"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

U of M regents weigh "affirmative consent"

Dean Johnson, regents' chair
"Affirmative consent" sounds rather like a redundancy. As the Jack Nicholson character in "A Few Good Men" said: "Is there any other kind?" I would be criticized if I employed a redundancy in my writing. Academics should know better. A couple years ago I criticized U of M President Eric Kaler for a writing glitch in an op-ed in the Star Tribune. Touting his University of Minnesota, President Kaler talked about values that the U aspires to "everyday." It should be "every day." "Everyday" has its place in "everyday low prices."
Now we're talking about "affirmative consent." Let's leave aside if there is "any other kind." What kind of consent are we talking about here? Ah, the subject is sex. This is the most high-profile matter that the U is currently grappling with. A July 9 headline: "U delays 'affirmative consent' rule."
There is an old saying that sex always has consequences. It would seem logical to suggest that "sex out of wedlock," in particular, has consequences. An asterisk might be applied: even sex within marriage can be a sticky subject, as we learned through the news recently about a man having sex with his wife who has Alzheimer's. A social worker got involved and now the man has the book thrown at him. But with the U we're talking about college students.
Sex and college students? This is a merry-go-round of trouble. The regents are trying to calm these roiling waters with "affirmative consent." But it's no routine matter.
Is anything routine with sex? The board of regents says it needs more time to debate the proposed policy which purports to eliminate some of the confusion about sexual encounters. Is the female really willing? We presume the male is. Human biology is such that men are far more likely to be suspected of sexual assault. Some militant-toned feminists, most likely gay, see the male-female sex act in and of itself constituting assault.
The regents are trying to address something that is fraught with trouble no matter how it's addressed. The proposed policy would subject students to disciplinary action for having sex unless both parties give what's known as "affirmative consent."
Regent Michael Hsu woke up and smelled the coffee about this whirlpool of trouble recently. Hsu became concerned about the legal implications of "affirmative consent." Critics say the policy contradicts fundamental principles of American law in that it places the burden of proof on the accused. Anyone who has had to deal with social workers i.e. Human Services knows what that feels like. Human Services often makes you feel guilty until proven innocent. You don't know what that's like until it has happened to you.
Reflecting the kind of wisdom that the U exists to celebrate, Hsu said "I think we need to make sure everyone knows what we're doing."
Kaler likes the proposed policy. He argued there's a crisis around sexual assault on campuses. "Rolling Stone" tried shedding light on that, remember? How did that turn out? And now we have that book by Jon Krakauer which was rushed into print to counter the stain of the Rolling Stone fiasco, lest we think rape on campus isn't a crisis. I wrote a book review of Krakauer's "Missoula" for my companion website, "Morris of Course." Here's the link:
Kaler has agreed to delay implementation of the "affirmative" thing until September. This was pursuant to a request from Dean Johnson, regents' chair.
We're not alone in Minnesota tossing about ideas like "affirmative consent." The idea is to encourage these hormone-charged kids to express consent for sex through "clear and unambiguous words." What does this have to do with education? Doesn't the board of regents exist to promote the most effective model for education? And now they've fallen into this abyss of trying to adjudicate kids' sex lives. It's an unattainable goal.
Regent Hsu said he wants to hear from the U's legal counsel about the implications of the policy. It's a thicket where lawyers will swarm, increasingly. Lawyers by definition get involved in something when a certain commodity begins attracting conflict. Maybe this is my whole problem with the affirmative consent proposal: It promotes the commoditization of sex. Those militant feminists ought to start rejecting the proposal on this basis alone.
A female's disposition toward sex should not be viewed as a commodity that boys can "win" through "affirmative consent."
What is the solution? The solution is to recognize the basic model for college education in the U.S. - its flaws. There is no true solution except maybe for college kids to practice abstinence and focus on their studies. I'll repeat a proposal I've stated several times on my blog sites. Let's back off from the traditional college model where we expect 18 to 21-year-olds to behave responsibly in these beehive places called campuses.
Let me reiterate: when you wake up on the morning after your high school graduation, your top priority should be to join the adult world. No way station like college where you experience a prolonged adolescence. Before you go off and live on your own somewhere, college or no, you should be well-schooled in life skills. You should be prepared to live like a fully-adjusted adult. Is that asking too much? A lot of people might say it is. But I'll argue that it really should be no big deal.
I'd further argue that the traditional college environment, i.e. "freshmen dorms," result in peer pressure that tugs kids in the wrong direction too much of the time. Throw youthful hormones into the mix.
I have suggested repeatedly that kids ages 18-21 ought to give greater consideration to just living at home with parents where they might make the same educational progress as they would anywhere else, most likely superior progress. But that seems to be stigmatized. Let's get rid of the stigma. All the information in the world is online. It's free. We should be pinching ourselves to see if we're dreaming. Instead we keep propping up the old college model which presupposes that knowledge is scarce.
Outstanding professors who might be giving lectures to audiences in the many thousands, via the web, instead toil in classrooms with a Gideon's band of students. The web has shown us that it breaks through barriers. The traditional model for college education is bound to come under scrutiny for change.
In the meantime, we have the U of M with its sticky and high-profile problem of addressing sex among students. Lawyers are taking over. We may eventually see full-fledged "contracts for sex." Doesn't that warm your heart? Well, lawyers will argue that everything has to be made crystal clear. At present, how would you like to be a campus security person who has to deal with allegations of sexual assault? I don't know how we can find enough money to pay these people.
Krakauer's "Missoula" presents examples that I think are counterproductive. Rape allegations grow out of behavior that seems just totally irresponsible, like getting intoxicated at your basic college party. The kids might "crash" on a couch instead of going home. I am particularly mystified by these cases where a woman will say a man "forced her to perform oral sex." It strains credulity.
Dean Johnson made his debut as Regents' chair at the meeting when the postponement on the policy was agreed upon. Kaler responded by saying "the regents have every authority to talk about things that affect the reputation of the University."
Dean Johnson? Is this the same Dean Johnson who became somewhat disgraced because of a back-and-forth with the Minnesota Supreme Court? Back about ten years ago, Johnson became the "victim" of some recorded words he spoke. He was speaking to a group of pastors. He told the group that several Supreme Court justices assured him they wouldn't overturn the state's law banning gay marriage. How quaint. In 2015 the gay marriage issue has been completely ironed out. In 2006 the homophobes still had some momentum.
In 2006, several groups were pushing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions because they were worried the courts would overturn the state law.
Johnson apologized. I remember the West Central Tribune of Willmar being upset with the pastor who did the recording. I'm rather amused and heartened every time a politician has his words recorded. It's a good thing. I had a friend in Willmar who said he was upset that every time Johnson's name surfaced in an article, we were reminded of his role with the state's National Guard, even if that had no pertinence. A little shilling, I guess.
So Johnson apologized and then, trying to spin his way out of an imbroglio, said he "embellished" a conversation he had with one judge. But even that was challenged when the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court said no one on the court discussed the issue with Johnson. Didn't Johnson subsequently lose a re-election bid? And might it have been because of the perception of him as being less than truthful? So now he's chair of the U of M board of regents?
Are the regents a place for disgraced state politicians to "parachute" after their stumbling? Politicians like Wendell Anderson? It's an interesting sort of racket. At any rate, we're depending on these people to now take charge of the high-priority and august matter of students having sex with each other. We are so human an animal.
Addendum: I learned the term "Gideon's band" from interviewing Max Lerner at St. Cloud in the 1970s.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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