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Sex Between Faculty and Students?

The following discussion about sex between faculty and students took place on 
WMST-L in April 1994.  It began with a message forwarded from the FEMJUR (feminist
jurisprudence) list by a WMST-L member; her doing so may have been prompted by a 
discussion on WMST-L a little earlier in April about sexual harassment issues and 
policies.  For additional WMST-L files available on the Web, see the 
WMST-L File Collection.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: please also see disavowal (April 23, below) by one of the people 
whose name appears here as affiliated with CASE.]

Date: Wed, 20 Apr 1994 04:29:42 -0400
Subject: consent (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: Tue, 19 Apr 1994 22:12:00 PST
From: BarryM.Dank <DSURF @ BEACH1.CSULB.EDU>
To: Multiple recipients of list FEMJUR <FEMJUR  @  SUVM.SYR.EDU>

Subject: consent
I hope that members of the femjur network might be interested in
getting involved in a new organization CASE.  Our statement of principles
is listed below as well as info for joining.  We feel that men and women
in different organizational power positions need not be in abusive
relationships.  We believe that attempting to ban love/sexual
relationships between persons of different social categories
is a form of tyranny, and must be overtly opposed.  The rhetoric
by banning advocates directed toward those who met in a student-
professor context has unfairly and inaccurately sexually objectified
male professors and objectified female students in traditional
terms as helpless fragile victims who need protection.  It propels
such women back into the traditional category of "women and children".
We vehemently protest and oppose those who attempt to to take away
from adult women the right of consent.  Female university students
are not children!  Those who are offended by such relationships
should not be allowed to impose their will on others.  Please
consider joining us in opposing those who would take our away
our freedom of consent and our right of freedom of intimate
We also want to make it very clear that we are not anti-feminist.
We believe that our position is not antithetical in any way to the
empowerment of women.  We are also strongly committed to the principle
of the right of intimate association for all consenting adults,
whether they be in asymmetric heterosexual or homosexual or interracial
Consenting Academics for Sexual Equity(CASE) is an organization for
academics, and those with prior academic affiliations, committed
to the principle of consent regarding intimate relationships.
In advocacy of this principle, CASE rejects the principle
advocated by some academics that academics in asymmetrically
related positions be banned from having intimate relationships.
Specifically, we regard it as an inappropriate intrusion
for universities to ban consenting intimate relationships
between students and professors; students and administrators;
junior professors and senior professors, etc.
CASE rejects the concept that consenting adult sexual relationships
can fall under the rubric of sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment
cannot occur unless there is unwanted sexual attention.  CASE regards
the attempts of universities to regulate the behavior of consenting
academics as a form of sexual harassment in itself.  In this regard,
we are also concerned that such banning policies may also be employed
as a guise to regulate or ban other forms of consensual adult
relationships, such as interracial, inter-age, and same sex
relationships.  Our concern also includes the effects of academic
banning on all kinds of academic relationships, such as non-sexual
friendships and mentoring relationships.
CASE is particularly concerned with the cartoon caricatures of
professor as predatory lecher and the student as innocent
victim. Such caricatures deny the richness and heterogeneity
of university life and function to denigrate and degrade fellow
academics, both students and professors. In terms of dealing with
such caricatures, CASE provides speakers, both men and women,
who will openly address ethical issues relating to asymmetric
academic relationships and the banning of such relationships.
For more information about CASE,and becoming a member of CASE,
contact Professor Barry M. Dank, Director, CASE, Department of
Sociology, California State University, Long Beach, Calif.90840.
Or e mail dsurf  @  beach1.csulb.edu or voice mail-310-985-4236.
Barry M. Dank, PH.D., Founder and Director of CASE
   Professor of Sociology, California State U., Long Beach
**Brian Baigrie, PH.D.
   Professor, Institute for History and Philosophy of Science and
              Technology, University of Toronto
Deborah Brown, B.A.
   Outstanding Alumnus, California Polytechnic University, Pomona
        ** Professor Baigrie subsequently wrote to WMST-L to disavow his
association with CASE and to criticize that organization.  See his message
below, forwarded to WMST-L by listowner Korenman on April 23, 1994.
Date: Wed, 20 Apr 1994 16:32:15 -0500
From: Chris Jazwinski <JAZ @ TIGGER.STCLOUD.MSUS.EDU>
Subject: Sex with professors
>I hope that members of the femjur network might be interested in
>getting involved in a new organization CASE.  Our statement of principles
>is listed below as well as info for joining.  We feel that men and women
>in different organizational power positions need not be in abusive
>relationships.  We believe that attempting to ban love/sexual
>relationships between persons of different social categories
>is a form of tyranny, and must be overtly opposed.  The rhetoric
>by banning advocates directed toward those who met in a student-
>professor context has unfairly and inaccurately sexually objectified
>male professors and objectified female students in traditional
>terms as helpless fragile victims who need protection.
This post raises some interesting questions.  Yes, abusive relationships
can develop even between people at the same level of the hierarchy.  But
sexual relationships between students and professors are often problematic.
 I recently went to a workshop on sexual harassment and mentoring.  One of
the presenters was a lawyer who said that even if the relationship between
the professor and student is consenting, the student can later turn around
and accuse the professor of sexual harassment, and that this accusation
will likely be upheld.  The reason is the great imbalance of power between
student and professor.  This imbalance creates implicit coercion.
Certainly as a professor one has an unfair advantage in having much control
over the students life (grades, recommendations, etc.).  Usually one is
also older which again creates an imbalance of power.  Finally, those
professors having sex with their students are usually males, which again
(unfortunately, I wish it weren't true) creates an imbalance of power.
Age, education, gender, power over the student...  Why am I seeing so many
red flags?
Now I'm not sure how easy it is to legislate it.  All I can say is that
when I hear about these kinds of relationships I usually catch myself
feeling a great deal of distaste.  I have heard that in the olden days,
quid pro quo was not uncommon, especially for female grad students.  What
do others think?
Chris Jazwinski
Professor of Psychology
St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud, MN 56301
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 00:40:50 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Rosemarie Arbur :: English :: x83322" <ra04 @ LEHIGH.EDU>
Subject: Sex with professors
> femjur & CASE argue for right to intimacy for professor and student
> [original post deleted, response greatly shortened]
>Age, education, gender, power over the student...  Why am I seeing so many
>red flags?
>Now I'm not sure how easy it is to legislate it.  All I can say is that
>when I hear about these kinds of relationships I usually catch myself
>feeling a great deal of distaste.  I have heard that in the olden days,
>quid pro quo was not uncommon, especially for female grad students.  What
>do others think?
>Chris Jazwinski
>Professor of Psychology
>St. Cloud State University
My response is practically identical:  femjur and CASE are arguing
for the rights of (I think exceptional) individuals, while most student-
professor intimate relationships are dangerous for the student.  Sorry
to say, the olden days' arrangements still exist, though women students
(undergrads included) are much more aware of the risks involved.  Knowing
does not diminish vulnerability, however, and may even make these
situations worse ("she knew what she was getting into" --> "her fault").
Rosemarie Arbur
Professor of English, Lehigh University
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 09:55:28 LCL
Subject: Sex between Students & Professors
Some thoughts on the topic of sex between students and professors, a
number of which are confusing, conflicting & probably controversial:
A. PRACTICAL:  I think it is almost a given that if/when prohibitions
against students and teachers having sexual relationships are
implemented on a campus, the first teachers charged under the new
rules are probably *NOT* going to be middle-aged tenured white
heterosexual males with long egregious histories of having sexual
relationships with students, but rather faculty members who are
already "demographically vulnerable" (i.e., gay or lesbian, culturally
other than middle-class, non-Anglo, female, controversial, feminist,
populist, activist, untenured, etc.).  I have no idea what to make of
this or what to advocate with respect to it;  it is just an
observation, and a creepy one at that.
B. THEORETICAL: The subject of consent is a sticky one:  In a
relationship of power imbalance, the person in the position of greater
vulnerability has a great stake in BELIEVING that she is "acting
freely", for to believe that she is not free to consent would be to
acknowledge an enormous degree of powerlessness.  That is what
Consciousness Raising is all about: it is exactly ABOUT coming to
understand which of one's allegedly "freely made" decisions might
actually be less than free, perhaps because one has, unbeknownst to
oneself, adopted from those upon whom one depends unfreely for
survival, some of _their_ consciousness (i.e., values, perspectives,
goals, etc).  The danger to be overcome is exactly that individual
members of vulnerable classes can and do adopt the consciousness of
those more powerful _as our own_, even when those are acutally
contrary to our genuine best interests.  But it is the rare person who
is able to say, "yes, I realize that the power structure is currently,
right now, preventing me from making free choices."  That is usually
an insight gained in hindsight, following consciousness raising.  I
know that when I was a student I was APPALLED at the suggestion that I
was unable to think for myself enough to decide for myself whether or
not to have sex with my professors.  But in hindsight I can see that
although I desperately WANTED to see myself as that self-propelled and
"free", I actually was far less so than I thought.  And that this was
not a psychological shortcoming of mine personally, but a structural
The point here is that I am unsure how to regard the claims of members
of more vulnerable classes when they make claims to the effect that
they feel free to choose, and that they in fact choose freely to adopt
exactly those values which most benefit those to whom they are
vulnerable.  We used to call this false consciousness, although I am
aware of the difficulties incurred when trying to claim that _someone
else_ (who claims to freely choose) is actually a victim of false
consciousness.  It provokes anger and indignation from those about
whom one says that, and charges of "laying ones values on somebody
else" or of "failing to take seriously the very voices of those one
claims to be concerned about."  This is a very real problem, not to be
C. PROFESSIONAL:  Lots of people, from Plato through Evelyn Fox Keller
and Audre Lorde, have noticed that there is (or can be) a distinctly
erotic dimension to knowledge, and specifically as part of the
teaching/learning relationship.  But for the same reasons that
therapists shouldn't have sex with clients and doctors shouldn't have
sex with patients:  don't teachers have a PROFESSIONAL responsibility
not to have sex with students?  I base this on the notion that
teachers deliberately *invite* students to make themselves more
vulnerable to our ideas, suggestions, criticisms, etc. than they might
with next door neighbors, TV personalities, etc.  We do this for
PROFESSIONAL (i.e., teaching/learning) reasons, *not* personal ones,
and those reasons are supposed to be FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE STUDENT,
not for our personal benefit.  Don't we have a professional
responsibility not to abuse that trust?  When students elect to trust
us with access to their minds which is more intimate than that which
they may grant to others, AND PAY US for carrying out the professional
responsibilities they have hired us for (i.e., teaching), don't we
have a PROFESSIONAL responsibility to stick to the business at hand,
and not to seek to satisfy our own needs for intimacy, sex, etc.
within the context of those student/teacher relationships?
----------- Ruth Ginzberg (rginzberg  @  eagle.wesleyan.edu) ------------
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 11:44:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Judith F. Clark" <Judith.F.Clark @ DARTMOUTH.EDU>
Subject: Ruth Ginzberg's comments
I will probably be castigated to speaking out in support of a tantalizingly
controversial position, but I believe Ruth Ginzberg has made some  important
distinctions vis-a-vis the roles and responsibilities of teachers/students in
(and out of the classroom. Having been criticized recently for being "naive"
about sexual harassment and accusations of same, I feel hesitant to comment
publicly on this list - but like many people who post herein, I have
experienced much  of what we are discussing.
I am especially sensitive to Ruth's  comments about 'false consciousness,'
which I expect that many over-40 types can really connect with! (I know now
that a marriage I made at age 18 was made for  reasons  I was unable to grasp
at the time....despite many sage and concerned people trying to help me to
see what might be going on for me .)
I am entirely with you, Ruth, although I do respect the concerns of those
associated with the organization CASE . But it does appear that the long-term
dangers connected with teacher/student intimacy (dangers to which both sides
of the equation are exposed) far outweigh a student's potential loss of
autonomy in terms of free will....
Judith F. Clark
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 11:45:16 -0400 (EDT)
From: Beatrice Kachuck <BEABC @ CUNYVM.BITNET>
Subject: consent (fwd)
the message from CASE, consenting adults for sexual equity, is old, old. it
tries to set women up for exploitation by telling them they're making adult
choices to have sexual relations - or take a rotten job, or do his laundry or
typing or research.  what case ignores is the power relations. feminists look
critically at power relations. so case, despite its disclaimer, is anti-
feminist.  beatrice  beabc  @  cunyvm.cuny.edu
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 14:58:05 LCL
From: green deborah <dxgree @ MAIL.WM.EDU>
Subject: Sex between Students & Professors
Another angle on this issue was presented at a meeting of the
Virginia AAUP meeting last week.  The argument goes that the premier
example of the issue of the erosion of faculty rights is the way in
which sexual harassment complaints are handled by universities, with
many problems re: due process.  I'm sure many of you have encountered
many of these concerns and we recently had a discussion of the issue
of anonymous compaints.  I was stunned, however, to hear the
presenter (a woman lawyer) argue that the solution was to make those
filing the complaints much more accountable for their behavior.  In
other words, institutional responsibility for providing direction,
guidelines, appropriate climate, rules, procedures, etc. was not even
considered as an alternative--the responsibility was placed squarely
on the one making the complaint, usually a female student!  Given the
current discussion, I think this presenter would be delighted to
endorse the idea that students are perfectly able to give consent--
and would argue that they couldn't then change their minds!
Debbie Green
dxgree  @  mail.wm.edu
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 18:45:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Roberta C. Martin" <ENMARTIN @ ECUVM1.BITNET>
Subject: Ruth Ginzberg's comments
Yes, not only is Ruth Ginzberg's statement a marvelously articulate
statement of my own inarticulate feelings about the CASE suggestion, it
ought to be required reading in every academic setting that I am
familiar with. I am a bit surprised at the idea that such a position is
"controversial"--I would have thought that most women who grapple with
the sexual harrasment issue on campuses would, at first glance, object to
the CASE proposal and then be forced to think through the issues
that CASE quite legitimately raises. In addition, I think prohibiting
relations between people in unequal power relations (a more adequate
phrase, perhaps, than "unequal social catagories") ultimately protects
professors as well as students by forcing them to think through the
consequences of teacher-student relationships. As a POLICY such a
prohibition, I think, protects more folks than it hurts. Robin Martin.
Roberta C Martin, assistant professor
East Carolina University
GCB 2112 Greenville, NC 27858 (919) 757-6721
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 17:35:12 -0700
From: Lois Amy Leveen <leveen @ SCF.USC.EDU>
Subject: case against case
Like so many others, I have little to add to Ruth Ginzburg's articulate
and thorough analysis.  But here is what I do have:  On the "lighter"
side -- did any one else notice that both the profs signing the CASE
statement were men (or so I gather from their names)?  Interesting.
More to the point, I'm sure many of us know of couples who met in a
teacher-student context and who have established what appear to be stable,
mutually supportive, healthy relationships; this makes it difficult to
condemn/ban such relationships outright.  However, there are also many
profs who routinely have sexual relationships with students, and many
women who felt they were freely exercising their adult sexual perogative
were later horrified to learn they were one in a long line of students to
be involved with the same professor.  A friend of mine was being repeatedly
propositioned by a prof in her department (she is a grad student), but
since he was living with another grad student at the time, she felt like
making a formal complaint would affect her relationship with her peer and
cause many of the grad students in the dept. to take sides.  Yet clearly
the professor viewed the grad students as appropriate objects of his
affection, leading us to wonin, well, this one's a real looker, even if
her GRE scores are a little low) students to the program....
I must say, if a teacher and student meet and really feel they are so right
for each other that they MUST be together, then I think they should wait
until the student is no longer a student (at least not in the department
where the professor is a professor).  If it's such a great match, it will
hold for a while, and both parties would be better off not starting a
relationship with the inherent power imbalance.
leveen  @  scf.usc.edu
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 22:23:46 -0400 (EDT)
From: Christy Langley <PSLANGLE @ ECUVM1.BITNET>
Subject: professor/student relations
I concur with Lois but the catch 22 is that a student is at a university
not only to read books and absorb/regurgitate facts, but to develop all
aspects of his or her character, to "find out who they are"...and this
includes the concepts this list is currently discussing, i.e., sex,
love, etc. Sometimes the latter mentioned aspects are pursued via
relationships with professors. Yet, it is because so many students are
undergoing that crucial maturation process that universities should
think twice about allowing these relationships to occur. Part of the
problem is that people generally contend that 18 yrs. and up constitutes
an adult (defined by society as someone liable to be held responsible
for his/her actions). I think an adult should be measured in terms of
life experiences. An adult has enough of these to make an "adult-like"
decision in certain situations. Typically, teacher-student relationships
involve professors who are older than their students and often
idealized/romanticized by them. Combine these elements with the apparent
power inequity and lack of experience in matters of the heart and you
can be a witness to the damage done to a student as the "relationship"
goes awry.
The flipside to this argument is that students are in college to obtain
the aforementioned life experiences in order to make better/correct
decisions in the future. Getting involved with a professor in a
relationship that fails or one that leaves the student feeling
confused,used,and abused can be beneficial in that the student may learn
a very hard lesson about power inequity and will hopefully utilize this
knowledge wisely in the future.
What I am attempting to articulate is that, students will learn
firsthand someday about the injustice of power in its various forms.
Personally, I think teacher-student relationships should be prohibited,
but we are fooling ourselves if we think wrapping them up in the
institutional cloak of protection is altogether an optimal act.
Oftentimes the "real world" consequences for victims of power imbalances
carry with them a more severe penalty.
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 23:27:34 -0700
From: Harold Frank <hfrank @ BCF.USC.EDU>
Subject: sex between faculty and students
The climate on campus today as it relates to students who allege
they have been abused by a faculty member in some way is not
favorable to faculty.  Moreover, the risk of a "roll in the hay"
turning into love and of that love being crushed by a student who has
a change of heart seems as great a risk.
+  Dr. Hal Frank                           hfrank  @  mizar.usc.edu     +
+  University of Southern California       hfrank  @  bcf.usc.edu       +
+  P.O. Box 41992                          Phone: (213) 254-1022    +
+  Los Angeles, CA 90041-0992              FAX:     (213) 740-0001  +
****  The Semester here ends May 6, "earthquakes notwithstanding" ***
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 1994 05:32:03 -0400
From: Leslie Bender <lbender @ MAILBOX.SYR.EDU>
Subject: Consent, Case & Femjur
I saw several postings linking the
arguments from CASE about consensual
professor/student sex and femjur (a
feminist legal studies list)  in a way
that made it seem to me that femjur as a group
endorsed CASE's policy.  That is not true at
all.  While some subscribers of femjur may agree,
many others do not, and I think it is misleading
to attribute CASE's position to femjur as a whole.
Please do not mistakenly link the two.
Humbly, as a dissenter to CASE's policy implications
and listowner of femjur,
Leslie Bender
Leslie Bender                   email: lbender  @  mailbox.syr.edu
Professor of Law                   or: lbender  @  law.syr.edu
E.I. White Bldg.           or: lbender  @  suvm.bitnet
Syracuse U. College of Law      telephone: (315) 443-4462
Syracuse, NY  13244   USA       fax: (315) 443-5394
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 1994 07:51:48 -0500
From: Benay Blend <BLEND @ NSULA.EDU>
Subject: sex between faculty and students
This dialogue has also been raging on the SASH-List for some time. It seems
to me that there and in this message the conversation turns on them against
us, an unhealthy climate at best. As a faculty member who remembers what
it was like to be a student in departments where female students were
abused by male members of the faculty who expected something in return
for getting their dissertations thru the hurdles, I find it not in the
least threatening that women are now speaking up against these practices.
The professor who speaks of a "roll in the hay" with his students might
look elsewhere for this kind of activity; graduate school is fraught
enough with anxiety for both men and women without having to deal with
relationships that turn out to be misleading with those in power.
Benay Blend   blend  @  nsula.edu
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 1994 10:56:45 -0400
From: "David F. Austin" <David_Austin @ NCSU.EDU>
Subject: Sex between Students & Professors
What do people think about two different but related
cases?:  (1) verbal, in-class discussions of sexual subject matters;
and (2) use of sexually explicit pictorial material in teaching.
If truly informed consent to a sexual relationship
between powerful professor and less powerful
student is infeasible, can a student be adequately
informed by a syllabus, reviewed in class, about the
likely effects of sexually explicit course material?
I realize that 'teaching touchy topics' was a long
thread on this list not long ago, but it seems appropriate
to re-raise the issues in this context.
David F. Austin <david_austin  @  ncsu.edu>
Associate Professor of Philosophy and
Assistant Head
Department of Philosophy and Religion
Winston Hall 101A
Box 8103, NCSU
Raleigh, NC  27695-8103
(919) 515-6102  FAX (919) 515-7856
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 1994 10:38:48 -0500
From: Benay Blend <BLEND @ NSULA.EDU>
Subject: Sex between Students & Professors
Most of us who teach English naturally have to deal with topics related
to sexual issues as they are presented in the text. The key phrase is
the last one. I teach at a high school for gifted students, and have
never had a problem from students who've complained about an uncomfortable
atmosphere in the class room, tho we've read such novels as Morrison's
_The Bluest Eye_, which deals with just about every kind of relationship
imaginable. Students know when the conversation veers away from the topic,
as it has in other classes where there have been complaints about teachers
who use their power to make unneccessary and extraneous remarks about sex.
I can remember when this happened to me in the Sixties, but at the time
I didn't have the resources or insight to do much about the situation.
Benay Blend   blend  @  nsula.edu
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 1994 13:17:55 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Judith F. Clark" <Judith.F.Clark @ DARTMOUTH.EDU>
Subject: Sex between Students & Professors
Regarding David Austin's recent query, I have a few thoughts. Hope I don't
get flamed for sharing them....!
In-class discussions of sexual subject matter are, surely, a far different
matter than an intimate relationship between two people.
It would seem that a professor might need to consider exactly how relevant
such discussions were to the topic - e.g. an upper level psych course might
well encompass issues necessitating such discussion.
As far as sexually explicit pictorial material is concerned, I'm personally
not sure how a preponderance of this material would inform the educational
process. However, as part of an "exhibit" in discussions of pornography in a
class dealing with first amendment right, for example, I could imagine the
utility of such material, at least in limited quantity.
Too frequently, I fear, the subject of sexual matters, either as discussion
topics or as visual materials to supplement other teaching matter, is one
that can be radically over-used. Also, the introduction of sexual
topics/materials is, I would think, subordinate to larger issues and concerns
in all but the most clinical and specialized courses.
Judith F. Clark
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 1994 14:37:39 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Roberta C. Martin" <ENMARTIN @ ECUVM1.BITNET>
Subject: Sex between Students & Professors
I agree with Judith Clark on this matter, and I would like to add that I
think the ethos of the classroom is an ingredient we need to consider,
also. In a 17th century survey course at ECU I was rolling along and
ended up by referring to the "orgasmic" ending of Crawshaw's "The
Flaming Heart"--a poem about St. Teresa. I was stopped by the
scandalized expressions on the faces of my students, and realized that
sex and religion together in the same reading had to be prepared for
much more carefully than I had done and that I needed to chose my words
more carefully. I will of course continue to treat the sensual nature of
Crawshaw's poetry, but I will need to do so in a way that focuses them
on what I'm saying, not how I'm saying it. Robin Martin.
Roberta C Martin, assistant professor
East Carolina University
GCB 2112 Greenville, NC 27858 (919) 757-6721

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