Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sadomasochism Sex with Student=Professor Fit to Teach?

Sticksandstones_003 OK, I have seen some pretty crazy stories in my day while blogging in these parts, but this just might take the cake.  What makes it even more interesting is that the story is related to us by the Dank Professor, who describes himself as someone who "openly engaged in propinquitous dating, dating students and having many wonderful friendships with many of my students and their families."

In any event, on to the sadomasochism:

The Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday that University of New Mexico professor of English Lisa Chavez was found fit to teach by the UNM Deputy Provost Richard Holder. Provost Holder reported to the English department faculty that he determined that the faculty member had posed on a sadomasochism website with at least one of her graduate students, and that Professor Chvez should not have to face a faculty ethics inquiry.

In a March 10 letter to English department faculty, Deputy Provost Richard Holder said he thinks associate professor Lisa Chavez used poor judgment in participating in the Web site’s activities with one of her students.

But, Holder goes on to say, “In my mind this participation did not rise to the level of calling into question her ‘unfitness for duty.’ ”

Okay. What then does qualify? The Provost says that it appears the conduct was consensual between adults away from campus, but what type of power does a professor have over graduate students in this type of situation? In the consensual university student relationship context, I have argued in a law review article previously that if a professor has supervisory authority over the student, we should look askance over whether the university should normally permit such a relationship.

And I wasn't talking about sadomasochistic relationships.

For his part, the Dank Professor concludes:

Findings of no undue influence, no hostile environment, no use of university facilities means in the dankprofessor’s opinion, that there is no case against the professor. Bravo to the University of New Mexico administration for doing the right thing.

But given the upset reaction of members of the English Department ("Scharnhorst said none of his colleagues are angry that [the professor in question]] posed on the Web site. “What everyone finds troublesome is the fact that she was involved with graduate students,” he said.), I think an appeal of the Provost decision is a safe best and given the lurid subject matter, this is not the last we have heard of this case for sure.


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One would think that this would be unthinkable in this day and age. However, Workplace Prof Blog about a University of New Mexico College Professor who openly engages in consensual sex with graduate students as well as sadomasochism. Even more [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 19, 2008 9:08:21 PM


If anything grad students are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation by professors than undergrads or employees (w/ respect to employers). Employees can at least find other jobs. Undergrads can drop a class at the end of a semester.

But grad students are often stuck under the same professor's thumb until they get their Ph.D. Switching professors could involve abandoning years of research. I can't think of a legal relationship in the US that is more prone to abuse.

Posted by: anon | Mar 19, 2008 3:17:05 PM

English professors should not be shunned for acting in subversive ways (so long as the acts are not criminal) b/c what enables English profs to make their scholarly mark is precisely their subversive way of thinking in their research and writing. That is probably what got them hired in the first place. Law professors are in a very different context than Eng lit professors. Before law school, I did my masters in English lit, and I saw relationships happen between profs and grad students all the time. They were CONSENTING ADULTS. On their own time, it's no one's business what they do, again provided it's legal.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 20, 2008 7:47:09 AM

If it isn't illegal or nonconsensual, and her work judgement is about novels, grammer, and other such "english" stuff ... not about judgment in posting non-work related stuff to the Net ... I don't see that it's the schools business.

Surely by university level, we needn't force social morality down everyone's throat. Unless we're willing to start an Inquisition of any state employee.

So would it have been ok if her sexual proclivities were discovered, but not through a website? So this is really just a form of "don't ask, don't tell"?

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Mar 20, 2008 9:46:34 AM

The article certainly doesn't make a good case for exploitation, if that was, in fact, the case - the professor was introduced to the impropriety by the students, not the reverse. Whether she exercised the best judgment is an entirely different question, but in my opinion, at least from the particular facts available, it actually doesn't sound as if she was abusing the relationship. Though many can (and may well) be, it seems rather a bit too far to say that all prof/student relationships, even grad school ones, are necessarily exploitative.

Posted by: anonymous | Mar 20, 2008 1:56:11 PM

To clarify: The university does have policies about such professor student interaction and clear statements on professional ethics. These are not being enforced. Policies and statements on ethics have been violated. The administration refused to forward the matter to a faculty ethics committee. The matter has many disturbing layers that might still be emerging in the media -- the way other students in classes have been affected and have written letters of complaint, the way fellow faculty rights have been violated. The professor's actions, posting photos of herself enacting sexual violence on a student enrolled in her class for the purpose of several commercial sites selling "conversation" and other services...., affect other students, faculty, and perceptions of the entire university community. It is a very serious issue.

Posted by: anonymous | Mar 20, 2008 1:59:57 PM

Had the professor been male and the student female, he would be looking for a job. This is the standard sexism that finds its way into the "forward thinking academia." If these academia-philosopher-kings stopped for a second from sniffing their on rears, they would realize that they are the embodiment of everything that they claim is wrong in the world.

Posted by: sexist feminism at its worst | Mar 24, 2008 4:16:02 PM

A quick clarification regarding "anonymous" from March 20 at 4:59:57. While I haven't seen the photos, I can't believe it's accurate to say that the professor posted photos of herself "enacting sexual violence" on a student. There is an important distinction between consensual BDSM activity and sexual violence. There is an equally important distinction to be made between posed photos and photos of a performance, and photos of activity within an intimate relationship. It is entirely possible that the posted photos or photos of a performance and not evidence of any intimate relationship between the performers.

Posted by: Elizabeth Wood | Mar 28, 2008 12:07:38 PM

Please keep in mind that the student/teacher relationships are as adults.

Also, keep in mind that if you punish Doctor Chavez for her legal after work activities; and inforce professional punishment related to those activities,


Your employer would equally be right in forcing you to buy a particular brand of automobile, and upon failure to abide by their policy you would be fired.

Being able to explore diverse interests is the basis of Freedom!

Ethics is not based upon right and wrong;
right and wrong are opinions, not factual relationships.

Ethics is a broad consideration and the related consequences. Right and wrong play only a minor part in ethical evaluation.

Posted by: James Dunn | May 6, 2008 10:16:40 PM

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