Whether students or their teachers should ever act on such desires, however, has never been an untroubled question.
To do so raises the possibility of both favoritism and exploitation.
Yet at the root of this queasy dynamic was genuine intellectual excitement.
If we think of the university as a purely professional realm, where services are exchanged for a fee among rational economic actors, then sexual relationships seem clearly out of bounds, as they are in most workplaces, especially between supervisors and subordinates.
But if the academy is something more than that, if, as many of its members hope, it’s a place where deep and lasting collegial bonds are formed, where mentors and protégés can become close friends and where young lives are transformed by a galvanic encounter with knowledge and their own latent capabilities, how can we possibly stamp out the potential for desire to arise?
Kipnis made a passing reference to the same professor’s involvement with a graduate student whom he claimed he had dated.
Two students then made Title IX complaints against Kipnis, arguing that her essay (and a tweet) constituted “retaliation” against the students who filed the original charges.
(Harvard was found to have failed to comply with Title IX in responding to such accusations.).
She feels that prohibitions on faculty-student dating are paternalistic and part of an increasing tendency to infantilize students as preposterously fragile “trauma cases waiting to happen,” rather than as adults acquiring the experience that will enable them to navigate a rough-and-tumble world.Students sometimes nurse crushes on their teachers, and teachers sometimes lust after their pupils; these are facts of life so commonplace as to have become the ultimate cliché: a porn motif.Like many vaguely parental relationships, the pedagogic one can have a strong and unsettling erotic undertow.The official model will of course apply in some cases, but it will also do an injustice in a great many others.In particular, this model invalidates the student’s own desire and self-determination.In February, for example, Harvard announced that it was banning all consensual “romantic or sexual” relationships between faculty members and undergraduates, regardless of whether the student is enrolled in any of the professor’s classes or is even in the same department (although faculty can still date graduate students if they don’t supervise their work).