Eros is notorious for its power to thwart our better judgment and to baffle the rational mind. It can draw us to destinations we would do better to avoid and can prompt forms of resistance that are themselves out of balance and a little crazy. Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure portrays a city under the interim rule of a Puritanical judge, Angelo, who would stamp out unlawful expressions of desire by draconian enforcement of the laws. Not only are his efforts futile, they turn out to be hypocritical, since Angelo himself turns seducer.
We are faced with a Measure for Measure moment in higher education today. On one hand, higher education is Angelo-like attempting to stamp out what it judges to be the wrong kinds of sexual expression. On the other hand, colleges and universities are dallying as never before with all sorts of “transgressive” sexual ideas. The main focus of all this is male students, who are expected to submit to a regime in which the boundary between “sexual harassment” (subject to often extreme penalties) and ordinary masculinity is vaporous; while at the same time inhabiting a campus in which faculty members extol the pleasures of promiscuity, pornography, and license.
Eros confuses, but for real bafflement, consider the mixed messages on campus.
On April 4, Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, issued a letter announcing that colleges and universities must employ a new and much lower standard of evidence in reviewing complaints about sexual harassment. The new standard, “preponderance of the evidence,” means that the complainant wins when the university judges that 50.01 percent of the evidence supports the allegation.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE, almost immediately raised an alarm about this, and has been joined by a number of other organizations, including the National Association of Scholars and most recently the AAUP. The AAUP has sent two letters to OCR opposing the new rule, its second letter to Ms. Ali posted last week. I noted the convergence of dissenting opinions here.
Last fall, Hamilton College in upstate New York caught a moment of unwelcome attention for its inclusion in its freshman orientation program of a mandatory lecture for male students, “She Fears You.” The idea was that the young men arrived on campus with beliefs that made them prone to rape and that a legitimate part of getting them prepared for college consisted of an “emotional and cognitive intervention” to combat this tendency. FIRE protested this too; the Hamilton administration didn’t budge; but after the students assembled, they were told the event was now optional–and many left.
Hamilton College, apparently, hasn’t settled on exactly what it thinks about “rape culture.” It was against it last fall. For this fall, it has appointed Alessandro Porco to a visiting position in the department of English. Mr. Porco is the author of The Jill Kelly Poems (2005), a tribute to a porn star known as “the Anal Queen.” It includes what amounts to rape fantasies such as “M