Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sex and the Academy

Among his many parting gifts, David Petreaus reminds us that dissertation advisers can abuse their authority with a bit more immunity than CIA directors.  Yes, Petraeus not only slept with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, but his student as he apparently had served as one of her dissertation advisers.  This led me to tweet that the difference between a CIA director and a professor is that the former loses his/her job if he/she gets caught sleeping with a subordinate.

My blog has long protested the depiction in popular culture of professors as leches, that nearly every professor in TV and movies seems to be pursuing sexual relationships with their students.  The problem is that while nearly all professors do not engage in this behavior, there are, of course, some who do.  Worse, they often get away with it.

In my academic travels, I have been at a couple of places where predators existed, taking advantage of their relative power and the apparent sex appeal that comes with the job of professor (at least, this is what our pop culture suggests).  These predator profs largely got away with their behavior, which, indeed, created hostile working environments not just for those that they pursued but also for many other folks in the programs.  One of these did get his wrist slapped, but whatever symbolic punishments levied were only temporary.

Tenure should not protect such individuals.  Indeed, it really does not, as one of the individuals was not yet tenured but protected by senior professors.  The other was protected by the university, essentially, as it was afraid of lawsuits.  Perhaps other schools take this stuff more seriously.

To get back to Petraeus, he seemed like a perfect candidate for teaching at Princeton, where he got his PhD.  I am curious about whether the particular sin that cost him his career in government service will get in the way of getting a university job.  His predecessor in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, who went on to Yale, insulted his superiors and showed that he was bad at Public Relations.  These are not sins in the academy but perhaps requirements.  Petraeus, on the other hand, proved that he not only unfit to be CIA director but also unfit to profess.  Will Petraeus get an academic post anyway?  I would not bet against it.

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