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Two related but distinct reasons to regulate instructor-student sex: 1) "Abuse": sex under conditions of unequal power can create *sexual harms.* 2) "Equity": Sex can create differential access (or perception thereof) that generates *pedagogical harms* to other students.
I find several things quite telling in the Morse scandal: A) College dems letter and assorted denunciations described the harms always as (1) -- language of predation, grooming, abuse, power -- but rarely as (2) (ineffective, unfair, inattentive).
B) Concerns from my colleagues about "professional ethics" made no serious effort to distinguish their own analysis of the situation from the dems letter. I.e. there was no effort to distinguish concerns about *sexual harm* from concerns about *pedagogical harm.*
The result was that even when the harm they had in mind was the latter, they recirculated rhetoric that implied the former, often in ways that fed and deepened the homophobic valences of the underlying conflict.
C) Given Morse's status as an *adjunct instructor* and the muddiness and absence of specificity, I find it hard to find much support for a claim of "abuse," which is, of course, far more serious than a claim about bad pedagogy and more relevant to the election.
I am skeptical that concerns about "professional ethics" were always about "equity" harms when they were never analyzed as such in the moment. Collapsing the equity concern into the abuse concern as "professional ethic" is exactly kind of sloppy analysis that feeds a sex panic.
D) I would like to see more self-reflection from colleagues who do not study sex but who articulated a "commonsense" denunciation of Morse. Is it wrong for instructors to have sex with students where they teach? I think so. But do you know *why* it is wrong?
And if you do know *why* it is wrong, why did you fail to analyze it fully and clearly in light of those whys? Why did you lazily recirculate narratives of predation that served the political interests of Neal but didn't actually make a good case for the prohibition?
Others have reviewed the political and homophobic valences of this, but I want to be very clear: this whole debacle has muddied the waters on why instructor/student sex is wrong in public discourse and effectively weakened the case for institutional regulation.
There is a strong pro-sex, feminist, and queer case for institutional regulation. Calling Morse a predator and trading on homophobic stereotypes makes it harder for people to make it.
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