I am absolutely stunned by what I’ve just read. In a Times Higher Education magazine piece entitled The seven deadly sins of the academy, the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, Terence Kealey, takes on the supposed tradition of female students getting into bed with male academics. Betraying his sexist bias from the outset, Kealey addresses himself to a presumed all-male audience of academics and, using literary references to prove that female students can’t resist the allure of the male lecturer (because if some exalted novelist wrote about it it must be true), suggests that these academics deal with the adoring female undergraduate as follows:
Enjoy her! She’s a perk. She doesn’t yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife.
Yup, I’m afraid so. As in Stringfellows, you should look but not touch. Be warned by the fates of too many of the protagonists in Middlemarch, The History Man and I Am Charlotte Simmons. And in any case, you should have learnt by now that all cats are grey in the dark.
So, sow your oats while you are young but enjoy the views – and only the views – when you are older.
I hate to be juvenile but, really, *$&! you. Female students do not attend lessons so pervy lecturers can take mental images of our curves and project them onto their no doubt long-suffering wives to improve their sex lives. And we have enough leering and harassment to deal with on the streets and in the Union bar without having to face it when we’re trying to take notes on Emma Bovary’s suicidal bid for freedom from patriarchal sexual repression (yeah, us whining feminists can quote literature too).
As if that gem-laden paragraph weren’t enough, Kealey asserts that the male lecturer abusing his power by engaging in sex with a student is nothing more than a ‘myth’ because – wait for it – ‘the fault lies with the females’. Apparently the lecturer, who holds the keys to the student’s success, has no power because those dastardly, ‘intrusive’ agencies which ensure students’ work is graded fairly mean students can no longer ‘trade sex for upgrades’. Kealey neatly ignores the flip side of this trade, wherein male academics could theoretically force female students to have sex with them in exchange for grades, but I guess when the power in this relationship really lies in the undergrad’s wantonly flaunted curves, the academic couldn’t possibly be held responsible for his behaviour.
Of course, Kealey doesn’t go so far as to defend male academics who do have sex with students, but in encouraging them to view female undergrads as sex objects and squarely placing the ‘blame’ for any transgressions of the pupil-teacher relationship with the female, he is reinforcing the same sexist attitudes and victim-blaming myths we hear whenever a woman is sexually harassed or assaulted by a man.
This is a massive betrayal of female students at his university and across the UK, and if I were on campus in Buckingham I’d be kicking up an almighty fuss.
According to the Telegraph, Kealey’s supporters have described his statements as – you guessed it – a joke, and a spokesman for the University and College Union claims that the piece appears to be satirising harassment, but added that “Harassment is not something to be taking lightly and I would be surprised, and deeply concerned, if any university, or vice-chancellor, tried to laugh it off.” A GCSE English student could tell you that’s not satire, so I’d damn well hope a literature-quoting University VC would come up with something a little more convincing if that were his intention.