28 April 2010

Professors & Students Having Sex

Stephen Kershnar
Faculty-Student Consensual Relations and the Church Lady
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
April 26, 2010

At state colleges and universities, the issue of faculty-student romantic and sexual relations is an issue that refuses to go away. It often pits administrators and feminists with Victorian sensibilities against those with live-and-let-live attitudes about romance and sex. I should disclose that a number of the facts and ideas for this column come from SUNY-Fredonia philosophy professor and lawyer, Raymond Belliotti.

As a legal matter, only one public institution (College of William & Mary) bans all romantic and sexual relations between faculty and undergraduate students and between supervising faculty and graduate students. Such blanket prohibitions were rejected by other universities, including the University of Virginia, University of Washington, and the University of Texas at Arlington. Some private universities (for example, Rice University and Yale University) have adopted a version of the prohibition. The complete prohibition at state institutions is likely unconstitutional because it violates people’s rights to privacy and intimate association, rights strongly affirmed in a recent Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). Even if such a ban were Constitutional, consider whether state colleges and universities should adopt it.

There are two models which track the view that faculty and student are adults (the “adult model”). On one model, the libertarian model, the regulation of romances should be governed by sexual harassment rules. Sexual harassment rules prohibit faculty attempting to trade grades or other benefits for romance or sex. They also prohibit hostile working environments, whereby repeated sexual attention makes someone uncomfortable. On a second model, the supervisory model, such relations are prohibited only when the faculty member supervises or evaluates the student. This second model allows faculty-student relations to be governed by the same rules that govern relationships between senior and junior faculty and between those administrators and staff with supervisory roles over others.

The adult model has a number of advantages. First, it makes it clear that when they leave the workplace, faculty and students’ lives are their own and not subject to meddling by administrators and staff. Consider what we would think if administrators who wanted to monitor the weekend habits of the faculty, including the churches they attend and the websites they visit. Second, it protects faculty and students from degrading investigations. For example, imagine some flabby old administrator at a Southern college asking a 22-year-old female student when an English professor first touched her breasts and you get the picture. At SUNY-Fredonia, there are allegations that administrators engaged in covert searches of faculty email when investigating one or more of the cases that have come up in the last few years. Third, unlike the adult model, the blanket prohibition discourages beneficial relationships and marriages. At Fredonia, there are quite a number of past and current faculty who are married to former students (not always their students). Because the benefits of marriage and children are weighty, opponents of the adult model must show that the costs of the adult model outweigh its benefits. They are unlikely to do so. Fourth, it fits with the view that students are adults and ought to be treated as such.

Fifth, the adult model prevents further intrusion into fraternization and non-romantic friendships that are common on campuses. As various professors have pointed out, feminist professors, African-American faculty, and advisors to student clubs often supervise and befriend students, sometimes hosting events in their homes, and are encouraged and rewarded for such activity. This happens even though this brings about widespread concerns of bias and favoritism.

One objection to the adult model is that the faculty and student are in an unequal power relationship and that this inequality is bad or wrong. The idea here is that the professor carries with him (and it is almost always a male) a superior role that makes him able to control the nature and direction of the relationship. Under the libertarian model, there might also be grades that make the relationship even more unequal. This objection is often attributed to feminists in part because feminists argued against the adult model in the biggest battle over this issue, which occurred at the University of Virginia.

The power to control the nature and direction of a relationship doesn’t just depend on one’s position at work. It also depends on a person’s psychological strength, willingness to leave, and on her value in the dating market. The latter is in part a function of things like personality, intellect, and attractiveness. Because students often have far greater market value than the professor or than the other women or men he might date, it is not in the least bit clear that the professor has more power. More important, even if there were a power differential, it is not clear that this makes a relationship bad or wrong. Lots of couples differ in their power to shape the relationship (consider couples who differ in attractiveness, intelligence, and strength of personality) and no one thinks that this makes their relationship bad or wrong.

A second objection is that such relationships often involve premarital sex and such sex harms or degrades female students. The claim that such sex harms them might be an empirical claim about the psychological effects of premarital sex. I doubt there is evidence to back this up, but even if there were, an obvious solution would be to publicize the risk and then allow women to decide for themselves whether to take the risk. In general, we do this with regard to their sexual lives, so it is unclear why we should take a different approach in academia. The claim that such sex involves moral harm (best imagined coming from Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady) is the sort of lifestyle choice that is none of the state’s business. It is for this reason that the administrators and staff should not be in the business of discouraging homosexuality, promoting celibacy, and so on.

A third objection is that students are not adults. This objection is a variant on the sex-is-harmful objection, because even if this were true, protecting children against something makes sense only if it poses a significant risk of harm. As law professor Sherry Young has pointed out, the notion that mostly male administrators should ignore adult women’s own perceptions and preferences about their lives and sexuality infantilizes them. She points out that such protective rules resemble paternalistic measures like curfew restrictions and restrictions on overnight visitation that were abandoned years ago.

The administrators and feminists who seek to prohibit faculty-student relationships have a pinched and demeaning worldview. Their arguments against the adult model are unsupported by evidence, rely on false and irrelevant theories of power and sexuality, and infantilize students. As such, their arguments should be ignored and they should lose credibility.

8 comments:

The Objectivist said...

It is worth noting that the blanket ban is probably unconstitutaional because it violates the right to privacy and intimate association. This is because Lawrence v. Texas (2003) held that 5th Amendment protects the right to shape one's relationship and the means by which to do this is to choose whether and what sort of sexual relationships to engage in.

This is a good moral argument. It is less clear if it is a good legal argument.

The Objectivist said...

Note that these sort of busybody laws create a new class of campus felons, causing still more dignity and privacy to be lost among faculty and students.

People who want to ban these relationship have a temperament for K-12 and don't belong in higher education.

志源 said...

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羿惟 said...

志不立,天下無可成之事。........................................

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9425louiem said...

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俊冠樺宇 said...

勤勉是幸運的右手,節儉是幸運的左手。..................................................

DM said...

*************************************************************************
how about I believe in WHATEVER I want - even in the FLYING SPAGHETTI
MONSTER! - and you have nothing to say!
*******************************************************************************

let me show you the end results of this particular *ONE-DIMENSIONAL SCIENTIFIC MODE*
of thinking that is called *CRITICAL THINKING*, which is completely divorced from
any human objectives...

this style has been perfected by dawkins, pz, randi and the other *NEW ATHEISTS*
**
THE BOOBQUAKE - 911!
***
hey, atheists don't even BELIEVE IN BOOBIES!!!
they thought BOOBIES had no effect... WRONG!

see, I just want to make it clear to the rest of you:
jen is unable to see that there is a CONFLICT BETWEEN EROS & SCIENCE....

http://www.blaghag.com/2010/04/in-name-of-science-i-offer-my-boobs.html


see how we take a term and convert it into its AUTHENTIC POLITICAL DIMENSION - THAT
OF LIBERATION - not just merely harmless expression...

Visit for the BOOBQUAKE:

http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/philosophy-f1/the-boobquake-911-t1310.htm



***************************************************

FSM....

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http://i766.photobucket.com/albums/xx302/AtheismPics/fsmlogo.png

*****************************

DOUBLE!


FOR THE WIN...

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