I didn’t get a chance to post about the interesting case of Cal State Long Beach psychology professor Kevin MacDonald, whose work on Jews has been linked to hate groups. (Here’s Inside Higher Ed on the story; here’s the Times — both stories are from about two weeks ago.)
I’ve defended the rights of avowed (or at least apparent) Nazis to teach, so I certainly have no problem with MacDonald remaining in the classroom. He’s no Nazi, but his work is problematic. He told the Times:
In general, Judaism is considered a complex and successful survival mechanism, and at times they’ve been victimized for it. I do think there is a biological element at work here that’s existed throughout the centuries.
Jews, who have typically been in the minority in countries around the world, are compelled by an evolutionary strategy that makes them push for liberal policies, like immigration and diversity, with the intent of weakening the power of the majority that rules them.
I like the Long Beach State response. They aren’t taking Prof. MacDonald’s classes away from him, but they have issued a series of public statements separating themselves from his work. More importantly, at least some of his colleagues have apparently expressed a willingness to confront MacDonald (civilly, of course). Tenure ought to protect those who teach unpopular ideas from losing their jobs, but tenure is no shield from vigorous criticism. If MacDonald were in my department, I would have no trouble pushing him to clarify his views. Our jobs are sacrosanct, but with that ironclad security comes a duty to engage in some intense intellectual tussles.
But I’m reminded by the MacDonald case that I never posted about one of his colleagues at Long Beach State, the now-retired sociologist Barry Dank. While a great many folks are rightly troubled by the implicit anti-Semitism in MacDonald’s work, too few bothered to challenge Dank, who in the 1990s and into the first half of this decade was the leading proponent of faculty-student romantic relationships.
Sometime in the early 1990s, Dank (already a senior faculty member) became deeply troubled by the growing number of policies designed to protect students from lecherous professors. While he seemed to reluctantly support bans on outright, unwelcome harassment, Dank became academia’s most public and vociferous defender of the right of professors to date their current students, as long as the relationshiip was with a legal, consenting adult.
He founded the Foundation for Advancement of Sexual Equity (the website is now gone), and put up the still-extant Academic Sexual Correctness site, still hosted on a Cal State Long Beach server. The first article on the ASC site is Dank’s piece that ran in the Electonic Journal of Human Sexuality: Banning Sexual Asymmetry on Campus. It’s a hoot to read, as Dank goes so far as to compare bans on teacher-student dating to pre-Loving anti-miscegenation statutes:
The closest analogy we can draw is the traditional opposition to inter-racial relationships, particularly black-white relationships, with their stereotypes of innocent white females and predatory sexually obsessed black males. Bans on inter-racial relationships were, as we well know, designed to maintain rigid systems of racial stratification.
It gets better. Dank reveals the his true colors as a misogynist by suggesting that those who propose bans on faculty-student sex are mostly older women worried about being unable to compete with “hot coeds”:
Some other motives suggest themselves from the new Puritans loud insistence that their only interest is protecting innocent female students. We cannot help wonder if some of them might be really interested in protecting themselves from competition from younger women or affirming their power over younger women.
Dank’s article was co-authored with the late College of Charleston anthropologist Klaus de Albuquerque (a great name, btw).
Unlike his colleague MacDonald, who has — rightly or wrongly — been vilified for his stance, Dank was never the subject of angry editorials. It’s hard to see how his positions are any less offensive, or potentially threatening to students involved. Of course, Dank is retired now, though Long Beach still hosts his site, which hasn’t been updated for years. (If you read through the rest of the articles, you get more of the same stuff — and you get a link to the National Coalition of Free Men, suggesting, unsurprisingly, that Dank has strong MRA ties.)
By the time I discovered Dank’s work, I was already well into my own process of making amends for the brief period early in my career where I had had a series of consensual romantic relationships with my students. When I was chairing the academic senate’s ad hoc committee to write a policy banning consensual sexual relationships several years ago, I wrote to Dank but received no reply. I wrote to take particular issue with his suggestion that these policies were being pushed by aging (female) feminists eager to control their male colleagues and protect themselves from competition from younger women. I wrote to him as a man who had come to realize that he had crossed an ethical line. I wrote to him as a man who had never been held accountable by the college (or anyone else) for these inappropriate relationships, but who nonetheless had come to believe that faculty-student sex was always and in every instance a gross betrayal of professional and moral responsibility. By this point, I had already “outed” myself to the president of the college, the campus newspaper, the VP for human resources and my colleagues. I had, where possible, made sincere and heartfelt amends to the women who had been in my classes as well as in my bed. Chairing the committee to write this policy was President Kossler’s idea, as he (a former Catholic priest) thought it would be an excellent way to demonstrate contrition and take positive action.
I came across Dank’s work as I was researching policies that other campuses had devised. I was tempted to dismiss him as a crank, but knowing that at the time he was still an active faculty member, I wanted to push for some dialogue. He never replied to my overtures, and I dropped the issue. But if he were still teachin’ at Long Beach, I’d ask my friends at Inside Higher Ed to consider running a story on him and his views. If Kevin MacDonald’s bizarre take on Jewishness is fair game for public debate, which it rightly is, so too are the views of faculty like Dank who defend their right to bed their students.