Sunday, August 15, 2010

Beaker Ben bares all (See update in comments)

I'm not all smackdowns and top 10 lists. I've got a tender side as well. Today, I'm here to confess some love.

Bloggers and commenters involved in our discussion of the romantic lives of faculty have brought up the problems associated with dating colleagues in the academy. This reminds me of the adage, more true now than ever.

It's easier to date students.

That's what I did. Let me be clear: prior to being married, I was very "pro dating students." I dated several and made overtures to many. Only undergrads - I considered grad students to be too old for me. (No offense, we all have our peculiarities about dating partners.) Sometimes it was for love, other times only a short-lived passion, once because me and the student had nothing better to do after my summer class. My most memorably romance was sustained by her need to pass a chemistry class. I did all that I could to help. I don't have any regrets except for those students who turned me down.

If I had to guess, many of you are disgusted with me. Although I shouldn't need to defend myself against your puritanical viewpoint, I will say that at the time, everybody just accepted it. Dating students was part of the culture of the institution. The administration knew it happened. Female students weren't clueless, that's for sure. It was not just a lot of sex on the desk, though, well, it wasn't just sex on the desk. We cared for each other and in some cases, loved each other like human beings are known to do.

Look, it's hard to find a compatible partner in the best of circumstances. Are any of you going to cast the first stone at me?


  1. Sure, I will.

    You're the reason why accusations of sexual harassment are always treated seriously.

    You're the reason I have to leave my office door open when I'm talking to a student.

    You're the reason why even staying in the same hotel with a student of the opposite gender is dangerous.

    In any case, relationships with people over whom you hold power are a bad idea. Relationships with people much younger than you are a bad idea. Wanting relationships exclusively with people that are younger and under your power... well, I'll let people draw their own conclusions.

    Maybe you got lucky and all of those relationships were ones that would have happened anyway if you'd met in a supermarket. But I doubt it.

    "It's hard to find a compatible partner" is not justification for anything.

  2. in the 1960s...I never knew Beaker Ben was so damn old.

  3. Is it satire? I hope so, but I see no indication in the text to support that, other than the use of an "old timey" graphic, as my students would say. I have no notion of how old Beaker Ben is. It would be generous to assume he's been happily married for 35+ years and wouldn't dream of engaging in the practice today. I doubt it, though.

    Regardless, he's advocating a practice which is just this side of coercion. Propositioning students over whom you have the power to grant grades? There's a very good reason that's banned outright by many campuses.

    I have no problem with relationships with large age disparancies. I have no problem with relationships in which all consenting partners (why limit to two?) have different levels of intellectual, monetary, or social achievement. I see major problems, however, when one partner has direct power over the other. No good can come of that, and it has a hell of a lot of potential to be very very bad. Besides the emotional toll on the student in question,activities like this are why female students, of any age, have to prove over and over again that they didn't get that grade, that award, or that promotion by sleeping around for extra credit. Gah.

  4. I have no hope at all if Procris and DrNathaniel are the people who read this page.

  5. Having read for the other blog for 3 years, I can tell you that a good deal of the readers over there never "got" what we were doing. They'd read some of the most outlandish satire and hyperbole and go off on rants that would kill your faith in humanity. Beaker Ben wrote a number of terrific and funny pieces at the old site as well, and he's my favorite part of CM.

  6. I'd like to be diplomatic, because, who knows, Procris and Dr. Nathaniel might be in my department. BUT, I find it hard to believe that anybody that dumb would read this blog.

    Satire. Hyperbole. Or just call it a joke. This is NOT an academic conference. This is not a professional forum of educators wringing their hands about coercion and power.

    Do we have to have a disclaimer on every post?

    This page is really taking off - thanks Ben and others - let us drive off the dolts right now.

  7. The easy method is to just never actually believe anything Beaker Ben says. I mean, if we did believe ALL the stuff he wrote, especially over at RYS, we'd probably have been able to piece together his real identity after the national news media reports on his ongoing criminal trial mentioned his "frequent blog posts."

  8. Satire is great, but let's be real- these types of outlandish characters do exist. I knew a professor who propostioned students of both sexes in his classes. I don't mention his bi-sexuality to indict him, but just to underscore that he wanted to spread his love like Jiffy, all over the campus. He dated a girl in our class and they snuggled on breaks and walked hand in hand on campus. You could never ask him a question on the breaks because he was too busy enjoying the love connection. During the final, I heard him offer to edit her exam before she turned it in for grading. However, the rest of us with exam questions were told that the world's smallest violin was playing for us. He also did karate in the hallway. He was a character in ways I can't even paint for you in a short commentary. I never complained because his puppy seemed happy enough. I digress, the point was that characters abound as much as satire. I still don't know if you could call it the sin of all sins. It's just unseemly.

  9. I think the problem is that some of us know satire when we see it and some of us can write satire (and some think they can) and some of us wouldn't recognize it if the word SATIRE was bold-faced, italicized, and underlined as part of the title (the extreme literalists).

    I think just about any response to any story is appropriate, whether one believes it as fact or not. Sometimes scolding is necessary (and fun!) and sometimes reacting literally actually highlights just how absurd the original story is anyway (or how absurd the commenter is...but that's another issue).

    I remember, as a little English major, reading Jonathan Swift's "A Model Proposal" and laughing so loud in the student union that people started staring at me. In class, many students hadn't gotten Swift's absurd joke. In the end, I still think it was necessary and appropriate for someone to state, outright, that eating the babies of poor people is the wrong solution to alleviate famine. Maybe that's just me.

    (Sorry for the spoiler!)

  10. Gack! It's "A Modest Proposal"! I proofed that post 3 times and read over the mistake every time!

  11. The sad part is that this didn't READ as outlandish satire or hyperbole. It read as something I've experienced, directly. I'm sorry if that makes me a 'dork' or 'lame.' I don't know Beaker Ben. I hope that knowledge of him as a human being would reveal how satirical this piece is.

    So no, you do not need a disclaimer on every post. The reaction here, however, does make it seem odd that everyone took "Katie" so damned seriously.

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  13. Beaker Ben, you were one of my favorites at RYS and you're one of my favorites here. You have a very sexy brain. In fact, if Mrs. Beaker Ben ever leaves you, I'd like to buy you dinner...

    (And I sincerely hope you feel sexually harassed, because that's what I intended. I also hope you can hear the sarcasm in this parenthetical part of my response. Insert smiley emoticon here.)

    Please. Ben's been married for over 35 years. Some of the posters here remind me of why I don't date academics. What a stodgy lot!

    (And, yes, Eating Low Salt, we may be doomed. I mean, I know I am, as I'm solidly middle-aged and single. You may be younger and with a better local dating pool. There may be hope for you yet--but not on your campus, for sure.)

    These days, anyone who entertains the idea of dating students is asking for serious trouble, and we all know it. LD3C just passed a policy prohibiting faculty from dating students, because--apparently--it was a good idea before. (Again, insert appropriate emoticon here.)

    In my many years of teaching, I've never once wanted to date a student. It's just too high an ick-factor for me.

    After all, I've seen their writing. They're no Beaker Bens.

  14. Well, um, I didn't read it as satire because it's basically true (doesn't satire generally use hyperbole? This just seemed matter-of-fact). My dad married a student after he left my mom. As recently as the good old 1980s, professors dated students even at my uber-PC college. In grad school in the 1990s I accidentally dated an undergrad for a month and then let her into the class I taught two years later, but only Pass/Fail. Even where I work now, the only absolute is you can't scrog someone you're grading or supervising, which seems fair to me.

    I don't think every relationship with a chronologically challenged person is de facto exploitative. But I don't date students myself -- they're too larval. Plus, if you're gay and date students, expect that they *will* throw the book at you. Corruption of youth, of course. Picture of Dorian Gray and all.

  15. I think the prof in these situations does much better to just let the student lust after him in vain, like Socrates and Alcibiades, thus preserving his massive erotic charge (and reputation for erect probity, ahem) in the eyes of all his students.

    A prof who's attractive, powerful, and unseduceable is a god in the eyes of his dazzled students; one who's dating a younger student is just an old, pathetic weiner. (Though I'm sure your students were courteous enough not to let you know that, BB!)

  16. Everything in that post was 100% true. The girls, the desk, the school's approval and my lack of remorse - all accurate. Oh, Snap! I did leave out two small details:

    1. Lab benches are not as sturdy as you'd think.

    2. I only dated the students while I was an undergrad. My bad, yo.

    Once this post get's caught by Google, CM should get a load of eyeballs directed to it. I await Fab Sun's next installment of pageview data. You're welcome!

  17. Beaker Ben rules! Too bad he had to ruin it the same day he wrote it. I would have let the comments roll in for at least two days before dropping the truth bomb. But still, I want to be Beaker Ben when I get older!

    Mathsquatch out.

  18. If it's satire, I think it's the piece that fails, not the readers. What part of that is supposed to be funny? Who is it satirizing? I know of professors, successful ones, who would loudly proclaim views no different from the ones in the piece above.

    Perhaps a variant of Poe applies: you cannot write anything from academia that someone, somewhere doesn't actually believe.


  19. Or perhaps this: any joke you tell about the Academy, no matter how outrageous, will come true.

    And I agree with DrNathaniel; I know of a prominent (now retired) researcher in my field whose female graduate students did double duty as a harem. This post, while there were signs of hyperbole, cut a bit too close for comfort.

  20. Right - a chemist who writes texts that make people get their knickers in a knot? Who would believe that!

  21. So Beaker Ben says he needs some rocks? Is that what he's asking for? I've taken a hard look at most of the chemists in my school and it's hard to imagine them getting up to much of anything other than "chemistry charades."

    I don't blame DrNathaniel's for his visceral reaction, though, having had to sit through my two-hour, online harassment training for the fourth year yesterday, while no less than three of my senior male faculty use their position to indulge their scumbag tendencies--and my uni does nothing about it besides force innocents like me to sit through preachy, "user-friendly" Fboo-like training. I'm bitter.


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