Lawyered up for Love

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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134 Responses

  1. Rose Woodhouse says:

    One can acknowledge a student can be an initiator (I have had my share of flirtatious students), acknowledge that the student holds some power in a sexual relationship, and still think it is grossly inappropriate for a professor to sleep with a student. Which I do.Report

    • Do you think Laura Kipnis’s argument is that it’s appropriate for professors to sleep with students? I can see how that might be taken as an implication of her argument (and she does admit to having dated a graduate student) but I think what she’s arguing is more nuanced than that.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Even if Kipnis’ argument is that there should be no fast and hardline, you can still argue that that professors should be held to the same standards when dealing with students that lawyer and doctors have for their clients. It is a professional relationship.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Right, but that’s the issue- you can make that argument and still think that the attempts to apply a single standard have resulted in rules that are overarching and infantilizing, which is where I think she’s going with it.

        I think this is where my reading is simply different- I see it as a critique of university admins and the rules they’ve written more than a statement about when it’s appropriate for teachers to sleep with students.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I don’t see how “don’t sh*t where you eat” is overarching and infantilizing standard. Nobody is going to argue that the prohibitions against lawyers and doctors having sex with patients, infantilizes the patient. Arguing that a similar prohibition for professors and students is similar infantilizing. Sleeping with your teacher is not part of the learning process of becoming an adult.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rufus F. says:

        “Don’t sh*t where you eat” is incredibly abstract. It’s pretty much the definition of overarching? In fact, we’re not really talking about a “don’t shit where you eat” rule if it doesn’t include faculty-faculty relationships (see, your rule is so overarching it’s even broader than this one in this context).

        Is it infantalizing? I dunno.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Right, but that’s a fantasy version of what the codes should say based on what would be most reasonable, which doesn’t get at how many of them are written.

        At my undergraduate university, the rule was that no Professor could date anyone who was a grad student or undergraduate at that university regardless of whether they’d ever had them as a student or could ever have them as a student. Similarly, no graduate student could date anyone who was an undergrad at that university regardless of department. So a grad student in quantum electronics could not date a senior English Lit major that they met in a bar off campus. This was intended to avoid trouble. It was just understood that the power differential was there even if it didn’t apply to their academic work at all.

        So a better parallel would be a rule that no one who is a therapist can have sex with anyone who is currently in therapy with anyone because they might be exploiting a power differential. I would also see that as overarching and infantilizing.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Rufus F. says:


        I think it is important to remember that most rules are written with the lowest common denominator in mind. So while the rules might seem infantilizing to some, they are often written because someone who is expected to follow them is rather infantile. That is annoying for those who don’t need the rules written that way (or need the rules at all), but such is the way of leading even moderately-sized institutions.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Okay, well, then let’s go to the overarching part. It seems to me that the intuitive assumption we have is that a sex code would say a Professor cannot date someone who is his or her student. That assumption is how pretty much everyone has responded to this article.

        Why does Laura Kipnis think a professor should be allowed to have sex with their student?

        What I’m saying is the rules tend to be quite a bit broader than that- to the point that they’re not necessarily things we would naturally assume and people could potentially violate them without knowing they had. Thus, it’s quite possible to end someone’s career and professional life over something that we might not reasonably believe was a violation in the first place in order to cover the university’s ass. Yes, this is how large hierarchical institutions tend to act. But I’m not sure it’s a road we should willingly go down.Report

      • kenB in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @kazzy Is there really any difference between a physics professor dating a junior majoring in American Lit and the same professor dating a 20-year-old barista? Why should the one be forbidden and not the other?Report

      • ScarletNumber in reply to Rufus F. says:


        If the student and professor are at the same school, it is a completely different situation.Report

      • kenB in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @scarletnumber Can you explain how it’s different (in a way that bears on this policy)? I’m not necessarily arguing against it, I just don’t see it.Report

      • ScarletNumber in reply to Rufus F. says:


        Because the barista has no connection to the professor, while the student and the professor share a professional affilation. I understand that they are in different departments, but because of cross-polination, there is a non-zero risk of it being a problem down the road.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Rufus F. says:

        It’s worth noting that the professor dating a 20 year old barista is sketchy too. There is a rule against it, even if it’s an informal social rule.

        I think it’s important to acknowledge that in the vast majority of cases, a relationship between a student and a tenure-track professor is going to be one where age itself presents an uncomfortable gap in power and experience.Report

      • ScarletNumber in reply to Rufus F. says:


        Unless the professor just graduated, you are correct, of course.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Rufus F. says:

        At my undergraduate university, the rule was that no Professor could date anyone who was a grad student or undergraduate at that university regardless of whether they’d ever had them as a student or could ever have them as a student. Similarly, no graduate student could date anyone who was an undergrad at that university regardless of department. So a grad student in quantum electronics could not date a senior English Lit major that they met in a bar off campus. This was intended to avoid trouble. It was just understood that the power differential was there even if it didn’t apply to their academic work at all.

        I would agree that the policy you describe seems excessive, Rufus. I could support an outright ban on relationships between profs and students, which the columnist objects to – the number of cases in which such a relationship would be coercive at worse and inappropriate at best far outnumber the cases in which it could be more or less okay. I can also see the reason for restricting grad students from dating undergrads in the same departments (or undergrads in classes they were TAing – not everyone grad student TAs in the same department they’re studying in). Restrictions on grad students dating any undergrads in a different department is overly restrictive, though, especially as there could often be only a couple year’s age difference between them, and little in the way of a power differential.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Rufus F. says:


        I’m not necessarily arguing what the rules should be. Rather, I’m saying that an appeal to, “Come on man, we all know what is okay and what isn’t… stop with the BS rules,” doesn’t work in practice because too many people don’t know what is okay or not okay.

        Yes, the rules are infantalizing because too many people act like infants.Report

  2. greginak says:

    Okay. I read the entire thing. It’s pretty weak. While i would agree with Rose that students can and have been initiators and have some power the author makes a ton of errors. For one she clearly is mixing in her own feelings about sex and her ego and projecting them on students. When they fail to meet her standards they are judged weak. She feigns towards admitting how real abuses can happen when professors date, or screw, students but really doesn’t want to see the potential damage or power issues. She says she can see how a creepy prof might get all handsy but she doesn’t seem to want to explore how much worse it can be or how much power a prof has. Even if there is no sex involved grad supervisors have immense power over whether a student gets good post docs or jobs.

    In her story about the author who had a editor creeping on her she clearly misses the point and projects her own issues. She doesn’t seem to like the author being weak and helpless, who does those feel crappy. But editors actions show how potentially damaging these kind of relationship can be. The author was lucky enough to get another book deal, but lots of people wouldn’t be that lucky. What about an author who didn’t have a much of separate income and needed that book deal. The editor would have had much more power to coerce what he wanted. Sure the editor was a “human sized” nebbish, but that doesn’t really make his infraction less. That it didn’t end it disaster for the author is good, but the article writer seems oblivious to how lucky the author was.

    A good general rule is “never get your honey where you get your money.” I know that doesn’t work for lots of people especially those who work a ton or who get very into their jobs. But the dangers for all involved seems pretty obvious. The writer of this piece could have done a lot better job if she had actually tried to address the potential problems she seems more intent on either ignoring or mocking without giving a fair hearing.Report

    • Glyph in reply to greginak says:

      The editor would have had much more power to coerce what he wanted.

      I read the piece as implying the editor *truly* had no leverage at all over the author, except the author didn’t see that – the editor was a married father, so the author could have told him “cut this nonsense out now and do your freaking job, or I tell your wife and your employer about your little obsession with me” (or done the equivalent via her agent).Report

      • greginak in reply to Glyph says:

        @glyph Yeah that might be one way to see it. But from the authors pov she doesn’t know that she can just tell him to piss up a rope. The editor is the one working for the book company. For all she knows the editor can just deny it and say the author hasn’t been writing well. Plenty of businesses would protect or believe their employee before an outsider. It seems easy to say it after it worked out well for the author but while you are in the middle of it you don’t really know.

        This seemed to be one of the places Kipnis was projecting her own dislike of weakness ( to be all psychological) onto her friend. She didn’t like her friend feeling powerless so she ignored the good reasons why her friend was struggling and just told her what she herself would do.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        For all she knows the editor can just deny it and say the author hasn’t been writing well. Plenty of businesses would protect or believe their employee before an outsider.

        The dumbass was Skyping her in his underwear. I think a .gif would do the trick.Report

      • greginak in reply to Glyph says:

        Fair point. I bet he didn’t even have a cool pseudonym like Carlos Danger.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        Who’s the cat who will whip it out
        When there’s danger all about

        Right on.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Glyph says:

        @glyph — It’s not always that easy for a woman. Which, she risks things also here, anytime you speak out against someone with power. It forces people to take sides, and the sides people take are seldom based on truth or justice but instead on status and social climbing. Happens all the time.

        Anyway, the reality is this sadsack horndog tossed a grenade in her lap and maybe she can toss it back and blast that fucker to hell, but maybe it comes back at her — cuz maybe he plays the game well and spins it and folks believe him cuz his name.

        And sure, a nice pic of him in his tighty-whities would be embarrassing — but the narrative can easily turn against her: “What a terrible bitch to try to humiliate him that way.”

        The point is she’s a fucking professional and why should she have to maneuver her career through an obstacle course of sad-boners. Woman are sick of this shit.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        @veronica-d – I don’t mean to imply she should have had to put up with it. Obviously, she shouldn’t, and I think that was the implied point of the piece as well. Tossing that grenade back at him (rather than waiting for him to leave the company of his own unrelated accord and THEN using his past behavior as leverage against the company) seems like it would have had more chance of hitting the target that appropriately needed to be hit, the editor’s dumb harassing ass.

        As it stands, she got what she wanted (eventually, rather than sooner, after much delay and awkwardness), he got away with it, and the company took the financial hit even though presumably they didn’t know this was going on at the time.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Glyph says:

        @glyph — Maybe. But I’m not going to second guess her cuz this shit ain’t her fault. Which is to say, my sympathies are pretty much 100% with her.

        Look, if I send a book to an editor, I want my book edited [1]. That’s it! What I definitely do not want is the power to ruin someone’s career.

        I mean, is this even really a power? No doubt it is in the fever dreams of the Redpill types. It’s a big deal power that we “females” have — but fuck that. That ain’t a power like anything I want, cuz I have zero desire to ruin careers.

        I just want my book edited, and I want negotiate my space in the industry, when I probably don’t understand its contours or how playing my career-ruining card can come back at me, land me a rep as a career-ruining bitch. Why should I have to deal with that cuz of underwear boy and his infinite sadness.

        Blah! Do not want!

        [1] Note that the chances that I would ever complete an entire book, never mind find a professional publisher, is somewhere between zero and epsilon. But let’s pretend.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        @veronica-d – don’t think of it as “second-guessing”, think of it as “mental preparation”. I don’t think we disagree much on how the world should be; but that doesn’t change what it is.

        If one day in the future my daughter comes to me and tells me that some jackass colleague is Skyping her in his underwear instead of doing his freaking job and it’s holding her back, I am going to tell her to record that s**t and MAKE him do his job, one way or another.

        I agree it is a different risk/reward calculation if there’s a he said/she said question of “who to believe” or “can this be spun as innocent”, but this doofus handed her the ammo she needed to burn him.

        He needed to get burned, and she needed to not have to lose her time and energy waiting for him to pick up stakes and move on (probably to a better job) with no consequences for himself.Report

      • zic in reply to Glyph says:

        @veronica-d and @glyph what you’re discussing, so it seems to me, is some of the stuff that might get a woman labeled sharp-elbowed or non-team player. And a lot of women (rightly so, it hurts their careers) worry about being so labeled.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        Maybe the publishing industry is very different from mine, but I can guarantee at my company that if a woman (essentially, she was an independent contractor or client of the publishing house, right?) had video evidence of being harassed by an employee like this, it would be taken seriously, and there are written policies in place that prohibit retaliation, of any kind, against her for reporting it.

        And anyway, what’s the alternative? Hope that creeps and clueless guys don’t do this stuff, and keep quiet when they do?

        It seems to me you’ve got a sort of Prisoner’s Dilemma here, where it’s certainly possible that for any given woman it’s better for her career to “defect”, to play along, keep her mouth shut and don’t make waves.

        But this allows the situation to continue and the guilty to slide, and worse yet, it makes any woman who DOES speak out look like the aberration, a nut or a sensitive sharp-elbowed b*tch, which opens her up more for discrediting or career retaliation because she’s out there on her own, instead of being just one of many common stories like hers.

        I mean, look at Bill Cosby. Each one of these individual women feared career suicide or that no one would believe them. And so it appears a creep possibly got away with crime after crime for far too long.

        But once a few stood up, so did more, and more, and the guy’s long career – both vocational, and his accused disgusting avocational – is finally toast.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Glyph says:

        @glyph — I recall when I first transitioned from presenting male to presenting female. So, I was an adult. And likewise I had read much feminist literature. I was sure I was prepared.

        I actually used to imagine it, how I would stand up for myself against sexually aggressive men. It would be easy, I thought. I was strong and I knew my shit. I would shut those fuckers down.

        Until the first time it happened, and a gross old man put his hands on me in a bar.

        And I sat there like an idiot and smiled. Just didn’t want to make a scene.

        And then the second time. This time it was a woman, at a lesbian bar. We were dancing and she decided to grope my breasts.

        Again I did nothing. I expect most of you cannot understand this, but for a trans woman to publicly call out a cis lesbian for assault is pretty much socially impossible. So I sucked it up. Later I went into the bathroom of the club and cried.

        I’m a lot better about this stuff now, but that was some hard shit to learn.

        On this topic, men seldom know what the fuck they are talking about. They just don’t. It is not that they cannot. We are all people and man-brains are as sophisticated as woman-brains. The way our neural structures hold knowledge is the same in both sexes. It’s possible for men to get this stuff, but in practice they usually do not.

        You talk about what a sexual harassment incident would be like in your company. But how do you know? Do the women tell you their secrets?

        Unless your company is very small, or unless you work in HR, there are things you do not know.

        My employer has pretty solid anti-harassment policies, but the male execs remain baffled every time some scandal explodes.

        (And indeed, my employer is in the news right now for a big sexual harassment imbroglio. I wonder what price the woman will pay? I’m pretty sure her career in tech is over.)

        You say the woman should take the career hit for the greater good. Fuck that noise. We do what we need to do. Sometimes we step up. Sometimes we do not. You don’t have the perspective to judge.Report

      • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

        A lot of the time people who should speak up just run away. And when people do speak up (as was the case about that guy who married into Palin’s clan), nobody wants to believe them.

        Imagine being pressured into marrying a serial rapist, because “that’s what we do around here — when we catch ’em.” (note: when not caught, it’s generally “go marry that nice young man over there, and don’t tell him you might be pregnant”).Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        @veronica-d You say the woman should take the career hit for the greater good. Fuck that noise. We do what we need to do. Sometimes we step up. Sometimes we do not. You don’t have the perspective to judge.

        Well, that’s not EXACTLY what I am saying, but let’s run with it for a minute.

        Let’s say I am aware of a female coworker being sexually harassed by my boss. If I say anything about it, or try to help her or stop it, I might derail my own career.

        Why should I do that, just for the greater good? Especially if I have kids to feed?

        You’d really tell me that no one can judge me for keeping my mouth shut and taking my promotion, while this woman gets the shaft?

        Somehow, I doubt that.

        And I have to look at my own daughters, and the world I want them to have.

        In any given situation, “I was too afraid to do the right and hard thing” is frequently a completely-understandable reaction.

        In the aggregate, it can lead to worse outcomes for everyone.

        Which is why we (on the front-end, as carrot) try to gird people with courage and optimism and awareness of their options, and (on the back-end, as stick) say, “hey, you kind of took the easy way out there, and it might’ve been better to take the hard one.”

        I mean, we can’t have it both ways, can we? We are living in a society and we are all in this together…except when it would be too hard or risky for me, personally, to do the right thing? Where does that get us?Report

      • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

        a wise person doesn’t get on the bad side of people who will ruin others for a whim. If nothing else, it’s hard to save any MORE people if you’re ruined.

        You haven’t seen nearly the dark side of this world, if you ask us to speak up about every single bad thing we know is happening.

        They’re killing children out there, Glyph. For fun, for sexual pleasure.

        And that’s not the worst thing.

        I can put my money where my mouth is, and stop what I can… but I can’t stop everything, and the more powerful someone is, the more it costs to stop them.

        If at all possible, one should investigate ways to keep oneself out of the line of fire, that’s why we have Wikileaks.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Glyph says:


        You’d really tell me that no one can judge me for keeping my mouth shut and taking my promotion, while this woman gets the shaft?

        Somehow, I doubt that.

        I would find your reticence entirely understandable. A career is a big thing to lose.


        I’m on an elevator. An exec is looking at my ass with that knowing grin. Do I say anything to him? To HR? He starts showing up by my desk, in kinda obvious ways. It’s bad. I can tell. When a man like that wants you, he shows you a side of himself that no one else sees. Other men certainly never see. Do I tell HR?

        At what point do I realize my career in tech is now in serious jeopardy? After the flowers arrive at my door, accompanied by a card with a vague hint?

        I’m not young. I don’t know how to do anything else.

        I mean, I might win the political game. I’m smart and tall and people believe me. But this guy is executive. He has the voice, the stature, the hair. For him careers are knife fights, live or die.

        I’d never try to punch a boxer. I wouldn’t push a wrestler around. I’m supposed to tangle with executive-guy?

        I’m really good at what I do. I can probably eek out some crappy job building websites. Sure. I won’t starve. But I will have hit my ceiling. The story of my life will kinda be set out.

        Maybe it’s just easier to give him the blow job. It’s just sucking a cock. I’ve done it before.Report

    • veronica d in reply to greginak says:


      Yeah, it was weaksauce, thick with anecdote and grump.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    Lawyers are specifically forbidden from entering into a romantic or sexual relationship with a client unless said relationship predates the lawyer-client one. One of the reasons is that clients are in an emotionally vulnerable space many times, particularly if your dealing with them in a real person law area like divorce, and its feared that the lawyer could abuse his or her trust to seduce a client. Even if the feelings are genuine, a romantic or sexual relationship with a client is seen as potentially limiting the lawyers ability to effectively represent the client. Doctors are prohibited from entering into romantic and sexual relationships with patients for a similar reason.

    Based on the reasons why lawyers and doctors aren’t supposed to romance or have sex with their clients and patients, I think it is also a good idea to prohibit such relationships amoung teachers and students even if both are legally adult. The teacher is in a position of power and can use the threat of failure or something softer in order to compel a romantic and sexual relationship. Even if the dating or sex is based on mutual love or lust, it seems to lead to some rather incompetent decision making on the part of the teacher based on the stories I’ve read in the news about teacher-student relationships (which tend to involve high school students so they are illegal in the first place).

    One notable example came from Ashville, North Carolina. It involved a young female dance teacher who entered into a sexual relationship with a female high school student. The dance teacher, who was employed by a public high school got her husband involved in the relationship. What makes this stupid was that the student’s parents and the school found out and gave the teacher away out without facing criminal or professional punishment by stopping the relationship and quitting her job. Considering the crime, this was a great act of mercy. The teacher was so deeply infatuated with the student that she continued, so the parents and the school reported her to the police. Evidence gathered included the student’s schedule with the a four-letter word for sex starting with an f in the place where the student was free during the day.Report

    • greginak in reply to LeeEsq says:

      It is similar with counselors, psychologists and social workers. No personal relationships with clients. Most of the ethical guidelines suggest you wait at least three years at least, i think, to enter into any romantic relationship with a former client. In general you should avoid any outside the workplace relationship with a client if at all possible while you are working with them.Report

    • Rose Woodhouse in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think what Lee said SHOULD apply to professor-student relationships, and I’m honestly shocked that it is not a universally accepted rule.Report

    • ScarletNumber in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Evidence gathered included the student’s schedule with the a four-letter word for sex starting with an f in the place where the student was free during the day.

      Ironic, since they were incapable of doing that.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Does anyone happen to know how small-town doctors would typically handle such a situation? If someone is the only doctor in a largish and ruralish area, would pretty much everyone they have regular contact with be their patient at least on an uneventful-annual-checkup sort of basis (and even if they don’t go in for annual checkups, should they become sick or injured, that’s the one doctor around so that’s who they’d see)?

      Is the expectation that country doctors are either
      – young recent graduates doing a few years of celibate experience-getting rural work, after which they will decamp to a city where they can finally meet people who aren’t actually their patients
      – moving to the area with their spouse

      Or am I just over-broadly interpreting who would qualify as a ‘patient’ under the rule that one doesn’t date ‘patients’?Report

      • greginak in reply to dragonfrog says:

        @dragonfrog I can’t speak about docs but i know counselor/social workers/ therapists in small Ak times have a lot of problems making standard ethics rules work for them. In many small Ak towns everyone knows if someones kid is in the psych unit or in substance abuse treatment so maintaining confidentiality is somewhat of lost cause. There may be only one car repair place in town or 3 restaurants so avoiding clients or having transactions with them is almost impossible.

        They need to be very cautious about clear and open with their dealing with others. They need to say how their outside the office interactions will work. In terms of romantic relations it is even harder. I think a lot of people avoid them. If they do have them they still avoid families of people they work with.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Thanks – I went with GPs specifically because I imagine that would be a particularly difficult case. Not everyone has a psychologist or social worker or physiotherapist, but in theory more or less everyone is supposed to have a GP.Report

  4. dhex says:

    jesus this frickin’ thing. i cannot believe she wrote it.

    to be fair (sort of) hers was a really, really, really common attitude in the 70s. nailing undergrads and grad students was part of the perks of being a (generally male) professor in the humanities. part of the learning process, pedagogy by penetration, etc.

    outside of the chron, after they’ve had a few drinks you can still find profs who lament the loss of such times.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to dhex says:

      Considering who wrote it, I can absolutely believe that she wrote it. I was immediately unsurprised when I saw that the author was Laura Kipnis.

      She did afterall write a book called Against Love!Report

      • dhex in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        one can be against love and all sorts of stuff without endorsing the diddling undergrads. hell, i’m against stuff constantly – including her – without molesting the 18-22 set.

        it’s remarkable what you can be against while still maintaining boundaries and some semblance of self-control.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Saul, what’s the argument of Against Love? Is she literally opposed to feeling love for other people?Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        So, I don’t get where you’re going with this. She wrote, after all, a book called Against Love that argues, according to Amazon, that we place too many demands upon lifelong monogamy and that people, therefore, cheat. Is the connection you’re drawing with this article that she seems to here too be mocking the ways we try, and fail, to regulate sexuality?Report

      • kenB in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        without molesting the 18-22 set.

        This is what’s been nagging at me a little about the discussion — it seems like the reaction is less to do with the power imbalance within the university structure and more about the the fact the undergrads are generally pretty young. If our cultural assumptions/practices were such that, say, most people worked for 10 years after high school and were pushing 30 when they started college, I think we wouldn’t be as inclined to regulate so broadly — yes to preventing vertical relationships within a particular class or (perhaps) department, but no to preventing them across the entire organization.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I don’t think it’s pedantic either to note that you can’t “molest” anyone 18 or older anyway, unless we’re not going to extend the law to 22. Besides, the issue isn’t age. I started university around age 26, so I had TAs and grad student instructors that were younger than me. It would have been a firing offense if they’d hit on me or we’d dated. I may or may not have made out with a few grad students at university parties, where booze might have been a factor, but none that taught my courses.

        Besides, she’s not endorsing having sex with students in the first place. She’s saying that human sexuality is irrational, hard to regulate, and people do dumb things that maybe aren’t worth ruining their careers over.Report

      • dhex in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “I don’t think it’s pedantic either to note that you can’t “molest” anyone 18 or older anyway, unless we’re not going to extend the law to 22.”

        “molest” has a larger sphere than just assaulting children. insert (rimshot) your preferred verb of choice for improprieties.

        “She’s saying that human sexuality is irrational, hard to regulate, and people do dumb things that maybe aren’t worth ruining their careers over.”

        to give some context to my larger objection to/intolerance of faculty/student liaisons, in addition to risk management and all that fun stuff, i make promises on other peoples’ behalf. in fact, that’s the bulk of my job, and in some ways its the easiest job. “these folk will do well by your kids” is the one of the promises i make. and implicit in that is an expectation that “do well by your kids” means that faculty will not take advantage of their advantages to take advantage of their students. i think it’s a reasonable expectation, and i’m frankly perturbed as all get out that there aren’t more blanket bans on faculty/undergrad liaisons, especially in my particular sub-sector.

        age is only a subset of the larger issue of the power imbalance, particularly if said faculty is tenured.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to dhex says:

      What @dhex says here:

      “jesus this frickin’ thing. “

      That pretty much sums up my reaction perfectly.Report

  5. Chris says:

    I know a couple professors married to former students, and faculty-grad student relationships were so common when I was in grad school, which was not in the 70s, that I don’t think anyone thought anything of it. It’s still not easy for me to think ill of those grad student-prof relationships.

    However, I fully recognize that the potential for serious problems exists, and think it’s better to just outlaw it altogether, particularly with undergraduates where age differences and power differences can combine to compound the problems.Report

    • j r in reply to Chris says:

      @chris and any other academics… of a certain age,

      What strikes me most about the article is that the academic world that Kipnis is describing seems almost unrecognizable in the same way that the workplace of Mad Men seems unrecognizable to us contemporary cubicle dwellers. Is there something to this or is this mostly Kipnis making nostalgic about a fondly-remembered part of her life? Was it all corduroy and elbow patches and swinging times full of no regrets?

      One of the things that I keep thinking is that something happens to an environment when it goes from a collegial, club-like atmosphere to a more ruthless, competitive environment. Perhaps the stakes have just gotten that much higher in academia, with more and more people forcing their way into a smaller and smaller funnel leading to tenure track employment. From an administrative standpoint, the last thing you want in this new environment is the possibility that anyone can claim to have been unfairly treated for non-academic reasons. Therefore, you have a need to increase the regulation of non-academic conduct so that it cannot negatively impact academic conduct.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        This comment has me howling.
        As if regulation would prove such an obstacle in a truly cutthroat environment.
        Erm. I wasn’t actually being serious when I said cutthroat.Report

      • Chris in reply to j r says:

        It’s changed just since I was an undergraduate, though faculty-grad student relationships are still really common. This is unsurprising because, at least in many grad programs, students are treated largely as colleagues rather than as students, and faculty and students frequently have social relationships. In that context, some romantic relationships are inevitable.

        I’ve seen it go very bad, including the most horrible breakup I’ve ever witnessed, and if anyone suffers professional consequences, it will be the grad student. This makes me reticent about them, at least within departments (I don’t think most people in the physics department, for example, really feel like they are coworkers of most of the people in the music department, say), but I consider this less a function of anything specific to academia than to the usual potential disasters associated with workplace romances and in particular romances with power and influence disparities.

        Grad student-undergraduate relationships are, in my experience at least, less common than faculty-grad student relationships. I figure not allowing grad students to date undergraduates who major in their discipline is probably a good idea. Students frequently don’t make a distinction between grad student and faculty instructors (grad students are frequently called Dr or professor by students), but like I believe Rufus said above, if a 22 year old grad student in philosophy meets a 22 year old undergraduate student in the business school at a pub, I can’t think of any good reason for them not to be able to date. If the undergrad ends up taking a philosophy class, and the grad student is the instructor or TA, that should be disclosed (and schools have had rules for dealing with such situations forever), but other than that, I’m not sure their student status is all that relevant to their relationship.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to j r says:

        j r- Thanks. This gets at the underlying issues better than Kipnis did.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to j r says:

        if a 22 year old grad student in philosophy meets a 22 year old undergraduate student in the business school at a pub, I can’t think of any good reason for them not to be able to date. If the undergrad ends up taking a philosophy class, and the grad student is the instructor or TA, that should be disclosed

        In my experience at least, the courses taught by grad students were the big feedlot 100-level and a few 200-level ones, where there are multiple sections to choose from. It should generally be possible to avoid taking the same section one’s partner is teaching (though I suppose the grad student might learn what they’re going to teach only after the undergrad has got their schedule sorted out).

        Also, my personal impression was not that grad students were considered largely in the same capacity as profs. I saw them way more as fellow students – we’re in this together, they just happen to be a few years farther along than me.Report

  6. Saul Degraw says:

    1. I don’t think we will ever see a world where professor-student relationships disappear from campus.

    2. I know professors who married or got involved with students. Sometimes it was when the professor was in his (it almost always a he) early years of teaching and is relatively close in age to the student. Other times the professor was married and the student became wife #2. I know people who were in romantic relationships with their professors (again this is almost always a female student and male professor or a male student and a male professor. Stories about female teachers and professors sleeping with students do exist but seem to be much more rare. The stories I do know often seem to involve middle and high school teachers instead of university professors and I always see them on a site like Gawker.) Most of these stories might not be great but they are not bad. Some are truly deserving of being scandalous though.

    3. Every campus seems to have a roue professor who sleeps with a different student every semester or nearly so. At my campus it was allegedly a guy in the Math Department who had this reputation.

    4. There are some valid concerns. I remember listening to an academic talk about how her department was considering banning “unwanted sexual advances” and she asked “How do you know a sexual advance is unwanted until you try?”

    5. That being said airing on the side of caution is best. Students are students. They are not equals to the professors even in grad school settings.

    6. Times change and mores change.Report

    • greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I can see where the “how did i know my sexual advance was unwanted” can be a reasonable question but in a very limited way. If i was on a first date with a woman would i go straight for second base after we had salad at the restaurant? No. Getting to the sexual advance requires a lot of building up. The sexual advance is wanted or unwanted after a lot of flirting, socializing and clear non-work relationship. You build up to it. If you don’t want to be slapped back there is plenty of leading, hinting and stuff you can do before the sexual advance.

      And if you are in a position of power why the hell aren’t you being cautions about the relationship since, now, you have a lot to lose.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to greginak says:

        “I can see where the “how did i know my sexual advance was unwanted” can be a reasonable question but in a very limited way.”

        My version of it is that you get to ask someone out in a “Wanna grab a coffee, dinner, movie, lecture, event” kind of way once without foul. Maybe twice if the answer is “That sounds really cool but I am booked for a while. Maybe in a few weeks” or something like that.

        “And if you are in a position of power why the hell aren’t you being cautions about the relationship since, now, you have a lot to lose.”

        As of now, I am known for being overly cautious so I don’t know. Maybe people do a risk-benefit analysis and think that it won’t blow up in their face because of anecdotal stories/evidence where they know guys (again it is almost always men) where the guy seemingly got away with it.

        I am also pretty good at being on my lonesome and I think a lot of people simply aren’t. I sort of marvel when I hear someone going on about their new partner right after their last breakup or divorce.Report

      • greginak in reply to greginak says:

        @saul-degraw I’m the same way. I’m comfortable on my own. I would also much rather avoid a complicated work relationship mess then take a stab at lurve. In fact many years ago i didn’t ask a co-worker for a date until she told everybody she was leaving the agency. We had some real chemistry but the “don’t get your honey where you get you money” thing just makes to much sense to me.

        I work with divorced couples and it still amazes me how many people have a new live in relationship within a couple of months of leaving their ex and far before their divorce is settled. Lordy that was not me at all after my divorce.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    Her sympathies are outright bizarre. And I’m inclined to be receptive to the overarching argument. But jimminy hofstra crickets, no, that philosophy professor nor that book editor do not deserve any benefit of the doubt. And the women in those respective situations should not have the judgment cast on them that they should have done something different, earlier, before everything went to all fouled up.Report

  8. veronica d says:

    Much to dislike, but I want to comment on this:

    For the record, I strongly believe that bona fide harassers should be chemically castrated, stripped of their property, and hung up by their thumbs in the nearest public square. Let no one think I’m soft on harassment.

    There are few rhetorical strategies that I find weaker than the good-ol “I’m not soft on X, cuz I encourage {cruelty}.”

    What a mean and clumsy thought. Not impressed.Report

    • greginak in reply to veronica d says:

      Yeah. That came off as a weak attempt to look like she was serious about harassment and not just ignoring the entire issue.Report

      • veronica d in reply to greginak says:

        Right. But it’s really-super-offensive to me, cuz non-voluntary chemical castration is a cruelty, and one thing our world needs less of is cruelty. Bah!


        Which reminds me of something I was thinking of the other day, a line I recall from (I believe) a Ross MacDonald book, one of his Lew Archer things — I think it was Archer but it could have been anything hardboiled — anyway, the detective is sitting in a courthouse and chats with a cop. When our detective tells the cop he’s a private dick, the cop says, “So we’re both in the justice business.”

        The detective says, “No. I’m in the mercy business. Justice is what keeps happening to people.”

        From time to time you read a line in a book that clobbers you.


        Anyway, advocating cruelty does not tell me you are serious. It tells me you are an ass.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to veronica d says:

      “Clumsy” was exactly the word that came to my mind. “Unserious” was another.Report

    • Fnord in reply to veronica d says:

      I encourage cruelty, but damned if I’ll stand by when someone is called a rapist for “merely” extensive sexual assault. Super-tough on the platonic form of the rapist.Report

    • @veronica-d

      That was one of many points that turned me off in the article.Report

  9. Alan Scott says:

    Having read this all the way through, can now state with some certainty that you were being evil when you asked us to read it all the way through. The terribleness of the argument is evident in the first couple of paragraphs.

    Look, these sex codes are a very clear “building a fence around the Torah” sort of rule, but so what? There are sometimes barriers, sometimes silly barriers, between two people who want to hook up, and that’s a fact of life. Nobody’s going to die for lack of casual sex. And for couples for whom the relationship is heartfelt and serious rather than casual, well there’s nothing in the rules preventing you from awkwardly dancing around each other for a while and then immediately falling into each other’s arms as soon as someone gets their diploma.

    More importantly, though, these shifts in student codes are following, rather than creating, patterns of student-teacher interaction. Kipnis is clearly coming to the table with a certain attitude about how students and teachers should relate, but it’s not really an attitude that students subscribe to any more.

    To some extent, she recognizes this shift in attitude, bus sees this as the infatilization of students. But I think that’s exactly wrong. It’s not that students are acting (or being asked to act) like children. The shift in maturity is something happening to (or being demanded of) professors. It’s no longer appropriate for professors to sleep with undergrads. But it’s also, in a broader sense, no longer appropriate for professors to engage in peer-based friendships with undergrads. These days, professors are being asked to act like professional adults, not visionaries to whom the rules don’t apply. Today it would be seen as similarly inappropriate for a professor to smoke weed and watch late-night TV at a students house. It would be weird for a professor to toss around a frisbee between classes on the library lawn, too. And these are scenarios that don’t typically involve questionable consent scenarios.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Alan Scott says:

      No, that’s not evil. Maybe a bit cheeky, sure. But, evil would be saying you have no choice but to read it. I was pretty sure y’all would think she’s batshit. I just wanted to avoid that thing on the Internet where everyone reads paragraphs one and two and responds “Why didn’t she say anything about (what she discusses in paragraph 12)?! Huh?!”Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think she every got around to paragraph 12, and making us read through all that nonsense to make that discovery is a little bit mean.Report

  10. Burt Likko says:

    While the argument doesn’t strike me as particularly strong, its principal problem is that it is prolix. Here, let me try to encapsulate it:

    I give lectures to my students and answer questions about my area of academic expertise. I don’t even grade them — a TA does that. I don’t actually have any significant power over them. So why shouldn’t I be able to date a student if we both want to date? A code of conduct that prohibits consenting adults from even exploring whether there is mutual voluntary interest goes too far, and we should trust adults to use good judgment until they don’t, and dealing with the fallout of when they don’t is an unavoidable part of life.

    Really, have I missed any material facet of the argument?

    And with that said, I once again have to wonder at how it is that a certain sub-species of academics can complain that they have it so damn hard that they have to do things like the rest of us who have non-tenure jobs outside of the ivory tower have had to do for a long time. I guess I don’t know what it is to be a professor at a major university just teeming with young twentysomethings throwing themselves at me and how unfair it is to be denied what was always in the past considered an innocent perq of the job. (Only, it wasn’t always considered that, at least not always.)

    Instead, I have a job that consists of advising employers to adopt policies like “We discourage our employees from dating one another,” and “If you start a romantic relationship with a co-worker, you need to tell human resources about it right away,” and “If you pursue a relationship despite our disapproval of it, you need to make good and damn sure to keep it out of the office,” and “If it works out and you two live happily ever after, great, here’s a fruit basket, but if your co-worker breaks off the relationship for any reason good or bad, you WILL respect his or her wishes, without question or animosity and you WILL NOT attempt to re-initiate,” and most of all “If you flirt with a co-worker despite our discouragement from doing so, we reserve the right to hang your ass out to dry on an old rusty safety pin if anything goes wrong at all, and by the way this looks like a good place to remind you that some people define ‘flirting’ a whole lot more broadly than you do.” Since I spend a significant part of every work week wrestling with policies like this, I suppose I’m too jaded and inured to employer-imposed restrictions on personal liberties to react other than dismissively at the complaint in this case.

    “Don’t do something that’s going to get both you and your employer sued,” is, in my opinion, a rather low basement for standards of personal ethics. But if that’s what it takes to get you to behave like a professional, so be it.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Burt: First, let me say I am glad to see someone else still spells it “perq”.

      Secondly, I think you have done a good job of summarizing what Kipnis is saying, but maybe let’s get at the article she didn’t write, but could have. Behaving like a professional is at the crux of it.

      The common complaint people are making here is that academics need to learn to behave more like professionals, as if an academic department is directly comparable to any other office in corporate America. Certainly, that is the aim of most university administrators as well. It’s also behind the rules about “civility” and making sure students are not triggered and the general push to get academics to stop being so weird and to professionalize their work. At the very least, one can already hear the howls of protest were an academic to suggest that intellectual work is somehow different from any other professional work. Right? They’d be asking for special treatment.

      Regardless, does that mean that the two worlds really are directly comparable? That the university was like “Mad Men” in the 50s and it’s got to be more like “The Office” now? Ultimately, what do we think the “life of the mind” should look like? If it’s going to look like corporate America, then we definitely need to deny that there is any erotic element to pedagogy- something that has been understood since Socrates as being pretty fundamental to pedagogy, in fact. Now, Socrates is pretty clear too about the teacher’s responsibility to direct that eroticism towards learning and not to take advantage of it with your students. I think we all agree with Socrates that it’s a grave sin to shtup a student.

      However, the question is how far should we go to bureaucratize, legislate, and standardize intellectual communities and their behavior? Kipnis’s larger question was how successfully can we bureaucratize, legislate, and standardize human nature in general, but for whatever reason that question is not really on the table.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @rufus-f , if teachers consider themselves to be a profession akin to lawyers, doctors, psychologists, and social workers than their code of professional conduct should be legislated and bureaucratized to the same extent. It makes no sense to say that these professions must follow formal, written codes with disciplinary measures but those professions get to follow an informal, oral codes without disciplinary measures.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I don’t know that they do though. I think that’s how university administrators prefer to think of them. Regardless, I’m not convinced it’s a fruitful way to consider them.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @rufus-f , its really hard to take Laura Kipnis’ argument seriously. A lot of it was nostalgia for the early days of sexual revolution and it also sounded like she has it real bad for some of her students.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Rufus F. says:


        “…how successfully can we bureaucratize, legislate, and standardize human nature in general…”

        We sort of do this all the time. For any number of reasons, we don’t just sleep with or engage in romantic relationships with whomever we damn well please. Even allowing for mutual interest, we often have to control, resist, or deny urges for one reason or another. Sometimes, these are because of the context from which the relationship emerged. Can we do this successfully, as in come up with a set of protocols to ensure every relationship is on the up-and-up while never denying human nature? No. But we can probably come up with a pretty good system wherein people can still get their rocks off without acting in an unethical manner.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Rufus F. says:

        …[H]ow far should we go to bureaucratize, legislate, and standardize intellectual communities and their behavior?

        I think that “professionalize” is the verb at issue here. That comes with some burden of bureaucracy, but the level of bureaucracy involved need not be particularly crushing and certainly not so crushing as to stifle a wide range of free behaviors and thought.

        “Professional” behavior is distinguished by two principal hallmarks: a) the application of a set of advanced knowledge, skills, and abilities to with uncertain outcomes, and b) a degree of trust and confidence in the judgment and ethics of the professional to act in a manner calculated to benefit the recipient.

        I can understand why a certain strain of college professor might resist being thus characterized. As to point a), the advanced knowledge that they believe distinguishes them from laypeople is highly variable — a sociology professor has knowledge readily distinguishable from that of a physics professor, for instance. As to point b), they likely think that their principal job is research and publication (which as a practical matter it may well be) and instruction is ancillary from their “real work” at best and a distraction from the “real work” at worst.

        But this misses the point. The point is not specialized subject matter expertise, but engagement in the craft of instruction. They are teachers, and teachers are professionals. Teachers of lower-aged students with whom I have ineracted readily adhere to concepts of ethics governing their behavior: e.g., a high school teacher would (or at least pretty obviously should) shrink from pursuing a relationship with a student even if the student had attained the age of majority. There is a lot of professionalization, bureaucracy, legislation, and standardization going on at those levels. This has nothing to do with the subjects these teaching professionals dispense. It has everything to do with inspiring trust and reliance on their good judgment and good behavior. And it does not prevent teachers from mentoring students selected for such guidance or sharing knowledge and opinions openly.

        Now, I recognize that college is a very different setting than high school, that college students are adults and not children, that there are a host of different pressures and incentives and goals at play. And I don’t pretend to be familiar with all of them. What I resist is the notion that it is impossible to know and understand these things or objectionable to craft ethical guidelines setting forth minimally-acceptable standards of behavior that are aimed at preventing misconduct and inspiring trust and respect, or that college professors are so very very special that even the lightest application of such concepts will blow frostbite across the delicate orchid bed that is a university’s open intellectual community.Report

  11. zic says:

    I do sort of get where she’s coming from. Remember, back in the day when pedophilia was much in discussion here (Penn. State & Sandusky days,) I expressed outrage at how often I hear stuff like, “that kid’s ruined,” or, “their life’s destroyed?” Predicting that outcome is really unfair to the person who may go on and be incredible successful; may even find some glimmer of steel in his or her spine because of the event. Resiliency.

    We have, on the one hand, a duty to try and minimize bad things happening, and on the other, to leave open opportunity for people who’ve had bad things happen to thrive. She sees us in a world where we’re so focused on preventing the bad things that we’re not tending to the thriving, or I thought that her thrust.

    But I don’t think that remove obligations to prevent the bad things in reasonable ways, and discouraging sexual relationships between bosses and their employees, teachers and their students, doctors and their patients, etc., strikes me as a totally worthwhile social norm, despite the true love that might arise from some few of those relationships. If there is true love, they can certainly change the relationship from the forbidden to the acceptable by changing jobs, schools, or whatever it is that makes it forbidden in the first place. It’s not like they’re being told they can never marry, it’s like they’re being told that they shouldn’t create additional problems for this other relationship over here, be it work, school, or client.Report

  12. KatherineMW says:

    Having read the entire article, I disagree with most of what she says.

    The off-campus example she gives, of an editor romantically pursuing a woman whose book he’s considering for publication, is absolutely one with a power differential, and absolutely comes across as sexual harassment. It’s not “infantilizing” to say that someone’s professional career should never be imperilied by refusing to sleep with a person. It’s just basic decency.

    Regarding students and professors: there is usually a major divide in age and experience between a typical undergrad student and a professor. I don’t think it’s wrong for faculty codes of conduct to say such relationship are highly inappropriate. If the student – whether grad or undergrad – is in a class taught by the professor, then it goes beyond inappropriate into exploitative, in the same way that an employer-employee sexual relationship would be exploitative: even if the student is the one doing the pursuing, there is always the possibility that actions in the relationship, or breaking off the relationship, could affect their performance in the course and their future career. (Or, alternatively, that the student would be favoured, which is unfair to the other students.)

    For older students in relationships with professors who aren’t teaching them or supervising/advising them in a professional capacity, I can see how such a relationship could be workable.

    I have the sense from my university that professors can be very sensitive about this kind of thing. It’s typical for professors to have their office doors closed when they’re meeting with someone, but I’ve had several male professors that made a point of keeping their office doors open when talking with me. I don’t think that’s in any way necessary, but it’s an action that could result from an increased sense of liability in terms of interactions with students.

    On the whole, I think the upsides of regulations on faculty-student relationships that prevent abuse of power far outweigh any downsides.Report

  13. Jaybird says:

    The problem is that there are edge cases that could get all of us to say “oh, that’d be okay”.

    Like if a senior who was dating a junior graduated and then entered the post-grad arena and then wanted to still date his now-a-senior girlfriend. This would be okay, right?

    The problem is when this argument is made by 50-year olds who have history of sleeping with undergrads as evidence for why there shouldn’t be any rules at all.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird says:

      There’s the opposite situation, of course: the 50-year-old student and the 25-year-old faculty member. Non-traditional students are still an increasing part of the student body. I was one while I was getting another masters degree. The only incident I remember where anyone said anything was at a coffee shop near campus when my female prof and I were arguing over a term project — she wanted it done “by the textbook” and I was arguing that the book ignored a number of real-life considerations that should replace some of her list. I was getting another cup of cider and the guy at the counter asked me, “Having to deal with an uppity student?”Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


      As I say above, the issue is that the rules are written to stop morons and bad people. And sometimes people get swept up into them who probably shouldn’t.

      So, yes, rules can be infantalizing. But that is because they are often written for the grown up infants of society.

      “Don’t drink with your students.”
      Yes, we trust most professors to have a beer with their students. But god forbid that one guy everyone is a little leery of gets hammered and does what he does ONE MORE TIME. So, yea, we make a rule and everyone gets saddled with it. Fair? Probably not. But sometimes the safest way for institutions of even moderate size to situate themselves.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yeah, well, we’ll see more TAs thrown out of academia than tenured professors because of these rules.

        And, I’m sure, people will point out that that’s not why they set the rules up in the first place and they had no idea that this rule change would end up hurting the most vulnerable and least guilty rather than the bad actors they had in mind when they set it up.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Kazzy says:

        Except the rules are usually written to give more leeway to TAs.

        Have you looked at the rules at the university where Kipnis teaches? In short, they say that full faculty and coaches aren’t allowed to date undergraduate students full stop, but everyone else just has to sit through an uncomfortable meeting with an administrator and figure out how to shuffle things around so there’s no conflict of interest. The other high-profile bans seem to be structured in the same way, focusing on the relationships between Faculty and undergrads and having more nuanced policies for the sorts of relationships that require more nuance.

        I’m sure there are bans that are overbroad and hurt people in that half-student/half-teacher middle ground, and I’m all for people complaining about those. But that’s clearly not what this article was.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        @jaybird considering the rapid disappearance of tenure, this shouldn’t be a problem,Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m sure there are bans that are overbroad and hurt people in that half-student/half-teacher middle ground, and I’m all for people complaining about those. But that’s clearly not what this article was.

        I guess I’m cynical about laws that say stuff like “oh, we’re only going to go after big business and not small businesses!”

        No matter how many times I get those assurances, I’m stuck listening to explanations about how, seriously, this wasn’t the intention of the people who were passing the law.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        considering the rapid disappearance of tenure, this shouldn’t be a problem

        You know what? This might, indeed, make significant steps toward solving the sexual harassment problem. (Edit: the one involving professors hitting on students, I mean.)

        Now we get to have the argument over whether that’s too high a cost vs. the cluelessness of the people who would be willing to say that that’s too high a cost in public.Report

  14. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I find a lot of this ridiculous. The military has some pretty hard & fast rules regarding romantic relationships in the ranks, and they are not nearly as asinine as what universities seem to be dreaming up. If a professional service made up mostly of college age kids can manage these things, and take action when lines are crossed, I can’t understand why colleges struggle with it.Report

    • gingergene in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Hmm, I saw the opposite that you did. The colleges *are* dealing with it, by making it less acceptable, but people like the author are annoyed because now that professors can’t date students…um, I guess the students are worse off? To the extent that colleges are struggling, it’s because they went through a free-love phase and are having to wean professors off it. The classic loss-aversion problem?

      The military never had a free love phase (did it?), so it went from a single-sex environment,with no rules about fraternization required (Heh.) to a co-ed environment with lots of rules. No in-between period where the Officers got to date a different PFC every year, and now are having their hands slapped for it. (And really, despite her anecdata, I’m not convinced the punishments being meted out are common or more severe than a wrist-slap.)Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to gingergene says:

        Perhaps I should have been more clear, but the military frat rules are not numerous or expansive. They are few & clear. The forbidden relationships are clearly but narrowly delineated.

        Basically officers can not date or enter into close personal relationships with enlisted. Individuals can not date or enter into close personal relationships with others in their direct chain of command (with the caveat that professionals who work closely together will become friends & comrades, but that does not relieve them of their duty to the service).

        Relationships that exist prior to service are handled by the chain of command on a case by case basis (usually by making sure the individuals are never in each others chain of command). Relationships that form within a chain of command are to be reported to the chain of command ASAP so that appropriate action can be determined (as long as there is no clear violation of senior dating a direct subordinate, or using position in an unethical manner, usually by moving people around).

        Bright lines are important in the military, since power dynamics in the services have much higher stakes than in most other areas.

        So a teacher dating an undergrad, probably verboten, ages notwithstanding. Exception for persons in different schools.

        Teacher dating grad student is ok as long as they are not in the same department or school, but administration needs to know about it.

        So physics prof dating physics student is highly problematic, but dating a polisci student who is not required to take physics (or already has) is much less so.

        Finally, if schools are really worried about sexual power dynamics, while they are talking to profs, they should also be talking to students during orientation, so everyone is clear about the rules. These things are a 2 way street.Report

  15. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Although I will add that everyone learns the frat rules in basic, & gets annual refreshes (along with other pertinent UCMJ information).

    We are empowered with information at the start, so there isn’t a fog. The system doesn’t break because the rules aren’t clear, it breaks when the chain of command fails to do it’s duty & take appropriate action.Report

  16. Tod Kelly says:

    Because @rufus-f said to read the whole thing before passing judgement, I kept waiting for a sign that the author’s cluelessness was going to dissolve as she relayed one of the several real-life anecdotes she shared.

    I could probably write a whole series of posts on all the things that are so very, very wrong about what Kipnis wrote. A lot of it so terrible I confess to wondering if the surprise reveal I thought Rufus was alluding to was going to be that it was satire. (Fave example: That the real problem with a woman being harassed by an editor who held her career’s success in his hands was that she hadn’t been treated in a similar fashion by her college professors so that she could learn how to properly deal with such things.)

    I’ve said this before, but one of the ironies about sexual harassment in the US is that those industries that are most likely to cluck at the public about how terrible and unenlightened others are on the subject — higher ed, politics, and professional the arts & entertainment industries — are the the last places in the US where SH is still practiced regularly without much threat of legal consequence. So the fact that this woman defending SH is from academia isn’t all that surprising to me. But her actual defense? And that she put her name to it?

    Good lord.Report

  17. j r says:

    I took @rufus-f’s point about reading the whole thing to mean that this is an area where folks will be tempted to respond with either a “Kipnis needs to grow up and follow the rules like the rest of us” or a “right on! Damn the bureaucrats and their soulless rule-making,” but that this is an area that warrants deeper thinking.

    One of my biggest problems with these sorts of issues is the idea that it is always about reaction vs. progress, about defending the old status quo or affirming a more just present and future. Sometimes they are, but sometimes they are not. Sometimes this is a conversation about what the future ought to look like and how best to get there.

    The Mad Men vs. The Office is a pretty good illustration of what I mean. For most of us, the Mad Men workplace is seductive, but we understand how much we’d lose by going back to that. And likewise, we realize the extent to with the reality of The Office is infuriating, but also a little necessary. That’s the grow up and act like a professional side of things.

    On the other hand, though, the reality of The Office is in many ways infuriating in ways that we can grok are not simply ‘annoying, but for the greater good.’ Something happens when you move from the former to the latter. Perhaps it is that we go from a system in which we have to confront individual sociopath behavior to one in which much of the sociopathy has been sublimated into the system itself. The purpose of bureaucracy is to remove that individual accountability and formalize into a system a scalable and replicable system. This is perhaps a worthy and necessary goal, but we lose a lot in this process and I think that is worth reflecting on a bit.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to j r says:

      Yeah, I was saying let’s talk about the larger issues that are, to be honest, maybe not as interesting as Ohmygod! Shethinksit’sokaytohavesexwithchildren! and, to be fair, might have been larger issues that Kipnis mentioned obliquely but didn’t even address. I think they’re there as subtext, but unfortunately the text is pretty lurid and choppy.

      And maybe the subtext is just me and what I’m reading into it. I’ve had a few questions lodged in my brain for a while and the article could have only very obliquely touched on them. So, let me bring those up in a way that is detached from what she wrote.

      1. I am increasingly fascinated with the question of just why academic writing is so unforgivably bad now. By which I mean formulaic, unimaginative, trite, contrived, calculated, gutless, and just plain unintelligent. I still read a ton of it, but it’s inescapable that we seem to have reached a point at which we will quite likely never again have an epochal work of scholarship coming out of a university press. Why is that? My question is whether turning academic departments into one more corporate office ruled by cutthroat office politics and a sort of neoliberal business model hasn’t attracted the office drones of the intellectual set and snuffed out anything like an intellectual community in academia. Laura Kipnis might be kicking against the wrong pricks, but she’s touching on the professionalization of thinking… sort of. [Note: what I meant by detaching this subject from her article is that I am obviously NOT arguing that we’d be getting better scholarship if professors were having sex with undergrads.]

      2. I am increasingly fascinated with why the left has come to embrace bureaucracy and the regulation and rationalization of so many aspects of our lives. It’s perhaps a bit much to say that the left should still be opposed to bureaucracy, but romanticizing the ability of legislation, lawyers, administrators, and bureaucrats to protect us from harm is weird. Even weirder is the sense I get that, for many on the left, progress and justice clearly come from bureaucrats and uniform rules that we can all follow.

      Now, I’m the first to admit that Kipnis’s article takes a terrible approach to getting at these issues because it focuses on sexual ethics and that totally derails the conversation. However, she does talk about the sexual revolution and I suppose what’s interesting to me there is the fairly major shift in our thinking from an understanding that power manifests itself through repression to one in which power manifests itself through consent.

      Our ideals for our sex lives are always unrealistic, but it’s fascinating that we’ve gone from a sexual ideal of a swinging, free-wheeling libertine who has sex with whoever he or she wants and makes no apologies to society to an equally unrealistic ideal in which we’re rational actors who only have sex that is reasonable, sane, safe, very well-discussed beforehand, and leads to no emotional hurt, complications, or regrets. Both ideals are bound to lead to unhappiness if taken too seriously. Lust is irrational. People will keep on doing dumb things. As we increasingly live our lives within hierarchical structures of authority, there will simply have to be more sweeping rules.Report

      • Chris in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Re: #1, academic publishing bifurcated into books sold at conferences and placed on faculty office bookshelves and trade books long ago, and that bifurcation has resulted in the reduction of the quality of both the books meant for other academics and the trade books. Edited books have always mostly been “vita stuffers and articles we know won’t get through peer review,” but once upon a time academics wrote good books that could contribute to a field and potentially be read by motivated people outside of the field. Now the books for academics are usually pieces of shit “Here’s my research I’ve already published and a fairly-milquetoast-and-not-worthy-of-a-peer-reviewed-review-article theory about why it I found one I found,” ’cause the market for those doesn’t promote going out on a limb, and the books for the general public are generally even worse, sweeping, dumbed down, and usually promoting a the author’s brand as much as any real ideas.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @rufus-f @chris

        Re #1: Academic writing.

        I think it depends. History books by academic presses can still make it into the popular imagination and press or at least be viewed by the New York Times Book Review. They might not all be super-well written but I find many of them are at least accessibly written and not filled with academicease while also being more specialized and well-researched than a history book published by non-academic publisher. Non-academic history publishing still often seems stuck in the “Great Man” or “Aren’t we great?” school of history with narratives about American derring-do against the Nazis. Not so much with academic histories.

        2. Academics seem to use a lot of hedging language that is not meant for the general reader. Also as knowledge grows, academic books tend to be written in a way that assumes the reader has built upon knowledge and are very specialized. The days of the amateur scientist writing papers that got respected are largely, if not completely, gone. Fields also have much more specialized vocabulary.

        3. I consider myself to be a pretty good reader but I exist somewhere between a popular reader and an academic one. Every now and then I need to putt down an academic book because it just gets too wonky and specialized.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Rufus F., the libertine ideals of the free love movement where never obtainable for a wide variety of reason. One thing is that ever since the 19th century, the advocates of free love beleived that once we got rid of all the cultural, religious baggage about sex, we could live in a world of romantic and sexual fulfiment for everbody. This simply isn’t true. The Sexual Revolution greatly increased the amount and types of sex happening but we know that lots of people struggle with romance and sex for a variety of reasons. Some people have really great ones and other people have no love lives despite their best efforts. One reason to keep a lid on sex and have some rules limiting who could have sex with who is to preserve the social peace to extant and make sure that people whose sex lives are lacking don’t get to jealous.

        The other things is that sex has and will probably always be associated with power. The abilit to compel somebody to have sex with you has been a traditional mark of power for as long as human society existed probably. Its one of the darket aspects of sexual liberations. The power diffrential between a professor and a grad student might be less than that of King and maid but it still exists. I find some aspects of consent culture exasperating. They ignore a lot of human nature and put up so many rules about consent that only the most socially-calliberated can do well but their concerns are very real.

        As to the left embracing legislation and rule-breaking. I think your confusing anarchism with the rest of the left. Many parts of the left have always favored government action through democracy as the best way to determine these sorts of things.Report

      • greginak in reply to Rufus F. says:

        If the Left has embraced bureaucracy, rules and laws as a way to achieve its goals its because 1) those things have in some cases worked really well and 2) bureaucracy and rules have shown themselves to be highly effective in creating the modern capitalist world, for better or worse, that we have today.

        Using things that have been really really successful is a pretty decent strategy. The problem of course is fitting the proper solution to the problem which is easier said than done.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        greginak, I’d argue that parts of the left have not embraced bureaucracy because it created the modern capitalist world but that government is one of the few forces powerful enough to fight against corporations and banks when it operates well.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F. says:

        What would make liberals/left different from “Markets Yay” libertarians if we did not embrace regulation? Modern American liberalism and social democracy is about how the state and law needs to act as a counterbalance to the harshness and anarchy of the market.

        How do you have universal healthcare without regulations and government entities monitoring and administiring things? How do you prevent people from suffering because unchecked speculation causes a market crash/depression/recession?Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        greginak “in some cases” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence.

        LeeEsq: I agree that “free love” was unworkable for a lot of reasons. I did say that above though.

        The power issue is at the nub of this because how we feel about policies governing sexual relationships comes down to how we would answer the question if a woman (let’s be honest- the thinking behind these rules is very gendered) is ever really capable of consenting to sex with anyone who has more power than she does- be he a grad student, a manager in the office, a boss, or even I suppose a cop, landlord, or judge. Is she intrinsically being exploited, coerced, or taken advantage of simply by virtue of the power differential? If so, then by all means we should be telling women of any age who they can and cannot have sex with. Because they don’t know any better.

        I don’t know if you have to be an anarchist to believe that free associations of people making concerted efforts to demand change have always done more to drive progress than government bureaucracies. On the other hand, that might well be what an anarchist would say.Report

      • greginak in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Lee, i wouldn’t disagree with you. Bureaucracy can be a bit of muddy term. It’s usually supposed to be uttered with a hiss since it is supposed to be inherently evil. I agree the Left often embraces Gov because it is the only force large and strong enough to counter the influence of business. Part of the embrace of bureaucracy and rules is the growth of science and metrics and our data driven world. If you can get numbers and information about something then that leads to more rule and process oriented procedures.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F. says:


        I’m skeptical of Anarchism working writ large. I am also largely skeptical of it working beyond a few employee-owned cooperatives in stuff like a movie theatre, a coffee shop, a bike repair shop, and maybe an organic grocery. Most communes seem to suffer from a tragedy of the commons issue and fall apart because of freeloaders.

        NHS, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, have done a damn lot to help people. They are far from anarchist programs.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        What drives social change is a complex thing. A lot of people think the Sexual Revolution was the pill and only the pill. The bith control pill helped a great deal but the Sexual Revolution was helped a great deal by Western governments deciding to get out of the business of enforcing conventional morality at least when it came to heterosexual sex. There was some pressure for it but it generally seems that mainly the governments of the West gave up the ghost during the 1960s and decided to let things evolve naturally for heterosexual couples. The fight over changing sexual mores largely happened outside of government rather than inside it.

        Civil Rights is more complicated. There could be no Civil Rights success without tons of work by dedicated African-American activists. At the same time, they probably would not have been succesful unless many white Americans, particularly some in high government office, being sympathetic to them. Knowing the history of American racism, White America could have easily been indifferent or even outright hostile to the Civil Rights movement en masse. So it was an obvious combination of activism and government action that led to the success of the Civil Rights movement.Report

      • greginak in reply to Rufus F. says:

        rufus…your darn right “in some cases” is doing a lot of work. I’m to lazy to do all the work to list all the ways rules and stuff might work and don’t work so i made that poor little phrase do all the work for me.

        But the point is that in some/many/few cases Official Rules work well. We can debate the individual cases which is where the interesting conversation lays.

        I would suggest the question of whether “free associations of people ” or gov bureaucracies have led to more change is mostly likely a fools errand and would more likely just be an ideological litmus test. Both things have worked. It took a lot of action by blacks in the 50’s and 60’s to get the CRA which was a significant improvement. It was both in that case.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        It’s interesting that we’re talking about the Civil Rights movement and the laws that it led to that improved life for African-Americans because it’s not as if the movement was opposed solely to private initiatives of racism- they were fighting for the repeal of state-sanctioned and enforced racist laws first and foremost. It’s more that the government finally gave up fighting a growing tide than sympathized with them.

        Saul, I don’t disagree with you about anarchism having limited utility, but what I was trying to say was that it’s possible to critique government and corporate bureaucracies (which have all the same problems and I suppose the difference between a liberal and a libertarian is which side their blind eye is on) and not therefore have to embrace anarchism.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

        If so, then by all means we should be telling women of any age who they can and cannot have sex with. Because they don’t know any better.

        I was wondering how to phrase this particular issue.

        I wanted to bring up the example of a woman not only voluntarily but enthusiastically having such an affair and saying that she couldn’t know what she was doing, or that she had a false consciousness, or that she should probably not do that sort of thing anyway because of the social costs that she’s imposing on everyone else…

        I thought “eh, I’m not in the mood to be yelled at today.”

        But then I saw your comment and I thought “man… I should have said something like this.”

        (For what it’s worth, I think that these cases are a lot less likely than the harassment cases and, more than that, these cases are a lot more likely to end up with the young woman saying something like “I regret doing that thing that I argued I had every right to do” than not. But if someone argues that they should be able to do something like that, I don’t know that I have the where-to-stand to tell them that I, and people like me, have set up rules to keep them from hurting themselves before they know any better.)Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @rufus-f what about my example of the government giving up the ghost during the Sexual Revolution?Report

      • greginak in reply to Rufus F. says:

        This issue seems more like telling bosses ( whether they be academic supervisors or the manager at walmart) not to bone their employees then telling women who they can have sex with. Yeah there is some crossover in those groups but a very different emphasis with different issues.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Lee Esq: Sorry, I didn’t mean to ignore that; it’s really just something where I don’t know very much about the topic. I know about the gay rights movement, which was definitely started by citizens fighting (rioting actually) against the police. But I’m not really sure what areas the government once legislated and then stepped out of. It sounds like an interesting subject. If you could give me the very short version or just point me in the direction of something, I’d love to know more.Report

      • j r in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Can we at least get to the appoint that we all agree that there is what is compliant with laws and regulations and there is what is ethical and moral (and sometimes even what is ethical differs from what is moral). They are sometimes the same thing, sometimes quite different things, and sometimes neither.

        If you are one of those people who perpetually says, “eff the rules! I make my own,” there is a good chance that you are an asshole and probably responsible for a great deal of immoral and unethical actions. At the same time, however, if you are one of those people who perpetually says, “eff any sort of individual conscious or responsibility! Rules are rules and that is all we need to know,” there is a good chance that you are some manner of martinet, sycophant or petty bureaucrat and you, as well, are likely to be responsible for a bit of immoral and unethical behavior.

        Following the rules does not always assure you a place on the side of the angels. Sometimes it is quite the opposite.Report

      • greginak in reply to Rufus F. says:

        JR Yeah that seems right to me.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Rufus F. says:

        The difference between telling a supervisor that he can’t have sex with an underling and telling underlings that they cannot have sex with their supervisors doesn’t seem that significant to me.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

        j r: yeah, I can agree to that.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I mean, the consequences are different if the rule is broken, but the rule as followed has the same effect on both parties.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Rufus F. says:

        The difference between telling a supervisor that he can’t have sex with an underling and telling underlings that they cannot have sex with their supervisors doesn’t seem that significant to me.

        I see where you get that, @will-truman , but I’d phrase it the first way. Phrased the second way, it appears that the person who violated the policy was the underling, not the supervisor; therefore, the person who should be disciplined for violating the policy is the underling, not the supervisor. Which leads to the following cascade of events:

        Act I — supervisor and underling have sex.
        Act II — manager discovers the sexual relationship.
        Act III — manager terminates the underling for violating the policy.
        Act IV — time to call the lawyers and whip out the checkbook.

        Compare that with:

        Act I — supervisor and underling have sex.
        Act II — manager discovers the sexual relationship.
        Act III — manager terminates the supervisor for violating the policy.
        Act IV — if lawyers do come calling, company can say, “What? As soon as we found out, we fired the guy!”

        Neither is ideal, but the second scenario is way better for the company than the first scenario.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Rufus F. says:

        See my follow-up comment. Yeah, there is a difference in the breach, but I chalk that up to how the rule is enforced. If the rule is followed, which is the desired effect of the rule, it effects both.

        If you pass a law that only punishes johns, you’ve still passed a law designed to prevent prostitution. Even if the prostitute is never prosecuted, you still can’t say “we haven’t banned prosecution.” You’ve just decided to enforce the ban in a particular way.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Certainly; the art is in the enforcement. And you want to be able to discipline the subordinate in an appropriate situation as well. Those situations will be rare as compared with ones where supervisors are going to be under the microscope, and presumptively, in a romantic or sexual situation that looks consensual, the supervisor’s judgment is much more questionable than the subordinate’s.

        People in positions of power are the ones who need to be aware that they are operating under a particular burden of having their judgment and ethics subject to question.

        I don’t see that there is any substantial disagreement about that, whether between you and I or anyone else.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Sad example.

        Friend of mine has a daughter, got pregnant at 17, by her 36 year old supervisor at the fast food joint she was working at.

        Family could not report it because they could not support the girl & her baby & they needed him working, not facing jail time or unable to get a job, so they essentially had a shotgun wedding.

        I told my friend she should talk to a lawyer first, but they did not think they could afford it.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @mad-rocket-scientist Have you visited Hit Coffee today?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F. says:

        @rufus-f in Roger Ebert’s autobiography, he mentions how police would often go to local motels and take down the numbers of the license plates on cars and than call the university to see if they belonged to students when he was in college. This was in the early 1960s and basically an attempt by the government to prevent pre-marital sex among heterosexual people. In a few years, the police would give up the ghost on this sort of thing. Other parts of society also attempted to enforce the norms regarding sex. Landlords used to have rules requiring single tenants to entertain members of the opposite gender in the lobby rather than their apartment and that all guests of the opposite gender had to be out by a certain time. This eventually disappeared without much of a fight as well.Report

  18. veronica d says:

    2. I am increasingly fascinated with why the left has come to embrace bureaucracy and the regulation and rationalization of so many aspects of our lives. It’s perhaps a bit much to say that the left should still be opposed to bureaucracy, but romanticizing the ability of legislation, lawyers, administrators, and bureaucrats to protect us from harm is weird. Even weirder is the sense I get that, for many on the left, progress and justice clearly come from bureaucrats and uniform rules that we can all follow.

    I think because a lot of middle-class liberals believe the Civil Rights Act kinda-sorta worked. And to some degree it probably did. So once we discovered that we really can “legislate morality,” at least to some degree, the temptation became to see everything through that lens.

    Which, I certainly want a law that says “veronica has an ‘F’ on her government issued ID and that means she uses the women’s restroom and shower facilities, and if you don’t like that go pound sand.”

    I’m sure the esteemed legal scholars on this forum can rewrite that in more effective language.

    We also really-really-really do want the Mad Men style office seriously and totally GONE. And I’ll say flat out, if you spend more than ten-seconds with a bunch of Silicon Valley douche-nozzles you’ll quickly know that, indeed, without real laws with real teeth — which means fines and damages and maybe jail time — there is no way we’re getting away from that. Cuz folks try to wiggle back toward it by any means necessary.

    Cuz a lot of guys really do want to act that way. No really. Yep. A lot. Just like people wanna cheat on their taxes and drive their cars really fast.

    (I live driving cars really fast. It’s fun.)

    So we’re pushing against human nature, toward something maybe a bit more just, and it’s really hard and messy and things suck a lot.

    But what of the romantic rebel who breaks the rules and writes his genius upon the world? — that guy’s a jackass. He totally doesn’t play nice with others.Report

  19. Michael Drew says:

    Are the opening lines about how people on campus think of professors married to former students purely a figment of her “mocking tone,” or is she saying that’s a somewhat real phenomenon?Report