Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Crimson Letter

Are there dramatic possibilities in the new ban on sexual relations between teachers and undergraduate students at Harvard (“New Harvard Policy Bans Teacher-Student Relations,” NYT, 2/5/15). According to the Times article, “The ban clarifies an earlier policy that labeled sexual and romantic relationships between professors and students they teach as inappropriate.” Anyone who went to college or grad school in the 60’s or 70’s when  professors hitting on students, was almost a requirement for tenure may applaud the decision. In those heady days, few professors or students, thought about the notion of transference, which is the same principle that analysts recognize when they resist the seduction of a love struck patient. It’s the Oedipus thing. Profs become big wigs to students and it can enable them to take unfair advantage. It’s also an abrogation of trust that can ultimately do considerable harm. But let’s get down to brass tax, how is Harvard going to police this? Will professors and students become injected with some sort of dye that allows for urine testing? Will those who are caught be forced to wear a Crimson letter And what happens in cases where real love does develop between a professor and his student, the kind of love that is not based entirely pathological (here’s where a new HBO series, The Crimson Letter, is brewing). At Harvard there are hundreds of geniuses walking around campus who are better qualified to teach the courses they take then their own professors. So it might even be countertransference that’s at work, with students who are in danger of taking advantage of their doe-eyed mentors? And then what happens to those Harvard professors who struck up romantic relations with students before the ban went into effect? Are those relationships also prohibited or will they be grandfathered in under the old policy which simply considered them “inappropriate?”

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