Don’t have sex with the students

Professor Marcy has been a naughty boy.  Not too bright either.  He made a come-on to an undergraduate after she organized a “sexual violence” rally?  Dude, think about that for a second!  Maybe astronomers aren’t as smart as people believe.  I’m worried what will happen if there’s a string of cases like this–it wouldn’t take many to create a moral panic and irresistible calls to reform astronomy’s “culture”.  As soon as the emphasis shifts from discipline to culture, the emphasis will shift from people like him to people like me.

To me, the rules against sex with students is one of the charming things about life as a university professor.  For one thing, I get tired of always being the uptight one in a university system forever boasting about how transgressive it is.  So nice to know that there’s a sex act I could do that would scandalize them!  I suspect sexual restrictions play a bigger part than we realize in a local culture’s charm.  It gives me a slight sense of living in a fairy tale–an idyllic life offered to me just so long as I leave one particular box unopened, one forbidden fruit untried.  Of course, we know how stories like that usually end, but in real life people offered such a sweet deal tend to be prudent.  Plus, for me, there’s the combination of abhorrence of adultery and shyness to keep me on the straight and narrow.

The ostensible reason professors can’t sleep with students is the difference in power between us.  There’s an apparent irony here, in that historically access to women was one of the main (unstated) reasons for a man to pursue power.  The irony is only apparent, though.  Traditionally, a man attained power over other men, and this high status won him access to and interest from desirable women.  My direct “power” over a bunch of single twenty-year old girls is historically anomalous.  The university is probably also right in thinking that it’s not something that one can choose to set aside.  A professor can’t say “Hey, want to go out on a date?  If you say ‘no’, it won’t affect your grade or letter of recommendation.”  The context will always be there; it’s not something you get to choose.  I suppose it’s also against the rules for a student to proposition a professor, perhaps hoping to improve her grade or get a research position, but I never hear about that, so maybe it just doesn’t happen.  Given how few of my students will spend an hour on homework a week, the desperation needed to drive something like that just doesn’t seem to be there.

I enjoy sexual harassment workshops.  It’s nice to be reminded that I’m surrounded by beautiful but forbidden young women.  It’s also nice to hear about what an awesome figure of authority and power I am.  Frankly, this is something I would never have suspected from my actual interactions with students.  Sexual harassment workshops make university life feel so much more dramatic.

15 Responses

  1. Not too bright either. He made a come-on to an undergraduate after she organized a “sexual violence” rally?

    I think this tells us not that he is stupid so much as it tells us about his sexual proclivities.

  2. he should have hit on a dude. then they’d pin a medal on him. fight the heteronormative power!

  3. Its a nice unprincipled exception to have around, that professors can’t fornicate with their students.

    Frankly I wish he was fired, not only is he a would-be adulterer, but apparently he’s an oracle of the bizarre pseudoreligion of extraterrestrialism.

  4. Campus life has often been represented as crackling with sexual energy, mostly by dweebs from the English department, who are fantasizing, projecting, and lying. If ninety percent of such liaisons go undiscovered, they are still exceedingly rare, since on this large campus, years of chaste respectability pass between sexual scandals. Also, contrary to the impression one might get watching campus movies, the women who take up with professors are not finalists for the cheerleading squad. Most of them are frumpy graduate students who, replacing frumpy faculty spouse number one, settle comfortably into the role of frumpy faculty spouse number two.

    Like you, I am amused by the far-fetched stories in the mandatory sexual harassment workshops. They lead one to believe that professors and coeds spent half the day brushing up against one another in close quarters, as if college buildings had the dimensions of submarines, or that professors are bursting budgets of dirty jokes and salacious anecdotes. Most professors are shy and sexually repressed, in addition to being a quart short of testosterone.

    The unfortunate Dr. Marcy doesn’t appear to be all that far from this pattern. He insists that his misconduct stopped short of slipping a hand up a coed’s dress, which presumably means that there’s no evidence to support this charge. So we’re down to a neck massage and some embarrassing stories. And what isn’t explained is what the young Miss Ballard was doing in Dr. Marcy’s car after their conversations “turned personal.” It appears that she was attempting to secure Dr. Murphy’s good opinion—and the letters and grades that might follow—with the smallest possible sexual gesture, found he was willing to strike a bargain, but would not settle for this low bid.

  5. “My direct “power” over a bunch of single twenty-year old girls is historically anomalous.”

    I glanced at my 1839 copy of Bell, to see what he had to say about cases where facility and circumvention (anglice undue influence) will be presumed.

    The list is a lengthy one, including master and servant, teacher and scholar, medical man or nurse and patient, law agent and client, minister or elder and parishioner, tutor and pupil (anglice guardian and ward), trustee and beneficiary, banker and customer (but the learned author adds “sed quaere?”) and a host of others.

  6. Man, it must be really hard what with all those hotties in the physics department.

    How do your students get away with less than 1 hour of homework? I remember some individual problems taking me an hour.

  7. Your comment about students propositioning teachers reminds me of an old joke where an attractive blonde student is in the office of her professor because she’s struggling with her grades in his class.

    She looks him in the eye and says “I would do *anything* to pass this class” in a suggestive manner.

    The teacher closes his office door, sits next to her and says “Would you… study????”

  8. Bruce,

    If one teaches one of those “science for non-science-majors” classes, it’s full of hotties and kids who won’t work.

  9. > Most of them are frumpy graduate students who, replacing frumpy faculty spouse number one, settle comfortably into the role of frumpy faculty spouse number two.

    Walking to class. Gazing wistfully at the lovely coeds. “Ah the things one sets aside to nobly devote one’s life to the advancement of knowledge.”
    Stop spoiling my fun, JMSmith!

  10. To supplement JPS’s list, consider the trope from the earlier 1900s of the cad who takes advantage of his secretaries. I wouldn’t imagine men having direct power of younger women is totally new.

  11. “Bruce,
    If one teaches one of those “science for non-science-majors” classes, it’s full of hotties and kids who won’t work”

    Haha so true. The only real science classes full of hotties would be A&P and Bio which is full of kiniesology, pre-med, and nursing students.

  12. But Bonald, isn’t astronomy about the heavenly bodies?

  13. Think of Heloise and Abelard. Men having direct power over younger women seeking an education is not new in the least. Nor is it new for men to take advantage of said power.

  14. […] Bonald reports on The Beeb reporting on Sexist monkeys. It’s not just for apes anymore. LOL. Also, a gentle reminder: Don’t have sex with the students. […]

  15. The long march through the institutions has its perks I guess.

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