Sexual comments create backlash at university

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September 25, 2009

12:14 AM

A chancellor’s recent comments about female scholars caused administrators at a British university to scrutinize the relationships between faculty members and students.

In an interview with the Times Higher Education Magazine, Dr. Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, compared university classrooms to strip clubs and suggested that observing attractive students could reinvigorate marital sex.

“Most male lecturers know that … there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays,” Kealey said to the Times Higher Education Magazine. “What to do? Enjoy her! She’s a perk.”

Kealey adds that new regulations set by British universities have limited the types of relationships between students and faculty.

“Thanks to the accountability imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency [the university watchdog] and other intrusive bodies, the days are gone when a [student] could trade sex for upgrades,” Kealey said to the magazine.

According to Kealey, the article was a humorous attempt to caution faculty members from pursuing university students, encouraging them instead to “look but not touch.”

“[The article] says that sex between middle-aged academics and young undergraduates is wrong,” he said to BBC News. “The crudeness of some of the examples was to underpin the inappropriateness of transgressional sex and that is a conventional literary device.”

Not all students are convinced that Kealey’s comic cautionary tale succeeded in its intent.

“I am appalled that a university vice-chancellor should display such an astounding lack of respect for women,” Olivia Bailey, women’s officer for the National Union of Students, said to BBC News. “Regardless of whether this was an attempt at humor, it is completely unacceptable for someone in Terence Kealey’s position to compare a lecture theatre to a lap-dancing club.”

While many students and administrators have reacted negatively to the article, Kealey said that it has created a dialogue on an uncomfortable subject.

“Sex between staff and students is not funny and is not a legitimate source of humor, but it is legitimate to use humor to illuminate the ways that people finesse the dissonance between what is publicly acceptable and what is sometimes privately desired,” Kealey said.

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