Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Look but don't touch

Today's story of Terence Kealey, Vice-Chancellor of the Univertsity of Buckingham, raises some interesting questions. While the comments were not particularly funny, they were most likely meant to be. The overall message is that a relationship between tutors and their pupils is inappropriate. That this message was wrapped up in an assuaging of tutors' egos might be distasteful to some, but it may have a greater effect than simply declaring it 'wrong' or 'forbidden', words which only serve to make such relationships more attractive.

I can sympathise greatly with the standard response given by Liv Bailey. Those who exploit their position of power for sexual gratifiction are very twisted people. As recent events have shown, women are not above this. However, the perpetrators are overwhelmingly men. It is important to make a distinction though. If we are saying that a male lecturer who sees an attractive young woman (or young man just as likely, if he's an Oxbridge don) sitting in the front row smiling at him is a sexual predator, then no-one will give lectures. Enjoying beauty is not wrong. Giving extra attention to someone because you find them attractive is what we all do, that's why we spend more time with our partners than anyone else.

Working with an endless stream of inteligent, young people is what keep many academics in their career. To deny that the physical attributes of their students have anything to do with it is to deny reality and basic human drives. Terence Kealey phrased his comments in an insensitive and incompetent way, and should apologise, but to deny that this is the state of affairs is to go to an impossible, and in my view undesirable extreme. If trust is abused punish, if grades are unfairly obtained punished, and if anyone is harmed punish. But I know my eye is drawn to the pretty young thing across the room now, and I certainly hope it always will be.

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