An ‘A’ for a lay

The Sydney Sparkes Orr scandal is long forgotten … These days it is not uncommon for academics to be engaged in horizontal collaboration with their students … Law lecturer Dr Criminale probes 

Sex with a student? It would be nice to think that academics are too high-minded for that.

The reality is very different. I know for a fact that some of my colleagues have acted on the view that the roses are there not only to be admired, but to be plucked.

Take one middle-aged colleague – I’ll call him Middie (short for mid-life crisis or, perhaps, a reference to his not-insubstantial abdomen).

Middie is on to (into?) his third student in five years. I wonder what his (ex) wife and kids make of it all?

Then there is a younger colleague – let’s call him Studley. He is fond of inviting his prettiest students out for dinner, naturally to discuss their assignments (after submission of the work, but before grading).

This is not to say that the students are always completely innocent. Most want good marks, and some are prepared to cut corners to get them.

Even I, with my cynical attitude and substantial girth (above the belt), have been the subject of a few come-hither looks – although I admit that I may have misinterpreted a few of these since my eyesight is not so good these days.

While some of us are a waste of time, there are always plenty of Middies and Studleys to oblige.

And female academics cannot be let off the hook.

One American professor of literature, Jane Gallop, has openly admitted to affairs with both male and female students. In her own day as a graduate student she slept with two of the examiners on her dissertation committee.

All good fun, you might say. Except that things can get messy quickly, as recent experience has demonstrated.

Jane Gallop was herself the subject of sexual harassment complaints by two of her students. She wrote a book on the subject titled Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment.

The Corruption and Crime Commission was called in to investigate claims that an academic at one Western Australian university had pressured three female students for sexual favours in exchange for higher grades.

A British academic was tried for raping one of his students – and acquitted. Every academic, it seems, has at least one juicy story to tell about some colleague whose fling with a student has gone sour.

The reality of it affects us all. I find myself consulting students with my door open, to avoid any suggestion of hanky-panky – even though such a suggestion would be laughable. The current fashion for low-cut blouses also produces some uncomfortable moments in the lecture rooms.

Nevertheless, the universities seem rather unconcerned about it all.

The Vice-Chancellor of one British university declared female students to be a “perk” of academic work whom male lecturers “should admire daily” to spice up their sex lives.

Despite the many objections to their foibles, most academics who end up in bed with their students seem to keep their jobs, in Australia at least.

I’m not sure the broken-hearted students cope quite as well.

For more lurid information about lecturer-student affairs see “Sex and the university”, Times Higher Education May 22, 2008