But Where Will They Find Their Wives?

They distributed the school's policy on the "rights and duties of members" of its intellectual community today. Well, truth be told, this is the second time they distributed it; thanks to a printing error, the previous version was missing every other page. Rights only, I suppose.

There's a section on "Teacher-Student Consensual Relations," basically to the effect that the school is categorically not a consensual participant in such relations. More technically, the school forbids sexual relationships in cases of direct supervision -- which is to say, in any situation in which the school itself, as an institution with academic policies and intellectual street cred, becomes involved.

I'm on board with the policy, of course, but I'm put in mind of Harvey Mansfield's line about Harvard's policy to the same effect: "But where will the professors find their wives?" (Mansfield has shown, over the years, a remarkable talent for putting his foot in his mouth. My favorite Harveyism was a line no quasi-authoritarian conservative should ever, ever risk uttering: "We had our enemies and we got them. We got them good on Halloween.")

Anyway, thinking about Harvey and his pet fixations in this context got me thinking about the real implications of a zero-tolerance policy for faculty-student relationships. After all, here in law school, the first thing you learn is that the written law is only a starting point, never an answer in itself.

In some sense, the point of such a rule is that these relationships are inextricably bound up with power issues: the power of a professor to pass or to fail, to launch a career or to destroy it. So, it might be said, the University wants to preserve this power relation and reserve it for its own uses. No fair squandering the erotic charge of such power on sex games; you're here to work, dammit.

What the announced rule actually does, however, is to invert the power dynamic. It devolves on the student the power to fail the professor by talking to the Dean, a power that trumps the professor's supervisory powers. The policy is not self-executing, nor can it be; it relies on people to lodge compaints and launch its procedures. The policy is, quite literally, empowering to students. This is the point.

Economists might say that professors are in a better position (in many senses) to decide whether or not to initiate such a relationship; therefore placing the liability on them achieves a more efficient result. I think the economists need to go outside, play with a puppy, and make some flower garlands. It's enough to note the altered power relations and leave it at that.

Because once you look at things this way, the real complaint of the Mansfields of the world is a lot clearer. Here you have doms who've gone into the professoriat only to have the universities turn around and decree that tenure is for subs. Of course they're upset.

Think I'm straining my point? Well, chew on this: next semester, Mansfield is teaching a class on manliness.