without making oneself emotionally vulnerable.
There is more at stake in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal than just reputations, however. Educators should also note that countless Americans accept Mr. Bleiler’s portrait of the person Bill Clinton calls “that woman.” Those of us in academe who have fought for equality for women and the eradication of sexual harassment should be disturbed by polls such as one that found that men who had previously regarded the President as a “wimp” now were more inclined to support him — and to regard his wife positively because she once again “stood by her man.”
Of course, Clinton left office with high approval ratings. In fact, until the arrival of Barak Obama, Clinton was and possibly still is the most popular American politician in the world at large. His “affair” with Lewinsky did not hurt his stature, or that of his wife.
Already, the story of the President and the intern has revived old gender stereotypes that had seemed almost exhausted. The public appears to accept, without reservation, the image of Bill Clinton crafted by the Hollywood Houdini Harry Thomason and other supporters: He is struggling valiantly in adversity; he shoulders his burdens and carries on selflessly for family and country. Should it become necessary, those same supporters are undoubtedly prepared to portray Ms. Lewinsky as a delusional hysteric or a conniving predator who sullied an honest man’s virtue.
Well Billie Dziech must know that no politician is honest. Given all the attacks on Clinton, he still has emerged unsullied. No need for his supporters to sully Lewinsky since Dziech does a pretty good job of degrading and sullying her.
At present, though, the public doesn’t seem to need encouragement to view Ms. Lewinsky negatively. All it has to do is rely on stereotypes. Adhering perfectly to the old script on gender, a recent female caller to C-SPAN identified Ms. Lewinsky as “a wannabe.” The caller explained that she meant the kind of female found in every office or school, the kind who will do anything to be the boss’s or teacher’s “favorite.” One television commentator described Ms. Lewinsky as a “Valley girl,” another as “every woman’s nightmare.” Some enterprising citizen has been thoughtful enough to publish on the Internet either authentic or doctored nude pictures of Lewinsky. She has emerged as the pretty young thing who threatens hearth and home, because, presumably, even the strongest men are unable to resist a wily 21-year-old.
Dziech seems to be Lewinsky obsessed. Yes, she was in the public scene, but she was involuntarily dragged into said scene. Dziech needs to go beyond Lewinsky and focus on people who invade the privacy of others, such as Linda Tripp and Kenneth Starr.
That is surely a chilling portrait for those who have worked for laws and policies that encourage men to take responsibility for their sexual activities. Just when it appeared that Americans were beginning to “get” sexual harassment, just when the sexes seemed on the way to more mutual respect, along came the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to demonstrate how overly optimistic that impression was. Nothing inappropriate may have happened between Lewinsky and Clinton, but, because of the allegations, society seems to have reverted, at least temporarily, to an escapist mentality of the past: “I don’t care what happened on campus, at work, or even in the Oval Office, so long as it doesn’t happen to me or my daughter.”
Oh, please, people are more caring than Dziech is willing to believe. Most people came to see, except for Republicans in Washington, that the Lewinsky affair was consensual, and the matter should be dropped except that it was OK to read so-called non-fiction tell all books on the Clinton Lewinsky scenario.
The consensus of the polls conducted since January seems to be that Americans are not particularly disturbed by a 51-year-old authority figure’s having sex with an intern less than half his age. If one listens to radio and television call-in shows or reads the polls, it appears that the old, dark days are here again — that once more, it is acceptable to view students and working women as seductresses preying upon naive males.
Its not the old dark days, but rather the live and let live days, the days of non-acceptance of the government coercing adults involved in consensual relationships. Dziech fails to understand and note that her so-called dark days were the same days that many Americans came to accept homosexuals at work, in government, as friends and as relatives.
An especially telling Newsweek survey reported that 45 per cent of the public believes that, if a sexual relationship did occur between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, it was her fault for pursuing him. Only 17 per cent accepted a basic tenet of sexual-harassment law: that a person who is in a position of power misuses his authority if he — or she — engages in sexual activity with a subordinate.
Only 17% accepted the so-called basic tenet of sexual harassment law since they viewed the Clinton Lewinsky relationship as consensual. Take away the dehumanizing subordinate rhetoric and most people will admit and accept the fact that they have been in power differentiated relationships which they believe were consensual. Dziech and others deny their perception of consensuality and wish to portray most Americans, particularly women, as victims.
It is little wonder that the public misunderstands that point. A month of exposure to the tortured logic of Administration officials and lawyers trying to minimize the scandal has demonstrated how easy it is to obscure the patently obvious point: It’s the sex that matters. In other words, if the alleged consensual relationship were legally, ethically, and socially acceptable, there would be no reason to discuss perjury, subornation of perjury, or obstruction of justice. If Mr. Clinton lied under oath and attempted to obscure the truth, it was because he understood what many, on campus and off, seem unwilling to admit publicly: Where an imbalance in authority exists, there can be no equality and thus no genuine consent.
Dziech is patently wrong here, out of touch with reality. Generally people are sympathetic to Clinton lying because the lying dealt with his private sex life. And people don’t want the government in their bedrooms. Bottom line the problem that Dziech cannot understand is that many people if not most people would do the same thing as Clinton did- refuse to tell the absolute truth about their sex lives.
The law, assuming that human beings are more than animals enslaved to their passions, demands that those in positions of power behave responsibly and rationally, no matter how immoral, stupid, or lascivious their subordinates might be. That legal mandate seems lost on a public content to dismiss Monica Lewinsky as someone who “asked for it.”
Yes, people in power should behave rationally and responsibly and such is why it was wrong for a special prosecutor to engage in a sexual crusade and wrong for the House Republicans to impeach Clinton.
Before there was a name for sexual harassment and a recognition that, between individuals with disparate authority, even consensual sex is coercive sex, women who had affairs with teachers and employers were described as either seductive and dissolute or naive and vulnerable. However, when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 were enacted, they required businesses and educational institutions to construct policies and procedures to discourage harassment and to set up training programs to educate people about the law and about appropriate interactions between superiors and subordinates.
Said educational campaign has failed, abysmally failed. Selling consensual sex as coercive sex is a patent absurdity, it won’t sell.
Monica Lewinsky’s life spans the quarter-century of American history that has devoted close attention to gender issues, so it may be understandable that the public is unsympathetic to her not only because of her alleged willingness to engage in the purported sexual activity, but also because she is considered likely to have known better. She had every opportunity to be better educated than women in past generations were about the dangers and damage inherent in inappropriate sexual relations — and yet she allegedly still chose to become involved.
There is nothing inherently dangerous about inappropriate sexual relationships, e.g. same sex relationships were historically considered inappropriate; the danger came not from something inherent in homosexuality relationships, but the danger came from other people, people like Dziech who meddle in other peoples sex lives. And if we had a populace that was committed to appropriate and only appropriate sexual relations, what a dull world we would have created, a world that only could approach fruition in a totalitarian society.
Her situation should send a wake-up call to her peers. Just as the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debate made it impossible for people to deny awareness of sexual harassment, so those in the post-Lewinsky generation may find it increasingly difficult to declare innocence or victimization after engaging in sex with teachers or employers. The caveat that governed consensual sex on the campuses and in the workplace during most of Ms. Lewinsky’s mother’s life was a simple “Don’t — or you’ll pay a heavy price.” Over the past decade and a half, however, as case law has mounted, and as complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and grievances filed at colleges and universities have increased, educators and employers have become more supportive of those who report having sexual relations with superiors.
More supportive most likely because they are required and are paid to do so. There is big money involved in the sexual harassment industry, not only for the university police but for lawyers and for persons such as Dziech who are hired by universities as consultants to engage in the impossible task of creating an environment in which power differentiated persons do not fraternize. Too bad for Dziech, such is an impossible dream.
But despite that institutional support, the public reaction to Monica Lewinsky may — and probably does — suggest that a generation more sophisticated about sex and more knowledgeable about the law will be expected to assume greater personal responsibility for recognizing, resisting, and reporting inappropriate behavior. (And whether they like it or not, schools and colleges will continue to be the most likely settings in which those three “R’s” can be taught.)
Dziech is wrong again about the universities. Yes, there will be those recognizing, resisting and reporting, but most of the three Rs will be practiced by those who take responsibility for their own sexual behavior; resist the unwelcome intrusion by academic busybodies, and report only to themselves and trusted friends.
The assumption that all young adults are more sophisticated about harassment than they were in the past is unfortunate, though. First, it does not take into account the psychology of true victims, whose particular circumstances and emotional frailties may make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to recognize and resist harassment — and may make reporting it inconceivable. Monica Lewinsky may be one such victim. One has only to read accounts of her background to realize that she is a very vulnerable young woman.
The other problem with imposing a higher standard on the post-Lewinsky generation than has been used in recent years is that it wrongly assumes that the stepped-up discussions of harassment by parents, educational institutions, and the public have adequately educated the young about the problems with consensual relationships. That is simply not the case. Public discussion of sexual harassment has been, at best, contentious. Add the romantic portrayals on television and in film of illicit sex between teachers and students, and the message about the dangers of consensual sex becomes highly convoluted.
Yes, these messages are highly convoluted but so are Dziech’s messages. And as for the young, her messages are directed to all members of the university community, no matter their age, no matter if the student is 25 or 35 or 45; they all need to be coerced by Dziech, et. al, to do the right thing.
Most colleges and universities have done little of substance to clarify the issue. Many simply ignore the problem of consent in their sexual-harassment policies; some strongly warn against consensual relationships; but almost none have been courageous or practical enough to ban consensual relationships altogether. While many businesses unequivocally prohibit relationships between adult workers and supervisors, debates in academe have centered — as they often do — on faculty members’ rights. When discussion of consent in relationships between supervisors and students is discussed, it usually occurs in an emotionally charged atmosphere, which results in students’ seeing the problem in simplistic, hyperbolic terms.
No businesses have across the board effective bans. Said businesses talk the talk but hardly ever walk the walk. In other words, appearances do not reflect reality. With the workplace becoming in essence the home place for many employees, employees will and do fraternize; it’s a matter of propinquity and convenience.
If the post-Lewinsky generation is to be held to a higher standard of accountability in sexual relationships than in the past, campus advocates for women’s issues should be very concerned about the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal and should initiate discussions about the ramifications of consent. That may not happen, however, if Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, speaks for most advocates of women’s rights. She is reported to have said: “If the President had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, it was consensual. That’s a distinction I think people are trying to blur.”
Non-academic feminist Jill Ireland got it right.
Although Ms. Ireland may not “get” the dynamics of consent, we can hope that other women do, and that they will exercise reason and objectivity in the days ahead. It is no secret that academicians tend to be politically left of center and thus sympathetic to many of Mr. Clinton’s domestic and international policies. Should Monica Lewinsky disavow her previous affidavit or be found to have been sexually involved with the President, many academics will be trapped between Mr. Clinton’s verbal and political support for women’s issues and the misogyny and disregard for women that his private actions convey. If that happens, academics should muster the courage to divorce the man from his policies and reaffirm the truth they have fought hard to establish: However much superficial sophistication about sex or theoretical knowledge about sexual harassment students and workers might have, they are always at risk in relationships with professors or employers upon whom grades, recommendations, pay, or jobs depend.
But so are professors at risk, at risk of being charged with sexual harassment; at risk of a low graded student charging sexual harassment as part of a revenge scenario. Everyone is at risk. Certainly nothing that Dziech and her conferes have done have reduced the feelings of risk by both faculty and students. Maybe what is needed is for all academics (including) students to take a vow of celibacy, maybe using the Catholic Church as their model!
No one in a public scandal about sex looks good. In this case, not Monica Lewinsky. Not Bill or Hillary Clinton. Not Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Not the press. And certainly not a nation that has told pollsters that it doesn’t much care how men and women treat one another, as long as the economy is sound.
Wow! Finally she mentions Kenneth Starr, but only in passing. Shouldn’t Starr be Dziech’s star?
Some commentators have lauded this complacency about the alleged sexual activity as evidence of Americans’ increased “maturity,” “sophistication,” and “tolerance.” Those of us who write and speak about social issues and who teach college students need to reassess our roles in producing this “sophisticated” society. With the exception of their families, today’s youth are influenced most by their peers, the entertainment industry, and education. Since it is unlikely that friends and film stars can shed much light on the legal and ethical dimensions of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, educators must address the issue, both in casual conversations and in classroom discussions that deal with male-female issues, human development, social history, and the responsibilities of public leaders.
Yes, I agree that such should be addressed in classroom discussions and in informal conversations, but such is unlikely to occur in the context of coercion. People are unlikely to state the truth in public settings when said statements can lead to being disciplined and removed from the classroom. Of course, such persons can confidentially write to the dankprofessor, knowing that they, students and professors, have me as a resource person who will respect their confidentiality and their right to privacy
And we must realize that academe’s conception of sophistication and tolerance is directly tested in how it handles its own problems. When most campuses refuse to ban sexual relationships between students and professors, why should the public, when confronted by scandal, disapprove of the President’s cavorting with a young woman barely of legal age? Sophistication, tolerance, freedom, and individual rights are admirable concepts, but the genuinely enlightened recognize that there are always limits to freedom, that some behaviors deserve harsh judgment, and that, in some circumstances, tolerance allows pain and injustice to occur. Actions that denigrate and exploit women, particularly vulnerable subordinates, fit that category. We have an obligation to teach these principles to our students, by our words and by our own behavior.
Of course, given Dziech’s sophistication, she denies the reality that what she wants is a Big Brother or Big Sister university where students and professors must trust powerful others to not misuse their power in the sexual area. Does Billie Dziech really trust university administrators to wield such power in a fair and equitable manner, particularly when such power wielding is often done in secret? Doesn’t Professor Dziech know that Kenneth Starr copy cats and varicolored sexual zealots populate the ranks of sexual police aka university administrators? As is often the ultimate question, who is to protect us from our protectors, particularly when the protectors were once sophisticated professors who gave up their professorships for the “right” to wield big power and big money?
I recently blogged on the new Duke University policy which regulates in detail Duke University students sexual behavior. The major rationale given for such intrusion into the private lives of Duke students is that the policy attempts to insure that all sexual interaction between students is ‘absolutely’ consensual.
What the dankprofessor finds bemusing is that Duke does not apply this policy to faculty, staff or administrators. Shouldn’t Duke be concerned that all the sexual behavior engaged in by their employees is absolutely consensual? The dankprofessor thought it would be of interest to see how Duke handles student professor relationships and if said policy is consistent with their coercively administered sexual code.
Their 2002 policy begins with the following statement-
Duke University is committed to maintaining learning and work environments as free as possible from conflicts of interest, exploitation, and favoritism.
Where a party uses a position of authority to induce another person to enter into a non-consensual relationship, the harm both to that person and to the institution is clear.
Note that the person inducing is the person in authority; the person not in authority cannot induce. We shall see that the rest of their policy is consistent with this since students are hardly ever seen as being agents of their own behavior.
The policy continues-
Even where the relationship is consensual, there is significant potential for harm when there is an institutional power difference between the parties involved, as is the case, for example, between supervisor and employee, faculty and student, or academic advisor and advisee.
But even when there is no power differential there is risk of harm. On the other hand, there is also the potentiality of good- romance, love and marriage and children. But the Duke administration can never entertain that sexual behavior is good. They embrace the notion that sexuality is intrinsically bad EXCEPT when there is regulation from above. Only the powers that be can protect Duke students from such evil consequences; such is why Duke passed the draconian policy regulating sexual behavior of students.
The policy continues-
…the student–teacher relationship represents a special case, because the integrity of this relationship is of such fundamental importance to the central mission of the university. Students look to their professors for guidance and depend upon them for assessment, advancement, and advice. Faculty–student consensual relationships create obvious dangers for abuse of authority and conflict of interest actual, potential, and apparent. Especially problematic is such a relationship between a faculty member and a graduate student who is particularly dependent upon him or her for access to research opportunities, supervision of thesis or dissertation work, and assistance in pursuing job opportunities.
Interesting is their assertion that relationships between grad students and faculty are “especially problematic”. Interesting since Yale in its newly revised policy only applied blanket bans to undergraduates. Graduate students were given more leeway since they were seen as more mature.
Duke University has adopted a consensual relationship policy for the following reasons: to avoid the types of problems outlined above, to protect people from the kind of injury that either a subordinate or superior party to such a relationship can suffer, and to provide information and guidance to members of the Duke community. Most of all, this policy seeks to help ensure that each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity and without regard to any factors that are not relevant to that person’s work.
The last sentence brings us into the land of the absurd- policy insures each member of the Duke community is treated with dignity. Is attempting to control the sexual decision making of others dignified? Can outright coercion of others insure the dignity of others? This policy as formulated may help the policy enforcers to feel more dignified, and facilitate their work of attempting to take dignity away form others.
The policy continues-
No faculty member should enter into a consensual relationship with a student actually under that faculty member’s authority. Situations of authority include, but are not limited to, teaching, formal mentoring, supervision of research, and employment of a student as a research or teaching assistant; and exercising substantial responsibility for grades, honors, or degrees; and considering disciplinary action involving the student.
No faculty member should accept authority over a student with whom he or she has or has had a consensual relationship without agreement with the appropriate dean. Specifically, the faculty member should not, absent such agreement, allow the student to enroll for credit in a course which the faculty member is teaching or supervising; direct the student’s independent study, thesis, or dissertation; employ the student as a teaching or research assistant; participate in decisions pertaining to a student’s grades, honors, degrees; or consider disciplinary action involving the student.
Students and faculty alike should be aware that entering into a consensual relationship will limit the faculty member’s ability to teach and mentor, direct work, employ, and promote the career of a student involved with him or her in a consensual relationship, and that the relationship should be disclosed in any letter of recommendation the faculty member may write on the student’s behalf. Furthermore, should the faculty member be the only supervisor available in a particular area of study or research, the student may be compelled to avoid or change the special area of his or her study or research.
If nevertheless a consensual relationship exists or develops between a faculty member and a student involving any situation of authority, that situation of authority must be terminated. Termination includes, but is not limited to, the student withdrawing from a course taught by the faculty member; transfer of the student to another course or section, or assumption of the position of authority by a qualified alternative faculty member or teaching assistant; the student selecting or being assigned to another academic advisor and/or thesis or dissertation advisor; and changing the supervision of the student’s teaching or research assistantship. In order for these changes to be made and ratified appropriately, the faculty must disclose the consensual relationship to his or her superior, normally the chair, division head, or dean, and reach an agreement for remediation. In case of failure to reach agreement, the supervisor shall terminate the situation of authority.
What the dankprofessor finds to be most degrading in regards to students is that the faculty member must disclose the consensual relationship to his or her superior. What about the consent of the student re disclosure? What about the student’s right to privacy? And as for a faculty member unilaterally disclosing this relationship to a so-called superior, such behavior is damning. The faculty member who ends up as being an informant should have grownup and had the ability to say no to arbitrary authority who refer to themselves as “superiors”.
Of course, there are ethical issues involved here. But ethics are too important to be left to an authority which imposes its will on non-consenting others. Ethical engagement should always be at the core of university life. But the Duke student policy and student professor sexual relationships policy do not promote ethics. The ethic they promote is one of force; is one of authoritarianism. Consenting sexuality of adults is too important, too private to be controlled by university administrators, no matter how superior they consider themselves to be. The dankprofessor feels that university administrators who end up being part of a sexual police are utterly morally repugnant.
So Yale University has now formally banned sexual relationships between professors and ALL undergraduate students. Previously the ban applied only when the faculty member was in a supervisory relationship with a student.
It is this supervisory aspect that supposedly was the basic rationale for prohibiting student prof sexual relationships. Such supposedly disabled profs from engaging in non-prejudicial grading and even if there was no grading problem such gave the appearance of a conflict of interest. And those who were appearance obsessed argued that ultimately the integrity of the university was some how undermined.
The dankprofessor never bought into this as the real rationale. Academics were not and are not hung up on the importance of grading; in fact, grading occupies the low end of the academic totem pole. It’s generally considered to be dirty work that can be farmed out to inexperienced teaching assistants. What too many academics are hung up on is sex, particularly academics who see themselves as feminists, feminists who when they think about sex dread the existence of power differentials which are viewed as being omnipresent in heterosexual relationships.
So student professor relationships became the quintessential dreaded power differentiated relationships with the female student always being the helpless and victimized other in need of protection. Or to put it in other terms, the new Yale ban is patently, openly anti-sexual; the anti-sexual brigades have taken over at Yale and in the dankprofessor’s opinion this is just the opening shot.
Just listen to Yale’s Deputy Provost Charles Long who has advocated student prof dating bans for many a year- “I think we have a responsibility to protect students from behavior that is damaging to them and to the objectives for their being here.” Obviously, people who think that sex is damaging are anti-sexual and would prefer to ban sex when such is possible. And do note that Long makes no exceptions- he knows all that he needs to know- sex with professors damages undergraduates, end of story, no need to be concerned about students who do not want his protection. No concern here about issues relating to consent or dissent. Long has the power at Yale and he engages in power abuse par excellence in the area of sexuality.
The Yale undergraduate as child has no right to dissent when it comes to authoritarian Yale administrators. No matter that Yale students are considered cream of the crop, are widely held to be part of an intellectual elite. These Yale students do not become full adults until they are Yale graduates. The Yale mantra becomes wait until you graduate which effectively replaces the old traditional mantra of wait until you are married.
And no place in the new Yale policy is there any “grandfathering” clause. A student and professor who are in an ongoing relationship which was consonant with the old policy now are in violation under the new policy. Breaking up may be hard to do but it is the only thing to do if one wants to stay in good graces at Yale. OK, the student can drop out or the prof can resign.
And then there are those who say none of these dreaded things will come to be since the effect of the Yale policy will be to simply drive these people into the closet and in the closet they will be left alone. Such represents the thinking of pipe dreamers. The realists know that there is no shortage of Linda Tripps at Yale. And they are waiting patiently for their right Yale professor and the right Yale student. The “good” that these diligent informants can do is monumental; and all can be done in secret. And I expect that Deputy Provost Long is prepared for the informants and the false chargers. Or will he spare himself by taking a flight into retirement?
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE) in a news release, April 7, 2010, charges that Duke University in a recently implemented sexual misconduct policy has rendered students as unwitting rapists and removed protections for students accused of sexual misconduct. The entirety of the FIRE news release appears at the end of this post and by clicking here one can read the entirety of the Duke sexual misconduct policy.
The dankprofessor views this new sexual misconduct policy as both draconian and authoritarian. The policy attempts to regulate the most intimate aspects of student lives. The major rationale given for such intrusion into the private lives of Duke students is that the policy attempts to insure that all sexual interaction between students is ‘absolutely’ consensual. The irony is that the policy has been applied to Duke students without their consent. There was no vote taken by Duke students authorizing this policy. The policy is being imposed on Duke students by the powers that be at Duke. In essence, Duke administrators and their confreres come off as authoritarian adults disciplining their children.
The utter hypocrisy of the creators of this policy is apparent. They argue that this policy in essence functions to upgrade the principle of consent and to sexually protect Duke students. If such be the case, then why do the creators and implementors of this policy exempt themselves? Why aren’t all Duke administrators, staff members, and faculty also beneficiaries of this policy? Aren’t they deserving of the same protections granted to Duke students? Aren’t these policies applied to Duke students with the hope that students will apply these approved practices throughout their lives?
The dankprofessor feels that he knows why these policies are not applied to Duke constituencies beyond students. Such non-application occurs because administrators, faculty and others would not tolerate being treated like children, would not tolerate having their sex lives governed by self-serving authoritarians. In the area of sexual civil liberties Duke students deserve the same basic rights as their so-called superiors.
The dankprofessor hopes that Duke faculty and administrators stand up for the rights of their students. Too much abuse has gone at Duke. Too many authoritarians have already hurt too many innocent Duke students in their zealous quest for so-called justice.
“Duke’s new sexual misconduct policy could have been written by Mike Nifong,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. “Members of the men’s basketball team could be punished for consensual sexual activity simply because they are ‘perceived’ as more powerful than other students after winning the national championship. Students who engage in sexual behavior after a few beers could be found guilty of sexual misconduct towards each other. This is not just illogical and impractical, but insane. Given its experience during the lacrosse team rape hoax, Duke, of all schools, should know better than to institute such unjust rules about sexual misconduct.”
The new policy was introduced at the beginning of the school year with fanfare from the Duke Women’s Center—the same center that apologized for excluding pro-life students from event space in a case FIRE won last month. Women’s Center Director Ada Gregory was quoted in Duke’s student newspaper The Chronicle justifying the new policy, saying, “The higher [the] IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are … imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke—cream of the crop.” (In a follow-up letter to The Chronicle, Gregory claimed that the quote was inaccurate and did not reflect her views, but stood by her analysis that campuses like Duke are likely to harbor smarter sex offenders who are better able to outwit investigators.)
Duke’s vastly overbroad definition of non-consensual sex puts nearly every student at risk of being found guilty of sexual misconduct. Students are said to be able to unintentionally coerce others into sexual activity through “perceived power differentials,” which could include otherwise unremarkable and consensual liaisons between a varsity athlete and an average student, a senior and a freshman, or a student government member and a non-member.
Further, students are said to be unable to consent to sexual behavior when “intoxicated,” regardless of their level of intoxication. Duke has turned mutually consensual sexual conduct, which might merely be poorly considered, into a punishable act. Adding to the confusion, if both parties are intoxicated at all, both are guilty of sexual misconduct, since neither can officially give consent. North Carolina law does not support this definition of consent.
“Of course, there is no way that everyone who was intoxicated during sexual activity, let alone ‘perceived’ as more powerful, is going to be charged with sexual misconduct,” said Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “Add to that the provision about an unintentional atmosphere of coercion, and anyone can see that Duke’s policy is impossible to rationalize or to fairly and equitably enforce. As a result, this policy effectively trivializes real sexual misconduct, which is a gravely serious crime.”
The new policy even makes reporting of so-called sexual misconduct mandatory for any Duke employee who becomes aware of it, regardless of the wishes of the alleged victim.
Furthermore, Duke has made fair enforcement of the sexual misconduct policy even more difficult by establishing different procedures and even a different “jury” to judge sexual misconduct complaints. For instance, sexual misconduct charges are judged by two faculty or staff members and only one student, but all other offenses are judged by a panel of three students and two faculty or staff members. Duke fails to explain why a jury with a majority of one’s peers is necessary for charges like assault or theft but not sexual misconduct.
Other problems in the sexual misconduct policy, detailed in FIRE’s letter to Duke President Richard Brodhead of March 4, include giving the complainant more rights than the accused, requiring the results of a hearing to be kept secret in perpetuity even if one is found not guilty or is falsely accused, and allowing anonymous and third-party reporting so that the student may never be able to face his or her accuser.
FIRE wrote, “As a private university, Duke is not obliged to agree with the authors of the Bill of Rights about the value of the right to face one’s accuser. Nevertheless, Duke ignores their wisdom at the peril of its own students and reputation.” Duke has declined to respond to FIRE’s letter in writing.
“More than any other school in the nation,” Shibley said, “Duke should be aware that its students deserve the best possible rules and procedures for ensuring that rape and sexual misconduct charges are judged fairly. Sexual misconduct is a serious offense. Duke students deserve a policy under which true offenders will be punished but the innocent have nothing to fear.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Tell Duke University to give its students the protections they deserve. Write to President Brodhead here.
Richard H. Brodhead, President, Duke University: 919-684-2424 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 919-684-2424 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; email@example.com
Cypher Magazine reports on the adoption of a faculty student consensual relationships policy by Colorado College. Following are the key parts of the text of this article as well as my comments. As you shall see, parts of this policy differ from those colleges which have attempted to ban “sexual or amorous” relationships between students and professors. This policy and the rationale for said policy merit a detailed critical review.
The policy was created in part to ensure that no sexual relationship between a faculty member and student would “detract from the main goals of the institution,” as the policy outlines. The dynamic of a professor-student relationship could create an uncomfortable atmosphere for other students in a class, and could influence a professor’s capacity for fair evaluation. Regardless of whether or not the faculty member supervises the student, the relationship is inevitably characterized by an unequal distribution of power. Feminist and gender studies professor Eileen Bresnahan confirms that, “One of the problems that the college has had is professors sleeping with undergraduate students where there is a big age difference.”
Interesting, does Bresnahan believe there is no big problem when students and profs are of a similar age? If so, then why doesn’t she and others advocate a ban for age differentiated relationships? I guess they are inhibited from reducing students to a “kids” or “children” status. In any case, universities do not formally invoke an age ban, but as I have argued previously many academic women embrace the banning movement because they feel threatened by younger women taking “their” men. Unquestionably, if there was a proposal in the wider society to ban older men/younger women relationships, a number of “older” women would embrace this idea. But such will not come about; it will come about in the universities under a different guise.
While the issues of evaluation and equity between parties are problematic, some faculty members insist that the policy should not prevent the possibility for close student-faculty relationships. The question arose as to where the line should be drawn between friendly and inappropriate relationships between students and faculty members. Faculty members displayed concern for this issue at the third block meeting as they became engrossed in a debate over the meaning of the word “amorous,” and eventually voted not to include this word in the policy. Along with several of his colleagues (both male and female), English professor George Butte rose to the microphone to argue against the use of the word amorous because of its possible implication of friendship. Other faculty members defended their freedom to distinguish students on the basis of academic merit and talent and, in some cases, to meet with them outside of class. Some professors wished to maintain the right to meet privately with students struggling with class work.
Professor Butte understands the dynamic here. Banning amorous relationships goes way beyond the sexual area. As I have indicated previously, student professor bans have become an outright attack on love between students and professors. And an unfortunate byproduct of this is that non sexual close relationships between students and professors become increasingly suspect and consequently impersonal.
But the word “amorous” seems to suggest romantic attachment, something distinct from student-faculty friendship. Sociology professor C.J. Pascoe explains, “There was some back-and-forth among faculty members [as to whether the policy] should be just about sexual topics or sexual and romantic topics.” Pascoe says that a number of faculty members wanted the policy to prohibit romantic interactions. But by voting to remove the word “amorous” from the policy, the faculty chose to condemn only relationships in which students have physical relations with professors. The word “amorous” would have allowed the policy to address romantic relationships between students and faculty members whether or not evidence of sex was present. Ultimately, faculty voted to abolish this word from the policy. There are multiple reasons behind the decision, but, according to Pascoe, “There are some faculty who would prefer not to see emotional entanglements legislated.” By voting not to include the word “amorous” in the Consensual Relations policy, the faculty is consenting to romantic relationships as long as they are not sexual.
Yes, such is the nature of the consent, but they are also consenting to the idea that close relationships between students and professors are not antithetical to the ethos of liberal arts colleges; such is consistent with the idea that students and profs are part of a teaching/learning COMMUNITY.
But the dankprofessor also wants to be completely open here in the acknowledgement that dropping amorous from the code also functions to protect those professors and students who are in a sexual relationship. The reality is that in student professor sexual relationship cases which come to the attention of university authorities such does not occur as a result of observing a prof having sex with a student; sexuality is inferred from the observations of behavior reflecting closeness and intimacy. When amorous is dropped from the code, then the assertion that the student and professor were in sexual congress can simply be denied.
In the case of Colorado College, the college drops the whole appearances argument which is that the appearance of intimacy was sufficient to bring charges; all one had to prove was that the appearance had occurred and not the reality of sex. Many universities have consistently argued that the appearance of so-called inappropriate relationships is just as damaging as actually relationships. Of course, what they had in mind is that it is damaging to the reputation of the college. Whether such is really damaging to the reputation or prestige of a college or university is problematic, and more importantly reputation or prestige issues should not be ground for suspending persons basic civil liberties.
Another component relating to the elimination of the amorous clause may be the most important one which is that these rules supposedly come into being to avoid conflict of interests and to insure fair and impartial grading. Implicit and sometimes explicit is the notion that close relationships supposedly threaten impartial grading. Colorado College rejects this notion by prohibiting sexual relationships but not amorous or close relationships. The dankprofessor has argued that these bans are fueled by an anti-sexual component; remove the anti-sexual component and the fervor to pass these rules diminish. The usage of conflict of interest simply is a smokescreen used to further said anti-sexuality. And CC has removed said smokescreen and presented their policy as a policy to eliminate student prof sexual relationships.
While other small liberal arts colleges passed policies regarding student-faculty relations years ago, CC faculty long struggled to accept such regulations. Ragan confirms that “we are the last of the top twenty-five liberal arts colleges” to pass such a policy regarding student-faculty relations. Williams and Carleton approved sexual conduct policies regarding faculty/student relationships in 1990 and 1992, respectively. Both schools have revised them since. When Pascoe arrived at CC a year and a half ago, she said that she was “horrified” to find that the college had no policy regarding faculty/student relationships. Bresnahan confirms that CC was not oblivious to the problem and has been working to engineer a policy since she joined the faculty eleven years ago. The policy simply has failed to pass until now.
Now why would Pascoe who is an accomplished sociologist be horrified by the lack of a student professor policy banning sex? I would love Professor Pascoe to elaborate on the nature of her being horrified. As for the policy not passing muster until now, the dankprofessor view is that such an invasive and ill advised policy should never pass muster.
There are several reasons behind the CC administration’s delay in acknowledging problems surrounding sexual relations between students and faculty. Ragan explains that the “liberal spirit of individualism at this school” may be partially responsible for the delay in formalizing a policy. This value may follow the Enlightenment belief that all adults are equal and should have the freedom to rationally pursue their interests. Following the block three meeting, one male faculty member complained to me that the administration should not police student/faculty relations because both parties are adults. This contention aligns with the attitude that CC students and faculty alike are mature adults. Accordingly, they should maintain the freedom to pursue relationships with whomever they choose.
Yes, yes and yes again in reference to the prior paragraph. Enlightenment values, the right of adults to choose their dates and mates should not be subject to infringement by the powers that be.
Pascoe, who teaches the class “Sociology of Sexuality,” finds the assumption that professors and students stand on equal ground in pursuing and maintaining sexual relationships with one another to be flawed. She contends that, across the nation, “Historically, we have seen male professors abuse their power with female students.” This is not to say that the policy does not apply to female professors. But it exists primarily to confront a problem in a society in which, according to Pascoe, “men hold more power than women.”
Assuming Pascoe is correct that persons in the higher position are prone to abuse persons in the lower power position, what Pascoe advocates in no way changes the power dynamic. Such is the case since now we have administrators who become sexual police in the exertion of their power over students and professors in the most intimate and private aspects of their lives. Pascoe must know that to effectively enforce sexual codes of the sort under consideration here, such can only occur in totalitarian police states. Or maybe she is in a state of denial, denying that setting up a bureaucratic process to take away the right of students and professors to have a sexual relationship has nothing to do with taking away the power of both students and professor.
Bresnahan provides an additional explanation as to why CC has hesitated to pass a consensual relations policy. She points to the fact that “a lot of faculty are married to people who used to be students.” According to Bresnahan, these relationships typically form between a male faculty member and a former female student. “The place is run by an old boys’ network,” she argues. “I think women have a hard time being heard here in terms of women’s concerns. If women speak the right language they can be included, but not if they speak as women.”
But Bresnahan does not hear the women who as students married a faculty member. In fact, she overtly insults them as being pawns in an old boys network. I guess their children end up being pawns as well. I suggest that Bresnahan needs a little consciousness raising. Such may lead her to consider the possibility that in her own classes she may have a student who was a child of a former student and professor and now she is taught that her dad was a part of an old boys network and such is her reason for being.
This suggests that there exists a larger problem regarding equality among faculty members at CC. Bresnahan says, “The fact that these documents have not been passed until now is indicative of the chilly climate towards women at CC. Women faculty are not empowered at CC. If they [speak as women], they are shot down, marginalized, and ostracized.”
Bresnahan has spoken and is a woman and she seems to be quite alive and well.
It is clear that a variety of issues lie behind CC’s slow passage of the Consensual Relations policy. The issues of individual choice and gender inequality probably both played a role, and it is difficult to pinpoint just one event to which the college is reacting. The passage of this policy may be, in part, a response to the fear of litigation.
While CC passed this policy in the wake of other similar schools, it opted to completely prohibit sexual relationships between any enrolled student and faculty member—even if the student is not under the evaluative auspices of the faculty member. Williams passed a similar policy in 1990, but chose to only prohibit faculty from engaging in a sexual relationship with a student they had supervisory or evaluative authority over. Williams did not exclude the possibility for consensual relations between a student and faculty member. The Williams College Employee handbook from 2006 states, “Anyone in a position of institutional authority over other persons should be sensitive to the potential for coercion in sexual relationships that also involve professional relationships” [emphasis added]. Unlike CC’s policy, Williams’ specifies the need for sensitivity and good judgment on the part of the faculty, rather than mandating complete prohibition. This difference in approach raises the issue of whether or not CC is reacting too stringently to the pressure for a consensual relations policy.
Bravo to Williams College. And, yes CC is reacting too stringently. But I guess it is a matter of perspective. Such stringent codes will most likely mellow out Professor Pascoe who as previously indicated is horrified by the lack of such codes.
The policy suggests that the College will not force the termination of a relationship, only that it demands the faculty member involved to report “the consensual relationship” and not to serve as a supervisor of that student. This clause reflects an inconsistency in CC’s Consensual Relations policy. While the policy claims to “prohibit” any sexual relationship between a student and a faculty member, it qualifies this claim by stating that the faculty member must report the relationship in order to avoid punishment.
By approving a consensual relations policy, CC remains consistent with standards of other liberal arts colleges. In passing this regulation, CC is demonstrating its commitment to an academic experience where neither faculty nor students are distracted by sexual dynamics. But as one female student who wishes to remain anonymous explains, “Putting a limit on the potential development of student-faculty relationships conflicts with the possibilities for intellectual exploration. Sexuality is not a barrier to the academic experience, but an expression of it.”
Oh, my God, does the writer really believe that the adoption of this code will lead to professors and students not being distracted by sexual dynamics? In the classroom and outside of the classroom, men and women will be attracted and distracted to each other, this includes men being attracted to men and women being attracted to women. No matter what Colorado College does or does not do, the distraction of attraction will continue there unabated.
And the student who stated the following at the end of the article is right on- “Sexuality is not a barrier to the academic experience, but an expression of it.”
The witch hunt for sexual deviants is just beginning at Yale. As reported in the Yale Daily News, the Women Faculty Forum wants to employ the new consensual relationships policy as a launch pad for a more encompassing sexual control policy.
In its report, the Women Faculty Forum also recommended that new, University-wide policies against sexual misconduct replace existing policies, which vary across Yale College, the Graduate School and the professional schools. They also want Yale to shift its focus from sexual harassment to the broader issue of sexual misconduct — an umbrella term that applies to both sexual harassment and assault, and includes other sexually motivated behaviors intended to intimidate or threaten.
The Women Faculty Forum also called for the creation of a centralized sexual misconduct grievance board to administer the new policy and address complaints from undergraduates, graduate and professional students, faculty and staff alike. Currently, complaints are evaluated by four different grievance boards across the University.
“We don’t think there’s a lot of additional study necessary in terms of outside research,” Woman Faculty Forum report co-author and School of Management professor Connie Bagley said. “I hope the group is serious about the issues and willing to roll up their sleeves, dig into the [Women Faculty Forum] report and policy and just get this done.”
Miller said the University’s quick response to the report’s demand for a review committee and new policy on student-faculty relationships signals a “recommitment” to preventing sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
“The administrators we’ve been working with agree that sexual misconduct has no place at Yale,” Bagley said last month. “They’re serious about trying to take additional steps to eliminate it.”
Both Bagley and Priya Natarajan, a professor of astronomy and physics and a co-chair of the committee that authored the report, said they are pleased with the University’s response to the Women Faculty Forum report so far, but added that this is just the beginning of the process. The new committee must act quickly and decisively and follow the policy changes outlined in the report, Bagley said.
The report came from over a year of research, writing and consultation with faculty and administrators, most of whom supported the group’s proposed policies, Bagley said. Members of the committee responsible for the report worked with the General Counsel’s Office to ensure that the policy changes offered in the report were legally feasible.
The Women Faculty Forum began work on its report on sexual misconduct in fall 2008, after several pledges to the fraternity Zeta Psi posed for pictures outside the Women’s Center with signs that read “We Love Yale Sluts” and 100 medical students wrote a letter to School of Medicine administrators in December 2007 expressing concern over the prevalence of sexual harassment at the school, according to the report. The Women Faculty Forum’s goal in writing the report was to help administrators to develop a workable, University-wide anti-sexual misconduct policy, Bagley said.
The dankprofessor finds it breathtaking that the report promulgates a policy of eliminating all sexual misconduct at Yale while at the same time insuring that the policies are legally “feasible”. Eliminating/eradicating sexual misconduct is simply not compatible with law that recognizes due process and civil liberties. Such elimination can occur but only in an authoritarian state ruled by sexual zealots. Of course, “elimination” should be in quotes since so-called sexual misconduct is never completely eliminated. The anti-sexual zealots know this and know that their work is never completed; vigilance is always necessary in their world view.
What this and other similar policies also foment is the use of informants, third party informants who will report on sexual dissidents. Based on reports to me from distraught students and profs, the usage of informants is commonplace in American universities. Getting a handle on this situation is difficult since the identity of such informants is kept secret by university authorities. In fact, most often the entire proceeding against sexual dissidents is of a secretive nature. What makes the Yale policy even more fertile for the fomenting of informants is the usage of the nebulous term “amorous relationships”. So if the behavior is perceived as not sexual but amorous such is enough to initiate the charges.
But one may ask who would be prone to become informants at Yale or any other university? The prone would be distraught or jealous students or faculty. A student who believes that she or he was unfairly given a poor grade may come forward with a false charge knowing that ones identity is protected and knowing in some cases that there are no rules regarding false charges. Or one may be jealous of a fellow student or fellow faculty member or one may be a distraught ex-boyfriend. The list can go on and on.
The world of Yale is no different than the worlds beyond the walls of ivy. The small minded are everywhere. The paranoid are everywhere. The sexual zealots are everywhere. The question is whether they will be allowed to takeover Yale and recreate Yale in their image.
For my prior posting on the Zeta Psi fraternity controversy, click here.
The dankprofessor will also be reporting on prior incidents of sexual hysteria at Yale and on a faculty member who was subjected to said hysteria.
The December 11 headline in the Yale Alumni Magazine reads-
“New policy for profs: don’t sleep with undergrads. Period.”
Of course, it could have read-
“New Policy for undergrads, don’t sleep with profs. Period.”
The article reported on the new Yale policy which prohibits all “sexual or amorous” relationships between Yale undergrads and their teachers.
In a memo to the faculty, Provost Peter Salovey announced a stricter stance toward consensual faculty-student relationships. Previously, such relationships with undergrads were permitted if the teacher had no “pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities” over the student. For grad students, a sexual or amorous relationship remains OK if there is no pedagogical relationship.
Why Yale grad students have a sexual prerogative with profs and undergrads do not is explained in the policy-
“Undergraduate students are particularly vulnerable to the unequal institutional power inherent in the teacher-student relationship and the potential for coercion, because of their age and relative lack of maturity. Therefore, no teacher. . . shall have a sexual or amorous relationship with any undergraduate student, regardless of whether the teacher currently exercises or expects to have any pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities over that student.”
So putting the justification in dankprofessor terms, Yale undergrads are just too immature, they are not real adults like the Yale grad students and profs. So when these Yale undergrad kids grow up, Yale will allow them to have sex with the grownups of their choice, but still with some limitations, of course.
Maybe it might be better for Yale to reevaluate their whole admissions policy and only accept applicants who are mature. An elite Yale education should be for persons who are already grownups. If such was the policy, maybe Yale administrators would stop regarding Yale students as kids.
Of course, there is more. The policy explains that without the new ban the integrity of the student prof relationship is at risk- “The integrity of the teacher-student relationship is the foundation of the University’s educational mission.”
What utter poppycock! If such puts the foundation of Yale at such great risk, how has Yale managed to survive for so many years and have had so many outstanding graduates?
But there is still more. The policy goes on to state-
“In addition to creating the potential for coercion, any such relationship jeopardizes the integrity of the educational process by creating a conflict of interest and may impair the learning environment for other students…such situations may expose the University and the teacher to liability for violation of laws against sexual harassment and sex discrimination.”
The dankprofessor calls this the demonization of sex. Sexual demonization is the underlying dynamic fueling all the crusades to ban, degrade, eradicate myriad forms of sexuality. Yale becomes at one with the Christian right and the New England witch hunting zealots of centuries past.
And without doubt just about anyone could stand accused under this policy. Those who are not sexual but just a bit too amorous can easily become suspect. And as many of us know, those sexually accused are all too often assumed to be guilty, even at Yale!
This situation at Yale exposes the University to possibly becoming violators of human rights and human dignity. But such a possibility hardly ever restrains those who are committed to eradicating the sexually impure in our midst.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports that
The abuse of campus sexual harassment policies to punish dissenting professors has hit a new low at East Georgia College (EGC) in Swainsboro. Professor Thomas Thibeault made the mistake of pointing out—at a sexual harassment training seminar—that the school’s sexual harassment policy contained no protection for the falsely accused. Two days later, in a Kafkaesque irony, Thibeault was fired by the college president for sexual harassment without notice, without knowing his accuser or the charges against him, and without a hearing. Thibeault turned to FIRE for help.
And help he needs. It is surreal, to say the least. Complain about the lack of protection for the falsely accused then you are accused of literally some unspeakable crime against something and are led away from campus and barred from returning.
I remember when I was a full time academic and at one of those so-called training seminars I pointed out that there was nothing in the policy about false accusations but then I went further and stated that the university policy inverted the values of our criminal justice due process system. In the civilian world the accused is given all sort of rights, and may take avail of a public defender, but in the university world the defendant is provided with no rights while the complainant is given all sorts of assistance. Could it be that in the university world the accused is presumed guilty and treated as one of the guilty, no pretense of fairness here while in the civilian world it is generally all pretence- due process on the surface, but the presumption of guilt structures the system; the only thing to be determined is what is the guilty person formally guilty of.
Please do click this link, it is all there for your viewing. Of course, it is easier to engage in avoidance and denial.
Daphne Patai has written a powerful critique of university policies on student professor relationships and on sexual harassment policies in the context of writing a review essay on six novels dealing with university life. Following are excerpts from her essay focusing on Roth’s THE DYING ANIMAL which has been adapted as a movie under the title, ELEGY and Prose’s BLUE ANGEL. All six novels are listed at the end of the essay.
Excerpted from Daphne Patai, “Academic Affairs,” SEXUALITY AND CULTURE, vol. 6, No. 2, June 2002, pp.65-96.
The original publication of this review is located at
While academic bureaucrats busied themselves in the 1990s with a
quixotic but persistent attempt to regulate both speech and personal interactions on their campuses, a group of creative writers struck blows against such a narrowing of our lives by providing us with delicate and nuanced, or satirical and scathing, imaginings of the complexities of actual relationships between real (though fictional) persons who find themselves caught up in the new vigilantism.
Their novels demonstrate that the politically correct script of male/professorial power and female/student powerlessness is a pathetically thin distortion which negates the texture of human life and produces little but propaganda tracts ranting against a purported patriarchy and its hapless victims. In the hands of a spirited and talented writer, the resources of fictional narrative–its potential for shifting points of view, for negotiating huge jumps in time and sudden reversals, for interior monologues and musings, startling imagery and evocative turns of phrase—can at least attempt to do justice to the dense inner life and complex events that define human existence, in the academy and out of it.
The novels under discussion here take for granted a reality so simple
and obvious that it has somehow escaped the notice of many social
critics. People meet each other, and that is how relationshipsbegin.
Many of these encounters take place in schools and workplaces,
where people spend most of their waking hours. Given
thesecircumstances, it is likely that many of the ensuing interactions
will be tainted by one or another kind of “asymmetry,” since no two
humans are exactly alike or occupy precisely the same
positions.What makes the concept of asymmetrical relationships
resonate so negatively in the minds of those who would govern
personal interactions is, of course, the obsession with power.
Asymmetrical relations are bad–so this line of thinking goes–
because no romantic or sexual intimacy should exist where one
person has power over another. Such power imbalances are
inherently evil to those for whom a simplistic conception of
“equality” has become the standard of justifiable social relations.
This phenomenally narrow viewpoint ignores the obvious fact that
the “power” people act out in their relationships is of many and
varied types, and that one person’s predominance in one sphere is
often matched by the others in another sphere. Who has more
brains? More charm? Morebeauty? More vigor? Greater emotional
resources? Better health? Better taste? Not to mention more wealth,
status, and all the other material aspects of life? Might a professor’s
ability to give a bad grade not be countered by his student’s
opportunity to write him a
damaging evaluation? And is not virtually all professorial omnipotence
these days trumped by the threat that the “weaker” party (ostensibly
the student) might initiate a complaint against some
supposedly offensive word or gesture that may or may not have
actually occurred? A mere moment’s reflection reveals that the usual
critique of asymmetrical relations relies on a stunted and feeble
definition that is stacked–and of course is meant to be against
Sex is power, yes; but so are brains, charm, wealth, status, and,
as Philip Roth teaches us over and over again, health and youth.
But since it’s patently absurd to try to outlaw relationships defined
by all or any of these inequalities, the new academic vigilantes
go for the broadest possible category and thus simply target
all personal interactions. For who is there on campus who is not
hierarchically differentiated from some other individual one way
or another? The overly broad definitions of “sexual harassment”
that have ensued, which invariably include “verbal acts” that may
make someone uncomfortable, allow all other imbalances to be
covered, by implication. And the stigma resulting from a charge
of sexual or verbal harassment is so great (and the financial stakes
of potential law suits so high) that, these days, a charge of harassment–
a mere accusation, however flimsy, however transparently
fabricated–may well cost the accused his (for men are the primary
Unable to do away with “power” altogether (and without even
considering seriously whether it would be desirable, let alone remotely
possible, to do so), we scurry to regulate relationships. For
the Church fathers’ view of women as representing sexual danger,
capable of luring men from their higher concerns, we have substituted
an opposing view that now dominates our secular society: of
men as a threat to women, compromising, impeding, and exploiting
them at every turn. And since the pattern of young women
seeking out older and more accomplished men does not seem to be
retreating in the face of feminist critiques, what can we hope to do
but discourage those relationships as best we can by stigmatizing
flirtation, invitations, stares, touches, jokes (all of these explicitly
addressed by the latest sexual harassment policy of my own university)
even when they have nothing to do with sexual extortion
or coercion but are merely incidents of ordinary human interaction?
Fortunately, the current preeminence of sexual harassment specialists
and other micromanagers of collegiate life is not without
challenge, as the novels under discussion here demonstrate. True,
these literary works (and others of similar tenor) are small in number-
nothing to compare to the thousands of sexual harassment
codes the vigilantes have composed and are attempting to enforce,
egged on by the federal government and fortified by some rulings
signed into law by, ironically, Bill Clinton. But long after sexual
harassment codes are gone, these novels will be read both as reflections
of American life in the late twentieth century and as examples
of the unique abilities of fiction to reveal the human condition
in all its subtle intricacies and embroilments…
The Human Stain is the third novel in what Roth (in a New York
Times interview conducted with Charles McGrath, May 7, 2000)
described as a “thematic trilogy, dealing with the historical moments
in postwar American life that have had the greatest impact
on my generation”–the McCarthy era, the Vietnam War, and the
impeachment of Bill Clinton each story told through the mediating
perspective of Nathan Zuckerman, whom Roth has referred to
as his “alter brain” The first work in the trilogy was American
Pastoral, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, followed a year later
by I Married a Communist. The Human Stain, in turn, was succeeded
by a short novel once again taking up a character-narrator
we have met before. The Dying Animal, Roth’s most recent novel,
ressurrects David Kepesh, first introduced in 1972 in a Kafkaesque
novel The Breast, and narrator as well of Roth’s controversial 1977
novel The Professor of Desire. Now 70 years of age, Kepesh, in
The Dying Animal, relates the story of his affair, eight years earlier,
with Consuela Castillo, a 24-year-old Cuban-American student of
his, possessed of enormous “erotic power” that is both “elemental
and elegant” (p. 98). Roth does not directly address the issue of
current attempts to regulate professor-student relations except
to ironically note Kepesh’s habit of avoiding involvement with
his students till the semester is over and grades are turned in, at
which time he typically invites them all for a party at his house and
notes which ones stay late. Who is pursuing whom in his various
relationships is never entirely clear. But some of these studentteacher
liaisons persist in the form of lasting friendships, as we
learn near the novel’s end.
Kepesh speaks in a monologue to an unidentified interlocutor
whose questions and comments are implicit in Kepesh’s answers,
but who only on the novel’s very last page (just as in Portnoy’s
Complaint) responds and, indeed, is given the last word. No longer
a professor in The Dying Animal, Kepesh is now a well-known
culture critic and media personality. In laborious detail, on an occasion
that is revealed only at the novel’s end, he tells the story of his
obsession with Consuela, whose voluptuous beauty–and especially
her gorgeous breasts–enraptured him. A year and a half into
their affair, she breaks it off in anger over his failure to put in an
appearance at her graduation party. Recalling this episode, Kepesh
The smartest thing I did was not to show up there. Because I had been
yielding and yielding in ways that I didn’t understand. The longing never
disappeared even while I had her. The primary emotion, as I’ve said, was
longing. It’s still longing. There’s no relief from the longing and my sense
of myself as a supplicant. There it is: you have it when you’re with her and
you have it when you’re without her. (pp. 94-95)
But Kepesh by his own account then spent three more years
longing for her, and a few years beyond that she suddenly re-enters
his life, bringing not joy but tragedy as she tells him she has breast
cancer and not great odds for survival. Kepesh is not particularly
admirable (nor does Roth attempt to make him so) as he confesses
his dismay at the thought of her soon-to-be “mutilated” body, which
undoes his sexual desire even as his heart breaks with tenderness
for her plight (p. 138). Why has she come back? Apparently to ask
Kepesh to photograph, before her surgery, the breasts he so adored.
In recounting his affair, Kepesh delineates his indefatigable efforts
to avoid emotional entanglement and to hang on to physical
lust as the wellspring of manly energy, always contrasted to the
death-in-life that he considers marriage to be. Roth even subjects
Kepesh to some scathing analyses by a disgruntled middle-aged
son (from a failed early marriage that he’d walked out of), telling it
as he sees it, and often quite on target about his father’s many faults
Seducing defenseless students, pursuing one’s sexual interests at the expense
of everyone else–that’s so very necessary, is it? No, necessity is
staying in a difficult marriage and raising a little child and meeting the
responsibilities of an adult. (p. 90)
But none of this sensible criticism detracts from the compelling
narrative Kepesh weaves, with its topsy-turvy version of who’s
really in control in this affair between an older man, who sees the
end in sight, and an exuberantly beautiful much younger woman
who shouldn’t have to face her mortality but does, out of season.
Time, Kepesh says, for the young is always made up of what is
past; but for Consuela, sick with breast cancer,
time is now how much future she has left, …Now she measures time counting
forward, counting time by the closeness of death …. her sense of time is
now the same as mine, speeded up and more forlorn even than mine. She,
in fact, has overtaken me. (p. 149)
It is Kepesh’s intimate friend, George O’Hearn, who, in analyzing
Kepesh’s predicament after the affair with Consuela ended,
evokes the earlier novel’s image of Kepesh as “the professor of
desire” (p. 99). Recognizing that Kepesh will “always be powerless
with this girl” (p. 98), O’Hearn urges him to avoid all contact
with her. Lust and life are one thing; love quite another, and O’Heam
worries that Kepesh is “failing in love” Far from restoring a Platonic
unity to the lovers, O’Hearn argues, love is a danger, because,
“love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked
open” (p. 101).
But if it is Consuela’s “erotic power” that has kept Kepesh in
thrall to her, the only power he, by contrast, held over her, Kepesh
believes, was his pedagogy, his ability to instruct her in music and
literature (p. 101). Most importantly, orgasm, for Kepesh, meant a
momentary end to the sickness that is desire. It is in this context that
he cites Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” from which the novel takes
its melancholy title, alluding to the process of aging:
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is. (p. 103)
Even a dying animal, however, can retain some sense of propriety.
“Ridiculousness” to Kepesh, is relinquishing one’s freedom
voluntarily (p. 104). While fully recognizing this, he had not been
able in his relationship with Consuela to avoid it and had experienced
emotions unbearable to him: jealousy and attachment: “No,
not even fucking can stay totally pure and protected, “Kepesh says
(p. 105), in lines similar to those spoken by Faunia Farley in The
Human Stain. What makes his suffering touch the reader is that
Kepesh doesn’t even know just what he’s longing for: “Her tits?
Her soul? Her youth? Her simple mind? Maybe it’s worse than
that–maybe now that I’m nearing death, I also long secretly not to
be free” (p. 106).
In a nasty review of The Dying Animal feebly entitled “Tedium
of the Gropes of Roth” (The limes [London], 27 June 2001), Elaine
Showalter dismisses the novel as “cowardly, sterile, and intellectually
shallow.” She can muster no sympathy for Kepesh’s insistence
on his “freedom” as being the fulfillment of American individualism.
Showalter considers the novel’s ending to be its protagonist’s
one shot at being a “mensch” a shot we’re not sure he’ll take. But
the novel’s focus on a man who uses sex as a weapon against his
mortality is no reason to despise it, unless we are prepared to judge
all works of art on the basis of whether their civic message is one
we wish to endorse. Showalter quotes with disdain Roth’s line about
the “astonishing fellators” found in this generation of young women
(~ la Lewinsky). Another reviewer, Anthony Quinn, refers to
Kepesh’s obsession with Consuela’s gorgeous breasts as “just a bit
creepy and objectifying” (“An Old Man’s Fancy,” The Times [London],
24 June 2001). It appears that critics are not very eager to
hear what Roth is really saying. We seem to want our aging men to
be heroes, mature and wise. We don’t like seeing them as vulnerable
individuals not yet finished with sexual desire, as Roth insists
on representing them.
To immerse oneself in Roth’s bold and erotic prose is to confront,
however unwillingly, the habitual denigration of eroticism in
American society, which celebrates the marriage-and-commitment
narrative despite its notorious failures in our time. Roth’s Kepesh
wants never to pay any price for his sexual indulgences and egocentric
behavior. But his protest against age and infirmity, his insistence
that desire continues, that sex can be an affirmation of life
against the inevitability of decay and loss–all these are worth hearing,
even coming from a character as complicatedly unsympathetic
as David Kepesh…
Starting with his first novel, Goodbye, Columbus, and ending
with The Dying Animal, his latest one, Philip Roth has, over a 40
year period, lavished an unflagging energy on the effort to dissect
the sexual and emotional lives of male protagonists who often resemble
himself (Jewish author/professors with little talent for marriage
and a great taste for self-analysis). What is at times referred to
by critics as his “misogyny” is, it seems to me, rather a willingness
to probe the heart of the egocentricity and lust that drive his male
characters. It takes courage to do this in Roth’s unabashed way, to
celebrate–as he does in The Dying Animal–“the charm of the
surreptitious” and to make such provocative statements as: “Marriage
at its best is a sure-fire stimulant to the thrills of licentious
subterfuge” (p. 110). Roth does not allow us to see his narrators
and protagonists as unproblematic or admirable exemplars. Nor
does he–like critics such as Bell Hooks and Jane Gallop defend
“asymmetrical” relationships on the self-congratulatory grounds that
brilliant professors and their best students are naturally attracted to
one another and that these associations are crucial to the intellec
tual and creative development of both. He insists that such relationships
need no academic defense. He makes no pretense that there
is a cerebral or pedagogic value to them. Life and lust are their own
justification. Nor does he, on the other hand, idealize the ensuing
relationships. Far from it, he exposes their seaminess and comic
aspects, but also the passion and vulnerabilities from which they
spring, above all the vulnerability of older men confronting their
fear of aging and death, susceptible to female sexual power in a
manner that is presented poignantly and, I suspect, realistically…
Quite a different emphasis governs Francine Prose’s latest novel,
Blue Angel, a darkly comic story of a besotted 47-year-old writing
professor and the talented and ambitious 19-year-old student who
causes his downfall. In a witty and biting third-person narrative
confined strictly to the point of view of her protagonist, Ted
Swenson, Prose exposes the smelly little orthodoxies (as Orwell
put it, in quite another context) of the contemporary academic scene.
Because this novel of a professor ruined by sexual harassment
charges is of particular relevance to the travesties of justice actually
being played out on many university campuses today, it is worth
considering it in some detail.
Ted Swenson, a writer-in-residence at Eust,on College in northern
Vermont, has been married for twenty-one years and is still in
love with his wife, Sherrie, and capable of, as she puts it, “leering”
at her. As a professor in contemporary America, however, he knows
the rules, and the narrative gives us his thoughts about them:
Such are the pleasures of intimacy: he can look [at Sherrie] as long as he
wants. Given the current political climate, you’d better be having consensual
matrimonial sex with a woman before you risk this stare. (p. 16)
At his college’s obligatory meeting to review the sexual harassment
policy, Swenson thinks heretical thoughts:
What if someone rose to say what so many of them are thinking, that
there’s something erotic about the act of teaching, all that information
streaming back and forth like some…bodily fluid. Doesn’t Genesis trace
sex to that first bite of apple, not the fruit from just any tree, but the Tree of
Knowledge? (p. 22, italics in original)
Devoted to his wife and daughter, Swenson acknowledges that
“teacher-student attraction is an occupational hazard” and has therefore
avoided entanglements with his students, though over the years
several have made overtures to him. And he’s well aware, too, of a
case at the State university (where his daughter Ruby studies), involving
a professor who, while showing a classical Greek sculpture
of a female nude, had commented “Yum” Accusing him of
“leering” his students charged that he’d made them uncomfortable.
Suspended without pay, the professor had taken his case to
court. Swenson is wary of a similar climate at his own college, and
of the increasing power of the “Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance”
waiting to pounce on any male word or gesture. And he is suspicious
of a colleague who is head of the Alliance and is also the
English Department’s “expert in the feminist misreading of literature?’
For reasons he can’t fathom (but guesses it’s a “testosterone
allergy”), she seems to want him dead.
How, then, after so many years of sound judgment, does it happen
that he falls into the role of Professor Rath to his student’s Lola
Lola (as in the classic film The Blue Angel, from which the novel
takes its title)? Prose’s autopsy of Swenson’s fall is a bracing work,
funny and sly and politically incorrect at every turn, right up until
the end when Swenson realizes that the movie he should have been
watching was not The Blue Angel but All About Eve.
Can a talent for writing be a seducer? In the case of Ted Swenson,
decades of teaching “creative writing” to mediocre students (whose
stories, often involving bestiality, we get to sample), along with ten
frustrating years of never quite getting around to working on his
long-awaited third novel, have left him fatally vulnerable to talent,
no matter how unlikely its source.
Angela Argo is far from the best looking young woman in
Swenson’s class at Euston College. In fact, she has sat for weeks
squirming and sighing instead of speaking, calling attention to herself
primarily by means of her abundant face piercing, the orange
and green streaks in her hair, and the black leather motorcycle jacket
with theme-related accouterments that covers her skinny body.
But poor Swenson has few defenses against the spark of talent
that Angela reveals to him after seeking a meeting in his office.
And his first reaction to her work is the very thing that today gets
professors in trouble: differential treatment. Wanting to protect her
talent from the ritual hazing that his class has turned into as students
savage one another’s writing week after week, he agrees to
read and comment on Angela’s work in private. Thus begins the
special relationship–initiated by Angela at each successive stage–
that will eventually cost him his reputation, his job, and his marriage.
Interwoven into this realistic tale of a contemporary campus liaison
is a sympathetic portrait of the plight of writing teachers and of
writers, especially those stuck in a dry season that can last a decade.
The novel captures perfectly Swenson’s enraptured response
to the discovery of Angela’s talent. It is a generous, tender response.
Swenson is alert to the students’ ambiguous attitude toward him:
“He’s the teacher, they’re the students: a distinction they like to
blur, then make again, as needed” (p. 10). But this sensibility and
foreknowledge won’t save him from enthusiastically gravitating
toward the genuinely talented. And as Angela feeds him chapter
after chapter of her novel, Swenson falls into the very mistake he
constantly warns his students against: taking the story as autobiography.
Thus, he begins to imagine that he himself is the teacher Angela’s
protagonist is enamoured of, and that her first-person narrative is really
a confession, made to him privately, of her troubled life.
It doesn’t help matters much when a colleague who teaches poetry
tells him about the graphic sexual poems Angela had written
for that class. Soon the sexual content of Angela’s writing and her
intense anticipation of Swenson’s reactions week by week lead
him to sexual fantasies about her. When she says that she thinks all
the time about his reactions to her writing, what he hears is that
“she thinks about him all the rime” (p. 158). So they lurch from one
encounter to the next, each less clear than the last. Everything in
their relationship initially revolves around her writing–her eagerness
for his reaction; her computer’s collapse, which leads her to
ask him to take her shopping for a new one, and in turn leads to his
presence in her dorm room whose door (he finds out later) she’d
locked as soon as they had entered.
Francine Prose explores with great subtlety Swenson’s seduction
and betrayal. She does not present him as a total innocent. As
a man in mid-life, he is aware of his mortality and the appeal of
glowing youth all around him. “Age and death–the unfairness of
it, the daily humiliation of watching your power vanish just when
you figure out how to use it” (p. 145). But Angela’s rapid transformarion
after their brief escapade is no joke; she begins demanding
more of his attention to her writing, berating him when he doesn’t
provide it quickly enough. “What happened to the worshipful student
who hung on his every word” Swenson wonders. “Now that
she’s let Swenson sleep with her she doesn’t respect him anymore”
(p. 187). Prose shows the reversal of all the traditional rules and
values, as Angela quickly moves in for what turns out to be her real
goal: getting him to show her novel to his agent. But still Swenson
argues with himself about her motives:
Does Angela–did she ever–have a crush on him, or is she just using him
for his professional connections? Is Angela blackmailing him, or simply
asking a favor? What does a favor mean when you have the power to wreck
someone’s life? (p. 190)
By coincidence, a woman colleague also wants the same favor:
“This is really too much. Two women in twenty minutes cozying
up to Swenson as a way of getting next to his editor” (p. 191). And
to make matter worse, he must face the open resentment of his
other students when he, with complete sincerity, praises Angela’s
writing in class.
Angela’s fury when she learns that Swenson hadn’t fought for
her book with his agent finally makes her clarify her behavior: “The
only reason I let you fuck me was so you would help me get this
novel to someone who could do something” (p. 236). And next
thing he knows, she’s charged him with sexual harassment, taken a
tape of this last conversation to the dean, and is threatening to sue
the college. The dean immediately urges Swenson to resign.
Reviewing his own responsibility, Swenson thinks:
He knew about the power differential between teacher and student. But
this wasn’t about power. This was about desire. Mutual seduction, let’s say
that at least, lie’s too embarrassed to let himself think, This was about love.
Barred from his classroom, dangerously indifferent to his school’s
sexual harassment proceedings (not a “court of law”), Swenson
insists on a hearing instead of resigning quietly.
When he tells his wife, in a restaurant, about the trouble he’s in,
she blames him entirely and informs him that Angela spent half her
time at the school’s medical clinic (where Sherrie is a nurse), ostensibly
because she’s suicidal–but actually, Swenson realizes, because
Angela was pumping the staff for details about his life to
work into her novel.
The couple sitting beside them seems to have gotten up and left. At some
point when he and Sherrie were at once so engrossed and distracted, the
lovers must have retreated into their cocoon of protection and light and
grace, of chosenness, of being singled out and granted the singular blessing
of being allowed to live in a world in which what’s happening to
Sherrie and Swenson will never happen to them. (p. 256)
As the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance demonstrates against
him, and Swenson rents the film of The Blue Angel (a film he knows
Angela too has seen), he realizes at last that “there’s no chance of
winning, of proving his innocence” (p. 266).
The night before the hearing, he lies in bed composing and revising
speeches about what he thought he was doing, about his respect for Angela’s
novel, about the erotics of teaching. And the dangers of starting to see
one’s student as a real person. (p. 267)
But he is totally unprepared for the actual hearing process, in
effect a trial in which he faces six colleagues, one of them the head
of the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance (p. 270). As “agreed”
upon (but not by him), witnesses are called, but no cross-examination
of them is permitted, since this “is not, after all, a trial” (p.
273). So much for due process.
When Angela appears, parents in tow, at the hearing, Swenson
notes her changed appearance. Her hair is now a
shiny, authentic-looking auburn . . . . And how bizarrely she’s dressed–
bizarre, that is, for Angela. Neat khakis, a red velour sweater, ordinary
college-girl “good” clothes. For all he knows, the piercing and the black
leather were always the costume, and this is the real Angela, restored to her true
self. For all he knows. He doesn’t know. All right. He gets that now. (p. 272)
In a particularly subtle scene, Swenson, having deluded himself
for so long, having somehow managed to avoid noting that Angela’s
real interest was in promoting her writing, not in him, finds at his
“trial” that he would rather play the “sullen guilty lecher” that his
colleagues think he is, would rather confirm their “image of him as
the predatory harasser” than admit “to the truer story of obsession
and degradation, the humiliating real-life update of The Blue Angel”
Colleagues and students come forth to testify. A brave student
from Swenson’s writing class, initially showing far more discernment
than his elders, tries to argue: “I can’t see what the big deal is.
Shit happens. People get attracted to other people. It’s not that big a
deal” (p. 284). But Swenson watches the change that comes over
the student as he realizes that what Swenson is charged with is
having extorted sex from Angela in return for showing her work to
his editor in New York. The student’s face shows his perception of
unfairness warring with his sense of loyalty to his teacher: “Swenson
wants to tell him that the real unfairness involves the distribution of
talent and has nothing to do with whatever happened between him
and Angela Argo” (p. 285). Bravely, the student tries to stick to his
But nothing has prepared him to resist the seduction of having the dean of
his college calling him a writer and a half-dozen faculty members hanging
on his every word. How can he disappoint them? How can he not offer up
any scrap of information he can recall. (p. 286)
Francine Prose gets the details of all this just right: the banality
and venality of academic vindictiveness and piety; the stereotypical
assumptions about professorial misconduct; the eagerness to
find sexual wrongdoing; the unavoidable small-minded
Schadenfreude as colleagues and students get to revisit old grievances
and slights, and the sheer cynicism of faculty and administrators
claiming to be concerned with students’ welfare. When Claris,
the class beauty, testifies that he took no inappropriate actions toward
her, Swenson can see that no one believes her. Or they think
Swenson is insane.
How pathetic. What is wrong with him? He never even entertained a sexual
thought about Clads and spent months mooning over Angela Argo? How
abject, how ridiculous. He isn’t a normal male. (p. 288, italics in original)
Another student testifies that they all knew something was going
on because all their work was criticized, while Angela’s was
not. No one is interested in discussing the other possible reasons
for admiring a student’s work. “Swenson’s learned his lesson.
He’ 11 never criticize another student. Not that he’ll get a chance”
Finally, Angela gets to speak–if she feels “strong enough to
address the committee” (p. 296). “As she moves [toward the table],
Swenson thinks he can still see sharp angles of sullen punkhood
poking through the fuzzy eiderdown of that Jane College getup”
(p. 296). Following the familiar ritual, Angela is praised for her
courage in coming forward, and spared the ordeal of listening
to the tape she had orchestrated to make it sound as if Swenson
had indeed persuaded her to trade sex for showing her book to
On her face is that combustive chemistry of wild irritation and boredom so
familiar from those early classes, but now it’s become a martyr’s transfixed
gaze of piety and damage, lit by the flames of the holy war she’s waging
against the evils of male oppression and sexual harassment. (p. 297)
Throughout Angela’s distortions and deceptions; Swenson tries
to keep “his grip on the truth—-on his version of the story….A grip
on recent history…. On reality” (pp. 298-299). The committee, he
sees, is ready to believe the worst because he asked to see more of
a student’s writing. Yet, he admits to himself, her testimony isn’t all
Well, there is something sexy about reading someone’s work: an intimate
communication takes place. Still, you can read…Gertrude Stein, and it
doesn’t mean you find her attractive …. Once more, the committee’s version
of him–the scheming dirty old man–seems less degrading than the
truth. (p. 301)
Prose avoids turning her story into a postmodern narrative in
which we can never hope to learn the truth. Earlier episodes have
shown us what took place, and we recognize Angela’s lies in her
testimony before the committee, her insistence that the sexual initiatives
were his. But the author’s voice gives us a different perspective
on where the harm really resides:
How pornographic and perverted this is, a grown woman–a professor–
torturing a female student into describing a sexual experience to a faculty
committee, not to mention her parents. Swenson could have slept with
Angela on the Founders Chapel altar, and it would have seemed healthy
and respectable compared to this orgy of filth. Meanwhile he has to keep
it in mind that Angela started all this. Angela chose to be here. (p. 303)
Only at her father’s urging that she share her “good news” does
Angela admit to the assembled group that Swenson’s editor in fact
wants to publish her novel (p. 305). Swenson thinks:
Len Currie is publishing Angela’s novel. So what is this hearing about?
Angela should be kissing Swenson’s feet instead of ruining his life. As she
must have decided to do when she still believed that Swenson, her white
knight, had failed to get her manuscript published. If that’s when she decided.
Who knows what she did, and why? (p. 305)
On cue, Angela describes the lingering effects of the whole
wretched experience, her nightmares, her distress. As Angela’s testimony
draws to a close, the women’s studies professor once more
congratulates Angela and commiserates with her:
“Angela, let me say again that we know how tough it was for you to
come in and say what you did. But if women are ever going to receive an
equal education, these problems have to be addressed and dealt with, so
that we can protect and empower ourselves”
“Sure,” Angela says. “You’re welcome. Whatever.” (p. 307)
When it is finally Swenson’s turn to speak, he knows what he
should do is apologize—but of the many things he is sorry for,
breaking the college’s rules about professor-student relationships is
not one of them:
He is extremely sorry for having spent twenty years of his one and only
life, twenty years he will never get back, among people he can’t talk to,
men and women to whom he can’t even tell the simple truth. (p. 308)
And then, in an entirely predictable almost last-straw moment,
Swenson’s daughter’s boyfriend tells the committee that Ruby told
him her father had sexually abused her when she was a child.
Swenson watches his colleagues’ reactions:
they have taken off their masks. Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather,
Torquemado. Swenson’s crime involves sex, so the death penalty can be
invoked. No evidence is inadmissible. They’re hauling out the entire
arsenal for this mortal combat with the forces of evil and sin. (p. 310)
Thus, at novel’s end, Angela’s career is starting and Swenson’s
careerwalong with his marriage is ending. Sounding somewhat
like one of Philip Roth’s heroes, Swenson finally recognizes the mystery
of femaleness, acknowledging that he can never fathom Angela’s
motives. Only she will ever know the truth. As he hears the campus
bells tolling, he wonders why they’re ringing now, at 5:25 p.m.
Then, gradually, it dawns on him. It’s the Women’s Alliance, announcing
their triumph over another male oppressor, one small step along the path
toward a glorious future. He’s glad to be out of that future and headed into
his own. (p. 314)…
Does it take a woman writer, a Francine Prose, to unabashedly
demonstrate the stupidity of the current shibboleths regarding male
professors’ “power” and female students’ “powerlessness”? To protest
the prurient attitude that lies behind the apparent obsession with
sexual relations on campus? To delineate so scathingly a young
woman’s methodical and self-serving manipulation of her professor?
When men writers do this (e.g., David Mamet in his play
Oleanna), their work is often dismissed with the presumptively
devastating charge of “misogyny.” Francine Prose’s novel is an
effective rejoinder to this canard. It is both touching and true: written
in a melancholy self-deprecating style befitting her protagonist’s
essential decency and ironic awareness, and at the same time profoundly
insightful into the mechanisms of academic life at the present
Philip Roth presents us with a scathing portrait of the harm unleashed
by the stupidity of vigilantism of language and personal
relations in today’s America. In novel after novel, he offers a celebration
(sardonic and pathetic though it often is) of the erotic power
of young women and the deep conflicts of the men who love and
fear them. Nicholas Delbanco portrays a costly and enduring love,
which comes in guises and moments that defy academic proprieties,
and he leaves no doubt that the price is worth paying. Francine
Prose details the seductiveness of talent and the egocentric drives
that motivate women as much as men, despite all the lies currently
circulating on this subject. Eric Tarloff, writing in a far lighter vein
than these three, opts for happy endings as the essential sanity of his
protagonists somehow prevails. Perhaps, indeed, he is the most idealistic
of the group. But all four are writers of great skill, opening our
eyes to the hidden dimensions and potentialities of those “asymmetrical”
relationships conventionally viewed today as merely sordid
or exploitative on the professor’s part, deprived of life, forced into caricatured
tableaux in which all roles are set out in advance according to
the position–in terms of race, sex, and status of the protagonists.
One turns from these works of fiction, these portraits of academic
life at the end of the twentieth century, back to the everyday
reality of sexual harassment officers, codes, and committees, threats,
and public displays of virtue, with a profound sense of wonder.
How can it be that rules and guidelines that should be an embarrassment
to any sensible society now govern every school and
workplace? How have the supposedly powerless so successfully
altered the terms of everyday interactions that the supposedly powerful-
who, we are constantly told, prey on them–are now so
vulnerable, so much at their mercy? Is this some demented dream
from which we’ll soon all wake up? Not, I fear, in the short run.
But the commitment of writers such as these four to the craft of the
novelist rather than to the cant of current ideologies gives us reason-
however fragile–for hope.
HOT FOR TEACHER is the attention getting headline for the University of Minnesota student newspaper article authored by Ashley Dresser on student professor sexual relationships. Although the headline is a tad sensationalistic, the dankprofessor believes that this is one of the very few student newspapers articles on this subject that generally gets it right.
Much of the article is based on an interview with a female student referred to as Prudence, who is having a relationship with a professor. Prudence is a pseudonym; such was, of course, the prudent thing to do. Prudence referred to the professor as MY professor. As the article states:
“Well, I find MY professor to be hot.” When we asked her exactly what she meant with that kind of emphasis on ownership, she proceeded to unveil every girl’s college fantasy:
“I’ve known him, my professor boyfriend, since I started working in his department about two years ago. I never took a class under him, but he always flirted with me…I blew him off mostly, but a couple of months ago he asked me out to dinner. We have had many, many discussions about whether or not it’s okay to pursue this, but so far it’s working out well enough. We just have to be discreet about it.” Before I could even get the question out of my mouth, Prudence added, “And yes, I call him ‘professor’ in bed.”
So much for all the articles that phrase student professor relationship in terms of professors being attracted to the student but generally via omission deny the reality that students are often attracted to professors.
As stated by the writer-
My classmates and I were awestruck by her academic prowess, but it did cross our minds that he could just be a hairy old man. A couple of Facebook clicks later, however, and Prudence proved us wrong. He is, in fact, a gorgeous specimen – perhaps heightened by the fact that he is not opposed to scandalous romance. (As a side note: the fact that we now have the ability to friend our professors on Facebook to learn more about their personal lives, sift through their photos, etc. makes this dating scene even more hot to handle.)
And then the writer violates campus journalistic tradition and provides material from an interview with the professor, albeit the professor is cloaked in anonymity-
“It is highly likely that us professors are attracted to our students,” Prudence’s professor said when asked for comment. “We see our students every single day and if they are taking a class with us, that probably means we have the same interests…And in general, guys don’t really care about age or profession with girls, so the fact that they are attracted to one of their students isn’t necessarily going to bother them.”
Well, in the dankprofessor’s opinion the professor gets it right. This is why the dankprofessor uses the phraselogy of “from the love of knowledge to the knowledge of love”.
The author then states-
Yet it does seem to bother a lot of other people. A simple Google search of “professor-student relationships” brings up a wealth of commentary about its pros and cons. In particular, check out www.dankprofessor.wordpress.com . It is a weblog that “examines the sexual politics in higher education and beyond.” Parents and the university administrations tend to be the two major groups that are having the qualms, which is ironic, since neither of them are the ones in the actual relationship itself.
Well, the author gets it right about the dankprofessor weblog. But she doesn’t get it completely right when she states that parents and university administrators are the two major opposing groups. She omits the major grouping- women’s studies faculty and feminist faculty who adhere to a hardcore anti sexual and anti male agendas. This group was the prime mover in the adoption of the sexual codes regarding student professor relationships and it is this group which would attempt to make trouble for any professor sexually involved with a student, no matter whether the student had ever been in the professor’s class. And it is this group that administrators are adverse to challenging and generally are willing to go along with their effort to make life miserable for any professor dating any student. Such is consistent with the decision of the student and professor who are the subjects of this article to not reveal their identity. And it should also be pointed out that some universities formally ban all student professor fraternization. But even when the relationship are not de jure banned as in the present case, the relationship is de facto banned in the framework of the professor becoming subjected to an array of punishments- from being treated rudely by fellow faculty to getting a horrid teaching schedule to being terminated.
As for parents, the following is stated-
“My parents would try to talk me out of it, if they knew,” Prudence said. “They would say I’m squandering my youth or that he’s using me for sex…The professor and I are sixteen years apart, but I would definitely recommend dating a professor to any student. They are more worldly and mature and they know how to treat a lady. I’m not knocking college boys, but they still have a lot of growing up to do.”
Well, Prudence may be a bit off base re parental response. Based on my experience and knowledge of the experience of others, most parents are unlikely to respond with horror to their daughter dating a professor, particularly if they have met the professor. And, of course, if one of the parents is a prof, rapport may develop quickly between the professor parent and the professor who loves the daughter. So I urge Prudence to be a bit more prudent, and not to assume that her parents will be rejecting parents.
The article ends with the following quote from Prudence-
“It’s all media and society hype that makes it seem so bad. Over the years, people have also given relationships in which the male is significantly older than the female a bad name…They make it seem like the guy is just after sex. Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but aren’t all guys, no matter what age, after sex? At the end of the day, we are just two people looking for some companionship.”
Amen from the dankprofessor. And this is what I have been trying to do- get beyond the hype to the everyday realities of these relationships. What is two people looking for companionship has been demonized over and over again by moral zealots and the morally perverse. To argue as Mark Bourrie has argued that professors involved in these sorts of relationships are “scum” and Erik Ringmar that such professors are disgusting is morally perverse.
Congratulations to Ashley Dresser for writing this article and I encourage my blog readers to read the entirety of this article.
The dankprofessor needs to give more visibility to a comment by a female student on the disgusting professor post. So here it is as a separate post-
I am an intelligent, twenty year old, female student and I have been attracted to multiple professors–none of which were balding, middle-aged, or disgusting.
The reality is that, a lot of the time, professors at universities are NOT drastically older than their students. Nearly half of my professors have been less than fifteen years older than me, which makes them far from middle-aged. And this is just argument for the sake of argument. Because, in reality, age is nothing but a number and ought to have no bearing on the issue.
Furthermore, the teachers that I have been attracted to, were attractive in the degree to which they were LESS disgusting than other men that I’ve met. They are rational, sensitive, inquisitive, socially involved, and far from “scheming pedophiles.” These two issues (catholic preist pedophilia and student-teacher passions) simply can’t be compared if only for the sheer fact that twenty year old girls are adults. I am an adult. Sorry to break it to you, Mr. Ringmar.
I am even somewhat involved with a former professor of mine. We are friends, but our friendship has negotiable boundaries. And for the record he is only 28. He is working toward his Doctorate. He has never disrespected me.
That is the reality of things.
From Taiwan to Ottawa, from Los Angeles to London, professors and students who are in sexual congress with each other have become fair game for those wishing to engage in unrestrained sexual bigotry. By sexual bigotry, I am not referring to those who assert that such relationships may or do represent some form of conflict of interest, but rather to those who who degrade and demean and dehumanize both the involved professor and the involved student.
The dankprofessor finds it difficult to accept that academics find it to be OK to refer to their colleagues who have dated students as scum and disgusting and to imply that they are rapists or statutory rapists. But what I even consider to be more disturbing is that hardly any academics on the sidelines come forth and challenge the acceptability of using such degrading rhetoric. When such challenging does occur, it is likely to be of the anonymous kind.
One anonymous professor commenter recently stated on the dankprofessor blog- “It’s pretty darned hard for me to look into the eyeballs of my older male colleagues and tell them that they AND their wives are scum.” The commenter is referring to older professors who had married one of their students. I would hope and expect that addressing or thinking about a colleague, senior or otherwise, as scum would not exactly be easy, particularly on a continuing basis. It wouldn’t be easy since continuing personal contact would most likely function to humanize and normalize the targeted professor. Having the targeted professor as a predatory alien existing outside of our everyday lives facilitates for some a commitment to the imagery of the professor as a sexual outsider. The accompanying imagery of the female student is usually that of a non-person (she is often anonymous and socially invisible) or that of an exploited child who cannot fend for herself. She is usually seen as not having the ability to consent even if she states that she has consented.
For a professor to come forward and risk the stigma being seen as a sexual outsider and also being terminated as a professor has pretty effectively put these professors in the campus closet. And those who may come out and support the rights of professors and students to consent to a sexual relationship with each other will frequently lead to others as seeing the supportive professor as being one of those professors. And such was the situation in the past for gay men and lesbians. Gay men and lesbians existence depended on their ability to be out of sight and out of mind, to live closeted lives. Of course, the irony is that as gays came out of the campus closet, said closet then came to be populated by professors who were or had been in sexual congress with a student or students.
The answer for gays was coming out of the closet. If there is to be a ceasefire on professors in sexual congress with students, it will occur because these professors and others who support these professors will come out. It will occur when these professors and their supporters will be able to effectively deal with their fears. And it is both fear and loathing that has dominated the social sexual climate at all too many campuses.
A small step forward could occur if student professor relationships would become a part of campus sex education weeks. Organizers of these events advocate openness in terms of sexuality but when it comes to campus sex of the genre referred to here, there is no openness, there is nothing. Of course, nothing can be better than something when the something only includes rants against so-called offending professors.
Another small step forward would include recognition of how the anti student professor sex movement, has impacted on campus friendships
between students and professors, how such has led to increasingly impersonal campuses. It should lead to the recognition that many professors and administrators have come to realize that anyone, irrespective of their behavior, can become labeled as a so-called sexual deviant. Professor open door policies are no solution to the paranoia on campus, particularly when third party informants are encouraged to come forward.
Under the mantel of a so-called professionalism, sexual bigotry, sexual
policing, sexual paranoia has become a dominant reality in campus life.
And as in all authoritarian states, the persecution most often occurs in secret; secrecy is rationalized under the guise of this being a “personnel” matter. Again, the closet carries the day.
And the dankprofessor asks these questions of the readers of this post.
Are you a professor or administrator or a student who might agree with the dankprofessor in whole or in part, but you feel you can’t speak out because of fear? Might you attempt to overcome your fears by emailing the dankprofessor at firstname.lastname@example.org or posting a comment, albeit anonymously on this post?
“There is something perfectly sick about universities — filled with fat, balding, middle-aged men (and women) and a constantly replenished crop of gorgeous 20-something girls (and boys). Like the Catholic church, with its scheming pedophiles and innocent choir boys, it’s a recipe for disaster…
Why would an intelligent female ever sleep with a disgusting professor?”
Such is how Erik Ringmar, a professor in Taiwan, begins his post “Sex With Students, Pt 1, on his blog, Too Many Mangoes.
Maybe the good professor knows too many disgusting professors who have eaten too many mangoes or maybe the not so good professor considers himself to be a disgusting professor whose lecherous meandering have run amok?
Whatever the specifics may be, Ringmar’s imagery tells us more about himself and his imagination then anything about the multiple realities of student professor intimate relationships.
As for his question as to why an intelligent female would ever sleep with a disgusting professor, I would surmise that the intelligent female would not consider the professor disgusting. The same would be said about the professor who sleeps with an intelligent female, the overwhelming probability is that the professor does not consider the female to be disgusting? Maybe Ringmar’s problem is that he considers any party to such a relationship to be disgusting in the same manner that people who are anti-gay consider all gay relationships to be disgusting.
Professor Ringmar’s problem is that apparently he can’t get beyond his disgust, and that he feels uninhibited in degrading persons who are or have been in a student professor relationship.
Well, Ringmar should know that more than a couple of professors who have been subjected to such degrading rhetoric do not feel degraded. Far from it. They live their private lives in private, not engaging in any sort of sexual spectacle. Some have had the good fortune of meeting an intellectual confrere who they found attractive and such attraction was reciprocated. Some, including the dankprofessor, eventually transitioned from student professor to husband and wife.
I have no doubt that even in Taiwan the love of knowledge can lead to the knowledge of love. For those of you who have an open mind as well as having their eyes wide open, it can also happen to you.
Well once again Professor Mark Bourrie’s response to the dankprofessor is a non- response.
Here it is unexpurgated, uncensored.
I’ve answered your worthless critique many times.
All you seem to care about is rationalizing your seduction of your students. You are scum”
Bourrie’s usage of the scum rhetoric strips away his cloak of professionalism. No attempt to use professionalism here as a rationalization for his attitudes toward professors who have been intimate with their students. No attempt here for Bourrie to engage in any minimal form of academic or polite or enlightening discourse. His tactics are those of a hatemonger- objectify and dehumanize those who are on the other side. “Create” them in whatever terms the hatemonger wishes. No matter that Dank has never seduced anyone, Bourrie can still create and communicate Dank as a seducer without any need to cite supporting evidence since Dank is a creation of Bourrie’s imagination. Bourrie can imagine Dank and other professors who are intimate with students in what ever terms he wishes. Of course, such tells us more about Bourrie than it tells us about Dank, et .al. The fact that he homogenizes us, makes us all the same, allows no possibility that some of us seduce and some do not, is quite damning of Bourrie. As the philosopher Martin Buber would likely state, Bourrie lives in an I/it world, a world of impersonal categories, a world that is never allowed to transcend into an I/thou framework, a framework where there is personalization, where individuals are experienced as unique beings, where relationships are explored, where people can be appreciated and even loved. It is also a world that has been described by the anthropologist Mary Douglas, as a world of dirt and pollution and scum; a world infected by those who have engaged in violations of what is considered to be sacred.
In this world which Bourrie has created, there is no love. Bourrie along with many others
whose opposition to student professor relationships mainly has an anti-sexual dynamic, cannot comprehend that there can be a loving relationship between a student and a professor. The idea that a mutual love of knowledge can lead to love, a passion for each other is out of their world. The idea that some of these relationships become long term and lead to marriage, and even marriage at times without divorce is not considered. I think that I am on pretty firm ground when I believe that Bourrie has never given any consideration to the possibility that some of the professors and administrators he riles against at Concordia for not advocating student professor bans may very well have fallen in love with and married a student. And I am also quite sure that Bourrie has never entertained the possibility that some of his students may very well be the children of persons who were once in student professor relationships.
The mundane world of love, marriage and children is not there for Bourrie as applied to student professor relationships. Well, this mundane world is and was part of my world, and Bourrie’s writing me off and others like me as scum is not just beyond good taste, it reflects a descent into indecency and degradation. It reflects an attempt to pull his readers into his pornographic imagination.
And more must be said about love. It is striking that Mark Bourrie and his confreres say nothing about love, and nothing about falling in love. Such is striking since their often avowed goals is to preserve fairness and objectivity when it comes to grading. But never once does Bourrie say that the professor who has fallen in love with a student, a love which may be only known to the professor, should recuse oneself from grading the loved student or go to his supervisor to insure said love should not bias the grading process.
And as for barring student professor relationships that entail friendship without sex, Bourrie in his recent posting discounts such relationships as being different, not applicable. But, if ones goal really is to protect fairness in grading, one must know that at times close friendships, loving friendships can produce bonds that could threaten the fairness of the grading process. But Bourrie and apparently many others do not care about love and friendship interfering with grading. What they care about is sex and furthering their anti-sexual agenda. The fairness in grading appeal helps them to rationalize their goals, and that is too stamp out sex between students and professors.
As long as universities are not replaced by online education, there will be love and sex between students and professors. Such has become and will unfortunately continue to be at least into the near future, the love that dare not speak its name. And dankprofessor blog readers can be assured that the dankprofessor will continue to speak its name. Such is my pledge.
More red herrings, straw men and decayed logic. Give it up.
BTW, it’s “Dr. Bourrie”.
Of course, his response was a non-response. His non-response is ironic in that it demonstrates that he has ‘given it up’ The only thing marginally of a substantive nature is that he is disturbed that I often refer to him as Bourrie rather than Dr. Bourrie in my posts. Big deal, particularly given the fact that the only time that he referred to me by name in his posts, he did not give me a title or first name; the referral just used my last name.
Last name, title or no title, why get hung up on this rather than dealing with the issue? Well, maybe it is a major issue for Bourrie. In dealing with the prof student issue, Bourrie invokes professionalism ad nauseam; his appeal or rationale for his position is that he is defending professionalism. And in that context, professors having sex with students in his terms is an attack on professionalism which functions to demean the reputation of Concordia University or any university that does not ban these relationships and in the present case such functions to demean the reputation of the faculty of Concordia of which he is a member. So, consequently, Concordia’s non-banning of these relationships, in Bourrie’s terms functions to demean his reputation. And Bourrie is baffled that a prof engaging in said behavior is not concerned about reputation. In fact, at times he implies that he is protecting the reputation of the offending professor.
So such MAY be the reason that Bourrie is so zealously promoting his agenda on this issue. Ultimately, to a significant degree, it is about himself, his reputation and his professionalism. The most troubling aspect of this is that in his defense of self and professionalism, he throws out fundamental issues such as the right of adults to engage in consensual relationships as “crap”. And, of course, he trashes others by arguing they do not have the ability to consent; for him women involved in such relationships do not speak for themselves since they cannot speak for themselves. Once again we have the Man defining a woman’s reality- she is exploited because “I” say so; he doesn’t have to consult with them. He treats women as if they are children even though he at times argues that age has nothing to do with it. But I would argue that it does for Bourrie, for most likely Bourrie seems his self as an adult protecting female childlike students. Such is not terribly surprising since all of us at one time linked child and student together and teacher and adult together and some of us have not grown up to understand that at a certain point the linkage ends. Too many of us have this default assumption equating student and child and professor and adult and therefore such relationships are always exploitative. And the true believer is able to do whatever he/she believes is necessary to wipe out the scourge, to protect us from evil, or as Anita Bryant once said, to save our children.
The problem for all of us is who is going to protect us from the likes of Mark Bourrie? You have to have a strong skin to deal with Bourrie and his ilk; he already has tried to cast me away as a prof who supposedly seduced his male students. Of course, those who know me, know I seduced no one, much less male students since I plea guilty to being a committed heterosexual. Ultimately, the bottom line for us is that we must be able to protect ourselves from the seductive argument of Mark Bourrie. No external authority will do it. No professional or politician or preacher will do it, no one but ourselves will do it.
My prior posting to Bourrie’s blog follows-
“The “consenting adults” stuff is just crap. If there was some sort of Charter right in that regard, surely doctors and lawyers who have been disciplined by their professional associations would have relied on it as a defence.”
and in his first point he states-
“1. The power imbalance between students and faculty, raising the question of whether real consent can exist. That’s why the “consenting adults” argument is a red herring.”
Bourrie find the argument regarding the rights of consenting adults to be “just crap”. So much for his version of professionalism. I would argue that almost all persons who have seriously engaged issues regarding sexual behavior would argue that consent is of central concern, ethically and legally. Taking adults ability to consent away by a third party is damn serious business. It is so serious that the burden should be on the third party who argues there is no consent to prove there is no consent. And to emphasize the seriousness of the issue, let’s put this in rather stark terms. Where there is no sexual consent, there is rape. Even though Bourrie applies demeaning and degrading rhetoric to these so-called predatory professors, he doesn’t call in his terms a spade a spade; he does not call these profs rapists. Calling them rapists might function for some to show how transparently absurd is his argument.
Bourrie invokes the medical and legal professions in defense of his argument that universities can prohibit student professor relationships; doctors are banned from having sexual relationships with their patients and lawyers with clients although I think that the lawyer client ban is more variable, more tenuous. But what Bourrie does not say is that the medical profession does not ban intimacies between medical professors and medical students and the legal profession is far from uniform in banning such relationships between law profs and law students.
Just looking at the medical profession, just about anybody would be able to tell you there is a giant leap from being a patient and a doctor to that of being a student and professor. Patients are not a part of
a medical community; students are part of a university community. Patients don’t work, study and assist
medical doctors; students often do all of the aforementioned with professors. Patients don’t hang around the doctors office, students hang out throughout the university campus. Patients don’t socialize with doctors; professors and students socialize and are often encouraged to socialize by university administrators. Bourrie would like to have the university function like a hospital in terms of standards and practices with students. God help students and professors if such becomes fully the case; unfortunately such is gradually becoming the case.
And I don’t want to let the medical and legal professions get a pass re Bourrie’s power imbalance issue. Power imbalances are rife throughout the medical world. Does Bourrie really believe that relationships between doctors and nurses are banned and do not occur? That relationships between doctors and med techs are banned and do not occur? Between doctors and medical staff? I will leave it for Bourrie’s imagination to determine how the ethically engaged legal profession in the real world deals with the power imbalance issue.
I will say this in the legal area- Bourrie would be laughed out of court if he came and testified that he knew that in all student prof affairs there can be no consent, case closed. As indicated, it would be Bourrie’s responsibility to testify regarding a particular case and if he were an expert witness to present
evidence that consent was diminished or abolished in the particular case under consideration.
And if Bourrie is adverse to power imbalances and power abuses, he must know that appointing persons to investigate and control the sexual behavior of others in private requires a power imbalance and is essentially equivalent to power abuse.
I will now skip to Bourrie’s point 5 which is relevant to the points I have just made.
5. The potential liability of the university when it enables this to take place.
I do not believe there is an issue here. I know of no case in which a university was sued successfully for not prohibiting consensual relationships. Who would be doing the suing, not the consenting parties, but some third party, such as Dr. Bourrie. Maybe Bourrie might consider suing Concordia for not prohibiting such relationships. Even Bourrie saying that the university enables these relationships is problematic. Where there is a large number of eligible persons in terms of dating and mating concentrated in the same geographic area, relationships will occur; relationships will occur between profs and students, no matter what the university policy. Of course, if female students did not find some professors attractive, there will be no consensual relationships in this area. For this to occur, we will need some coercive mind manipulation and control and I am sure Bourrie would not want that.
Bourrie’s point 2-
2. The real and apparent conflict of interest re: marks, scholarship evaluation, internships, TA and RA hirings and assignments, and other out-of-class evaluations.
As for conflict of interest, I believe that Concordia as well as most other universities have conflict of interest policies. Where conflict of interest situations occur, the university should attempt to deal with them. No need for a special sexual conflict of interest policy. Of course, the conflict of interest policy as indicated by Bourrie is directed to having fair and objective treatment of students in terms of their various evaluations. Unfortunately, the university is terribly derelict in this policy, such is so apparent in that the university never ever warns profs or anyone else not to differentially treat students or colleagues in terms of personal attractiveness or in terms of personal relationships. I know Bourrie feels the sexual component is different. I don’t. The issue is the same. The issue is creating an environment where it would be unthinkable to grade students based on personal preferences. I know it is an anathema to me.
I know I never let any kind of personal relationship interfere with how I graded a student, etc. And in terms of apparent conflict of of interest, in my case such was not relevant since my private life was private. In any case, universities are terribly delinquent in dealing with conflict of interest policy, particularly when it deals with money. I suggest that people taka a look at the University Diaries blog
and see how medical schools deal with conflict of interest issues.
3. The disruption to the teaching environment, as other students believe a conflict and favoritism may exist.
Unfortunately as I have stated previously, students often feel there is favoritism with student x getting a better grade than oneself. Such is rife amongst students; I got a C because the prof did not like me, etc. etc. Does Bourie think that students do not frequently think that he grades based on personal preference.? This belief generally has little or nothing to do with reality. If, IN FACT, a personal relationship of a professor disrupts the learning environment, the student or students should be able to file a complaint and there should be an investigation. I know that Bourrie thinks such disruptions due to a student prof relationship are frequent. I beg to differ. It is rare. Bourrie will of course know of the exceptions, professors and students who are discreet will not be known by Bourrie.
4. The discomfort of students who do not want to be approached by professors seeking a relationship.
Of course, this can be an issue. And when it occurs, such should fall under the sexual harassment policy.
And, of course, Bourrie seems not to get it- that for a relationship to ensue, the professor does not have to approach. In my experience, the “approach” was by the female student or it was apparent that there was a mutual attraction. Or, on a more pedestrian level- I first dated my wife to be after the class ended, after Spring semester. She was not a student of mine in the Fall and we dated and had a serious relationship. Then she told me during registration for the forthcoming Spring courses,, she wanted to take one of my courses and if it was OK with me. I told her that her question was misdirected; the issue for her is whether it was OK with her. I treat all my students the same and as a student I treat her the same as all other students. It was her call to make, not mine. And, I know, unfortunately, there will always be people who think the worst, that she was prostituting herself for the grade; that she was a gradedigger. If you live for these people, then you will end up leading a horrendous life, trying to please people who always think the worst of others.
6. The affect of this behavior on the university’s reputation, as people in the community believe students can literally screw their way to an A.
People will believe what they want, no matter what the policy of the university. I would question if a university’s reputation will go up if they adopt such a policy. Will the status or prestige of Concordia or UT, really change due to this policy? Did the prestige of UC Berkeley go up after a policy was adopted.
In any case, reputation and prestige should be no rationale for taking away fundamental rights such as
choice of romantic partner.
And might I ask Bourrie, did Clinton’s prestige among the voters at large go down and remain down after his relationship with intern Lewinsky was revealed? And now as a “retired” person living with my wife who was my ex-student and meeting persons from all walks of life, including professors, and in terms of getting acquainted, we often relate how we met to others, and no person has ever responded with any degree of negativity. And if our past was a problem for them, then adios. And if we violated the so-called professional standards of whatever profession, no guilt from this party. I feel sorry for people who forego the opportunity to love and be loved in the name of professionalism. In the name of love, I sign off, at least for now.
Mark Bourrie on his Ottawa Watch Blog responds to my critique on his wanting to ban student prof intimacies at Concordia University. He states-
An American university professor/blogger doesn’t get it. He says I want to “coerce” people. Actually, no. I want them to act professionally. I don’t want them to come on to, date and/or sleep with someone, then grade their work, decide on their scholarships, etc.
Of course, Dr. Bourrie is playing words games. He wants to coerce them if they act in a manner that he finds unprofessional. If they act like he wants them to act, if they act like him, no problem. Nothing new here, particularly in the area of sexuality. Follow my sexual standards or else! Nothing new here in reference to authoritarianism, just follow the ethic handed down from above, and all will be OK.
And then there is Bourrie’s naivete or is it verbal manipulation? Note his statement- “I don’t want them to come on to, date and/or sleep with someone, then grade their work, decide on their scholarships, etc.” This is sexism to the nth degree! Male active, female passive. A female student coming on to a male prof is nothing unusual, such has never been unusual and will never be unusual. Maybe the case is that female students do not find Bourrie attractive but such does not mean that they do not find other male profs attractive. I know this to be a fact based on my 35 years of experience as a professor as well as based on the experiences of many other professors and the many female students who have contacted me in regards to their love of their professor. And if Bourrie is unaware of male profs and female students marrying, such is other worldly. If female students were not attracted to male profs then the issue of consensual relationships would not be an issue.
Then Bourrie states-
“If sex between profs and students is so right, why do the profs involved keep it a secret? I figure anything that can’t take public scrutiny tends to be illegal, immoral or fattening. U of T gets that aspect, too, and it’s a good start.”
I ask Bourrie and his confreres, if in the past homosexuals believed their homosexuality right, then why did homosexuals keep their homosexuality secret? Why were homosexuals so closeted? Any person with some degree of common sense knows the answer to these questions. Being in the closet, keeping such things secret, does not mean that the secreted believe they are wrong, but often means that they do not want to be harassed, stigmatized and fired. As persons without power, they do not want to be subject to the power abuse of bureaucrats, police and various agents of moral zealots; moral zealots who act self-righteously in the name of their morality , their professionalism, etc.
And in more general terms about Bourrie’s feeling that “anything can’t take public scrutiny tends to be illegal, immoral or fattening.” Very funny if one does not believe in the right to privacy, in this case the right to privacy by consenting adults. I assumed that even so-called professionals believe sexual relationships between adults in private was OK. If the Concordia prof and student came out publicly, I guess Bourrie would feel OK about this rather than feeling that they were flaunting their relationship. I believe most people who are opposed to student professor relationships want them to be in the closet, not out in public for all to see, not engaging in marriage ceremonies, etc.
Bourrie then cites the University of Toronto policy in he following terms-
Here’s U of T’s policy. At least they recognize the conflict and say the affair must be disclosed, but look at the weasel word “should” in the first paragraph. I would prefer “must”:
University policy does not prohibit sexual relations between consenting adults. However, if you form any kind of intimate personal relationship with someone who teaches you or otherwise makes academic decisions affecting you, that teacher has a conflict of interest. She or he should disclose the conflict of interest to their academic supervisor – usually the Chair of the department or the Dean of the faculty – and should ensure that your work is graded by a colleague.
If your teacher does not disclose the conflict of interest, s/he is not simply in breach of University policy: s/he is showing a negligent disregard for your academic interests, and placing the legitimacy of your academic accomplishments in question.
Has Dr. Bourrie really thought thru the implications and possible consequences of policies of this sort? If not, I suggest that the good professor put himself in the position of the involved student and the professor who is committed to following university rules. One day, you as the student are removed from the classroom and theoretically put in another class for your own good. (Sometimes the student may not be physically removed from the class, but graded by another prof, no matter whether she stays or goes, the problems remain essentially the same.) And, in addition, you know that the university administrators who are “helping” you, know of your sexual activity that led to your removal. And then you will have to deal with the reality that it is your special professor who informed on you and has helped to remove you from his class. What kind of professor would do this? What kind of professor would do this to a woman who he supposedly loved? And for the involved professor his life goes on, no serious disruption since the disclose dispose policy, as some call it, has been implemented. I ask Dr. Bourrie, who professes to be a person who believes in this policy, have you ever given one iota of thought to the exiled student? Or was she simply a non-person who was disposed of? And this policy is implemented by some to correct a power imbalance; this is power imbalance at its worst.
But, of course, there is more, much more which is damning about this sort of policy. Supposedly the student is removed from class so that differential non-prejudicial grading can take place. But once the student is removed one can be assured that differential grading will take place since all the students but one will have the same grader. For the professor who is committed to fair and objective grading, the professor grades all the students using the same standard irrespective of whether the prof likes or dislikes the student.
However, dealing with the possible reality of the student being removed from class, who will be the grader and will the grader be able to grade this student as the regular prof grades all of the other students? How can it be assured that a colleague of the “special” professor will grade the student objectively, that his or her feeling about the special prof or the student, will not interfere with the grading? Will the grader be told that the student is the lover of the prof? And what if the grade is based on an in class project, on class participation, how will this be dealt with? And what if the student is taken out of an art or music or theatre arts or sports class? How can the prof deal with this? Shouldn’t the grading prof be forced to sit thru the entire class and then grade the student?
It is amazing that so many people, so many academics, are taken in by a policy that after a bit of thought one cannot help but label said policy as a sham. Academics often have knee jerk responses to these policies. Why? Because most academics give little thought to the intricacies, complexities and ethics of grading. Grading is at the bottom of the academic totem pole. Tell me about one professor at Concordia or UT who was hired in part because of their grading practices. Tell me about any university that has workshops for new or old faculty on grading practices. Of course, many faculty don’t grade, they ship out grading to teaching assistants. So much for the importance of grading.
Bottom line is that the policies that Bourrie, et. al., advocate are not based on a commitment to good grading but are rather based on rooting out those who they see as sexual deviants. In the dankprofessor’s opinion the irony regarding Bourrie and his concern for his daughter at the hands of a so-called predator professor is that his daughter would probably be at much greater risk if she becomes involved in the hookup and drinking culture associated with all too many colleges than if she became involved with her English or Theatre Arts professor. As the dankprofessor has indicated previously-
the love of knowledge can lead to the knowledge of love. Such passions simply cannot be destroyed or regulated by campus bureaucrats or professionals of any kind.
Mark Bourrie of the Ottawa Watch blog has complained to the Dean of Arts of Concordia University about a fellow university instructor who allegedly is having an intimate relationship with a Concordia student. Bourrie does not name the professor or student in his letter of complaint to the dean.
He states that his concerns relate to unprompted conversations he has had with eleven of his female students. He goes on to state that “The alleged affair is common knowledge among students in one of the university’s departments.”
The problem that Bourrie has is that a consensual sexual relationship between a student and professor is not prohibited at Concordia University. The Concordia Dean of Arts responded to Bourrie in these terms-
“Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. You should be aware that “Concordia does not forbid intimate [consensual] relationships between faculty and students”. We recognize that such relationships are intrinsically problematic, and strongly advise both students and faculty members against engaging in them, but they are not forbidden.”
The fact that the alleged relationship falls outside of the purview of regulation by the Concordia administration and treats students and professors as having the right to engage in autonomous decision making in regards to choice of romantic partners does not impress Dr. Bourrie. Far from it , he responds to said policy in these terms-
“That’s outrageous. Your answer is completely unacceptable. The power imbalance between a professor and a student is such that sexual relationships cross the boundaries of exploitation. I will bring this matter to the attention of the president of the university. Quite frankly, the conduct and attitudes of administrators and professors at Concordia borders on the bizarre.”
So Bourrie knows that in the alleged current situation, boundaries of exploitation have been crossed; he knows that such is the case since he believes that there is a power imbalance in any student professor sexual relationship and such crosses the boundaries of exploitation. Of course. Bourie ends up thoroughly objectifying and dehumanizing any student professor relationship. He doesn’t have to talk to the parties involved; he has already defined the parties in his cartoon world imagery. As for the female student, no matter that she may feel that she is not being exploited, no matter that she may see herself as an adult who has consented to the relationship, Bourrie knows her mind better that she knows her mind.
Bourrie goes on and the dankprofessor believes that he eventually tells us what is the dynamic fueling his opposition to student professor relationships-
“I am quite scandalized by this. The idea of, say, a 40-year-old prof and an 18-year-old student having a “relationship” just boggles the mind. I have a 14-year-old daughter. In four years, she could be “dating” some prof at Concordia. Quite frankly, I have found academia to be the most disfunctional and downright corrupt thing I have ever come into contact with… Apparently, the Senate of Concordia has considered the issue, and it’s OK for profs to have sex with students. Guess where my kids aren’t going…”
Bourrie’s story is the same old story for many of those opposing student professor relationships. The story is about protecting ones children or others peoples children from the evil adult predatory professors.
Of course, what Bourrie wants is the administration to represent authoritarian parents in helping them regulate the lives of their children. Viewing college students as adults is simply out of the question. Entertaining the notion that some students are older adults and wish to date professors who are also younger adults of a similar age is also out of the realm of possibility for Bourrie. Of course, at many universities many students are well beyond their teens, many are in their twenties thirties and forties and even some beyond. And, yes, I met my wife to be when she was a student of mine and in her fifties.
But as far as age is concerned, younger students deserve the same rights as older students. They have a right to be free of the power control and abuse of more powerful abusers, whether the abusers be authoritarian parents or administrators. The irony for Bourrie and likeminded others is that in the name of attacking a so-called power imbalance between students and professors they want a power imbalance in which they want absolute control. What utter hypocrisy!
Now the dankprofessor wishes to make it clear that he is not opposed to Bourrie, to university administrators providing their advice to students or to whomever they wish to provide advice. What the dankprofessor opposes is Bourrie and university administrations having the right to coerce others in
terms of romantic choice. Concordia University provides advice to their students and professors in this area. The problem is that they provide bad advice. The remainder of this post is devoted to presenting and critiquing said advice.
Presented below is the official university advice on student professor relationships; the text of this statement is highlighted. The dankprofessor’s comments appear unhilighted in the text of the statement.
Concordia does not forbid intimate relationships between faculty and students that are consensual. However, such relationships are fraught with danger and the recommendation from the Advisor is that it is better to avoid them.
There are several reasons for this recommendation, not the least of which is the observation that when such relationships sour – and they often do – it is the student who usually loses, not the faculty member. Offices that provide services to students often hear these tales, and know that, more often than not, the student drops out of a course, a program or even the university. Professionally speaking, faculty should be encouraging students to learn, not taking risks with their academic futures.
Of course, consistent with this advice is that persons never take risks in context of romantic and sexual relationships. In all relationships there are risks of relationships terminating; in marriage there are risks in marriages ending in divorce. In all human endeavors, there are risks of failure. Of course, no evidence is presented in the Ottawa statement that student prof relationships are more risky than other relationships. And the writer of this statement very well knows that when one goes to counseling services, one almost always hears “tales” of woes. If the observer/researcher can’t get out of his office and observe the myriad world of relationships, such represents laziness and incompetence. The statement is also insulting to faculty implying that the faculty psyche is beyond frailty and they do not experience loss when a relationship with a student ends. The last sentence- “Professionally speaking, faculty should be encouraging students to learn, not taking risks with their academic futures” – is particularly absurd and insulting. The notion that if the faculty member is romantically involved with the student he or she cannot encourage the student to learn is beyond the pale. In fact, I would argue based on the experience of many others, that the situation is just the opposite, that the prof is devoted to student learning. As the dankprofessor has pointed out- the love of knowledge can very well lead to the knowledge of love.
What faculty members may not realize is that they also place themselves and the University at risk by crossing this particular boundary. If a student who has entered a relationship with a professor decides, upon its termination, to file a complaint of sexual harassment, the case will turn on the issue of consent. There is a view that, given the considerable power differential between student and professor, a student’s consent to a relationship is always compromised. Whether one subscribes to this argument or not, human rights tribunals have supported it. The question becomes, is it worth the risk?
The dankprofessor would like to see the citations of so-called tribunals that there cannot be consent when there is a power differential between a student and a professor. If so, then Concordia is de jure governed by these cases and by definition there can be no such consensual relationships between students and profs. In any case, if all consensual relationships ended tomorrow, sexual harassment cases will continue unabated at universities. To conflate sexual harassment and consensual relationships does a disservice to those who are attempting to combat sexual harassment on campus and ends up trivializing sexual harassment.
There are other, less controversial legal arguments that suggest that faculty refrain from such relationships, namely breach of trust and conflict of interest. Here too, human rights tribunals and arbitration boards have found against faculty members. Faculty have a duty to avoid conflict of interest and to exercise their power over students only in the students’ interests, not in their own interests.
Again, it is presumptuous that faculty involved with students do not take the interests of students seriously. Conflict of interest issues deserve attention in respect to all aspects of university life. Given this, there is no special need for a category regarding student prof relationships. Campaigns against such relationships are sexually based, have an anti-sexual basis, and are generally not conflict of interests based
Faculty members should be mindful of Concordia’s own Code of Ethics, which defines the conflicts of interest that arise when there is a personal relationship between a faculty member and a student.
The requirement is that if the relationship cannot be avoided, the faculty member should excuse him- or herself from any supervisory or evaluative role with regard to the student concerned. It is not necessary to declare the reasons for the conflict. So at the very least, if you cannot avoid the relationship, you should declare it.
And declaring it, is this in the interest of the student? Shouldn’t the student have a say in the matter? Declaring the relationship makes the relationship a public relationship and now will fall officially within the purview of university administration decision making. My advice is to never declare these relationships to the university. By doing this the danger to both the student and prof goes way up.
As for students, the advice given by a student quoted in a University Affairs article is: “Do not have sex with anyone you sometimes have to call Mister, Doctor or Professor” – it may cost you dearly.
OK, lets get down to the nitty-gritty, the fear here is that the title will be replaced by the first name or darling or my love, or love, etc, etc. Such opposition to terms of endearment might represent a fear of undermining the university stratification system. And in terms of authoritarian structures or states, love is always the enemy.
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.
U-news of Canada has a collection of recent essays, including one by the dankprofessor, on student professor relationships. Most of the essays are indicative of the retarded thinking on this issue. A close reading of the Dalhousie pamphlet on helping their professors and students could lead one to become diagnosed as paranoid. Ultimately, it is fair to state that these policies are driven by a fear of sexuality. Until said fears are overcome, the campus fear mongers will continue to rule the day with their cadre of campus police and lawyers.
The University World News article “Ban sex between lecturers and students?” in the UK which I cited in my last post merits more attention from the dankprofessor.
The article cites Rob Briner, a professor of organisational psychology at Birkbeck University who bemoans the loss of the old Oxbridge ideal of meeting students for a glass of sherry at 11am.
“When I was a student, the lecturer would close the door for a tutorial but now lecturers are wary of doing things like that – most just wouldn’t do it,” Briner said. “Staff are aware of the need to keep away from situations where they might be accused of doing anything.”
Where they might be accused of doing anything? How utterly sad that the passage of these fraternization rules has led to fear and paranoia on campus and the destruction of campus community. Better to do nothing than anything. Keep those doors open on the closed campuses?
British universities have become more wary of possible allegations of abuse on the one hand but have also in many cases come to accept they cannot prevent relationships taking place.
A survey by the Times Higher Education Supplement in 2005 found that 52 out of 102 institutions had developed policies on the issue with many, like Birkbeck, requiring that any such relationship be declared to the employee’s line manager.
“Like in a lot of other policy areas, the organisation is trying to acknowledge that it [sexual relations] is going on and then they can deal with it,” Briner said.
Most universities contacted by University World News were either reluctant or unable to give numbers of lecturers who had been forced to resign as a result of a sexual relationship with a student. In America – where many universities have an outright ban on student-lecturer relationships – the American Association of University Professors was unable to provide any statistics on the issue.
“Although we handle hundreds and even thousands of inquiries and complaints each year… there is no central source for statistics on the nature of those cases,” said Dr John Curtis, Director of Research and Public Policy at the AAUP.
Of course, there are no statistics on student professor consensual relationships due to the fact that they are consensual! Are parties to a consensual relationship motivated to turn themselves in and thereby become part of a campus statistic?
As for the inability of campuses to prevent consensual relationships,
why would any academic expect that there could be effective prevention? Have same sex consensual relationships been prevented in the context of centuries of persecution?
What astounds the dankprofessor is that journalists almost always buy into the myth that consensual relationships between students and professors represent a danger to the university. For example, I am not aware of any case in which a lawsuit has been brought against a university due to a consensual relationship between a student and a professor? Yes, there have been many lawsuits regarding sexual harassment involving a student and a professor, but consensual relationships between a student and a professor are not a subpart of sexual harassment no matter how many times the two are confounded by journalists, academics and assorted ideologues. And, yes, a consensual relationship can turn into a situation of sexual harassment, but the absurdity of banning consensual relationships due to a bad outcome becomes transparent if when using this logic one argues that consensual heterosexual relationships should be banned because they can result in situations of rape.
Overall, though, it seems as if policies that require lecturers to reveal any intimate relationships they are having with students – now common in the UK and US – are likely to spread.
If they are likely to spread then academics who value privacy and autonomy and do not feel good about universities embracing an authoritarian corporate model, should fight the spread of these nefarious policies
In conclusion, the University World News cites Professor Manola Makhanya, Pro vice-chancellor of the University of South Africa who they stated was
certainly enthusiastically considering whether such specific policies could be applied in South Africa: “It is important to focus on this because my sense is that it will increase,” he said. “Clearly we have to come up with policies rather than sit back, be confronted with a situation and not know how to deal with it.”
My advice to Professor Makanya is that it is better to do nothing. Better to reject the American university model of the meddling moralistic authoritarians. In fact, I am sure that the good professor knows that the American electorate just got rid of its number one meddler after a history of eight years meddling in the affairs of just about everybody.
The dankprofessor has repeatedly argued but to no avail that university regulations that require a professor who is in a sexual relationship with a student to report said relationship to the appropriate university administrator is a gross violation of the student’s privacy. In terms of this policy, there is no requirement that the student must give permission to the professor to report their relationship to the University.
My advice to professors who are in such a situation is to not report unless there is student consent. More generally my advice is that if the professor does report to the administration, the probability is that said relationship will become known to the university community. In effect, the professor will be outing both himself or herself and the student.
In terms of the Warwick case, the outing of the student was disastrous for the student. She has framed it in the following manner-
“To be frank, this story has never been newsworthy and should never have come to light. Aside from the fact that the details disclosed have been of a deeply personal nature, the widespread disclosure of this has proved very upsetting. It really has.”
And the University World News has reported the following:
When Professor Istvan Pogany, 57, began a consensual relationship with one of his students at Britain’s University of Warwick, he did what many would consider ‘good practice’ and informed his line manager. But the student, who is in her 30s, then fell pregnant and her subsequent anguished decision to have an abortion led to lurid headlines that raised the question again whether intimate relationships between academics and students should be more strongly discouraged, or even prohibited.
Of course, the University World News didn’t get it quite right. The Warwick case raises the question as to whether professors should be forced to report on their students and their intimate relationships. If privacy had been respected at Warwick, there is little likelihood that this would have become a media story. Laissez faire in terms of intimate relationships between adults may at times be problematic, but it is far better than forcible intrusion by government authorities and university administrators into the sex lives of those who they consider to be their subjects.
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.
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