Overselling agency: a reply to Barry Dank on teacher-student sex

Barry Dank picks a bone with my views on student crushes and professor-student amorous relations in this post of his yesterday: Crushing Student Crushes. Dank is a retired professor of sociology from Long Beach State, where he built a name for himself as a consistent (some would say relentless) advocate for legitimizing sexual relationships between teachers and students. He even has a Facebook group dedicated to the cause!

I took on Barry Dank directly in this post in 2007. I was appalled at his comparison between ethics guidelines that ban professors from dating students currently enrolled in their courses and the anti-miscegenation laws that existed prior to Loving v. Virginia. Here’s Dank’s famous article where he makes that analogy. My readers can judge for themselves the merits of his argument.

I do want to correct a few points he makes in yesterday’s post about me. Dank suggests that my views on teacher-student relationships reflect an “ethic of convenience”, and that I became hostile to professors dating their pupils only after settling down into happy monogamy. As regular readers know, I made the commitment to stop dating students (and to stop a host of other problematic behaviors) in 1998. I was intentionally celibate at the time. I started dating the woman who is now my wife in 2002, more than four years after making this commitment to professional ethics and two years after making amends to the campus by chairing the committee that wrote our new consensual relationships policy.

But that’s a minor quibble. My real argument with Dank and those who take his stance that professor/student romantic relationships ought to be permitted (and not only permitted, but celebrated), is the way in which he co-opts the notion of young women’s agency. (Though both Dank and I acknowledge that there are instances where older female professors date younger male students — and instances where both parties are of the same sex — the vast majority of such sexual relationships involve older male instructors with younger female students.) Dank writes:

For Schwyzer, students have crushes since students are de facto children. They are not yet grownups who can experience a mature love. Or translated- they have not yet graduated; once they graduate then they are adults. Reminds me of the old idea that a girl cannot become a woman, remains a girl or a child until she married.

That’s a not very clever attempt to appropriate feminist rhetoric about young women’s agency. As I’ve written many times before, one of the oldest tricks in the predator’s book is the flattering appeal to a young woman’s maturity: “Come on, you’re old enough to know what you want. These rules aren’t protecting you, they’re infantilizing you, treating you like you’re a little girl! But you’re not a little girl anymore, you’re a woman who knows what she wants. You’re smarter and more mature than most of your peers; do something bold!” (J.M. Coetzee captures the ugliness of this reasoning brilliantly in his deservedly celebrated novel, Disgrace.)

(I note, parenthetically and with a sigh, that my radical feminist critics accuse me and my liberal colleagues of grossly overselling the notion of “agency”, while libertarians like Dank suggest that I am equally amiss in denying its possibility. Cue the great song from the one-hit wonders, Stealer’s Wheel.)

It is true that college students are generally legal adults. No one is saying that a forty-something professor who seduces a nineteen year-old student is the same as a pedophile who rapes a nine year-old child. I’m not incapable of drawing distinctions between behavior which is criminal and behavior which is merely unethical. But I also think that folks like Dank fail to recognize three things:

1. College students in their late teens and early twenties are still developing intellectually and emotionally, as this New York Times Magazine article made clear recently. Many young people are in a space between, as the old saying goes, “the Already and the Not Yet.” They are already legal adults and are in many ways fully responsible, but in other key ways continue to need more time to develop the complete capacity for impulse control and moral reasoning. As the Times article put it, the only ones who “got it right” about how long it takes young people to grow up are the car-rental companies, who often refuse to rent their vehicles to drivers under the age of twenty-five. While nineteen year-olds may be ready for sexual relationships with their peers, they are vulnerable to exploitation (whatever protestations may be made to the contrary) by those who are substantially older.

2. The power imbalance between a professor and a student, regardless of the latter’s age, makes it impossible for the student to give consent as long as the professor is in a position to evaluate (or recommend) him or her. You can’t trust a “yes” unless the person who says the “yes” also feels free to say “no” in the confidence that there will be no deleterious consequences. And as long as a student is in any position to be evaluated professionally by their professor/lover, they can’t have that knowledge that a “no” will be safe. That’s not infantilizing; that’s common sense.

3. The damage that professor-student sexual relationships do to the broader academic community is enormous. I’ve written that some of the students with whom I had sexual relationships remembered what we shared fondly; others suffered lasting negative consequences for which I take full responsibility and a profound sense of guilt. But leaving aside the essential question of the impact of these relationships on young women’s lives, I can say with certainty that these affairs are impossible to keep secret. Campus gossip made them widely known. Not only was I labeled a lecher, but the legitimacy of the entire college was in some sense compromised. I’ll never know how many young people grew a bit more cynical, a bit less trustful of the system, a bit more suspicious of older men as a result of my sadly well-deserved reputation in the mid-to-late 1990s on this campus.

If you want a better argument in favor of an indulgent and permissive approach to teacher-student sexual relationships, you’d do well to avoid Dank’s own writing and check out what bell hooks had to say on the subject. Credit Dank for linking to hooks; I read the hooks piece when it was first published in 1996, a year in which I slept with several students, and found what I was looking for: a plausible defense for my behavior. I’d also suggest a book that also served to justify my unethical behavior, Jane Gallop’s Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment. Where once I used hooks and Gallop to justify the unjustifiable, I now see them as making an interesting, effective, but ultimately unsatisfying case against the kind of rules I have helped to write and against which Barry Dank has struggled for so long.

Note: I’ve separated what had been one category of posts into two. Though there is some overlap, it seems wise to have one set of posts dealing with Sexual Relationships between Students and Professors and a second dealing with Student Crushes.

0 thoughts on “Overselling agency: a reply to Barry Dank on teacher-student sex

  1. I read the Dank article, but he doesn’t offer anything but ad hominems and ludicrously overblown arguments by analogy. He goes way further that the already dumb one Hugo quoted and suggests analogies such as: teachers redirecting student romantic interests to learning are somehow like parents tying children’s hands to prevent masturbation; without providing any explanation in how it’s supposed to be like it. It’s pathetic.

  2. Interesting article. I’m a 38 year old mature student at a Canadian university, and I still have to side with the sex with students is ICKY argument.

    Now, I admit I’m human, and often MESMERISED by the SWEET young cubs on campus here. If one of them asked me out, I might even consider it, depending on his maturity level and likelihood that the power dynamic might change. I would NEVER date my TA, but I’d date a TA or a student prof in a department completely unrelated to what I’m studying. Likewise with a prof. I’ve worked with a SEXY prof or 2, but to approach a prof with those intentions, even at my age is just inappropriate.

    I guess it’s because my grades matter to me. This place is Rich White Boy Hell, and I always wonder if I’m being graded fairly, or if gender and social class are considered in the marking schemes. Dating my prof would drive me insane, critical grades, or generous grades. I’d be totally out of control about whether or not I’m being graded on my sexual performance. ICK!!

    And I would never date a student of traditional undergrad age. Cougar rules apply there too. Half my age plus 8 years, and no younger.

  3. I do love bell hooks words, though. I always have. But for once I have to disagree. Not with her relationship in particular, but with creating standards that allow such relationships to be up to the discretion of individuals who may not be so fair or enlightened.

    Locks are designed to keep honest people honest.

  4. “I’ve worked with a SEXY prof or 2, but to approach a prof with those intentions, even at my age is just inappropriate.”

    Interesting angle. I have never really thought much about the issue of students – I taught high school for a time, so it started out as a settled matter.

    But where the lines were quite tangled was when I was in the Army, where the power relationships are usually well beyond question. And even then there are other complexities.

    One such complexity didn’t involve relative power at all. Relationships between very junior officers and fairly senior enlisted guyus, NCOs, are not always clear cut in the actual power diffenrential, and obviously not if both people are not in a professional relationship, but the rank disinction is very clear. There was (1980s) however a harsh taboo on this kind of thing that was almost racial. An acquaintance of mine married a the guy who had been her platoon sergeant when she was a second lieutenant, after they had moved onto other jobs, so no harm, no foul, supposedly.

    Well, no. She would get asked “so what’s it like with a …y’know….enlisted guy?” Both were not just white, but of Slavic/German ancestry.

    Nowadays this kind of thing is simply illegal – dating, marriage, even most social contact.

    So anyway I really get the ick-factor with student/instructor sex.

  5. Yeah, Mythago, I realized how heavily Dank edited it later. I have the article printed out, as it was once online in complete form, and now I can’t find it online at all.

  6. The one valuable point I think Prof. Dank makes is that professors do get crushes on students too. I disagree with him that the word “crush” is infantalizing, but I think you’ve made it clear that you still sometimes get crushes on certain students. I read that somewhere, and you wrote about just redirecting your own feelings into mentoring, sublimating them. Or am I remembering that wrong?

  7. Hugo,

    The agency thing – why should people be allowed to vote at 18 but they don’t get full age of consent until they’re 25? How do you square that with a pro choice position if the woman is under 25? Does she get full bodily control? I don’t think that is a position that makes a lot of sense… however well intended it seems to be.

  8. Pingback: Hugo Schwyzer and the sin of coercion « Dankprofessor’s Weblog

  9. I see what you are sayoing, Sam, but I don’t think agency is the issue here. This relationship is off-limits, and no amount of personal agency can make it legitimate.

  10. Sam –

    Hugo’s not saying people can’t have sex until they’re 25 – they have full bodily control/autonomy. Full bodily control does not mean that I can have sex with whoever I want to whenever I want to. In the context of a university setting, students are vulnerable to professors. Students are vulnerable to professors’ racial prejudices, sexism, or capriciousness as well as sexual manipulation. Universities have various rules and procedures to protect students from their professors using their power in inappropriate ways. Not because the students lack autonomy, but because the students lack the power to individually protect themselves from predatory professors. That doesn’t mean that every professor is predatory, or that every professor/student relationship is predatory. But IF the relationship is, the student does not have the power to protect him/herself. That is true regardless of the age of the student.

  11. I agree with Hugo’s position but not necessarily with the reasoning behind his position. For me, the bottom line reason why professors and students should not date is that we should have some pretty cut and dried policies which preserve the professionalism of certain relationships. A doctor and patient should not have a sexual relationship, even if both have given full and capable consent. Neither should a therapist and client, jailer and inmate, lawyer and client, clergy and parishioner, police officer and suspect or witness, and the list goes on. These sort of hard-and-fast rules will stop a few perfectly happy and consensual relationships from blossoming, but that is a small price to pay to avoid coercive situations and scandals. Sometimes boundaries, as arbitrary as they may seem, are good for everyone involved. As someone who has been in academic environments for awhile now, I can say that such a boundary would be helpful.

  12. FWC, I think professionalism is an important good, but it is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It protects the vulnerable. And just as we don’t think clients are infantilized by bar association rules that prevent their attorneys from sleeping with them, we can say that professors should demand that our work be seen as equally important and equally deserving of strict oversight.

    Maybe it’s my hubris, but I think I’m as important as a doctor or a lawyer or a psychotherapist, and I ought to be bound by the same rules that bind those professionals.

  13. Sam, it’s not about ‘agency’. If I pull a gun on you and demand sex, it would be pretty disingenous of me to say, hey, this isn’t a coercive environment, Sam’s an adult, he has agency, man.

    If I pull a gradebook on you, it’s a matter of degree, not kind. Same if I show you the gun holstered in my jacket, or if we both know it’s there, even though I don’t point it at you.

    Of course, I’m also old enough to remember my mother and other women her age griping about Professor Soandso who gave them a “C” for refusing to put out, or who regularly groped female students, at a time when this was considered an unavoidable nuisance.

  14. For some reason the respondents here, including, Hugo, appear to share the default assumption that when it comes to student professor sex it is the professor who initiates and the student who consents or not consents. Why is it impossible to conceive that it is often the student who initiates and the the prof who consents or does not consent? Is it because the respondents here cannot conceive of female students being attracted to male profs? Or is it that the respondents here adhere to the sexist notion that females are passive? Take away the reality of female students being attracted to male profs and the problem in essence would go away. But the bottom line reality is that it would not go away because of the following- concentrate large numbers of single persons in a delimited geographic space and dating and mating will occur, basically it is the principle of propinquity. One can, of course, solve the problem, by replacing traditional campuses with online education.

    Of course, certain institutions are not designed for any freedom for the individual. Hierarchial and authoritarian institutions such as prisons and the military I do not advocate for boundary violating sex. As for doctors offices and hospitals, God forbid that universities become similar. Patients don’t hang around in doctors offices, don’t work with doctors on research projects and certainly don’t blog with them. But interestingly enough med student/med doctor sexual relationships are not generally banned.

    What advocates such as Professor Schwyzer have to contend with is that the principle of asymmetry as applied to sexual relationships is alive and well in the larger society. So many women are attracted to so many male stars, albeit musicians, sports stars (even golfers), writers, et. al. Even male Republican stars are inundated with both male and female attention. What to do? Recruit thousands of the Linda Tripp genre as sexual police? Or have some sort of neurosurgery? Or I guess just continue doing what we are doing- drive people into the closet and then be shocked when the closet door opens.

  15. “Take away the problem of female students being attracted to male profs and the problem would go away”?!?

    I’m glad I’ve only met one person on my campus who was that deluded about his own attractiveness. I had to hit him to inform him of the fact that NO means NO.

    I’m really starting to question how much consent was involved in your liaisons, now Barry.

  16. I see Professor Denk is more comfortable attacking fictional arguments that nobody has made than addressing actual arguments. Maybe this is a typical symptom of ‘professor’s disease’ – when all your arguments are made as the authority figure to a bunch of younger, less mature people whose grades you control, you’re not used to debating in equal footing.

  17. Xena,my responses were always freely given, yes or no or undecided. If you knew me personally you would know that personal responsibility and respect for the other was paramount for me.

    When I stated that if you take away the reality of female attraction for male profs the problem would go away,I overstated. You would still have a problem of sexual harassment but there would be few consensual relationships since there would not be a mutual attraction.

    As for my past liaisons, generally my friendship with them remains; of course, I am married to a former student. But my relationships were almost always friendship based with sex if it occurred being an outcome of friendship. I never personally embraced impersonal sex, but would be relentless in protecting the right of persons to engage in impersonal sex.

  18. As my regular readers know, Barry, I’ve written a bit about student attraction to professors. (I have an archive called student crushes, and I stand by that term, though I know your problems with it.) Many of the women with whom I had unethical, albeit “consensual” professor-student relationships made their attraction very clear to me. I took advantage of that attraction, but that doesn’t render me any less culpable. Lots of folks get mad crushes on their therapists, but we know what that is, and have a good term for it: transference. And you know what, Barry? I haven’t been at this gig as long as you, but I have been teaching for nearly twenty years and have taught well over 10,000 studnets — and I am convinced to my core that most of the attraction to me was basic transference. It wasn’t about me, it was about where that young student was in her process. What got me voted America’s hottest professor in 2008 was less about my looks (I’m not hideous, but I’m no model) but a teaching style that struck a chord with certain students. That some of them sexualized or romanticized that chord was a normal part of their developmental process. It was not an invitation to fuck them.

    As I wrote a long time ago:

    we don’t just get crushes on people whom we want, we get crushes on people whom we want to be like! Students don’t get crushes on me because they want to go to bed with me or be my girlfriend or boyfriend; they get crushes on me because I’ve got a quality that they want to bring out in themselves. They’re externalizing all of their hopes for themselves. And rather than encourage the crush to feed my ego, my job is to turn the focus back on to the student, encouraging him or her to take their new-found curiosity or enthusiasm or passion and use it, run with it, indulge it, let it take them places!

  19. Yes, Hugo. That’s it exactly. My current prof crush is on somebody who’s only a slightly better looking version of Sam the Bartender from Cheers. (His eyes are nicer than Ted Dansen’s, blue, and he has these boyish freckles across his nose). The appeal is more about how he presents his lecture material. His classes are vey popular and HUGE. Lucky for me, the student who “turns his crank” (his words–kickass delivery :-D) is the boy who’s the best writer in the class. He’s also very happily married and completely off limits.

    My other crush IS hot. Remember the actress that played Athena on the show that gave me my online name? She looks like her. But I don’t think she likes women, and I’m undecided about whether I really like women or not, so she was a safe crush too.

    Actually, I just discovered that this school has a strict no dating policy, so any crush is a safe crush here. I think our administration has gone a little far with that. Profs aren’t allowed to date ANY of over 35 000 students, or ANY colleague. I find THAT paternalistic. They’re threatening to strike over it, which is also excessive. I hope the threats work. I wouldn’t want to have to miss school over some prof’s right to get laid.

  20. I have no reason to doubt the honesty of your analysis of the transference process as to how it applied to some of your students and how it may have facilitated a sexual relationship with some of your students. Of course, as you point out apparently all of your students were young and such should not be surprising since you teach at a two year college which predominantly attracts young students. However, the problem becomes applying this to students and professors in general. You very well know that the genre of policies you advocate apply to middle age graduate students as well as to young professors. I am sure you know that “your” policies apply to student teaching assistants who may end up dating students where there is hardly any age difference. And, in my case, my wife who I met when she was a student has always been two years older than myself. I resent the implication that we should have been barred from dating because of some transference process or because someone may feel offended by such a relationships. Your insistence of using the term “crush” strongly implies that you do not take any of these relationships seriously. Can’t you accept the fact some student prof couples experience “authentic” love, not just a passing crush? Can’t you accept the possibility that some marry and have children and some of these children may end up in your classes as you lecture on how the student was a product of a crush, etc. etc. Do you ever give consideration to said possibility? Have you ever considered the possibility that I myself MAY have been the offspring of a student professor couple.

    If your analysis has relevance to some student and professor couples and I believe it does, it also has relevance to non-student and non-professor relationships, to many people from various walks of life.
    The social psychological dynamics leading to coupled relationships are a varicolored thing, but whatever the dynamic such does not justify the banning of psychologically “unacceptable” relationships.
    At least it does not justify it in a free society, in a totalitarian society, yes; in a Big Brother society yes, but not here. Unfortunately, many of our values relating to freedom and civil liberties have historically been thrown out of the window in regards to sex because our society has been saturated with anti-sexual perspectives. It is hard to get beyond said perspectives. Supporting anti-sexual values has been the ability to control and coerce others who may give sexual offense. My problem with you, Hugo, is not your willingness to engage people on vital educational and sexual issues, but your willingness to coerce others who deviate from your or societal sexual norms. Sexually consenting adult couples should never be coerced or persecuted or prosecuted.

  21. Out of curiosity, Barry, should a psychotherapist be allowed to date one of his or her patients while that patient is in treatment? Should a divorce attorney be allowed to sleep with a client?

    No one is criminalizing professor/student sex. In totalitarian societies, guys like you and me are up against the wall and facing a firing squad. The worst repercussion we ought to face is a stiff warning the first time we behave unethically, and if we continue, the possible loss of our jobs. That’s not an unreasonable inhibition on our freedom. It’s not even persecution or prosecution in the traditional senses of either word. It’s about sanctions being imposed on professionals for violating a code of ethical conduct.

    By the way, I don’t even advocate for rules for professors and students that are as stringent as those used in other fields. California psychologists are barred from ever dating a former patient, even if that patient was someone whom they last saw professionally a decade ago. All the policy I wrote demands is that the student not be under the professional supervision of a faculty member while they are having consensual amorous relations. Once the term is over and the grades are in, or better yet, once the student has transferred off campus or graduated, then I’ve got absolutely no ethical problem with a relationship blossoming.

    If it’s true love, for Pete’s sake, it’ll wait until the end of the semester.

  22. Pingback: Schwyzer/Dank interchange « Dankprofessor’s Weblog

  23. You raise a number of interesting issues in your last comment. Problem is that I am very fatigued (its hard being a full time retiree)but I will now respond to one item, your last sentence-
    “If it’s true love, for Pete’s sake, it’ll wait until the end of the semester.”

    Well, I will respond by invoking my personal experience. This relates to my wife who was a student during a Spring semester. We got together a couple of months after that semester ended. Fall semester came and went. But Henrietta indicated to me that she wanted to take a course I was teaching in the upcoming Spring semester and she asked if that would be a problem for me. I said “no” as long as you understand that I would treat you as a student as I treat any other student. And she knew as others students who knew me knew that I NEVER allow any personal prejudices to interfere with how I treat students. I might find a particular student to be obnoxious but I treat obnoxious students with respect and I treat them dispassionately when it comes to grading. Such is the case no matter who they are. If I said “no” she could not take the course, she would then have become the subject of unfair discrimination. She had the right to take that course. If I could not honor that right, I should have never dated her. She took the course. There was no problem.

  24. My apologies to both Prof Schwyzer and Dank, but I think I am a little lost… because I can’t seem to determine (I was originally going to post this comment without looking first, but then decided that that would be unfair to both), whether either or both of your positions are supposed to apply universally to anyone that could concievably be described as a teacher or a student… (Or just teachers and students all at the same college/university.) Or, if the debate is centered exclusively around relationships between a student who is currently -enrolled- in a class taught by that teacher? I feel like it’s sort of hinted around in a variety of places, but never precisely indicated. (Or, I could be retarded-tired.)

    I’m going to assume we’re sticking to the specifics of a relationship while the class is actually in session, but either way I feel like an angle that’s sort of missing is, is it only the professor’s job to be the one weighing the ethics of “Grading While Naked” (to put it bluntly)? Isn’t this just as valid a concern for the student as well?

    I would pretty fully agree with Hugo’s suggestion that anyone under 25 is probably still engaged in a certain kind of emotional and intellectual maturity process that for most is best pursued with peers of their own age group. Which, is why as a 25-year-old nonconventional student I find myself rolling my eyes a lot at my fellow students who are younger than me. (I have, therefore, pretty much given up on–not that I was looking in the first place–my current campus as anything remotely resembling a reliable pool of prospective date material.) The age/experience difference isn’t limited to just, exclusive, or universal to professor/student relations, or professional relationships in general.

    Personally, as a student, the question of whether a professor of mine would be judging/grading me adequately if I were also sleeping with them would be a HUGE concern. The integrity of my achievements is hugely important to me (or maybe I’m just in the minority of people that holds sex to be valuable as a goal in it of itself and not only for the benefits it can earn me by offering it up to others?) Would I and observers* still be able to rely on the integrity of the marks I recieved if I was sleeping with the person giving me those grades? Even if I myself knew that I did all the work to the very highest standards I possibly could? I’m not certain, which is why I judge it a dangerous line to cross. This specifical ethical concern (along with others) is always the primary motivation stopping me from pursuing teachers I find attractive, at least while the semester is still in session. (All bets are off after the semester is over, if you ask me.)

    You may disagree, but I really do not see this as protecting myself from a potential victimization, as much as it is protecting the integrity of my… credentials? On the same vein, in response to Prof Dank’s example of his now-wife wanting to take a class that he was teaching after the relationship had already begun, if it were me I probably would have asked if anyone else was teaching the same course. I would probably have the same response even if the relationship was several years in, if only because changing the power dynamics of romantic relationships can be tricky in general.

    In short: can you be more specific on your positions?

    *In referencing observers, I’m sort of putting aside the fact of reality that 3rd party observers can and do regularly judge and devalue work, especially by women, by instead invoking their sexual relationships or the ease (or lack there of) of sexualizing their appearance instead of evaluating the work on it’s own merits. That is really a different argument altogether.

  25. Ari:

    My position is that instructors should not engage in romantic or sexual relationships with students who are directly under their supervision, whether those students are working in a lab, graduate students working on a dissertation, or eighteen year-old frosh taking a first-year course. If such a relationship “develops”, then it is the instructor’s obligation to arrange for alternative oversight for the student. I hold this position regardless of the age of the instructors and students involved.

    I don’t think that bans on profs and students dating should be applied to an entire campus. If one of my colleagues is dating one of my students, but that student is not enrolled in his or her classes, I think that has the potential for complication but isn’t genuinely unethical. Now, if I were an untenured faculty member, and a tenured faculty member’s paramour were my student, then things could get dicey — but our policy chooses to ignore that. It’s really only concerned with the issue of direct supervision.

    And Ari, yes, credibility matters. That’s what this post was about: http://hugoschwyzer.net/2010/03/24/i-cant-trust-your-praise-the-unintended-fallout-of-professor-student-affairs/

  26. mythago,

    “Sam, it’s not about ‘agency’.”

    It’s totally about agency – your comparison doesn’t quite cut it, because you’re taking an extreme example in which agency is obviously limited while nature of relationships between students and professors (teaching assistants, etc.) will obviously of varied nature. My position is that the risk of exploitative relationships is not important enough to limit anyone’s range of expression. And yes, that includes people’s right to make mistakes – totally included in agency.

  27. “My position is that the risk of exploitative relationships is not important enough to limit anyone’s range of expression”

    Can you name any situation where men are risking exploitative relationships? I think this may lend to the conversation, if we are all willing to consider each others views.

  28. Sam, you write:

    My position is that the risk of exploitative relationships is not important enough to limit anyone’s range of expression.

    Given how brief the limitation is (a semester, not a lifetime) and how great the potential damage from exploitation (lasting a lifetime, not a semester), I think that’s a deeply irresponsible position to take.

  29. Sam, that “varied nature” will always include the fact that the teacher has authority over the student. That’s the nature of the relationship. I’m surprised to hear you take such an extreme position which, as you word it, precludes not only quid pro quo sexual harassment but age of consent laws.

  30. My response to a number of Ari’s concerns follows.

    Ari stated-

    My apologies to both Prof Schwyzer and Dank, but I think I am a little lost… because I can’t seem to determine (I was originally going to post this comment without looking first, but then decided that that would be unfair to both), whether either or both of your positions are supposed to apply universally to anyone that could concievably be described as a teacher or a student… (Or just teachers and students all at the same college/university.) Or, if the debate is centered exclusively around relationships between a student who is currently -enrolled- in a class taught by that teacher? I feel like it’s sort of hinted around in a variety of places, but never precisely indicated. (Or, I could be retarded-tired.)

    DANK responds-

    Hugo clarified his position. My position is that there should be no formal bans in regards to student/professor sexual relationships. I would not object to universities advising both students and professors; of facilitating ethical engagement regarding the issue.
    But an ethic formalized as a ban by the powers that be- no way. Part of the reason for my stance is that I do not trust authorities/bureaucrats to dispassionately/objectively regulate the private consent sexual behavior of others; my lack of trust applies to both the university and the civilian world. The possibility of severe power abuse is just too great; the best and the brightest can run amok; remember the Lewinsky scenario and the special prosecutor as but one example. Another way of putting it is that the “cure” may be worse than the “disease”. Of course, sexual harassment rules can be applied to quid pro quo violations, etc.

    In addition, university polices vary widely as to the nature and the breadth of the policy. Some policies ban all sexual relationships between students and prof, eg, Yale University undergraduates while Yale graduate students can have a sexual relationship with a prof who is non-supervisory re the student. UC campuses bar profs from having such relationships if there is a reasonable expectation that a student could take a course from a prof; so if you are a psych major, OK to have sex with an accounting prof but not a sociology prof, etc. Some policies invoke a ban even after graduation re letters of reference; Amherst may still have a permanent life long ban. Also,
    the present boilerplate ban bans sexual or amorous relationships. This is a major expansion of the definition- no longer can a “couple” indicate that they did not have sex; all the university would have to do is to prove/believe that the couple gave the appearance of an amorous relationship; couples generally do not have sex in public so putting in the amorous clause is a biggie; helps to universities which want to weed out sexually deviating profs. It also makes it dangerous for profs to have slose non-sexual relationship with a student; they will be suspect.

    Ari states-

    I’m going to assume we’re sticking to the specifics of a relationship while the class is actually in session, but either way I feel like an angle that’s sort of missing is, is it only the professor’s job to be the one weighing the ethics of “Grading While Naked” (to put it bluntly)? Isn’t this just as valid a concern for the student as well?

    DANK responds-

    Definitely should be of concern to the student.

    ARI states-

    Personally, as a student, the question of whether a professor of mine would be judging/grading me adequately if I were also sleeping with them would be a HUGE concern. The integrity of my achievements is hugely important to me (or maybe I’m just in the minority of people that holds sex to be valuable as a goal in it of itself and not only for the benefits it can earn me by offering it up to others?) Would I and observers* still be able to rely on the integrity of the marks I recieved if I was sleeping with the person giving me those grades? Even if I myself knew that I did all the work to the very highest standards I possibly could? I’m not certain, which is why I judge it a dangerous line to cross. This specifical ethical concern (along with others) is always the primary motivation stopping me from pursuing teachers I find attractive, at least while the semester is still in session. (All bets are off after the semester is over, if you ask me.)

    Of course, your choice of partners is of paramount importance. Obviously, pick someone you believe is a person of the highest integrity, always. So a quick fling here would be out of the question
    You will have plenty of time to scrutinize the prof in class; probably one of the safest ways to meet eligible men.

    ARI states

    You may disagree, but I really do not see this as protecting myself from a potential victimization, as much as it is protecting the integrity of my… credentials? On the same vein, in response to Prof Dank’s example of his now-wife wanting to take a class that he was teaching after the relationship had already begun, if it were me I probably would have asked if anyone else was teaching the same course. I would probably have the same response even if the relationship was several years in, if only because changing the power dynamics of romantic relationships can be tricky in general.

    DANK responds- She did ask; I was the only one teaching the course. As for protecting the integrity of your credentials, no one asks who and when you were sleeping with. In any case, it’s no ones business but your own. No one asks myself or my wife, “Well did you have sex while she was a student of yours, tell me exactly when it occurred.” Reality is that once you leave the university no one really cares, almost no one knows. Much more of a hassle being in an interracial relationship; one person I dated was black and a student. Student issue never entered into anything; race trumped that issue.

    I hope this has been helpful

  31. Schwyzer states-

    Out of curiosity, Barry, should a psychotherapist be allowed to date one of his or her patients while that patient is in treatment? Should a divorce attorney be allowed to sleep with a client?

    Dank responds-

    As I have stated or implied, I am not an absolutist in this area. In totalizing institutions, institutions where you do not have control over your own body, sexual boundaries should not be crossed- guards should not be allowed to have sex with inmates; military- enlisted persons not with officers. Of course, in many prisons rapes flourish because they are allowed to flourish; public really does not care, out of sight, out of mind- inmates raping inmates and guards raping inmates.

    The psychotherapy situation is completely different than the university situation; students are not patients. In treatment, the patient comes in a state of dis-ease, is emotionally vulnerable and likely to be psychologically conflicted. For psychotherapy to be successful, the patient must be completely open and therefore become emotionally vulnerable. If a sexual component enters into the relationship, the likelihood goes way down that a positive outcome is likely. So I am not against bans here. I would also hope that the therapist would refer the patient to another therapist if the therapist is highly attracted or nauseated by the patient. Also, psychotherapy usually occurs in a private one to one setting not in the public setting of a classroom. Therapists don’t blog with their patients; profs do, at least some do. Applying the medical model to the university world would change your everyday reality, Hugo, in such a way you would not like.

    In terms of the attractiveness variable, Hugo has not indicated how profs should ethically behave who are highly attracted to a student and feel that objectively grading the student is at risk. In such a case, the prof should have an option of recusal. There would be complications here, but this is never discussed as profs go about routinely discussing among themselves how obnoxious or charming a student may be.

    Schwyzer states-

    No one is criminalizing professor/student sex. In totalitarian societies, guys like you and me are up against the wall and facing a firing squad. The worst repercussion we ought to face is a stiff warning the first time we behave unethically, and if we continue, the possible loss of our jobs. That’s not an unreasonable inhibition on our freedom. It’s not even persecution or prosecution in the traditional senses of either word. It’s about sanctions being imposed on professionals for violating a code of ethical conduct.

    Dank responds-

    Well, it depends on the nature of the ethical violation. Ethics imposed from above are no longer ethics but function as formal rules and laws. In any case, in my humble opinion and experience, profs and
    administrators don’t generally care about ethics, except when sex enters into it. I wish I could say that in general the university community is ethically engaged. Universities are much much more legally and bureaucratically engaged; they have all kinds of pseudo online training. In the 90s at Cal State Long I helped to create the national Conference on Ethics in America; lasted for 5 years. Attendees were from the university world, church world, military, gov’t. These five years were the most exciting and interesting years of my academic career. But it only lasted for five years, and I was the only CSULB prof who regularly attended. How sad!!

    Schwyzer states-

    By the way, I don’t even advocate for rules for professors and students that are as stringent as those used in other fields. California psychologists are barred from ever dating a former patient, even if that patient was someone whom they last saw professionally a decade ago. All the policy I wrote demands is that the student not be under the professional supervision of a faculty member while they are having consensual amorous relations. Once the term is over and the grades are in, or better yet, once the student has transferred off campus or graduated, then I’ve got absolutely no ethical problem with a relationship blossoming.

    Dank responds-

    Sometimes love can’t wait until the student graduates. And those who wait often lose out as the potential loved one finds someone who did not choose to wait. In any case, if you wait, you don’t know what you are waiting for – a first date that is turned down. And if you profess your love before she graduates or the class ends, you may end up being charged with sexual harassment. My mother said to me- wait till you are married, I didn’t. Then the university said wait till she graduates, I won’t. When it comes to love, seize the moment!

    Schwyzer states-

    If it’s true love, for Pete’s sake, it’ll wait until the end of the semester.

    Dank states-

    Again, you don’t know if it is true love. And for me if it is true love, as indicated, I will not be waiting. The waiters end up sitting alone at the bar, living a lush life.

    Remember that the love of knowledge can lead to the knowledge of love.

  32. I taught in a department where about 90-95% of students in any given class were women, mostly young women. I started teaching when I was 23, so age-wise I was a peer. I see less agency issues here than Hugo does, but other than that I strongly agree with him. Dating these students, even right after the quarter ended, would be problematic for the other students. This is PARTICULARLY true if it was right after the quarter ended, and also PARTICULARLY true if I made a habit of it. You can say “It’s not their business, it’s not their business” all you want, but it doesn’t matter – people gossip. Young women would inevitably wonder “do I have to look sexy to get a boost in his class” and might second-guess the suggestively clad young woman in the seat next to her: “is she dressed like that just because she likes it, or is she trying to catch PM’s eye.Do I have a chance against her if he has his eye on her?” A reputation for sleeping with students creates a hostile learning environment. Your comparisons of power relations to golfers and other celebrities are irrelevant, as Tiger Woods very rarely has the power to decide whether a woman in my class will get into the grad school she is applying to. I do.

    You may say this is unlikely, and maybe it is, but I offer this: I’ve taught hundreds of young female students in my 2 years of teaching, and you and Hugo have taught thousands. If even ONE student in my classes has thought (bssed on my past words or actions) that she* had to be sexy for me to get the grade she wanted, then that’s one too many. The more students you teach and the more students you have flings with, the more statistically likely it is that this student has indeed been in your class. Her feeling of safety and a level playing field in my classes is more important than my sexual desires.

    *I know this applies to male students, too, but you, Hugo, and myself are all attracted to women.

  33. If you live your life based on fear of gossipers then you will not be living your life.

    Why do you assume that I chose sexy women to date?

    I never made a public spectacle about who I was dating? The overwhelming percentage of students knew nothing about my private life since I kept it private.

    The most frequent assumption that some students had about me was that I was homosexual since most of my scholarly work dealt with gay issues. People could assume whatever about me; there was not a thing I could do about said assumptions. I have tried to live an authentic life knowing full well that the inauthentic are generally rewarded and the authentic are generally exiled.

  34. I was not “in fear” of anyone. I knew I treated my students equally and with respect, so I was not in fear. And while we can do our best to hide our relationships, people talk. That includes the people we dated (especially a jilted former-lover), a student who happens to notice us with a fellow student at a bar, or even someone from another department who happened to teach the student previously or during the same semester. The smaller the campus, the greater the risk.

    And while it may be true that some students thought you were gay (and please remember that my post wasn’t specifically about you), it may also be true that a student knew about your relationship with a fellow student and kept it to herself/himself. Which brings up another point – a male student who suspects that I am after a woman in the class would be especially helpless, as he would probably (correctly) assumed that I am straight, and thus has no way to compete on the sexual playing field with a female student. Obviously I cannot control the assumptions of my students. But by not engaging with romantic relationships with students, I can sleep well knowing that I am creating a classroom that IS not hostile and thus is more likely to APPEAR to be non-hostile.

  35. mythago,

    “I’m surprised to hear you take such an extreme position which,”

    look, I don’t think of it as extreme. You’re (I suppose) thinking of a professor taking advantage of a student, blowjob for a pass. And I’m thinking of Ross Geller dating Bruce Willice’s daughter in friends. He’s 30, she’s 20, and *she* holds all the chips in that relationship, she’s playing, he’s trying to make it work. I know abusive relationships exist. I know professors have power over students, and that exercising this power in an unprofessional way is, well, unprofessional, and ethically wrong and probably illegal. But you cannot tell me not to speak in favour of an the people whose relationship will be made illegal by such regulation. Call me a romantic, but I want to speak up in the name of those students and those tas/professors who are honest. I know age-disparate couples who are perfect for each other. General scepticism is fine as long as there is nothing on the books that limits people’s self-expression. And yes, I’m willing to accept that giving freedom will also lead to some people abusing this freedom and other people getting hurt. I understand that you may believe the latter to be more important than the former, but I don’t.

  36. kristina,

    “Can you name any situation where men are risking exploitative relationships? I think this may lend to the conversation, if we are all willing to consider each others views.”

    I’m not sure what you’re looking for? Every relationship can become abusive.

  37. Sam, I can assure you that I’m not just thinking about a “blowjob for a pass”. That’s quid pro quo sexual harassment, long since banned in federal and state law. That doesn’t describe anything remotely like what I was engaged in. (Had I been, I would have lost my job in a heartbeat and deservedly so. A tenured faculty member in my department was recently removed for exactly that sort of thing.)

    What I was engaged in — and what we presume Barry is talking about — are consensual sexual relationships in which there is no conscious quid pro quo. Consent doesn’t mean “I want an A”, it’s the enthusiastic consent we’ve talked about elsewhere.

    Some of the relationships I had with students turned romantic (two of them, anyway). I ended up falling in love with one. Others were more purely sexual. All were consensual — and all were still deeply unethical. The fact that years later, some of those with whom I was involved remembered the experience fondly doesn’t make their view any more valuable than those who remember the whole thing rather bitterly. None felt harassed (to the extent that I can know this), but with hindsight, some felt deeply regretful. Some felt that I had taken advantage of a crush and their emotional vulnerability and that I ought to have known better. Not only do I heartily agree, I wanted to see a policy written that would do more to protect students from this particular scenario.

    And Barry, come on. True love waits for many things — a deployment abroad, a job transfer, a plane ticket. It can wait for grades to be turned in; really, it can. The potential damage inflicted on a loving couple by a policy that asks them to wait ten weeks is a hell of a lot less than the damage that can take place in the absence of that policy.

    I also agree that dating immediately after the quarter/semester is over can be problematic as well. I’d put that in the “inadvisable” category for the reasons PM states. Inadvisable, but not unethical in the same degree, and thus not worthy of a ban.

  38. Hugo,

    “All were consensual — and all were still deeply unethical.”

    see, this is where you lose me. If you agree that the people involved *have agency* and are able to communicate it freely, if there is no quid pro quo involved, what is ethically wrong about something two people want. See, you cannot both be arguing for a standard of “whatever two adults consensually decide is their business” – the standard that things like gay marriage etc are based on – and for a standard that makes some consensual relationships illegal.

    “The potential damage inflicted on a loving couple by a policy that asks them to wait ten weeks is a hell of a lot less than the damage that can take place in the absence of that policy.”

    See, I don’t think that waiting for sex for ten weeks would be a problem. But the problem is that people are being limited in their self expression. People who may otherwise be flirting, getting a coup of coffee, having a drink, find out about things they have in common beyond their mutual interest in, say, Simone de Beauvoir, will not do so – they will not get into a position where it’s just about waiting for sex for ten weeks. How do you get to a point where “true love waits” when that love doesn’t get a chance to develop, except in rare case of “love at first sight”. Seriously, if you’re only suggesting banning sex for the rest of the term, fine. But sex is probably only an expression of the relationship and as such that ban would be rather pointless – you’re trying to ban the relationship, not the expressions thereof.

  39. see, this is where you lose me. If you agree that the people involved *have agency* and are able to communicate it freely, if there is no quid pro quo involved, what is ethically wrong about something two people want.

    Sam, this isn’t just about the professor and the student who may (or may not) want a sexual relationship (remember, the quid pro quo is strongly implied even in the absence of a direct verbalization—professors and students are by no means standing on equal ground—there is a power dynamic present whereby the professor always holds more power over the student, period).

    There are other people in the classroom as well. The professor, despite his or her best intentions, loses all credibility of objectivity in grading if he or she is having sex with the students. The institution itself is going to lose credibility in its evaluation of students if this is an ongoing problem. The fact is, human beings are notoriously incapable of objectivity in their intimate relationships. Is it really outlandish to assume that people prefer the people they’re having sex with more so than people in general?

    The legal profession has strict standards on how “conflicts of interest” (which could be familial, sexual or business relationships) are handled. I can’t think of any reason why education should be treated differently. When a teacher is having sex with a student, it changes the entire classroom dynamic. As a student, would you have faith that a professor wasn’t giving bonus points to the student who he or she is fucking? Really?

    Or let me put it this way—would you have faith in your boss if he or she told you that the raise given to coworker X had absolutely nothing to do with the amazing sex that your boss and coworker X were having after-hours….even though you received a lecture about “times are tight right now” and didn’t get a raise—despite higher productivity than your coworker?

    Because that is de facto the environment that happens in the classroom when teachers are having sex with students. Need I remind you that the classroom is an economic environment no less than the jobsite?

  40. Hugo stated-

    And Barry, come on. True love waits for many things — a deployment abroad, a job transfer, a plane ticket. It can wait for grades to be turned in; really, it can. The potential damage inflicted on a loving couple by a policy that asks them to wait ten weeks is a hell of a lot less than the damage that can take place in the absence of that policy.

    Barry states-

    Hugo, I think you do not thoroughly understand the implication of these bans as they are stated in many if not most universities. If we are talking about a professor who wishes to be in complete conformity with a ban on sexual OR AMOROUS relationships then the examples you give are simply not relevant. The examples being that true love waits for a deployment abroad, a job transfer. These examples imply that there is already some sort of couplehood, some sort of sharing of affection but with no sex. But the rule conforming professor has not engaged in expressions of affection, not professed his love, not engaged in any sort of amorous communications and is not in violation of the policy on amorous relationships. In my example, once the grades have been handed in, the student has already left the University of Midwestern, is now home in Pasadena, partying in Old Town, running into an ex-boyfriend who is now becoming the present boyfriend. Our professor has obeyed the rules but lost out in love. In the dating/mating game he would be considered a loser. If you want someone who you believe could be the love of your life don’t wait, you may end up being too late without a date and certainly no mate. And, yes, I know, Hugo, you would see the payoff as being the
    intrinsic gratification of being ethical. Correct?

  41. I think we’ve hit on the crux of the matter: Barry and Sam are concerned about the lonely professor whose chances at true love are hopelessly compromised by not being able to “strike while the iron is hot” (or while the heat generated by pedagogical erotics is still intense). From my perspective, that “loss of opportunity” for said professors is, I think, of minimal concern compared to the threat posed to the entire campus community (La Lubu reiterates some of the components of that threat) by not imposing minimal regulations on professorial conduct.

    As for why I advocate for what I advocate, it isn’t just about amends or about the intrinsic gratification of being ethical, Barry; it’s about doing everything we can to create a campus environment that is safe and fair for everyone. And sexual relationships between professors and their students make that environment unsafe for many.

    And as for the opportunity issue, I think that’s a red herring. Even when I was at my most exuberantly promiscuous (say, around 1996-97), I was hardly limiting my “dating” to my students. My students did not make up the majority of people with whom I was sexual during even my most reckless years.

    Most academics do have lives (or ought to have) off-campus as well. Prohibiting us from dating the folks in our classes is not akin to rendering us celibate. And the chances of finding a peer who sees us an equal is greater off-campus than on. It simply isn’t an unreasonable request to ask us to step away from the quads and the ivy to get a date.

  42. Barry, I’ve read that post, and I’ve yet to know of a case (can you cite one?) where a “look of love” (now I have the damn ABC song in my head) led to serious charges against a professor.

    I am friends with some of my students. I go to coffee with students. I have students who visit me regularly. My wife and I have had students over to our home. And hey, I love and adore some of my students. These policies do not prohibit the kind of mutual, platonic devotion that is entirely appropriate between teachers and students. These policies limit eros, not philia.

  43. “Even when I was at my most exuberantly promiscuous (say, around 1996-97), I was hardly limiting my “dating” to my students. My students did not make up the majority of people with whom I was sexual during even my most reckless years.”

    OMG. Hugo! Based on what you said elsewhere, you admit to having slept with about twenty students in a three year period (1995-98). And that wasn’t the majority of people with “whom yuo were sexual?” I’m not going to ask the obvious question about how many people you’ve slept with, but I’m putting two and two or 20 and 20 together.

    I think that you may be missing the point Dank is making. You weren’t looking for true love, or so it seems to have been. And you are, whether you admit it or not, an attractive man who has alpha male qualities, however much you protest about having once been a chubby geek. So you can meet women anywhere. Great for you, but what about others who aren’t as socially adept, or simply as lucky in the looks department? Your “loss of opportunity” isn’t much of a loss at all. For others, that loss is greater.

  44. If you want someone who you believe could be the love of your life don’t wait, you may end up being too late without a date and certainly no mate.

    And on what are you basing the idea that this one student could be the love of your life….besides your own fantasies? That probably sounds snarkier than I mean it to…but seriously…if there isn’t any pre-existing relationship of some depth, how could you possibly come to the conclusion of some potential love of your life walking permanently out of it? And that person being the sole potential love of your life?

  45. Hugo,

    If these policies were completely sexually focused, no need for an OR
    amorous relationships policy. I can’t cite cases since the cases were told to me in confidence or occur in a secret(confidential) setting. Debate on the inclusion of the amorous clause has occurred in some universities, I will see if I can find reference to said debate. BUT, probably due to my lack of clarity, a basic point has not come thru and that is we are dealing with perception. You may have a platonic relationship with a student which includes going to lunch with her on and off campus, socializing with her on a one to one basis, seeing a film with her and inviting her to your home. You know what it involves, but others don’t and others may perceive you are romancing the student. It only takes one student complaint to have you called in and investigated. And the human resources persons handling the case have heard this all before- professors denying there was a sexual component, they are cynical and unlikely to believe you. And hr people know that under the amorous clause there is no need to prove that there was a sexual relationship. Oh, and some times these hr persons are completely unethical. I would hope that these sorts of things do not occur at PCC, but don’t be naive and believe they do not occur elsewhere. Did you know that at one university the person who relentlessly pursued student/professor sexual relationships violations and relentlessly pursued one particular prof was recently arrested for being a purveyor of child pornography; such was not in the USA but in Canada, Lethbridge University. I had a student communicating in private with me that she was repeatedly interrogated about a relationship with a prof which she insisted was not sexual; finally her mother intervened and the next time the student was called in she came with an attorney and the interrogation ended.

    Barry

    Rumor mongers, gossipers, revenge seekers can have a field day at universities. Understandably and unfortunately, many profs at many universities will no longer socialize with students.

  46. La Lobu,

    You make the point I was trying to make. You don’t know since you rigorously followed the rules regarding amorous relationships and waited
    and then the semester was over and you don’t know. Pursuing this not knowing makes you out to be a fool.

    Barry

  47. Barry, the fact that false accusations can be made are never good reasons not to have rules in the first place. Folks get falsely accused of child molestation, but that isn’t an argument against having laws against molestation. I’m not buying that line at all, sorry.

    Geni, my past promiscuity notwithstanding, the college doesn’t exist as a dating pool. That’s true for all of us, regardless of perceived levels of attractiveness.

  48. Now if you want to read about a university that has been severely hurt by having these policies, start with Florida Gulf Coast University. This link- http://dankprofessor.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/investigation-clears-prof-of-sex-charges/
    only touches the surface. Now that the professor has been cleared he is being charged again, this time for revealing the identities of those faculty colleagues who charged him and now the university is bringing down on him another set of harassment charges. The university has the power to wear this person down and his wife as well. If you have been involved in this area as long as I have, you know one cannot trust the authorities to regulate the private sexual lives of students and professors. Some say that this is a rather cynical view; I say it is realistic.

  49. “I’m not sure what you’re looking for? Every relationship can become abusive.”

    I’m not looking for anything really…just what you would see as a scenario in which a man is risking exploitation in a relationship…I’m not sure what constitutes exploitation to you when it comes to the exploitation of men, or if we are talking about individualistic exploitation or systematic exploitation.

  50. LaLubu,

    “The fact is, human beings are notoriously incapable of objectivity in their intimate relationships.”

    well, I think we should flat out acknowlede that human beings aren’t generally known for their ability to be objective. So, you think that a professor who has a crush on someone without telling that person would be more objective? As a student, would you have faith that a professor wasn’t giving bonus points to the student who he or she has a crush on? Same thing for the legal community.

    “From my perspective, that “loss of opportunity” for said professors is, I think, of minimal concern compared to the threat posed to the entire campus community (La Lubu reiterates some of the components of that threat) by not imposing minimal regulations on professorial conduct.”

    Well, I understand that you believe that’s not important, I disagree. I think the loss of ability of self-expression outweighs the risks of abuse, including external effects, you (and LaLubu) disagree.

    “It simply isn’t an unreasonable request to ask us to step away from the quads and the ivy to get a date.”

    No, it is not. But *asking* and *requiring* are two different things. I’m all for asking people to behave responsibly, but I’m against telling them they are not allowed to do it if they insist.

  51. I said -

    “but I’m against telling them they are not allowed to do it if they insist.”

    Qualifier for the implied -:

    “but I’m against telling them they are not allowed to do it if they insist – in this case because I think the damage of such legislation outweighs the damage done by not having this legislation.

  52. kristina,

    I don’t think that’s too different for men and women. I believe that, given the physical differences, women are more vulnerable to physical abuse, but men are more vulnerable to exploitations of their socially assumed inherent sexual pathology. As for systemic risk, maybe this – just yesterday a friend told me how it’s apparently become common for lawyers in custody cases or divorce cases to suggest to their female clients to make insinuations about their former partner’s sexual abusive behaviour… nothing they’d have to prove, but something to set the tone for the negotiations. I doubt they ever suggest that to their male clients…

  53. “women are more vulnerable to physical abuse” I have personally found myself more vulnerable in terms of emotional abuse…physical abuse is abhorrent and wrong…but I think mental abuse is greatly overlooked in terms of damage…a lot of times both are intertwined…how can someone physically abuse you without inflicting mental damage…I find that impossible, and a lot of times even after the injuries are healed (given that they aren’t too severe or lead to loss of life)the emotional damage still stands….why? Not saying one is worse than the other…just that one is greatly marginalized.

    “insinuations about their former partner’s sexual abusive behaviour.”
    Are these insinuations based on imaginary events, or events that happened that in the “heat of the moment” could have been misconstrued by the man as satisfactory to the woman or not communicated as unsatisfactory by the woman until long after the event? Are the lawyers suggesting the woman lie? If the woman is willing to lie, it wouldn’t matter if lawyers suggested it or not..she would lie because of her character, not because of a systematic exploitation…I for one, would NEVER lie if I was to divorce my husband..even if the relationship ended in the worst possible way, and lawyers told me it was the only way not to get sued blind, or get to see my kids…if it was my mistake so be it. I would be disappointed not being able to even see my children, but if it required lying, my children do not deserve to be exposed to such a horrible character flaw.

  54. kristina,

    “Are the lawyers suggesting the woman lie?”

    well, I think they have prettier words for what they’re apparently suggesting… my point was more about the systemic male vulnerability to this kind of thing, because of internalised ideas about the toxic nature of male sexuality. If a man lied about his wife being sexually abusive, or, atually, even if he told the truth, he’d likely get laughed out of the court, by both women and men. But I’d say we don’t discuss this further, as it seems to be rather off-topic.

  55. Pursuing this not knowing makes you out to be a fool.</i?

    Again, I’m not following you. “Pursuing this…not knowing”….do you mean, that if you pursued a relationship with a former student after she graduated, you would be “made out to be a fool”? How so? I mean, how it that pursuit….any different from approaching any other stranger and asking for a date? Where does the “fool” part come in? I don’t understand. There isn’t anything foolish about being attracted to someone—or are you referring to the act of being deeply emotionally invested in a stranger (who may or may not know you exist)? I’d consider that somewhat “foolish”—but still a very human reaction. One to work out on one’s own though.

    Sam, apparently you and I would disagree on what a “crush” is—you appear to have an assumption of more intense feeling; I’d describe “crush” as attraction combined with interest (as opposed to “cute, but so what?”)—but not deep feeling. In any case, I really do believe that most people develop much stronger feelings for a person they are attracted to once the barriers of dating and fucking have been crossed. You seem to believe that the “crush” itself is the entire feeling, and that those feelings wouldn’t intensify after sex.

    Yes, there are “teacher’s pets”—whether or not there are any sexual feelings or even sexual desire. But. That doesn’t poison the dynamics of the classroom the way actual sex with students does. Have you ever attended a class where the professor was in a sexual relationship with a student? Ever worked a job where a supervisor was fucking an employee? Those are miserable dynamics to study or work under—despite the effort to maintain a “none of my business” attitude.

    And let’s be frank here. There is a long, long history of older male professors using their rank to get sex from much younger female students—students who do not have an academic or employment history to bolster their educational credibility. Would you, Sam, like to have your academic record assumed to be the result primarily of your ability to give good head to Professor X? No?

    There isn’t any harm involved to anyone if a professor has to wait for a potential date. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Requiring professors to wait until there are no potential conflicts of interest and no potential issues of coercion is NOT a hardship—and any professor who sees that as such….well, I have to wonder why he (or she, but to be honest we’re mostly talking about the “hes” here) so desperately wants that ace-in-the-hole of leverage.

  56. La Lubu,

    “Have you ever attended a class where the professor was in a sexual relationship with a student?”

    I have no idea. I doubt it, though. I don’t know about Hugo’s 20 as per above, but I’ve *never* had the suspicion anything like this happened in all the years (and all countries) in which I attended universities. Maybe things are different in California…

    “Would you, Sam, like to have your academic record assumed to be the result primarily of your ability to give good head to Professor X? No?”

    Well, I can see that point. But a similar argument can be made for female quotas in Parliaments or boardrooms, like in Norway, where 40% of the boardroom positions must be given to females. They don’t seem to mind being there despite alligations that they are only there because of their gender and not because of individual merit… hasn’t stopped feminists from actively pursuing those policies.

    “There isn’t any harm involved to anyone if a professor has to wait for a potential date. There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

    Sure there are plenty of fish. But that’s really not the point to me. The point to me seems to be an – in my impression – unfair limitation of personal expression. Again, if this is only about sex, fine, no problems with waiting. But I don’t think much harm can come from allowing a teaching assistant to ask out a grad student for coffee. And while having the coffee, I don’t want either of them to have to constantly wonder “wait, is this allowed? Am I risking my career?” while you want to avoid only one of them thinking “wait, am I here because I want to or because he’s my teacher? can I say no here?”

    I think both are structurally legitimate concerns, but they are conflicting, so we have to pick sides unless someone comes up with a better solution. I don’t think of this as ace-in-the-hole of leverage, but – again – I’ve never been involved in anything like this on either side and I’ve never seen anything like this attending any university. I’m not aware of any specific policy about this at any of the universities. I just wasn’t an issue.

  57. Hugo stated-
    Barry, the fact that false accusations can be made are never good reasons not to have rules in the first place. Folks get falsely accused of child molestation, but that isn’t an argument against having laws against molestation. I’m not buying that line at all, sorry.

    Barry stated-

    You miss one of my points. Its not solely a false accusation charge;
    the charger may have been totally sincere based on his/her perceptions. AND the behavior can be in violation if the university has an OR AMOROUS clause in their policy. Anyone who has close relationships with students is at risk. I doubt that this is the case at PCC, but it is the case at many universities. Does the PCC policy have an OR AMOROUS clause? And, of course, I agree that just because there may have been a false charge of child molestation the law should not be thrown out. BUT again that is not the issue here.

  58. Okay, I’m coming from maybe another perspective.

    I’m an older college student (30), female.

    A professor has, for the past 2 years, seemed to have a crush on me. I am in a serious relationship with someone else and have made no moves at all to hide it, and while I’m flattered by the professor (and he’s smart and funny and all that) I’m not interested.

    But he seems terrified of being *alone* in the same room as me. He goes from directing 50% of his lecture (to 30 people) to me, to (if I stay after class to say *anything* at all to him about homework, etc) staring at his shoes and trying to avoid me period. The first year he’d run out of the classroom before I even left!

    This is pathetic, and probably stems from what everyone is talking about – fear of reprisal. It’s sad that he has to be afraid of that just because of a crush. But it’s probably true.

    It’s not the only time that a professor has had that problem with me. I had one professor who didn’t want to discuss the class afterward because (and he told me this) “People might get the wrong idea about us talking.” I told him it was ridiculous that we couldn’t discuss anything because of that, but he was still nervous!

    While I think professors and students shouldn’t have a relationship while the student is at the college, I *don’t* think they shouldn’t be allowed to talk. And these were two different colleges I went to where this happened.

  59. PS: The “I’m worried” professor who admitted was single – but I *know* the guy with a crush is married with kids but has insinuated during many classes that he wants a divorce. So does that mean he’s in love with me and it’s his only chance for love? I donno’. :-(

  60. While I can’t speak to the specifics of your situation, Dana, I suspect that shyness and timidity (rather than fear of academic reprisal) are at the source of your prof’s behavior. We who are drawn to this life of the mind, even at places as humble as the two year college, are often introverts whose confidence at the podium vanishes in a one-on-one situation.

    Barry, if by an “amorous” relationship you mean a romantic relationship without sex, I think that is precluded by these policies and rightly so. We want to encourage students to fall in love with the material, not with us — and when they fall in love with us, that’s almost always because they’ve mistaken the messenger for the message. We need to affirm and redirect that desire of theirs while quieting our own until they are no longer (and unlikely ever to be again) our student.

    I have coffee with students. I meet with students behind closed doors (fire code, actually, mandates my office door be shut.) And I do so with a very public reputation as a “reformed lech”. And I distinguish clearly, as we all can distinguish, between the warmth and affection that can accompany a professor-mentee relationship and a romantic one. And if those around me get suspicious, I place my trust in due process and my reputation in the last dozen years and my total faith that the truth will out. You may think that hopelessly, even recklessly naive. I call it the confidence born from certainty in good boundaries.

  61. Hugo, I think that you are on safe grounds at your university. But I tell you that a lot of other profs at other universities do not feel safe; this lack of safety leads them not to form the type of relationships you form at PCC. If universities want to decrease this fear then take away the “or amorous” clause. This was debated at Yale last academic year and Yale refused to veto this clause. And they don’t define amorous. Why? Because they are concerned with appearances. Appearances in their book count; third parties often file charges based on appearances. What goes on behind closed door cannot be seen. Even if the “amorous” charges are dropped as being baseless, the charged prof has suffered.

    I gather you feel quite secure about the ethics of the administrators who deal with these issues. Usually they have absolutely no training in regards to sexuality and as to be expected they sometimes have their own sexual agenda. I mentioned the administrator at Lethbridge
    re child pornography. Here’s the link- http://dankprofessor.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/college-sexual-code-enforcer-charged-with-distributing-child-pornography/

    You may think I am overreacting as to my concerns about administrators. Yes, there are many fine university administrators, but there are also many administrators who got into administration based on their own power needs. And in this area they conduct sexual investigations often leading to secret hearing with the prof not being able to directly challenge ones accusers. Administrator can and do engage in sexual power games, power games that can at times be directed toward the female student they are supposedly protecting. I know that such is true. Female students have communicated to me directly about how they have been traumatized by administrators who were there to help them. Some times administrators who are engaged in this area have come out of anti-rape programs at universities and have their own personal agenda as to how to deal with profs that they de facto put into the rapist category.

  62. Response to Dana K- There are many profs who are weak and insecure and whose behavior is very constrained because of their fear of others. They are in essence in a mental straitjacket. At the university they are afraid of students and other professors. They are basically socially incompetent. At times they may end up being charged with sexual harassment due their inability to understand the male/female dynamic.
    Two years ago two profs at the University of Iowa committed suicide after being charged with sh, two separate and tragic situations. The response of the UI President was to order all faculty to undergo sexual harassment prevention training, not suicide prevention training. I had at least one colleague who committed suicide. With the situation at Rutgers more people are now aware of the problem of suicide on campus, but I think they assume it is only a student problem; such is not the case.

  63. Dana, your prof who looked nervous and stared at his shoes but didn’t tell you why might have had other reasons for being nervous. I’ve had that effect on a few profs too, and it had nothing to do with sex. During lectures with a heavy emphasis on religion, politics and/or money, I’m a FEROCIOUS table pounder with a scowl like my namesake. I try not to be disruptive, and I have a personal rule about never calling my profs by their first names, just so everybody knows the conversation’s not personal, but some profs still leave the lecture looking a little sheepish.

    (It didn’t happen that way with every prof I did that in front of. I had one ethics&political philosophy prof, an unusually tall and unusually self assured young PhD who took my table pounding as his cue to work my objections into his next lecture. I really appreciated that.)

    That’s not to say that this is what’s happening with you and your prof. I don’t know what’s happening in your classes. But you might want to ask some other students, hey, does he look nervous to you? What’s his story? Is he new? His nervousness might be about something totally unexpected. Maybe you remind him of a dead loved one? A scary ex? You won’t know until you ask around. But don’t drive the poor man to suicide in the process.

  64. Barry, I’m prepared to believe that some overzealous administrators do make false accusations against faculty members, and make life miserable for those professors and their students. That’s a shame and that’s wrong. We need to continue to tweak and refine the policies at hand, and do all we can to encourage mentoring while discouraging harassment and power-asymmetrical sexual relationships between faculty and their current students.

    I’ll stipulate that the enforcement of these policies is often problematic. But the harm done by enforcement pales in comparison to the harm done in the absence of these policies at all. I’ll stand with you to work so that bans on consensual “amorous” relationships do not lead to the depersonalization of all professor-student exchanges. But arguing that a few cases of overzealous administrator abuse are justification for tossing the whole system that is designed to protect vulnerable students is a classic “throw the baby out with the bathwater” analysis.

  65. Hugo, I’ve just been reading some of your older posts. The more personal ones, the ones with more of You in them. I missed the tone of that thank you in the 6th comment in this thread when I read it the first time around. I think I get it now.

    You’re welcome. Keep up the good work.

  66. Pingback: Interesting posts, some time in October « Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction

  67. Pingback: Interesting posts, some time in October | Cure Female Sexual Disorder