A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education covered the story of a business professor facing federal charges for intercepting the e-mail of a student he was having an intimate relationship with for over eight months. The student is also pursuing a civil suit against both the professor and the university. The university has suspended the professor until the matter is settled. This incident reminded me of another article I read at the Dankprofessor’s Blog in which he cited an incredibly provocative essay by feminist bell hooks on erotic student/faculty relationships.
It was interesting to me that almost all of the comments in the Chronicle article were directly opposed to the thesis of bell hooks’ essay. The very first comment by Susan set the tone:
“Okay, boys—I know you will disagree, but here goes: a professor ( in a position of power) should not be copulating with their students. This behavior costs organizations many millions of dollars each year. Look where it leads one—now poor Stephan Gladuwacked is going to do a little time away from the public. All because he couldn’t control himself and discern right from wrong. Leave your students alone, already. Go find someone your own age and quit with the pedophilic tendencies.”
The last sentence struck me as quite out of tune with the situation. I don’t think that “pedophilic tendancies” is appropriate for a situation involving a 27 year old graduate student and a man in his early 30′s. That aside though, her argument is probably the one held by the majority and is not out of touch with the reality of the perils of such a situation. However, bell hooks keeps whispering in my ear with statements like:
“The vast majority of women who are heterosexual in this society are likely to be in intimate relations with men at some point in their lives who have greater status and power, however relative, given the nature of capitalism and patriarchy. Clearly, it is more important to learn ways to be “just” in situations where there is a power imbalance, rather than to assume that exploitation and abuse are the “natural” outcome of all such encounters.”
“Some folks oppose faculty/student erotic bonding because they say it creates a climate of favoritism that can be deeply disruptive. In actuality, any intimate bonding between a professor and a student is a potential context for favoritism, whether or not that intimacy is erotic. Favoritism often surfaces in the classroom and has nothing to do with desire.”
Her argument is much more complex than what I can copy and paste here, so I recommend following the link and reading her entire essay. When you finish with that, I want to know. Do you think it is okay for a university to prohibit faculty/student relationships? Or, is it something that should be discouraged, encouraged, or ignored?