Looking Forward to September!




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reading The Butterfly Sister and the History of Predatory Professorial Relations with Students

Madness in women's literature and among women authors, and the disappearance of a beautiful young woman that mystifies her classmate "from down the hall" at a women's college on Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. The curious classmate has a past that haunts her as much as her passion to find out what really happened to her dorm mate. Several ghosts, descriptions of an other-worldly trip to glorious New Orleans in the days pre-Katrina, and predatory college professors make for a combustible mix that so far has had me turning the pages like lightning. But, but, I say! I've got papers to grade! Oh, dear.

Readers, before you rush off, I will admit I'm only halfway through, but this debut novel by Amy Gail Hansen so far has had me by the tail.



And now for a bit of U.S. cultural history:
Read on only if you want to be amused or informed by this topic. And please add to the discussion!
Let's talk about predatory professors and how they've been regarded over the years: Since the early 1990s, intimate professorial-student relationships have been absolutely verboten, and if they occur, they have had to be hidden by all parties concerned, or the professor will find himself without a job.

Yet when I was attending a highly esteemed co-ed college in Vermont during my freshman year in the early 1970s (I transferred out after that year, by the way), my English professor slept in the dorm with my roommate, who was--yes, she was--blonde, voluptuous, beautiful. And where was I? On weekends I usually slept in a friend's room because of the variety of male company that filled my so-called dorm room. One of her boyfriends allowed his flea-ridden dog to sleep on my bed. Dozens of flea bites later, I was near the end of my rope. The final straw came when my English prof slept in the dorm with another blond, beautiful young woman--this one was my classmate from high school. Geez. And yes, they were both pitifully poor students. How did they ever get into this college that accepted only one in fourteen female applicants?

Of all the profs who dallied with women students at this most prestigious college in Vermont, he was definitely the most blatant, and I've been told that administrators looked the other way because his wife had died a tragic death during the previous year. The funny thing is, my cousin Wendy attended this college 15 years after I, in the late 1980s. Because she was an English major, I naturally warned her about him. She told me he was still visiting women in the dorms.

In the early 1990s, an immense scandal occurred that became a cover story for Boston magazine, a publication which was a much bigger deal in the '90s than it is today. Another English prof at this very same respected Vermont college had had numerous relationships with many male students, many of them to their detriment. This event, in particular, and its repercussions, blew the lid off of predatory professorial relationships with students. It really did. This enormous scandal forced all colleges in the region to reexamine the nature of professorial-student relationships and to set new standards and restrictions. My reaction? I was elated, of course.



6 comments:

  1. Gosh. This actually isn't so shocking, as it goes on all over the country, but by the early 1990s, it should have been curtailed a lot more.
    I also went to a Vermont college, but not so prestiguous, and in the mid-1960s. This probably did go on, but I didn't have to deal with it with roommates or dorm-mates. However, since our school allowed guys in the women's dorms, I'd wake up to find a heart-broken guy in my room waiting for my roommate to show up, so he could unburden his heart.
    There was a lot of heart-break, probably as big a problem as substance abuse in those days.

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    1. Hi, Kathy--
      Thank you for your experiences! Yes, guys in the dorms were another ever-present issue. I remember on Saturday nights that guys would run their motorcycles down the first-floor hallway!
      Hmmm...Those were the days. I guess. Not.
      Judith

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  2. I'm gobsmacked that it was all so blatant. There is no such thing as dorms and room mates in UK universities, so any relationships would have been less obvious, definitely strictly verboten now.

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    1. Katrina,
      No dormitories? No roommates? None at Cambridge or Oxford? Oh, yes. I guess I've heard about students renting "rooms." Is this the idea, perhaps rooms in rooming houses? It's so strange that I have never known this.
      Thanks for enlightening me!
      Judith

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  3. There is usually college accomodation for some students esp. in first year, but not shared. It tends to be cheaper to rent a room in a flat.

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    1. Hi, Katrina,
      Ah! I think that single-dorm room accommodation in the first year is important, but it's so much the opposite here. Today students are expected to share a single room with two or more students. I think it's very stressful for first-year students and unnecessary.

      Best,
      Judith

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