Sex with students? Is Terence Kealey as misunderstood as Juvenal?
A few weeks ago I had an email from a friend who works on Times Higher Education (THE) asking if I would contribute 500 words to their forthcoming feature on "The Seven Deadly Sins of the Academy".
I was tempted, but as my favourite sins (notably sartorial inelegance and procrastination) had already been taken, I gave it a miss. And when the article actually appeared last week, I hardly had time to look at it (except to notice a cheap pot shot at the complacency of nineteenth-century Classics by the multi-talented Simon Blackburn -- who should, in this case, have known better).
I hadn't realised that there was a storm about Terence Kealey's piece on Lust, till I was in Holland (doing some lectures and book promotion, I confess) and got an email from a man on the Evening Standard, asking me if I would like to comment on it -- largely because I had past 'form' on the issue of sex between students and university teachers. So I took a look at it.
"Clark Kerr" it began, "the president of the University of California from 1958-1967, used to describe his job as providing sex for the students, car parking for the Faculty and football for the alumni. But what happens when the natural order is disrupted by faculty members who, on parking their cars, head for the students' bedroom. . . . . Why do universities pullulate with transgressive intercourse? . . . The fault lies with the females." You can read the rest here.
It was instantly clear to me that this was SATIRE. So I replied in these terms:
"I have looked at the Kealey piece . . . and thought it wicked satire, but certainly SATIRE (which is of course always meant to be offensive, thought provoking, and often intended to rebound on the very views it satirises . . . that's the point . . .try Juvenal, if you want an ancient precedent."
I then looked round the web to find all kinds of huffing and puffing about the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham who regards sex with students as a "perk" of the academic profession. The Mail even managed to drag in my old article which referred to "the erotics of pedagogy".
Taking several more,careful looks at the Kealey piece, I was left in no doubt that he was aiming his darts at the ways crude sexual exploitation of female students gets justified, by satircally mimicking the locker room style in which it is discussed. Come on everyone, NO VICE-CHANCELLOR (not even of Buckingham) calls women students a "perk" unless satirically (and aiming a dart at precisely those assumptions). Honest.
It was however a dreadful experience looking not only at the press reports of all this but also the comments of the THE website (some of which were presumably written by academics, who showed no ability to read or understand satire AT ALL . . . maybe they were all computer scientist, but I rather doubt it). To be fair, a few did make the plea for humour and satire. But not many.
"It is appalling that THE permitted the deeply offensive comments about female undergraduates . . . to appear in its pages" said "gobsmacked".
"Anyone who thinks that thinks that female students are there in the classroom expressly as objects of the instructors viewing pleasure needs to retire (please)." opined 'sg".
"What is most shocking is the disrespect to his wife" added "Colemar".
"Smelling of old person like a pee-soaked slipper" quipped (?) "Dave".
For more, scroll to the bottom of this link.
God help the students these people (and the all the others like them) teach. I would much rather have instruction from Kealey myself.
The issue here is, of course (though hardly anyone observed this) is the perennial problem of fixing the ideology" of satire. When Roman Juvenal huffs and puffs about the immorality of his own late first/early second century Rome, is he conservative misogynist that he superficially seems to be, or is he holding up those views for ridicule. In Juvenal's case almost certainly the latter.
Likewise with Alf Garnett. Was he pillorying racism, or making it easier to condone?
The trouble with satire, as poor Kealey has found, is that the literal minded are always liable not to get it. And the satirist is inadvertently taken to support the very views s/he is attacking.
(The very cynical therefore may always suspect double bluff -- but I dont. here.)