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Lust in the academy??? 
18th-Sep-2009 09:33 am
This week's Times Higher Education documents "The Seven Deadly Sins of the Academy." While most of the essays are either vaguely amusing or vaguely illuminating, one of them is downright horrifying:

Clark Kerr, the president of the University of California from 1958 to 1967, used to describe his job as providing sex for the students, car parking for the faculty and football for the alumni. But what happens when the natural order is disrupted by faculty members who, on parking their cars, head for the students' bedrooms?

The great academic novel of the 19th century was George Eliot's Middlemarch. The great academic novel of the 20th century was Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man. Both books chronicle lust between male scholars and female acolytes, and I expect that the great academic novel of the 21st century will describe more of the same. So, why do universities pullulate with transgressive intercourse?

When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he is famously said to have replied, "because that's where the money is". Equally, the universities are where the male scholars and the female acolytes are. Separate the acolytes from the scholars by prohibiting intimacy between staff and students (thus confirming that sex between them is indeed transgressive - the best sex being transgressive, as any married person will soulfully confirm) and the consequences are inevitable.

The fault lies with the females. The myth is that an affair between a student and her academic lover represents an abuse of his power. What power? Thanks to the accountability imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency and other intrusive bodies, the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades. I know of two girls who, in 1982, got firsts in biochemistry from a south-coast university in exchange for favours to a professor, but I know of no later scandals.

But girls fantasise. This was encapsulated by Beverly in Tom Wolfe's novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, who forces herself on to JoJo, the campus sports star, with the explanation that "all girls want sex with heroes". On an English campus, academics can be heroes.

Normal girls - more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos - will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays. What to do?

Enjoy her! She's a perk. She doesn't yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife.

Yup, I'm afraid so. As in Stringfellows, you should look but not touch. Be warned by the fates of too many of the protagonists in Middlemarch, The History Man and I Am Charlotte Simmons. And in any case, you should have learnt by now that all cats are grey in the dark.

So, sow your oats while you are young but enjoy the views - and only the views - when you are older.

* Terence Kealey is vice-chancellor, University of Buckingham, and the author of Sex, Science and Profits (2008).
Oh. My. God.

This is offensive in so many different ways that it's nearly impossible to know where to start. Okay, first of all, it assumes that university faculty are 1) male, 2) married, and 3) attracted to women. None of the above apply to everybody. Secondly, it seems to be assuming that whenever a female student (but not a male student, apparently) shows interest in her studies, she is 1) not normal and 2) trying to use her sexual charms to extract concessions from her professor. Pardon me while I vomit...and refrain from cracking jokes about intellectual crushes ever, ever again.

Furthermore, while objectifying female students--"Hey boys, it's okay to look!"--and denigrating married life--"Feel free to fantasize about the booty in class while doing it with your wife!"--the essay's author has the audacity to blame the victim. "The fault lies with the females," he says. Oh? You really think that any professor who believes his female students are there expressly for his own viewing pleasure isn't somehow at fault here? And what about the university president who is encouraging the fantasizing???

There's more, of course. Anyone else feeling outraged enough by this essay to declaim?
18th-Sep-2009 02:25 pm (UTC)
It is pretty disgusting. I hope the Times gets a lot of angry letters about this. One thing that is kinda weird - in "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Charlotte does NOT throw herself at the campus jock. Not at all. He strings her along, dumping her immediately after he deflowers her. To read it as "she threw herself at him" is like saying a rape victim asks for it.

Guy is a scumbag.
18th-Sep-2009 03:20 pm (UTC)
To read it as "she threw herself at him" is like saying a rape victim asks for it.

Well...at least his worldview is consistent. I mean, he actually dared to submit, "The fault lies with the females," for publication!
18th-Sep-2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
Right, because any woman who asks for help on her essays is clearly looking to get an A by sleeping with her professor, and not, you know, by writing better essays with the guidance of her professor...

And how could this guy even use a fictional novel (one written by a man, no less) as evidence that all women are just looking to get ahead by scoring with their "betters?" Even if some women might be prone to such things, that doesn't even make it a generalization and that he suggests otherwise by itself is insulting.

I never, in all my years of education even thought about any of my professors, their TAs, a graduate student or any other faculty or staff in any sort of sexual or romantic way, nor did I ever once conceive that it was at all acceptable to try to use my body to get ahead in my classes. It's ridiculous, especially when weighed against the argument he makes that it's the women attracted to brains and not brawn (myself among them) that use their wiles maliciously in this way, as if, somehow, women who are attracted to intelligence are only in it to trick themselves ahead.

It's infuriating.
18th-Sep-2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
I agree that it's offensive, although I didn't start to get offended until the fourth paragraph, the one that begins with "The fault lies with the females."

I'm not aware of any scandals about affairs or other forms of sex between female professors and male students, as opposed to between female high school teachers and their male students, but when I was in college (admittedly awhile ago) there was an assistant or associate professor of political science who was infamous for having a female student dangling on his arm, usually for a semester, before she was replaced with a newer model. In his defense, he had no wife to cheat on, although it still was inappropriate. However, as far as I know it didn't affect how he graded and he was widely regarded as a good teacher, though I have no personal knowledge in that regard.

It was even more common for undergraduate women and graduate level men to get together. This could be problematic if one was the other's TA; at least one person I know solved this problem by refusing to go out with her TA until he was no longer her TA. I don't remember any male undergraduates going out with female grad students even though I'm pretty sure the campus, both at the grad and the undergraduate level, was evenly divided between men and women.

I think power and knowledge are aphrodisiacs. Just as Monica Lewinsky would likely not have given Bill Clinton the time of day if he weren't who he was, professors and TAs may be more attractive than they would otherwise be as a result of their elevated status. Irrespective, anyone with authority, direct or indirect, over a student's grades, course, or life should not be sexually involved with that student until they no longer have such an involvement. I do, however, think a blanket prohibition on relationships between college students and professors or graduate students is silly and unenforceable.
18th-Sep-2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
I think you should write and complain about this %$*^@#. He makes it sound like we're 5 centuries back in time.
18th-Sep-2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
How do you know I didn't? ^_~
18th-Sep-2009 05:33 pm (UTC)

I still can't believe this got published.
18th-Sep-2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
That makes two of us, alas.
18th-Sep-2009 05:20 pm (UTC)
that's disgusting. oh, and female faculty? they don't exist?
23rd-Sep-2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
But it's just for laughs! Good thing Times Higher Education can count on so many people to put the humourless feminists in the comment thread in their place. Sigh. I do wish the context would allow us to cry "troll" and move on, but ack, I just cannot believe this got published over there and that a vice-chancellor dared slap his real name on it.
23rd-Sep-2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
"I meant it as a joke!" is never a good excuse when other people have been genuinely offended. It denies them their subjectivity--if you're hurt, your pain is real, and the other person's apparent belief that they weren't doing any harm does nothing to respect the reality of that pain.

People demonstrate a lack of care for others when cracking racist/sexist/homophobic jokes and then refusing to apologize when the cause offense. Telling others that they're just not getting the joke only intensifies their feelings of objectification.

The guy's an ass, plain and simple.
23rd-Sep-2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear. I don't know why I'm still surprised every time someone is loudly and clearly informed that what s/he said hurt people, and proceeds to act as if the hurt party is too stupid to understand the joke and motivated mainly by some perverse desire to smother freedom of speech/humour. That's some amazing reasoning there. I just wish there weren't so many people for whom both earth logic and the word "sorry" are physically painful things.

(Oh look, the editor has jumped in to defend the piece. She starts out with the classic "I am a woman, and...", too! Re-sigh.)
23rd-Sep-2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
*shakes head in disgust* What Kealey did is like laughing when somebody stumbles and falls on their face--tasteless and cruel. The fact that nobody, not him, not his institution, not THE itself, is really apologizing just rubs salt in the wound. And since the bad behavior is coming from a public figure, of course the story's got legs. What has it been, now? A week since the "Seven Deadly Sins" ran? Urk.

Seriously, this sort of stuff should have already lost him his job.

Edited at 2009-09-23 07:57 pm (UTC)
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