06 January 2016

Professor-Student Sex: Permissible and Erotic

Stephen Kershnar
Faculty-Student Romance: A Tempestuous Debate
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
January 5, 2015

Among the sharpest disagreements faculty have with one another is on whether it is wrong for professors to date or have sex with their students. The professors are invariably male, the students usually, but not always, female. The discussion sometimes gets heated because some professors, often feminists, think that such relationships are bad, wrong, or creepy. Many of their colleagues disagree, viewing the feminists’ opposition to such relationships as no better than the historical opposition to interracial and same-sex couples.  

The frequency of these relationships makes this a live issue. Over the years at SUNY-Fredonia, for example, a number of faculty married students. This includes professors in chemistry, English, geology, history, music, and philosophy. Still more have dated them.      

A different issue is whether schools should punish professors who have romantic relationships with their students. The issue is different because schools should not penalize everything that is wrong (consider, for example, anti-intellectualism and gluttony) and not everything it should penalize is wrong (consider, for example, failure to publish).

There are four arguments that feminists and others give in support of such relationships being bad or wrong. The first argument, and by far the most common, is that the faculty and student are in an unequal power relationship and such a relationship is bad or wrong. The idea here is that the professor is in a stronger position because he occupies a superior role, controls the grades, or knows more about life. His stronger position makes him have more power than the student and unequal power makes the relationship problematic or can lead to the vulnerable undergraduate being exploited.  

The problem with this argument is that it involves a misunderstanding of power in personal relationships. Power in a personal relationship is a measure of the ability to bend another to one’s will. It depends on things such as an individual’s psychological strength, willingness to leave the relationship, and her other dating and marriage options. The options depend in part on features like attractiveness, age, and intellect. Undergraduate and graduate women often have a greater ability to leave the relationship and better options in the dating and marriage market than do male professors. As a result, it is unclear whether professors usually, let alone always, have more power in the relationships. This can be seen in part in brokenhearted professors crying into their beer.

Even if there were an imbalance of power, it doesn’t make a relationship bad or wrong. Many couples have an imbalance of power because one member of the couple is more in demand than the other. Consider, for example, a woman who is younger and more attractive and who makes more money than her suitor. As a result, she can more easily leave the relationship and might even use the leverage to insist on certain ground rules (for example, future children have to be raised in her religion). It is hard to see what is wrong about this imbalance, especially when it doesn’t block love, marriage, children, and so on.

The second argument for faculty-student relationships being wrong is that they often involve premarital sex and such sex harms or degrades female students. I doubt that such sex is harmful. 95% of Americans have had premarital sex. It seems implausible that in this context,19 out of 20 Americans don’t know what’s in their interest.

There is a debate over whether having more premarital partners leads people to have, on average, worse marriages, but a number of experts think that this has not been shown, noting that such a result has not been established in a peer-reviewed academic study. Also, University of Michigan economists Betsey Stevensen and Justin Wolfers point out that in the early 2000s most marriages are preceded by cohabitation, so premarital sex appears to part of a common path to marriage.

The notion that such sex involves moral or religious harm is implausible for those who don’t accept the pinched view of religious Jews and Christians. Even if one has this view, there is no evidence I am aware of that professors having sex with students is worse for students than their having sex with male peers.

The third argument is that twenty-something students are not adults, but rather children, and are being preyed on by the seductive male professors. Anyone who has been in a bar since 2000 would likely find this laughable. In any case, the argument is just a variant on the premarital-sex-is-harmful objection since protecting children against something only makes sense if it poses a significant risk of harm.

This argument infantilizes adult women in that it suggests that they are so incompetent that they can’t be trusted to run their own sex lives. Such an attempt harkens back to days when universities protected women against themselves by subjecting them to curfews and prohibiting them from having overnight visitors.

A fourth argument is that dating market between professors and students might lead to unwelcome advances and other forms of sexual harassment. This argument falls short because it doesn’t show that relationships without these features are wrong. Even if such faculty-student dating occasionally did lead to such abuses, this hardly shows that a widespread practice wrong. Faculty-student romantic relationships can, and with surprisingly frequency do, lead to successful marriage and children. Citing the cost of a practice while ignoring its benefits is no way to evaluate it. In fact, the frequency of such successful outcomes makes it a real issue as to whether such dating should be encouraged.   

In summary, there is little reason to think that faculty-student romantic or sexual relationships are worse than other romantic or sexual relationships.


A separate issue is whether state universities may prohibit them. It is unclear whether they may do so because such prohibitions arguably violate people’s right to privacy and intimate association, rights the Supreme Court emphasized in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). In any case this is a separate issue. 

23 December 2015

The Case for Trump: Trump vs. the Establishment on Amnesty, Interventionism, and Collaboration

Stephen Kershnar
Why Should People Consider Donald Trump?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
December 21, 2015

Donald Trump is well ahead in the national polls for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump is an undisciplined, unfocused, and unpredictable, so it is worth considering whether voter support for him makes sense. While Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are better choices, support for Trump makes sense for three reasons.  

The argument is that if one’s values freedom, respect for the Constitution, and a non-interventionist foreign policy, Trump’s positions are likely better than his competitors, aside from Cruz and Paul.

First, Trump will likely oppose amnesty and in the long term without such a position most, if not all, of the other libertarian and conservative positions will lose. The argument is that in every recent national election, Hispanics have voted for leftist (Democratic) candidates. Amnesty will result in many more Hispanic voters, enough to result in leftist positions winning across the board. Leftist positions include more government spending, taxes, and regulation, fewer civil liberties, and race preferences, policies that libertarians and conservatives oppose.    

Amnesty will permanently change the country. Even the pandering George W. Bush got no more than 40% of the Hispanic vote in the two elections. Other polling results, show that Hispanics are ideologically committed to the left's agenda. Their voting pattern is similar to that of blacks and Jews. The estimate for the number of illegal aliens is usually 11 million, but is plausibly 20-30 million. Even the lower number will likely be enough to flip Texas, Florida, and a number of state legislatures. Voting for a pro-amnesty candidate, then, is in effect voting for Barack Obama’s and Chuck Schumer’s long-term vision for America.

Democrat support for much larger government can be seen in Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s opposition to any attempt to reduce the size of government and their rabid opposition to tax cuts, a flat tax, tax simplification, etc. Despite his reputation as a moderate, Bill Clinton tried to increase the size of government, but ran head-on into the Republican Congress in 1994. Consider, for example, the Hillary-led attempt to further socialize medicine and how he had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into signing welfare reform.  

Democratic opposition to civil liberties (social freedom) can be seen in that despite the high profile activities on the Michael-Brown-type cases, neither Clinton and Obama, nor the Democratic Congressmen and women have done much to restrict data collection, warrant-less searches, highly aggressive policing (reputation aside, Obama backs the police in most of use-of-force and forfeiture cases), eminent domain, or restrictions on free speech on campuses and in political contexts. With the important exception of abortion, they almost always support expanding government power.

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Lindsey Graham all have supported or would support some type of amnesty. Why they do so is unclear. Illegal aliens are not especially poor compared to tens of millions of people across the globe would love to live in America. There is little to no indication that they identify with America and even less reason to believe that they would make current American citizens freer or wealthier than they would be were the aliens to leave. They’re not even assimilated to American life as can be seen in their differences with much of America in terms of language, education, and family values.    

Second, Trump also shows some indication of avoiding the fanatical interventionism of other candidates. Candidates who backed, or likely would have backed, most of the following: overthrow of Libya, Egypt, and Syria and boots on the ground to combat ISIS have a Woodrow-Wilson-type view of foreign policy. The view is that foreign policy and the military need not serve American interests, but should instead serve ideals, such as democracy. In the past, this view can be most clearly seen in the United States’ participation in World War I and the Vietnam War, as well as the two U.S. wars against Iraq. Support for the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is a particularly good tests for the Wilsonian view as he was neither a threat to American interests at the time he was overthrown, nor a threat to slaughter civilians.

The candidates’ war against all monsters is arguably inconsistent because the pursuit of the various policies: aggressively confronting Russia, overthrowing Syria’s Bashar Assad, and defeating ISIS conflict with one another.  

This Wilsonian view can also be seen in candidates who want to aggressively confront Russia. Consider, for example, interventionists who want to set up no-fly zones over Iraqi and Syrian airspace when both have given permission to Russian to fly its planes there and who, in the past, supported expanding NATO to include the Baltic States, thereby threatening U.S. involvement were hostilities to erupt.  

The interventionist program can also be seen in candidates who so value the military that they are willing to eliminate the budget sequester, thereby trading increased military spending for allowing Obama to increase domestic spending. It can also be seen in candidates that want to continue NSA dragnet collection of email and cell phone data that violates the Fourth Amendment. 

Establishment candidates such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich generally have the Wilsonian view of foreign policy, support the breaking of the sequester, and the trampling on the Fourth Amendment. They support ever deepening military involvement in the Middle East. For someone who thinks American policy should serve American interests, opposes deepening involvement in the Middle East, and prioritizes liberty over military prowess, Cruz and Paul are the best bets. Trump is unpredictable, but shows some signs of being less interventionist. Voting for establishment guys is setting the country up for more wars similar to George W. Bush’s Iraqi and Afghanistan wars and accompanying nation-building.  


Third, the Republican Congressional leadership (John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell) has repeatedly signed off on funding and thereby authorizing the commanding heights of the Obama economic platform (Obamacare, amnesty, debt increases, spending increases that broke the sequester, and increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy). It is reasonable to think that establishment candidates would do the same in office. They likely would value approval from Republican donors, mainstream media, and the other prissy types who get offended at every Trumpism more than cutting government down to size. Were the establishment candidates chosen, this sends the Republican leadership that they should keep on selling out the Republican base. Trump sends the opposite message.

09 December 2015

Professors run and hide when the race-circus comes to their campus

Stephen Kershnar
Why the Faculty Remain Silent
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 21, 2015

The protests at University of Missouri and Yale University have spread. Campus protesters demand that university positions be handed out in a racial spoils system, blatant nonsense be accepted as fact, and free speech be curtailed. An interesting issue is why the faculty have remained silent.   

At the University of Missouri, black students and their allies demanded quotas (10% of faculty and staff must be black), mandatory diversity training, and fewer black students flunking out or leaving.

At Yale University, a protest over two married professors’ suggestion that decisions about adult students wearing Halloween costumes are best handled by the students themselves rather than the administration quickly led to Yale promising to spend $50 million to hire more black and Hispanic faculty, implement mandatory diversity training for supervising professors and staff, and so on.  

Ivy League competitor Brown University had previously announced a $100 million dollar plan to diversify its campus. It will double the number of black and Hispanic faculty and implicitly lower standards to attract and retain them. Already, 33% of Brown students and 20% of its faculty are not white, but administrators and protesters think that this diversity includes the omnipresent Asians and they add the wrong sort of diversity. The percentages also don’t include the large number of Jewish faculty and students, but again they add the wrong sort of diversity.

Other universities are being hit with similar protests. An elite and traditionally Jewish University (Brandeis University) has been hit with protests demanding quotas (10% of faculty and staff and 15% of students must be black), mandatory diversity training, and increasing funding for black student organizations and programs. Hamilton College protesters demand 13% of the faculty be black and that the next college president and the chairs of certain departments not be white. Similar protests and pressured resignations have occurred at Amherst, Claremont-McKenna, Dartmouth, Duke, Hamilton, Johns Hopkins, and Princeton.

The protests have consistently demanded that a racial spoils system be imposed. This despite the fact that the Supreme Court has clearly and repeatedly held that quotas are unconstitutional. The courts have never held that even race preferences for faculty and staff are constitutional, let alone quotas, and likely would not do so (given its narrow holdings on race preferences). Nevertheless, the protesters demand quotas and preferences and some of the best universities meekly comply and hope no one sues them.

The protesters claim that blacks and Hispanics face unbelievable amount of racial hostility. This is blatant nonsense and the protesters know it. Overt expressions of rare hatred are incredibly rare and with surprisingly frequency turn out to be done by black or Hispanic students trying to get sympathy for their cause. There are no studies that I am aware of showing that such students face regular hostility and anecdotes supporting such claims are few and open to interpretation.  

The protests have also been surprisingly hostile to free speech. At Missouri, protesters at a state university repeatedly shoved a reporter. A Communication professor called for violence to remove a reporter she surely knew was acting within his rights. At Dartmouth, protesters aggressively insulted, pushed, and shoved students in the library. Sit-ins (also known as trespasses) have also occurred at several campuses, including Princeton. At UCLA, protesters demanded that a professor be punished for an article of his that appeared in a top-flight academic journal.   

At almost all of the campuses hit by protests, students have demanded mandatory diversity-education classes. These classes consist of little more than propaganda and are devoid of academic content. They limit free speech by mandating a correct view on race, gender, and sexual orientation much as would a mandatory pledge of allegiance.  

The faculty at these universities know all of this. They do the hiring and promoting and are well aware that they are not discriminating against blacks and Hispanics and in favor of Jews and Asians. In fact, they go out of their way to favor black and Hispanic applicants (and often women) and do so openly. They know full well that quotas are illegal and that free speech is central to what they do and yet hide quietly when the race-circus comes to town.   

Why have the faculty stayed quiet? Some likely agree with the movement and don’t care that the racial spoils system is illegal, the claims of victimization are false, or free speech is being disrespected.

Others likely disagree, but don’t want the howling mob or their colleagues turning on them. No faculty member wants to get pounded in the way the Yale professors did. The fact that administrators can and do quietly punish faculty members who bring controversy to their campuses makes it wise to stay silent.  

Also, faculty seem to be increasingly quiet people, removed from public life. This can be seen the surprising absence of academics (aside from lawyers) in Congress and especially the Congressional leadership. Also, in the recent past, no major presidential candidate has been a legitimate academic.   


On a side note, SUNY-Fredonia is ripe for protest. At Fredonia, black students had, and likely still do have, SATs that are, on average, much worse than those of white students and are far less likely to graduate in four years. As the percentage of the student body that is black or Hispanic has roughly tripled and doubled respectively (2005-2014), the lower graduation rate is increasingly noticeable and relevant to the college. Some minority faculty claimed to have faced a hostile climate and left. There has even been a protest and tense meeting on racial matters involving a previous president (Dennis Hefner) and a controversy involving speech on racial issues (disclosure: It involved me). Some of this led to the hiring of a full-time diversity officer. It is an interesting question how Fredonia faculty would respond to protests or demands like those faced by its elite counterparts.