Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Sex and grading

Professor Charles Lindsey of the Florida Gulf Coast University has responded to my critical post in his recent commentary on the issue of the regulation of student professor sexual relationships and the regulation of sexual relationships between other members of the university community.  I appreciate his temperate response and I now respond to his critique.
 
Professor Lindsey disputes my assertion that restrictions on relationships between people when one exercises supervisory authority over another are automatically “power abuse”.  Of course, such may come down to the adage of beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Here is how I behold.  Consensual sexual relationships between adults should not be subject to the intervention by a higher authority just because said authority feels that some or most persons may be offended by said consensual relationships.  Such should not occur simply because their may be the appearance of impropriety.  Appearances should not trump the right of consenting adults to be left alone.  The Supreme Court in the Lawrence case affirmed that traditional antipathy toward consensual same sex sexual relationships is no grounds for the intervention of state authority into said relationships or the penalizing of the parties in said relationships.  The same is true in regards to interracial relationships. But unfortunately there has been a long history of interventions by universities into interracial, same sex and student professor relationships at various times in American history.  It all depended on which way the winds of sexual bigotry were or are blowing.
Professor Lindsey then states the following-
Your argument seems to be that since we cannot stamp out all forms of prejudicial grading, we should remain silent about this one. I don’t agree with that either (if I am misrepresenting your position, feel free to correct me). Faculty have an obligation to be fair and objective in grading students, <i>and to be perceived as fair and objective</i> as much as we can manage it. Having relationships with one’s current students is highly damaging to this perception–ask any of the other students in the class–and the university has a legitimate interest in preventing such damage, since it ultimately impacts the reputation of the entire institution.
 
Lindsey does not understand my argument or the basic issue which is involved here.  Of course, I agree that faculty have the obligation to be fair and objective in grading.  Faculty should not treat any student differentially based on a sexual relationship or any other form of relationship.  To argue that ones personal relationship with a person who is also a student automatically precludes fair and objective grading is absurd.  It may or may not impact on ones grading.  Such is an empirical question that may be addressed in regards to any specific situation.  As indicated previously the fact that some students some of the time may look askance at such relationships is simply not relevant if one takes a civil liberties perspective.  And, of course, for many and probably most student professor sexual relationships, other students and other professors may have no knowledge of a particular relationship.  Given the contemporary campus climate re this issue, most of these relationships are probably quite closeted.
 
The irony is that once a policy is established in this area then the involved student will be treated differentially, subject to possibly be taken out of the classroom and have ones privacy taken away if the professor follows the boilerplate procedure and informs ones supervisor that the professor is having an affair with so and so student.  I call this abuse.  Professor Lindsey appears more willing to save the reputation of the university than protecting the reputation and privacy of the student and the professor.
Even the assertion that the reputation of the university is based in whole or in part on suppressing student professor sexual relationships is problematic except for those who are sexually obsessed.
 
Professor Lindsey then concludes with the following-
If you know where I can get information about workshops on prejudicial grading, I would be interested in looking into it.” 
Of course, I know of no such workshops at any university.  I suggested that this is where the need is because universities give lip service to the importance of grading.  If grading was held in high value by universities faculties it would be abominable that teaching assistants would ever do the grading; too important of a function to leave to the inexperienced. In my 30 plus years as a university professor it was routine that professors expressed disdain for students that they were grading.  Professors routinely have their favorite and not so favorite students but such favoring seems to be quite acceptable and supposedly unrelated to grading fairness.  And then there is grade inflation which occurs when profs give students higher grades so that they can get higher student evaluations.
And then there are professors who quite openly state how much they hate grading.  Hating what one does particularly when what one does has import on the lives of others clearly indicates we have a problem here.
 
I could go on and on as to how profs are generally oblivious to matters relating to fairness in grading.  The need for workshops in this area is great.  But there won’t be any since profs don’t invest themselves in grades and grading.  Professors don’t get accolades from other professors about what great graders they are; students care about grading, not professors. Tell me Professor Lindsey do you know of instances when job applicants for teaching positions are ever questioned about grading issues.
 
So I tell Professor Lindsey the issue at his university is not about grading; its about sex. Take the sex away and hardly anyone gives a damn. Say it isn’t so Charles Lindsey.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, Florida Gulf Coast University, grading, higher education, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating | 2 Comments

FGCU faculty member speaks out

Charles Lindsey, FCGU faculty member and President of the Academic Senate, speaks out against the hysteria being generated at Florida Gulf Coast University regarding student professor sexual relationships. 

Well, in the dankprofessor’s terms he sort of speaks out condemning those who want to have blanket bans but not confronting the banning of student prof relationships where there is a supervisory component.  He fails to grasp that such consensual relationships should not be subject to the power abuse of the university administration and are not inrinsically “good” or “bad”.

The banning of student prof relationships because they supposedly lead to prejudicial grading functions as a smoke screen which functions to cover up widespread prejudicial grading at almost all universities.  The probability is overwhelming that at FGCU and at almost all universities there have never been workshops on prejudicial grading- how to avoid said grading and what to do about it.

The dankprofessor holds that the so-called problem of student prof sex is miniscule as compared to the problem of prejudicial grading.  Unfortunately, as usual, sex trumps just about everything else.

September 7, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, Florida Gulf Coast University, higher education, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Trashing student professor “trysts”

News articles abound on the student professor issue at Florida Gulf Coast University.  More precisely stupidity and bigotry abound as reflected in the following student comment on student prof sexual relationships-

Sophomore Zack Michniewicz, 20, an engineering major from Tampa, said no good can come out of a professor-student relationship. The student could be taking advantage of a teacher in hopes of earning a better grade, he said, while the teacher could be abusing his or her power for personal gain.

Of course, for this student persons such as myself and my wife do not exist.  Mr. Michniewicz sees the only the bad. 

Why do student prof relationships tend to bring out the worst in people?  Maybe its because in this instance it is OK to degrade and demean and damn. 

Is the dankprofessor the only professor who will speak out against such trash talk?

September 7, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, Florida Gulf Coast University, higher education, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment

Student professor sex attacked at Florida Gulf Coast U

 A professor at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) has launched an intemperate attack on fellow professors who have an amorous affair with a university student.  Professor Edward T. Wimberley, who teaches courses in philosophy, ethics and environmental public policy, labeled such professors as “unscrupulous, self-serving and narcissistic adults.”

 Unfortunately, Wimberley feels that it is OK to apply such degrading rhetoric to any professor who engages in such a relationship.  Surely Professor Wimberley must know of some professors and students who had an affair and ultimately settled into marital tranquility and ultimately parenthood.  In fact, it may be that some of the children of these relationships may even be in one of the professor’s classes and now find that their esteemed professor labels their father as simply an unscrupulous narcissistic adult.

Of course, Wemberley totally ignores the likelihood that these relationships are often initiated by female students.

In fact, the whole anti-student professor relationships movement either ignores the female student or treats female students as children.  The fact is that if female students were not attracted to some of their professors and did not consider these professors as eligible, there would be very few of these relationships.  Remove female professorial attraction and the so-called problem in essence is resolved.  But, of course, this will not occur since we do not live in an authoritarian therapeutic state.

 Professor Wimberley goes on to state-

Personally, I fervently hope that the very concept of permissible and acceptable consensual relationships between students and faculty will be rejected outright. As a parent and professor, I can see no situation where it is acceptable for an undergraduate student — particularly one younger than 21 years of age — to be engaged in a sexual relationship with someone significantly older who is legitimately expected to provide a wholesome role model to students. I suspect that a stronger case could be made for consensual relationships with older students — such as graduate students. However, given the poor self-restraint of so many of our FGCU faculty over the years, I would have to assume that the adoption of a consensual-relationship policy will implicitly sanction inappropriate relationships among university faculty and staff with students and will serve to perpetuate the idea that such relationships are acceptable as long as they don’t violate the letter of university guidelines.

 Clearly the professor regards students as children or childlike.  If such was not the case, why does he invoke his parental status?  Although he acknowledges the possibility of consensuality when the student is older, he still opts out for the draconian banning of all student prof intimacies at FGCU. Of course, the professor would have trouble confronting the fact that the average age of FGCU students in 2008 was 23 years old.  No matter the reality that most students are adults at FGCU, Wemberley still speaks as an authoritarian parent who wants the university to apply his authoritarian values to all of the FGCU student children or “kids”,a term often used to refer to students by authoritarian professors.

But there is much more to this story.  It turns out that the ongoing evaluation of student professor relationships has been speeded up by the “revelation” that there is an investigation of a specific student and professor at FGCU.

The naplesnews.com has reported-

Professors in the counseling department filed a complaint against Associate Professor Patrick Davis, accusing him of being engaged to be married to a graduate student who he has advised and taught. They also raised concerns that he has retroactively changed some grades issued to the student, whose name was redacted from reports.

 Note that the accusation as reported was that he was engaged to marry a student who he HAS advised and taught.  As for the serious charge that he has prejudicially changed a student grade, such can be dealt with without banning all student professor intimate relationships. Prejudicial grading and grade changing is wrong, no matter as to whether there was or was not a sexual component.  The fact that some apparently consider the student professor consensual sexual relationship issue as more important than the problem of prejudicial grading reflects the deterioration of academic ethics. 

The best thing that the FGCU administration could do is simply suspend the effort to regulate/control intimate relationships between students and professors; if not such will inevitability lead to abuse of too many students and professors and the violation of their privacy.  Of course, the FGCU administration should be vigorous in enforcing grading practices so that they will be uniformly non-prejudicial.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | attractive professors, consensual relationships, ethics, Florida Gulf Coast University, higher education, privacy, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment

Rice University to crackdown on student prof sex

Rice University has recently been the subject of accolades from rather diverse sources.  Rice was the highest ranked Texas college or university in the 2009 Forbes Magazine ranking of student friendly universities; Rice was ranked 43rd in a field of 600 ranked universities.

And Rice made the Chronicle Of Higher Education listing of colleges that are particularly employee friendly during the current economic downturn.  In the CHE issue of July 10, 2009, Professor of History Alex X. Byrd had this to say about the Rice administration-“They really know the dilemmas that are facing people that work at universities, and they really work hard to have the universities meet those issues.  They’ve really got us covered.”

I am not sure how covered the Rice professors were in prior years, but as of this Fall semester, all Rice faculty will be more sexually covered than in prior years.  As reported in the student newspaper, the Rice Thresher

The Faculty Senate updated its Statement on Consensual, Amorous Relations with Students for the first time in over a decade…The new statement, which goes into effect in September, prohibits any romantic relationships between faculty and all undergraduate students, and between faculty and graduate students directly under their supervision or in their department.

The updated statement, which was approved in a 17-2 vote by the Senate on April 15, includes stricter language and more precise definitions of expected behavior, Faculty Senate Speaker Deborah Harter said.

The Chair of the Working Group on Rice’s Amorous Relations Policy was Rebekah Drezek, a bioengineering professor.  She urged faculty to carefully read the document. Drezek said “Many faculty felt it was a confusing document and did not provide clear guidance on expected behavior.  In addition, it was among the least restrictive policies in the country.”

Of course, for those who believe it is best to have sexual rules and regulations even for consenting adults, having non-restrictive “liberal” rules becomes an anathema.  But the fact of the matter appears to be that at Rice undergraduate students are not viewed as adults, no matter what their age.  Adulthood apparently is partially achieved when one becomes a graduate student.

The Thresher also quoted a Professor Harter, a French Studies Professor, who stated that at the Academic Senate meeting “Drezek noted that weak policies on amorous relations often end up hurting female students disproportionately.”  The dankprofessor is sure that no data was presented in support of this rather ambiguous statement.  Even if there was data that showed that female student disproportionately benefited from liberal policies such would have then also been a basis for opposition to amorous student faculty relationships.

The irony is that strong controlling policies function to benefit the weak who feel the need for rules from above to control their behavior and the behavior of others.  Adults who believe in personal autonomy even in sexual relationships are likely to view the controllers as engaging in unwarranted intrusion into private personal relationships.  An additional irony is that Rice, a Texas university, now takes the initiative in this area after the US Supreme Court rules in Lawrence, a case coming out of Texas,  that the state could not regulate private consensual relationships between persons of the same sex. 

In addition, the updated statement says that “in an academic setting such romantic or sexual relationships conflict with the implicit trust we encourage our students to enjoy vis-à-vis their professors [and] can result in emotional and psychological damage, and always have the potential for an abuse of power that constitutes unprofessional conduct.”  The policy then states that “accepting or exercising professional responsibility for any student with whom a faculty member has had a previous sexual or romantic relationship within the previous three years is presumed to create a conflict of interest and to violate professional ethics.”

Really, the above represents the same old traditional argument-that sex is dangerous and the only safe sex is marital sex.

However, not all Rice faculty bought into the evils of student professor amorous relationships.  The Thresher reported that some faculty “argued strongly that students over 18 are in a position to make good decisions, and that to prohibit relationships with them is to meddle unnecessarily in the private lives of consenting adults.”  However, there were only two dissenting votes cast in the Academic Senate.

And at least one Rice student publicly expressed opposition.  Sophomore Jeff Miller said he was concerned about the policy’s impact on student life.  He said- “This will restrict the already-limited dating options here at Rice.”

The dankprofessor’s response as to the restricting of dating options at Rice is that such will be surface restrictions.  Sexual lives at Rice are probably in general undercover.  For the romantically inclined, the love of knowledge at Rice can still lead to the knowledge of love.

August 10, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, privacy, Rice University, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating | 2 Comments

Love, sex and external examination

Keith Reader in his commentary on external examiners in the UK elucidates on his position that external examiners may be the way to go to avoid potential conflict of interest situations when a student to be graded is in a sexual relationship with the professor.  Alan Clements in his article, “Strengths and Weaknesses of the External Examiner Mechanism” describes the process as operating in the following manner:

An external examiner is appointed to monitor a course. External examiners are normally senior academics who are paid a modest honorarium for their work during their fixed term appointment (usually 4 years). External examiners must be disinterested with no links with the university they are examining and with no conflicts of interest (e.g., a relative studying at the university they are examining). A typical university may employ 300 external examiners to cover all its courses.

The external examiner takes part in the development of a course as an advisor and is consulted whenever rules are changed. The external examiner’s principal role is in quality control and the monitoring of the exam procedure. A professor in the USA may create an exam paper on Monday, give it to the students on Tuesday, and grade it on  Wednesday. In an English university, a teacher sets an exam with a marking scheme that provides sample answers together and an indication of how the marks are to be allocated. This exam is handed in to the secretary responsible for exams. The exam office sends the exam and its marking scheme to another member of the faculty for checking. This teacher returns the exam with corrections and suggestions and the person who set the exam creates a new version.

Having been checked internally, the exam paper is now sent to the external examiner who looks at the paper from the point of view of accuracy, conformity to the curriculum and quality. The external examiner would, for example, consider whether the assessment examines all parts of the unit and whether it is capable of discriminating between poor, good and very good students. The external examiner the returns the exam paper with comments and suggestions. These are passed to the unit leader who is expected to make the appropriate changes.

Clearly, such a long and involved process of setting an exam means that it is difficult to fine-tune an exam to a class because the exam is set months before it is taken. Equally, it is impossible to set several exams per unit because of the lead time and the bureaucratic overhead.

The role of the external examiner does not end with the checking of exams. After the students have taken the exam, the external examiner visits the university and attends the unit and progress boards. The external examiner has the right to comment on any aspect of the department’s work and assessment procedures. The external examiner scrutinizes work that has been graded (on a sampling basis) and may even interview students and staff. The external examiner signs final pass lists to validate them.

After the exam boards have met, the external examiner returns to his or her own university and writes a report. This report is sent to the other university’s registry as well as to the head of department. The department is expected to implement any suggestions made by the external examiner and to report back to them. Ignoring an external examiner’s comments is not an option.

Assuming that this system as it operates in the UK is successful in terms of abolishing potential conflict of interest impacting on course grading by insuring uniformity/standardization of course content and course grading, such would obviate any need to give special attention to student professor sexual relationships.  Certainly the UK external examiner process would veto the call for banning student professor sexual relationships since conflict of interest is not a problem.  However, as outlined by Reader, such is not the case since he indicates that the renouncing of these relationships is part of this UK process.  But why?  Why should they be renounced?  Of course, such renouncing has occurred and will occur in the context of moral and sexual outrage or offense.

What disturbs the dankprofessor and I expect would disturb most American academics is that the UK process standardizes courses and exams and grading to such a degree that the professor almost becomes an irrelevancy.  Ones course is no longer ones course but rather the university system’s course; the professor simply becomes a cog in the educational mechanism.  For the dankprofessor, such represents dehumanization to the nth degree.  And, of course, such can also be viewed as a steppingstone to the impersonal world of online education.  This becomes an education with no teacher passion, no love of knowledge leading to the knowledge of love.  How sad, how utterly pathetic that in order to eliminate the personal in education we might end up creating a Brave New World of Education.

But if this is to occur in America, it will not come about tomorrow.  Students enrolled in one section of a course are unlikely to find that they are experiencing the same course that students are experiencing in another section.  There will continue to be good courses and bad courses; good graders and bad graders.  And there will continue to be classes in which what happens in class is important to the learning process.  There will continue to be courses in which it would be impossible for an external grader to engage in fair grading unless the grader attended all sessions of the class.  And there will continue to be courses in which students are graded on what happens in class-class participation, class presentation as well as being graded on term papers and special projects.  Will the external examiner read all the 50 or so term papers to insure that there is fairness in grading?  And, of course, in the UK, the US and Canada or any other country, the usage of external graders would be highly problematic in disciplines such as art and theatre arts and dance.

An expansion of  the educational bureaucracy in order to eradicate student faculty romance should be considered to be out of order.  The only persons who would end up profiting from such a process would be the bureaucrats and their allied entrepreneurs.  In our age of moral entrepreneurship, it may be a pipedream to call for a laissez faire policy in higher education re matters of the heart.  But such will continue to be the calling of the dankprofessor.

May 31, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, grading, higher education, love, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating, United Kingdom | Leave a comment

Poetry, poets and sex

Poets have been making the headlines over the last couple of weeks, not in the USA, but in the UK.  Ruth Padel is now Britain’s first female Oxford Professor of Poetry.  Initially such was quite unexpected. Heavily favored to assume the Oxford Professor of Poetry was Caribbean Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. But Walcott dropped out of the race at the last moment, and a race it was, which made Padel the leading vote getter.

Walcott dropped out since he did not want to publicly engage in a controversy concerning his past sexual behavior.  As reported by the Guardian’s Katy Evan’s Bush-

“…an anonymous “smear” campaign alerted between 50 and 200 academics to his history of sexual harassment, as recounted in a 1984 book called The Lecherous Professor. John Walsh (an “old friend” of Padel’s) tore strips off Walcott…Accusations and recriminations flew and Walcott withdrew, saying he had never commented on the matter and wasn’t about to. Padel was voted in with her detractors’ boots in her back.

…Walcott was disciplined by Harvard University in 1982 (after which the university updated its sexual harassment policy) and settled out of court with another student, Nicole Niemi (now Kelby), at Boston University in 1996. He justified himself on the first occasion saying his teaching style was “deliberately personal and intense”. In fact, it was so intense, according to the student who complained, that after she refused his advances, he refused to discuss her work and gave her a C, which the university later raised to a pass.”

Ms. Evan-Bush goes on to state-

Whether or not you think this should bar Walcott from the Oxford professorship, the lack of clarity around the terms of the debate is disturbing. The press refers to “smears” against Walcott. “Smears” means slanderous untruths; Walcott has admitted making some of the comments attributed to him, been disciplined, had his grade reviewed, and settled out of court.

It may have been settled out of court and Walcott demurs to engage in the court of public opinion and withdraws from the Oxford candidacy, but the “victim” of his 1996 sexual harassment, Nicole Kelby, finds the whole thing quite unsettling.  She feels that Walcott should be the Oxford Professor of Poetry-

I am appalled and saddened by the anonymous smear campaign against my former mentor Derek Walcott. Everyone has a right to face his or her accusers. That’s why I sued Boston University. I wanted to discover if Professor Walcott was actually harassing me. At first, I thought he was joking. Anyone who knows him knows that it is his way to be sexual, to push the envelope of both decorum and good taste. I didn’t really want to think that this man whom I placed so much trust in, and had so much affection for, would actually be bartering sex for favours. It didn’t seem possible. But as events unfolded, I needed clarification.

Do I think that it’s appropriate for a professor to joke about sex with a student? No. I do not. Many years ago my daughter Hannah died, so I understand how dangerous the world can be. As a mother, I can not tolerate the idea of a young woman being harassed. Sexual harassment is not about lust, it is about asserting power over the powerless.

However, while I believe that it is not appropriate to be sexual towards students, I also realize that it happens. Writers, by nature, have reckless hearts. Poetry is a passionate art. That is why it is crucial that institutions have strict policies against sexual harassment and are not too embarrassed to allow concerns to be heard. It is impossible to legislate behaviour, but to allow a student an opportunity to question behaviour in a safe and open forum is within our grasp. I believe that Oxford is capable of dealing with any situation of this nature.

Derek Walcott is not an evil man. Like any man, he is flawed. But, like any great man, he is retrospect and understands that his flaws are universal. And from them, he creates art.

His role in this society is crucial. Art forces our minds to reinvent what we think and so we build impossible buildings, find improbable cures and make changes that could never have been dreamed of before. With every artistic moment the paradigm shifts and civilisation grows stronger for it.
I can only hope that Oxford decides to stop the election and allow everyone more time to reconsider what has just happened. Derek Walcott should not walk away from this post. He is the greatest living poet in our time and what he has to say is vital to all of us.

Well, Oxford didn’t stop the election and as a result of a 27 year old Harvard sexual harassment case and a 1996 Boston University sexual harassment case in which the so-called victim now engages in the bizarre, Walcott is out.  In Kelby’s terms the paradigm shifts but the dankprofessor believes that civilisation has not grown stronger.

In fact the book in which the Walcott case was written up, THE LECHEROUS PROFESSOR, was a paradigm shifting book.  It was this book by Billie Dziech and Linda Weiner which put forth a previously bizarre notion that differential power precludes consent, that there can never be a consensual relationship between a student and a professor.  This idea galvanized the campus anti-sexual feminists at the time and ultimately led to the initiation of a campaign to ban all student professor sexual relationships.  Or to put it another way, the Dziech argument conflated sexual harassment and consensual relationships.  In terms of the Walcott case, if the student had protested that she had consented, no matter to Dziech, it is still sexual harassment. It also energized the dankprofessor who had always been wary of persons who wanted to take the right of sexual consent from others in the name of protecting them from themselves.

Unfortunately, universities throughout North America bought into this gibberish and power was taken away from student professor couples and the power was given to Big Brother and Big Sister administrators.  The damage was done and continues to be done, and is now being done in the UK.

And as for the successful moral campaign against Derek Walcott becoming the Oxford Professor of Poetry, it can be called many things, but one thing it cannot be called is poetic justice.

And one final question- What’s wrong with a poet/professor telling a joke about sex in front of a student???

May 24, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, Oxford College, passion, poets, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, student professor dating, United Kingdom | 1 Comment

Burning desire in the classroom

The dankprofessor now feels that he may have been just a bit too hard  on William Deresiewicz (aka Cockmaster D while he was a professor at Yale) in my last post on his “Love on Campus” essay. 

Deresiewicz  is one of the very few academics who has directly opposed what has become a campus “truth” which is that female students never initiate anything sexual with a professor.  Almost all campus fraternization policies say that such is the case.  Female students are never seen as having any agency in this area.  Female students are not seen as being attracted to male profs.

Deresiewicz puts it in in these terms:

Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul. Students will sometimes mistake this earthquake for sexual attraction…

I think that Deresiewicz has it right in terms of professors igniting students, at least some of the students some of the time. Of course, there are many profs who never ignite students.  I surmise that it is the non-igniting professors who are the profs who are likely to become involved in sexual harassment charges; their advances are hardly ever welcomed by students.  On the other hand, the fully engaged and engaging professors are the ones likely to become involved in consensual sexual relationships with students since they are dealing with students who are ignited as a byproduct of their involvement in the class.  Or to put it in what may be overly simplified terms, professors who love teaching their subject are likely to become the subject of student love.  Of course, in the end Deresiewicz cops out- the students are mistaken, their “earthquake” has nothing to do with sexual attraction;
professors should help these jolted students avoid the excesses of campus love.

What Deresiewicz also fails to understand is that what he calls an earthquake experience is not unique to female students on campus.  In traditional terms, such is called being swept away.  The swept away feeling although applicable to both men and women, tends to be viewed as more often sought and experienced by women.  It is also used as a rationale for having sex-
“he just swept me off my feet”- although the swept away feeling may be less often invoked for sex in todays hookup and binge drinking campus culture.

Now someone who understands the swept away experience is unlikely to state to the swept away, as Deresiewicz states, that ‘you are mistaken, you are not really attracted to the prof, you are just experiencing brain sex.’  The dankprofessor response to Deresiewicz and others giving this sort of counsel to the swept way is that the professor counselors know little or nothing about love and romance and sex in the real world.  The fact that they often attempt to enforce their sexual biases as formal campus rules for sexual behavior is otherworldly.  What we pedestrian students and professors are often left with are campus administrators who suffer from both puffery and buffoonery in their everyday campus sexual rule making and enforcing.

May 12, 2009 Posted by | attractive professors, brain sex, consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, love, passion, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating, Yale University | 2 Comments

On proper student professor sexual relationships

In a 2007 AMERICAN SCHOLAR essay on “Love on Campus” by William Deresiewicz, the author has some interesting observations on student professor relationships.  He states:

…there is a reality behind the new, sexualized academic stereotype, only it is not what the larger society thinks. Nor is it one that society is equipped to understand. The relationship between professors and students can indeed be intensely intimate, as our culture nervously suspects, but its intimacy, when it occurs, is an intimacy of the mind. I would even go so far as to say that in many cases it is an intimacy of the soul. And so the professor-student relationship, at its best, raises two problems for the American imagination: it begins in the intellect, that suspect faculty, and it involves a form of love that is neither erotic nor familial, the only two forms our culture understands. Eros in the true sense is at the heart of the pedagogical relationship, but the professor isn’t the one who falls in love.

Love is a flame, and the good teacher raises in students a burning desire for his or her approval and attention, his or her voice and presence, that is erotic in its urgency and intensity. The professor ignites these feelings just by standing in front of a classroom talking about Shakespeare or anthropology or physics, but the fruits of the mind are that sweet, and intellect has the power to call forth new forces in the soul. Students will sometimes mistake this earthquake for sexual attraction, and the foolish or inexperienced or cynical instructor will exploit that confusion for his or her own gratification. But the great majority of professors understand that the art of teaching consists not only of arousing desire but of redirecting it toward its proper object, from the teacher to the thing taught.

Of course, Deresiewicz is right, but only partially right.  He is right in the sense that the student and the professor often have a passion for the subject matter.  And it is a passion that can facilitate an intense intimacy, and an intense desire by the student for approval and affirmation.  Such is what the dankprofessor calls the love of knowledge. But what Deresiewicz fails to understand is that sometimes this intimacy can lead to the knowledge of love.  He fails since he discards the knowledge of love as simply a mistake by a naïve student and a foolish or inexperienced or cynical instructor who will exploit the student for his or her own ends.

So Deresiewicz ends up playing the same old academic game when it comes to student professor sexual relationships.  The student doesn’t know, the cynical professor exploits the naïve vulnerable student.  But how does Deresiewicz know?  He knows the same way that big sister and big brother know.  They know the mind of the Other, know what motivates the Other and what is proper for the Other.  And in Deresiewicz’s terms the proper professor will redirect desire toward its proper object, from the teacher to the thing taught.

So what the good professor wants is the proper professor and proper student never engaging in improprieties.  Such, of course, is a form of pipe dreaming. And if there is a serious attempt to have the university not tolerate such improper relationships, such could very well transform university campuses into police states.

The author goes on to state-

Teaching, Yeats said, is lighting a fire, not filling a bucket, and this is how it gets lit. The professor becomes the student’s muse, the figure to whom the labors of the semester — the studying, the speaking in class, the writing — are consecrated. The alert student understands this. In talking to one of my teaching assistants about these matters, I asked her if she’d ever had a crush on an instructor when she was in college. Yes, she said, a young graduate student. “And did you want to have sex with him?” I asked. “No,” she said, “I wanted to have brain sex with him.”

Of course, he could have had a myriad of responses to his question, but for the author, one response is sufficient for him to make his case. But such is insufficient for the dankprofessor.  For the dankprofessor knows that there are many alert female students who went on to graduate school and to become teaching assistants who did want to have sex with their professor and some had sex and some may have even ended up mating with a professor, maybe even mating with a professor who was a colleague of Deresiewicz. 

But I also wish to make it clear that that the concept of “brain sex” as described in this essay, may very well be a viable concept.  But what I refuse to accept is the implication that “brain sex” exists on some higher plane than “ordinary” student professor sex.  Whether it is student professor brain sex or student professor sexual congress neither one per se is a mistake which needs redirection. 

The major problem in regards to sex, whether it be on or off campus, are the zealots and the self-righteous in their attempts to redirect the sexuality of others to some pre-ordained mold.  The love of knowledge will often lead to the knowledge of love, irrespective of what notions of propriety may be the calling of the day.

May 10, 2009 Posted by | attractive professors, brain sex, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, love, passion, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, student professor dating, Yale University | 1 Comment

Daphne Patai on academic affairs

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

 http://springerlink.com/content/hj6jjrqdtnvap5gy/?p=e3ff6bef91634fcea27e677c48ed6989&pi=0

DOI- 10.1007/s12119-002-1004-0

 
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

men.

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

target) job.

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

says:

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

and shortcomings:

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.

(p. 245)

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”

(p. 273).

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

principles:

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”

(p. 291).

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

his agent.

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

made up:

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

time.

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.

Philip Roth, THE HUMAN STAIN; Philip Roth, THE DYING ANIMAL; Philip Roth, THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE; Nicholas Delbanco, OLD SCORES; Francine Prose, BLUE ANGEL; Eric Tarloff, THE MAN WHO WROTE THE BOOK

May 9, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, Daphne Patai, ethics, feminism, Francine Prose, fraternization, higher education, Philip Roth, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 1 Comment

HOT FOR TEACHER at the University of Minnesota

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 [2]. 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.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | attractive professors, attractive students, consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, love, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, University of Minnesota | 1 Comment

Female student response on disgusting professors

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-

Comment:
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.

April 30, 2009 Posted by | attractive professors, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, love, NCTU, sex, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 3 Comments

Campus sexual bigotry and degradation

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 dankprofessor@msn.com or posting a comment, albeit anonymously on this post?

April 29, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fear, higher education, privacy, secrecy, sex, sex offenders, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, the closet | | 25 Comments

Intelligent women attracted to disgusting professors?

“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.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | attractive students, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, love, NCTU, privacy, sex, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Taiwan | 4 Comments

Sex and love between students and professors

Well once again Professor Mark Bourrie’s response to the dankprofessor is a non- response.
Here it is unexpurgated, uncensored.

“Dank indeed.
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.

April 14, 2009 Posted by | attractive students, Canada, Concordia University, consensual relationships, dating, ethics, grading, higher education, love, Mark Bourrie, passion, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 3 Comments

The Bourrie syndrome

Mark Bourrie in his ongoing diatribe against professors who have an intimate sexual relationship with a student challenged his readership to deal with 6 issues he had brought up on this question.  I took Bourrie seriously, my mistake, and took up his challenge.  My response to his challenge which was published in his blog is highlighted in blue at the end of this post.  His response was quite brief, to say the least, and appears not to even meet his standards of professionalism.  His response follows-

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-

Bourrie states

“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.

April 11, 2009 Posted by | Canada, coercing women, Concordia University, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, Mark Bourrie, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | 1 Comment

Student professor intimate relationship attacked, pt. 3

Mark Bourrie’s response to my blogging merits a reply.  His response follows-
 
 No, Dank, I want professors to act professionally, in the context of the power inequity that exists, the disruptive aspects of these affairs to the rest of the students, the possibility of litigation, the real and perceived conflicts re: marks, scholarships, internships, references, etc. You need not put words in my mouth. I have made myself very clear. The legal profession views clients as adults, and it bans sexual relationships between lawyers and clients because of the power imbalance and the coercive power that comes from the lawyer/client relationship. I believe this is the same type of power imbalance that exists between profs and students.

Of course, I agree with Dr. Bourrie that we should all be concerned about the disruptive aspects of these affairs if there be any.  Of course, if affairs of any kind are introduced into the classroom and such is disruptive of the class agenda, remedial action should be taken.  Remedial action should be taken in terms of any kind of disruptive behavior, such as students talking to others during lecture, or persistently interrupting others, being rude to to others, etc.  However, I expect that we would agree that students do not have a right not to be offended in the classroom. If we systematically avoid dealing with subjects that we fear would be offensive to some students, then education would be reduced to a form of pablum.

As for the possibility of litigation in regards to consensual student professor intimate relationships, the dankprofessor knows of no successful litigation that has been taken in this area.  At least I know of none that has taken place in the United States.  Maybe the situation is different in Canada.  Maybe, Dr. Bourrie can give me some examples of successful litigation in regards to consensual student professor intimate relationships.  And, of course, I am not referring to sexual harassment lawsuits in which there might have previously been a consensual relationship.  I will not defend persons who are a party to sexually harassing another.  I will hold that the behavior of persons who engage in mutual consent in the present situation under consideration should not and do not fall within the purview of litigation; such should be considered basic and elementary.

As for real and perceived conflicts of interests in regards to grading, etc., if I could wave a magic wand and remove all sexual interaction between students and professors, perceived conflicts of interests would remain rife in the university.  It is par for the course for students to believe and often state that another student received a higher grade than oneself because the professor liked him or her or the professor does not like me as much as him or her.  Students usually use this technique or psychological ploy to avoid attending/dealing with their own work; it is often a way of refusing to accept criticism and it is widespread in academia. Of course, any prof who feels he/she cannot objectively evaluate any student should recuse him or herself from evaluating that student.  Unfortunately, such is unlikely  to occur; said recusing prof would probably be stigmatized or even terminated.  

Problems relating to prejudicial grading should be at the forefront of university concern, e.g, how to avoid prejudicial grading when the professor finds the student exceptionally physically attractive, reminds one of ones ex-girlfriend, etc., or is repelled by the appearance of the student.  Nothing on this in the university.  These sorts of grading issues usually only come up by those who suffer from a “keen” interest in the sexual behavior of others, whether it be of a professional or non-professional nature.  If so-called professionalism rationalizes or justifies such an interest, such is most unfortunate.  In my opinion, in general terms, terms like professionalism often function to cover up the real underlying interests.  Such is my non-professional but professorial opinion.  The dankprofessor also has an opinion as to why charges of prejudicial grading are never lodged against womens studies professors who  hold that they should bond with their female students or who have overtly expressed hateful comments about men.  But I will withhold my opinion on this. Maybe Bourrie can help us out on this one.

As for the university adopting policies similar to those adopted by the legal profession or the lawyering class being held out as a model for the professor class, God help us.  Yes, there are many ethical problems and other problems in the university world, particularly plagiarism by both students and professors and administrators, but such I believe dwells into insignificance as to the the ethical problems of the lawyering class.  Putting ethics and lawyers together is often considered to be an oxymoron.  In any case, the lawyer client relationship is simply not analogous to the student professor relationship.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | attractive students, Canada, Concordia University, consensual relationships, ethics, grading, higher education, litigation, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment

Student professor intimate relationship attacked, pt. 2

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.

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Canada, coercing women, Concordia University, consensual relationships, ethics, grading, higher education, hooking-up, love, outing students, passion, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, the closet, University of Toronto | 1 Comment

Student professor intimate relationship attacked

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.

See update.

April 5, 2009 Posted by | Canada, Concordia University, consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, outing students, privacy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating | Leave a comment

Student professor relationships as awkward fantasies?

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

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

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

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

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

But Dean Ake was not all that bad, she

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvard coed reveals sexual relationship with Harvard TF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A view from Canada

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

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

Meddling campus moralists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outing students

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.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, outing students, privacy, sex, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating, Uncategorized, Warwick University | Leave a comment

Conference sex “explained”

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

So what was this panel all about? 

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

The categories:

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

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

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

And Israel Reyes, of Dartmouth College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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