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A Little T & A
June 1, 2000
Hey, Everybody: A few weeks ago, Giddy Schoolgirl wrote me about a crush she had on a 31-year-old TA (teaching assistant) at her university, and said she was reluctant to fuck him for fear of getting her TA into "deep shit." I advised the 18-year-old to fuck her 31-year-old TA, pointing out that the promise of hot sex with sub-literate undergrads was about the only thing that kept low-paying TAs on the job.
(For readers unfamiliar with the current state of higher education: The actual teaching at our colleges and universities is done by students working on their master's degrees or doctoral dissertations. Meanwhile, university professors, to the delight of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, spend their time writing and re-writing their grant applications for Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, a.k.a. Star Wars) contracts. Profs in disciplines that don't lend themselves to anti-ballistic missile laser technology -- English, philosophy, reality -- busy themselves with pointless conferences, imagined slights, and day trading.)
I'm dedicating this week's column to responses from outraged TAs for two reasons: First, it's timely. Ross (David Schwimmer) on NBC's Friends has been carrying on a sexual relationship with a student at the unnamed university where he works. Second, fucking students is obviously an issue that concerns a great many TAs. If you miserable TAs put half as much effort into your dissertations as you did into outraged letters to sex columnists, you would be finished with your dissertations already and wouldn't be miserable TAs anymore. Perhaps I shouldn't complain: Thanks to outraged TAs, I don't have much work to do this week. Edit their work down, stick my name on it, take the credit... hey, this must be what it feels like to be a tenured professor!
As a former TA, the answer to Giddy Schoolgirl's question -- "Could sleeping with my TA get him into deep shit?" is YES. And forget about keeping it a secret; when you look up "fishbowl" in the dictionary, there's a picture of a graduate student lounge. And Dan, does Giddy Schoolgirl want to start down the path of screwing older men who have power over her? This particular authority figure may be a hottie, but 10 years from now, does she want to be lying on her back on the conference table underneath the fat, balding, 45-year-old director of purchasing for the company she works for?
Appalled with Two P's
I don't want to be overly critical, AWTP, but that when-you-look-up-X-in-the-dictionary-there's-a-picture-of-Y line is really tired. Clichéd, overused, played out. If I were grading your letter, you would lose points. And there are people out there who find fat, balding, 45-year-old authority figures desperately attractive. If there weren't, how would priests and police officers ever get laid?
To quote from the faculty handbook of the school where I teach: "It is considered a serious breach of professional ethics for a member of the faculty to initiate or acquiesce in a sexual relationship with a student who is enrolled in a course being taught by the faculty member." The handbook notes that the term "faculty member" includes "graduate students with teaching responsibilities." If Giddy Schoolgirl's school policy is like my school's, once the semester is over she can tell the TA how much she enjoyed the course, and how much she'd like to fuck his brains out--assuming, of course, that she has no plans to take another course with this TA.
Thanks, professor. Hey, how's that SDI grant application coming along?
Let me tell you, Mr. Savage, in academia today, being caught in a relationship with a current student would send your entire career down the drain. You'd never get hired for a university job again. Plus, there is the matter of that pesky age difference. As in GS's case, I am 31 and my students are mostly 18. When I was 18, I sometimes thought my TAs were attractive, and I can imagine projecting that back onto the TAs and thinking that if I find them cute, they might find me cute. And if you have never taught younger students, you might go through life thinking that TAs are attracted to their students.
Au contraire. When you are a 31-year-old TA, and your students are 18, they look like babies--far too young even to be very sexually interesting (let alone intellectually interesting). The fact is, I have been teaching for years, and I don't know of any fellow TA who has ever had a relationship/fling with a current student, and in reality it happens a lot less than it does on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or in the minds of sex columnists.
Not Getting Any at Work
Let me tell you, Mr. Snotty McSnot, that when I find time to fantasize about sex, TAs rarely come to mind. Au contraire! My God, why would anyone fantasize about broke grad students with bags under their eyes and half-finished dissertations in their studio apartments when we can fantasize about Richard Lazio? Or the oldest Hanson brother--the tall, bony-faced one--who is a lot foxier these days than either of his dough-faced younger brothers? Or, if I did stoop to a college fantasy, why bother with TAs when there are row teams and frat brothers and custodians out there?
And, hey, NGAAW, if TAs rarely sleep with their students, why do colleges and universities go out of their way to forbid this shameful practice in their faculty handbooks?
You are wrong, wrong, wrong about the benefits of teaching assistantships including opportunities for sexual relationships with students. The situation you described was a 31-year-old, responsible for grading and advising on work produced by an 18-year-old. The potential for abuse and exploitation in these situations is just too high. You often call experts; this was one time when you should have picked up the phone and spoken to someone at a university.
Dana Buntrock, Assistant Professor
University of Illinois at Chicago
It had occurred to me to speak with someone at a university, Dana, so I called my older brother, who teaches at a prestigious university that he would prefer I not name. Let's just say that it's located next to a large body of fresh water NORTH of Costa Rica, WEST of the Ural Mountains, and, as my brother wishes to be cremated when he dies, one day his ashes will be placed in a lovely URN.
So, like, anyway, I did call my brother before I advised Giddy Schoolgirl to fuck her TA's brains out. Guess what? He didn't call me back for three weeks! You see, in his experience, writing is done at a glacial pace. It took him 34 years to write his dissertation ("The Future Socialist Utopia: Or the Coming Collapse of World Capitalism and the Ultimate Triumph of the Soviet System"), so he was unfamiliar with the concept of "deadlines." Left high and dry by my own flesh and blood (when you look up "deadline" in the dictionary, you won't find a picture of my brother), I had no choice but to hastily draft some twaddle.
Now, three weeks later, my brother calls me back. His advice for Giddy Schoolgirl? Never, ever sleep with a TA. So, to Giddy Schoolgirl, if you're out there reading this: Put the TA down, back away from the TA, and come out with your pants up.