Tag Archives: ivory tower

Et in Arcadia Ego: Professors Having ‘Irregular Romances’ With Female Students in the 60s

During the Middle Ages, there was a custom known as the alleged right of a medieval feudal lord— doit du seigneur— to have sexual intercourse with subordinate women on their wedding night. In the 1960s, on college campuses, a similar “right” was practiced by middle-aged college professors— that is to pluck (and rhymes with pluck) female students. Daniel Aaron, a professor at Smith, writes in his memoir The Americanist:

Édouard-Manet-Le-Déjeuner-sur-lherbe_detail2“Palo Alto and Berkley had become gilded Botany Bays for middle-aged East Coast professors in flight from sagging marriages undermined by their irregular romances with students: the West Coast represented a paradigm shift, new love in a new clime. Here was the stuff for a spate of tragic-comic college novels with an archetypal plot: a professor falls in love with a young woman prettier, smarter, and more exciting than his shopworn wife, who has drudged for him, raised their brood in mean surroundings, and grown obsolescent in the process; the professor feels he has earned his eminence and can no longer deny himself what Providence has decreed, so he dumps the wife with varying degrees of anguish and remorse.”

And that’s not to say that some female students didn’t enjoy the status of bagging an instructor, either— they did. How much coercion was involved, nobody knows; rumors abounded. Never mentioned, for some reason, is the amount of resentment this caused among male students who had no recourse other than to accept that older men with more power could do as they pleased. As a female friend of mine once said about going to bed with younger men, “It’s such fun to teach.”

Certainly gives a different connotation to the term “ivory tower” doesn’t it?