Sunday, January 4, 2004
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How to make professors rebel
A while back, in commenting on the prevalence of fictional academics bedding their students, I wrote:
Sleeping with students is not just for fictional treatments anymore -- it's also a trope for amusing nonfiction discussions.
Laura Kipnis has a droll Slate essay on how colleges are dealing with professor-student relationships. My favorite part is when the profs rebel at a sensitivity training:
Note to self -- do not jangle change when lecturing.
For more on professor-student relationships, see Glenn Reynolds and Amanda Butler. My opinion on the general mattter most closely mirrors Beth Plocharczyk's. [So what about your opinion specific to you?--ed. My opinion is that I'm happily married to an exceptionally witty and attractive woman -- and she can operate pruning shears. Good answer!--ed.]posted by Dan on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM
For anyone who's glanced at Kipnis' obnoxious, gimmicky book attacking monogamy (nay, love itself!) it was a tough call even to open this Slate article. But, like you Dan, I was pleasantly surprised. As one who abandoned academia but was no doubt shaped largely by it, I can't for the life of me see the wisdom of banning all touching between teachers and students (who, being over 18, are technically adults). Sex is not itself exploitation (can we carve this in stone somewhere?). If grades or other academic favors are in any way affected, this is a serious matter and remedies are on hand. Barring that, who cares?
At my undergraduate school, women only I'm afraid, all straight chicks fell "madly" in love with some wizened specimen of hyperintellectualism and worldliness at some point. Some acted, others just fantasized. I know of no lifelong scarring and more than a few marriages that resulted.
As my high school physics teacher (madly in love with my best friend at the time--very naughty) used to say, "it's all part of it." Indeed.posted by: Kelli on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
Well said Kelli. My personal inclination has been to have my students strictly off limits while any position of power is held over them, though I've held open the possibility of a relationship developing after the formal instruction is concluded. My general sentiment has not been too far from Dan's, but I know of several teachers including my ex-roomate married to former students - one was engaged before the end of the term ;-) - and beyond superficial observation they really all do seem to be happy together. There doesn't seem to be anything particularly wrong with them, as long as one is sincere and steps carefully.posted by: Oldman on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
Just a note that your "exceptionally witty and attractive" wife link has an extra apostrophe at the end, thus rendering it 404.
Hurry man, she has pruning shears!posted by: Scott on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
I have a current post on this subject at my site (it's on Blogger, so I'm not going to bother with a permalink) just below my thanks to Mark Steyn for his link.
My biggest puzzlement is that everyone from the gas man to the psychotherapist has an occupational or professional prohibition against sex with clients. But profs get all hot and bothered if anyone suggests there should be a limitation on their happy hunting grounds, especially among the grad students (half of whom, in many fields, can't hope for a decent job, so they're getting screwed in more ways than one). Profs and chiropractors seem to be the professional groups for whom it's OK to jump clients' bones.posted by: John Bruce on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
I think you are a bit confused--many of the relationships that develop on campus are between people in different departments, not teachers sleeping with THEIR students (though this does enter into it). If I am seeing a psychotherapist, does that mean I can't date the cute psychotherapist who works across the hall from him?
As for grad students, they are often the same rough age as the professors they sleep with. No crime there.
People in the corporate world sleep with coworkers all the time. Why should academia be a sexfree zone?posted by: Kelli on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
Laura Kipnis' piece was delightful! And, as Kelli says, a pleasant surprise from someone who seems to have made a name by taking a sour view of love 'n stuff like that.
Once upon a time (about 10 years ago), I had a tenure-track position in the English Dep't. of a second-tier state university. I was in my late 20's and single, so some of my friends assumed that I would have no problem making time with as many co-eds as I could handle. They couldn't comprehend the amount of trouble into which I could get by doing so. One false move would put my posterior right into a sling.
Still, a little common sense could get you a long way in such an environment. At the orientation for new faculty, the Provost put it succinctly: "Just keep your pants zipped until the end of the quarter." And she freely admitted that she, herself, was married to one of her former students.posted by: Doug on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
The examples cited in the pieces that Dan and INstapundit linked on this subject were of relationships within the department. As I point out in the post on my site, corporations increasingly have policies against people in the same line af authority having "consensual" affairs. And while nothing would stop someone from dating a cute psychotherapist who wasn't one's own, wouldn't that be remarkably poor judgment on the part of both the therapand and the therapist? This is an indication of the odd blind spots I continue to see on this subject.posted by: John Bruce on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
John Bruce writes "And while nothing would stop someone from dating a cute psychotherapist who wasn't one's own, wouldn't that be remarkably poor judgment on the part of both the therapand and the therapist? This is an indication of the odd blind spots I continue to see on this subject."
How is that a blind spot, odd or otherwise?
Note to self -- do not jangle change when lecturing.
Note to self--do not take a sip of anything when my peripheral vision catches a paragraphed one-liner coming.posted by: Catsy on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
To answer Michael Brown's question, Kelli originally said, "If I am seeing a psychotherapist, does that mean I can't date the cute psychotherapist who works across the hall from him?"
I guess the easiest answer would be, "it depends on who's paying for your therapy." If you've got a trust fund and figure that's a fun way to spend Tuesday and Friday afternoons, I guess there'd be nothing wrong with dating the shrink across the hall. But likely you won't be getting out of therapy anytime soon, since you'll probably be playing the one against the other and having a great deal of fun, but won't get better. As to the therapist idiotic enough to do such a thing, consider (1) the implications of dating someone you aready know is a few french fries short of a happy meal, and (2) the likely impact on the therapy of you, the shrink across the hall, dating the other guy's patient (see above).
Kelli, it seems to me, is a little too quick off the mark to propose this as an argument for dating a prof. If there's "nothing wrong" with dating the shrink across the hall, why not date a prof? There's "nothing wrong" with that either, presumably. Thus, it seems to me, there's a blind spot here.
The original problem with the Slate article as I see it, by the way, is that "sexual harassment" is a specifically legal issue. If the university in the piece wants to send psychologists to discuss it, that's odd. Typically sexual harassment presentations in the corporate world are led by attorneys and human resources people, and there are two points: (1) certain behaviors are against the law, and can get the company sued; (2) those and other behaviors are against corporate policy and can get you fired. Don't do them. Now go back to work.
Nobody jangles change.
John Bruce's comments are perfectly correct in all respects except that they utterly ignore human nature. This is a trait I often find in promising students who have yet to realize that rationality has very little with how things actually work. These kinds of students write utterly brilliant papers that are utterly ignorant of who things actually get done. Your own comments are quite reasonable, and while no more correct objectively than John's show much more wry acceptance of practical considerations. The best and most passionate marriage that I know of happened when a close friend of mine proposed to his student - at her suggestion - before the end of the term. It has long outlasted its original start and outgrown its initial context in a very healthy way. I'm quite green with envy to be honest at such a stroke of luck for my buddy.
This is not to say that everything that John has written isn't perfectly right and has merit. Sexual harrassment is bad. Unfortunately, the approach to try to guard against it has at times approached ridiculous extremes like one college putting out a policy where each step of foreplay had to have previous verbal consent from the feminine party. While it might be cute and playful to flirt with someone by requesting each step in a sort of slow-strip, in practice it was wholly impractical and quite useless at discouraging discrimination.
I believe that the burden of behaiving themselves well should be on the more experienced and advantaged person in a relationship, but let's face it - there are allot of relationships that have a power imbalance and in fact in many cases it's considered a perk. We can not effectively outlaw them anymore than we can outlaw December-May relationships. As a conservative favoring privacy and individual responsibility over centralized regulation, I strongly advocate against policies outlawing boffing profs. Or secretaries and bike messengers for that matter.posted by: Oldman on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
Well, I suppose Oldman is relying on his detailed knowledge of human nature (instead of abstract rationality, the way I apparently think) when he suggests, "I believe that the burden of behaiving themselves well should be on the more experienced and advantaged person in a relationship. . ." Hakk, kaff -- tell that to ol' Bill C.
There are other problems here. "Sexual harassment" is a legal term that applies to behavior in a workplace. It does not apply to student dating, for instance, so if a school adopts some type of policy requiring consent to each stage of foreplay, this is not a "sexual harassment" policy. Also, I believe that current "sexual harassment" law does not apply to classroom or student-professor behavior, unless there is some type of workpace (like work-study) component. An attorney may be able to correct me here. But efforts by universities to adopt policies limiting student-professor sexual contact may be driven by an entirely realistic recognition that unless the university is out in front on the issue, it will be left behind. There have also been separate lawsuits filed regarding student=professor contact, like the Boalt Hall suit that drove the UC policy.
The bottom line is that a university is legally vulnerable to the most predatory behavior of its professors, in an area where the law is evolving, and not in favor of organizations that don't have responsible policies.posted by: John Bruce on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
These kinds of students write utterly brilliant papers that are utterly ignorant of who things actually get done.
"Sexual harassment" is a legal term that applies to behavior in a workplace. It does not apply to student dating, for instance, so if a school adopts some type of policy requiring consent to each stage of foreplay, this is not a "sexual harassment" policy. Also, I believe that current "sexual harassment" law does not apply to classroom or student-professor behavior, unless there is some type of workpace (like work-study) component.
Are you seriously implying that because Sexual Harrassment is a legal term that it can't happen to a student or isn't an appropriate term to describe what happens from time to time on a college campus??? Are you implying that because it happens to be a legalistic term, that a college policy requiring verbal consent for foreplay isn't actively and directly targeting sexual harassment per se?
John, John, John. In this logical schema you've proposed, in an area where martial law has been declared and civil laws suspended according to you it would be impossible to be raped or sexually assaulted since these are also legal terms. In the real world John, simply because a term is used formally in the legal system it doesn't mean that it can't happen when the normal legal framework doesn't apply.
This is precisely what I meant by an utter lack of any experience with human nature, and brilliant writing that completely neglects anything resembling the way the real world actually works. Your attempt to refute my point has ironically only emphasized how naive you really are. Sheesh. Put down the books John and live a little. You might learn something.
"Sexual harassment" used outside the context of particular workplace conduct is an imprecise term without a whole lot of meaning. If I say my boss called me in and said, you want a promotion, you gotta put out, I would say, "Sir, that is quid pro quo secual harassment, and I will hereby report you to our corporate sexual harassment coordinator, for further action pursuant to applicable corporate polcies." I'm a sophomore walking from Anthro to Poli Sci at 10:30 AM and one of the Delts grabs my whatever, I may be a victim of sexual battery in a criminal context, I may be a victim of violation of some university policy, but I haven't been "sexually harassed", unless someone is using an imprecise term. This is how I manage to write brilliant papers, Oldman, by using precise language.
Actually, I don't think I'm denying human nature here, either. A big factor in operation is that women and men haven't been in the workplace on equal terms for very long in social terms. I'm old enough to have been told by even older women that before World War II, "nice girls didn't work in offices" (they were nurses or teachers or got married). There is no question, based on what I've seen myself (and which I discuss here and there on my own blog) that social circumstances have put some women in difficult spots in the workplace, and I think it's completely reasonable to have expected the law and policy to evolve in response to it.
Keep in mind that when I talk about responsible policies, I am talking about the workplace polcies that have evolved over 30 years, not half-baked university policies, however. That said, I still think it's extremely important to strictly circumscribe "consensual" student-professor sex, simply because of the clear abuse that occurs (and works against the interests of the academic community, it seems to me).posted by: John Bruce on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
"This is how I manage to write brilliant papers, Oldman, by using precise language."
'Also, I believe that current "sexual harassment" law does not apply to classroom or student-professor behavior, unless there is some type of workpace (like work-study) component.'
Well that would be an interesting interpretation of the law considering that the Supreme Court has said otherwise according to the University of Maryland the Supreme Court also ruled in 1998 that under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 an educational institution will be liable for sex harassment by a teacher once it has actual notice of the misconduct and is deliberately indifferent to it.
When I was referring lack of knowledge of the way the world really works, I wasn't referring to some fuzzy intuitive notion. I was referringto what included black and white letter of the law. Nonetheless your writing has been brilliant, despite being erroneous and based in part ignorantly on a completely wrong assumption. The rest of your writing shows highly articulate, educated, and intelligent but extremely ignorant slips that similarly reveal that you have no idea how the real world works. Even the good parts are fighting straw men that have been resolved elsewhere or else are so completely in legal limbo that they aren't being addressed at all on the levels you suppose. This of course wholly neglects your stunning lack of apparent perceptiveness on the issues beyond black and white letter of the law and which reach into more everyday concerns.
When you next you write brilliant papers John, please remember how completely right you can sound while being completely ignorant of the actual facts of the matter.posted by: Oldman on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
From the link endorsed:
"Professor-student relationships are special indeed, and like any relationship which is deeply rooted in the power of one over another, they should skip the sex"
husband/wife?posted by: dsquared on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
One of my best buddies got engaged to a student of his ... before final grades were in. At her suggestion it might be added. Been going strong between the two lovers ever since. Stuff happens. I'm 100% against sexual harassment, but every definition of harassment I've seen defines it as conduct which is undesired. You can't harass the willing so to speak. There have to be some rules, but legalistic rules should be there to safeguard against excesses and not to interfere with completely voluntary and normal behavior between consenting adults.
For the record, I've never dated one of my students though I hold open the possibility of it after any formal relationship is concluded. I also have dinner and drinks with an old prof of my own in turn, he's become a fast friend. Sometimes life works like that, and you meet people you really like and want to connect with ... at work, at school, at church... whatever. Comepletely normal so long as discretion, taste, restraint and most importantly respect and honesty is employed. It's the oddball cases and coercive bastards that ruin the whole thing, but then again they're not really after relationships anyway so much as to mess with other peoples' heads.posted by: Oldman on 01.04.04 at 10:46 PM [permalink]
Kelli wrote: Sex is not itself exploitation (can we carve this in stone somewhere?). If grades or other academic favors are in any way affected, this is a serious matter and remedies are on hand. Barring that, who cares?
"Sexual harassment" is a legal term that applies to behavior in a workplace.
I still think it's extremely important to strictly circumscribe "consensual" student-professor sex, simply because of the clear abuse that occurs (and works against the interests of the academic community, it seems to me).
Someone demanded querulously from the back, "But how do you know they're unwanted until you try?" (OK, it was me.)
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