I was disturbed to read in a recent morning paper about a University of Illinois professor who may lose his tenure for making jokes in class about sex.
And what disturbed me was not that he may lose his tenure.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Dave, you make jokes about sex all the time.” You’d be right. Sex is hilarious. But unless you’re teaching a course called Sexual Comedy in American Literature, you might want to avoid working the room blue—and this guy taught engineering.
I taught college writing classes for a few years. (Trust me—you do not want to do this. Students today think that because they can text, they can write. Telling them they have to spell words correctly and use punctuation only pisses them off.) Every semester the university made every teacher take a course on how to avoid sexually harassing people. I aced the final every time. I don’t know how anyone could not. The syllabus boiled down to a list I call “The Five Ds.”
1) Don’t fuck your students.
2) Don’t say you want to fuck your students.
3) Don’t say or do anything that would make any of your students think you might even be thinking about fucking them.
4) Don’t look down anyone’s shirt.
5) Don’t grab anyone’s crotch, ass, boobs or any other body part.
Most of these are easy to follow. For example, fucking takes considerable effort. You’ve got to find a place to do it, set aside time, take off at least some clothes, yada, yada, yada. So that takes care of number 1. Numbers 2 and 5 shouldn’t stretch anyone intellectually.
Number 4 is more problematic. For instance, your typical female student is, at least once per semester, going to show up dressed like Jabba the Hutt’s sex slave. Which means there won’t be a lot of cloth to stop you from gazing into a pair of magical orbs. But if you think it would be fun to have a coed who looks like Princess Leia chained to your side, just remember that that would make you Jabba the Hutt.
As for number 3, every now and then you might experience a slip of the tongue and utter a double entendre, or use a perfectly normal phrase that means something different in the parlance of a generation whose language you don’t speak. Not much you can do about that but move on.
The professor in the newspaper, however, apparently thought he was being clever when he told his students they had to keep “irrelevant” comments to ten words or less, noting that acceptable chatter included “I love you” and “Woz (his nickname) is hot.” He also sent an end-of-semester email to inform students he would henceforth refer to them as “adorable GKs”—short for grandkids—but “I might only remember the names of GKs I’ve had sex with.”
As a writing exercise, that email earns an F—and not because it ends with a preposition. Sex with students…heinous enough. But with grandkids? Is there a grade worse than F? I, maybe—not for “incomplete,” but for “ick.”
The school says he did dozens of other, non-sexual, things to warrant dismissal, but he told the Chicago Tribune, “Why should I kow-tow to some stupid edict just because a university committee says it?”
How about this: Because, just maybe, you’d feel at least a little uncomfortable if the tables were turned. Or this one: Because you wouldn’t want their professors treating your kids this way. Or this one: Because if a 19-year-old comes into your class looking like sex-slave Princess Leia, it’s because she’s 19. If you’re 48 or 54 or 70, you should fucking know better. Have a little dignity. Be a grownup, for Chrissakes.
You don’t need an advanced degree just to do the right thing.