UPDATE: The NUS are asking that we write to the Chair of Buckingham’s Governing Council demanding Kealey’s full and comprehensive apology – Mark your email ‘FAO Chair of Governing Council’ and send to qualityassurance[at]buckingham.ac.uk. You can also send your views and stories of sexism in education to the NUS Women’s Officer at olivia.bailey[at]nus.org.uk, to be published anonymously in the next few days.
This is a moral piece that says that middle aged male academics and young female undergraduates should not sleep together. Rather, people should exercise self-restraint. Because transgressional sex is inappropriate, the piece uses inappropriate and transgressional language to underscore the point – a conventional literary device. At a couple of places, the piece confounds expectations, another conventional literary device, designed to maintain the reader’s interest. Sex between academics and students is not funny, and should not be a source of humour. But employing humour to highlight the ways by which people try to resolve the dissonance between what is publicly expected of them and how they actually feel – not just in this context – reaches back to origins of humour itself. In his introduction, Matthew wondered how many of his contributors would enter into the spirit of levity that inspired the idea of the seven deadly academic sins (submitting a piece on prevarication late, etc) and I suspected that one could get to heart of all that is wrong with sex between scholars and students by employing the good ol’ boy language of middle aged male collusion. I’m not sure I’m wrong.
I’m not buying a word of it. For starters, Kealey made no reference to the age of the lecturers and undergrads in his original piece, nor did he suggest that ‘people’ should exercise self restraint: his words were entirely directed at male lecturers with female students as the object of his so-called ‘humour’. And he may argue for restraint when it comes to not touching, but he actively encourages male lecturers to have a real good perve, without a second thought as to how this attitude could affect the female students he is supposed to care about.
But mostly, he’s displaying his male privilege, his complete lack of understanding of what it is to live as a woman, and certainly a lack of empathy. The vast majority of women will recognise that the language he used was far from transgressional: it’s just the same old objectifying, victim-blaming tripe we hear all the time, on the street, in the media, in our workplaces and out on the town. He’s dressed it up in the vocabulary of academia, but his essential message is one we’ve heard time and again: sexism is over, so we can all have a good laugh at it now. It’s not, and I sure as hell am not laughing.
As for the Editor’s response, well, it ticks all the sexism apologist boxes:
I am a woman (as helpfully pointed out by a poster on the original article), a feminist and I have a sense of humour. Most importantly, however, I believe in academic freedom and the right to free speech. Terence Kealey was asked to write on the theme of “the seven deadly sins of academe”. He was explicitly asked for a “lighthearted” or “wry” piece, and we suggested the topic of “lust”, which was a “sin” identified by a straw poll of academics; it was not Dr Kealey’s own suggested topic. Dr Kealey’s article was satire. I fully support his right to express himself in this way. If people are offended, that is their right and they also have the right to express that.
If we cannot have freedom of speech and robust debate in the academy where can we have it?
Yes, the issue here is clearly one of free speech, I mean, if the THE hadn’t printed Kealey’s article the poor wickle University vice-chancellor with his 45 original peer-reviewed papers, 35 scientific reviews and two books would have never had a chance to express himself. Screw the thousands of female Buckingham students who now have no leg to stand on should their male lecturer spend more time staring at those breasts they brazenly display on their chests than supporting their learning, Dr Kealey must have his say!
Consider me thoroughly unimpressed.