That Laura Kipnis Chronicle piece on Sexual Relationships on Campus

In February, Laura Kipnis wrote a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education decry new rules at Northwestern about student/professor relationships, and in so doing, she highlighted a case on campus involving a professor and a student. It’s a case in progress and has a lot of he said/she said aspects to it. Professors dating students/students dating professors is one of those topics in academia that is squicky–squishy and perhaps icky. It can be done, I think, if between people who have no effect on each other’s careers–i.e. grad student in a complete different field of study and a professor. Or after a student graduates. But more often than not, this kind of relationship is one where power structures are always out of balance. Her follow up piece, documenting the Title IX complaint against her is alarming, especially since Title IX usually governs student/student interactions when it comes to cases of sexual assault, harassment, etc. Yet, I find Kipnis’s first piece troubling. No, seducing a professor does not empower a student, which Kipnis seems to argue. She blames her view on coming of age in a different time, and I admittedly came of age in the more sexually puritanical 90s, when sex could actually kill you before the advances in drugs to keep HIV from developing into AIDS. Yet, I don’t see how seducing a professor is a feminist act, something Kipnis also seems to imply. And given the state of academia today, prohibitions between professor student relationships protects everyone. Indeed, many workplaces have similar prohibitions about office romances when in the direct chain of command, again so that no one wields undue powers over someone at a later time. I do think the investigation into her article is bizarre, especially given the lack of transparency, although given the way Title IX works, her university may have been required to investigate no matter what. Over at TPM, another prof has similar issues with Kipnis’s first piece. It’s worth a read.


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