By MARGARET TALBOT
Most academics would just as soon forget the queasy intensity with which they both loved and hated their favorite professor in graduate school. To remember would mean recognizing how much their own graduate students hunger for approval while longing to supplant them; how much students compete for their favor while winding around them ambiguous garlands of gossip. It would mean acknowledging that professors are often drawn to their protégés for reasons of their own--narcissistic, faintly unwholesome reasons not easily assimilable to a model of pure-hearted pedagogy.
If she is prudent, a professor won't speak too much in public about any feelings of identification or desire a student has stirred in her. Especially not now, when everyone is at such pains to avoid eroticizing the classroom. Better for an academic to err in the direction of a selfless, sexless schoolmarm than a Miss Jean Brodie, triangulating her passions through the bodies of her girls. A prudent professor won't look too closely at the relationship whose potential for immoderation and transference German academics acknowledge by calling their thesis advisers Doktor-Vaters.
But Jane Gallop, the feminist theorist and literary critic, is not especially prudent.
For the past year, Gallop has been paying the price her kind of imprudence exacts these days. In November 1992, she was accused of sexual harassment. Her accusers were both women, both lesbians, and both graduate students; both were drawn to Gallop for the very reasons they later turned against her--the provocative role sexuality plays in her work and the flamboyant bad- girl persona she cultivates. Gallop, a celebrity in lit-crit circles, could be described as a sort of poststructuralist Mae West: In critiquing the notion of a disembodied mind, she loves to flaunt her own body, dressing up like a vamp in seamed stockings and spike heels when speaking at scholarly conferences, confessing in her essays to things like masturbating while reading Sade. Her prose and pedagogy are full of post-Freudian double-entendres and titillating analogies--between sexual intercourse and writing, between seduction and pedagogy--clearly meant to shock. "My desire to be an academic, intellectual speaker is a desire to speak from the father's place," Gallop writes in Thinking Through the Body (Columbia University Press, 1988). "Yet the spiritual father's place (ideologically, the place of the academic, who was originally a cleric) demands separation of ideas from desire, a disembodied mind. I want to expose the father's desire so that I could take his place, but as a sexed subject."
For more than a year, while the two students organized demonstrations against her on campus, gave interviews to the local newspapers, and told their peers and Gallop's colleagues that she was a sexual harasser ("Oh yeah, Jane Gallop," says a student who sees me photocopying articles about her. "Didn't she attack somebody or something?"), the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee investigated Gallop's case. Her accusers dated their complaints from the afternoon Gallop stood up at a gay and lesbian studies conference and told the audience, in what she thought would be understood as a joke, that her sexual preference was graduate students. At that moment, they said, they realized that the playful sexual banter they'd willingly engaged in with Gallop was more, or maybe less, than they'd thought: Gallop wasn't trying to teach them anything; nor was she just being her weird and raunchy self; she was actually doing her ingenious best to talk them into bed. And because they'd rejected her advances, they argued, she'd kept making one of them rewrite her papers and refused to provide the other with a letter of recommendation.
With one of the complainants, Gallop had indeed exchanged a florid, public kiss. The most direct physical advance the other could cite was the time Gallop rocked her rocking chair with one bare foot. Both students, however, sought the same punishment for their professor. They wanted a letter of reprimand placed permanently in her file, and they wanted her to "understand that making the complaint the subject of intellectual inquiry constitutes retaliation." Gallop often laces her essays with anecdotes about her students; her accusers wanted to make sure Gallop never mentioned them in print, even if she disguised their identities.
In August, I went to Milwaukee to interview Gallop, the two students, and their respective friends. I had spoken with Gallop on and off throughout the spring and didn't know whether to see her saga as a classic example of everything that's wrong with sexual harassment codes or just another case of someone smart exercising really bad judgment. Gallop's relationship with the student she kissed, a thirty-year-old Ph.D. candidate, sounded messy and complicated, lit up with warning signals that both of them, sometimes willfully, misread. But--the kiss aside--it didn't sound like harassment, or like anything that could be resolved by a quasi-judicial process with a preordained cast of student-victims and professor-perps.
It had always seemed to me that by pushing the academy to take her as she is--dirty mind, long red nails and all--Gallop helped make it a less gray, and ultimately less sexist, place. But not all of her feminist colleagues agree. Her accusers enjoyed a great deal of support on the UWM campus and in Milwaukee newspapers. Even before the charges were filed, she'd made herself unpopular by critiquing new codes that frown on consensual sex between teachers and students. UWM had adopted its version of these restrictions in 1988, but many feminists on campus believed they had a long way to go before the university took sexual harassment seriously. They had cause to think that: In the past few years, the school had come under federal and state scrutiny for its failure to accurately record and fully investigate sexual harassment charges brought by its students. Still, in this climate, campus feminists saw Gallop's objections as a betrayal.
So it was easy to imagine how, kiss or no kiss, Gallop's pro-sex feminism might leave her open to attack, how her outspoken classroom manner might be misread as sexual harassment in itself. Then, in late December, the university issued its findings: Gallop had not harassed either student. But in one of the cases, the affirmative action office said, she had violated the campus policy discouraging amorous consensual relations between professors and students. As a result, a letter of reprimand will go into her file. The decision, which Gallop is appealing, offers a curious and forbidding view of the limits of the professor-student relationship: "[The student] was a willing participant in the sexual banter; Professor Gallop did not condition [the student's] grades or participation in an academic program on [the student's] submission to sexual advances or sexual acts; [the student] was not and did not feel physically threatened, psychologically harmed or humiliated by any of Professor Gallop's conduct or words." And yet, the university ruled, Gallop, "the person in the more powerful position," did wrong by failing to report the relationship to a dean and failing to excuse herself from evaluating the student's academic performance or making decisions that had a financial impact on the student. "But for the sexual act," the university ruled, Gallop and her student "had an amorous relationship."
Since Gallop wasn't dating or sleeping with her student, the finding raises some disturbing questions. What exactly is an amorous relationship that excludes "the sexual act"? Does a close pedagogical relationship become "amorous" after one probably unwise but nonetheless anomalous step over the line? What do teachers do about students they come to care for and who like them a little too much in return? Refuse to teach them?
What troubled me most about the case, however, was not the regime of chilly and spiritless professor-student exchanges it seemed to portend, though that was alarming enough. What bothered me was realizing that the trouble Gallop had gotten into was, in a way, inevitable. Gallop is not the first impassioned teacher to be tripped up by an increasingly elastic definition of sexual harassment and consent, and she probably won't be the last. But it seems telling that it was the very aspects of her teaching she considers the most feminist, the most subversive, as she would put it, of "phallic authority"--her emphasis on intimacy, on self-reflexivity, on rigorously working through the bonds of love that ensnare both teacher and student--that left her vulnerable to these charges. You can applaud Jane Gallop or you can find her excesses uncalled for, but there is no question that she believes in what she is doing and has thought about it long and hard. Close relationships between advisers and advisees may be rife with difficulties, but they are the best initiation into the academic life that anyone has yet devised. Gallop's story seemed to me the perfect opportunity to examine what it is we give up when we begin to police them. There are times when I feel like what's at stake here is everything I value about teaching," Gallop says, "which doesn't involve having sex with students, but does involve having such intense relations with students that when they go wrong they might, according to the new codes, be misconstrued as sexual harassment."
We are talking in the living room of the house Gallop shares with her boyfriend, a photographer and filmmaker named Dick Blau, and their seven-year-old son, Max. It's a comfortable two-story place on a shady street near the university--gingerbready and gemütlich on the outside, appointed with sleek 1950s furniture on the inside, like the boomerang-shaped aquamarine couch on which we're sitting. After years of commuting between Milwaukee, where Blau chairs the film department at UWM, and Houston, where she taught at Rice, "she and Dick and Max are making a little home for themselves," as one of her students puts it.
It's cool and dark; we have the shades drawn to defeat the glare of the August afternoon. The doorbell rings and Gallop pads over in her bare feet to answer it. One of her graduate students, a slight, serious-looking fellow with lank strawberry-blond hair, wants to drop off the newest chapter of his thesis, which examines how feminism has changed the depiction of mother-son relations in literature and theory from Freud to Faulkner, David Leavitt to Adrienne Rich. He and Gallop arrange to meet for supper that evening to discuss it, but only after the two of them watch Star Trek: The Next Generation with Max. Later, they both tell me that they talked until midnight, first about the problems Gallop saw in the chapter, then about how he felt about the problems she saw in the chapter.
The kind of teaching Gallop does is by its nature--and hers--personal. She wants her students to learn to read texts as she does: symptomatically--alert, that is, to the clumsy metaphors, the little tics of syntax, even the mistranslations and typos that can betray an author's preoccupations or the unresolved contradictions of his or her argument. "She tries to teach a very particular method of close reading, which comes out of psychoanalysis and deconstruction," says Lynne Joyrich, a friend and colleague in the UWM English department. "It's very controlled. There's a lot of struggle. If she covers three sentences out of an article in one class session, that's a lot. It drives some students crazy."
In part, her teaching style reflects the theory behind it; in part, it's the natural expression of an intense personality. Gallop is in-your-face in a way some students find oppressive and others can't get enough of. "When she corrects your papers, it isn't as simple as saying, 'Here's a better way to put this'--she wants to know how it got there in the first place, and that means engaging with you at a personal level," says Chris Amirault, a doctoral candidate at UWM who did his undergraduate work at Brown, wears John Lennon-ish glasses and a flock of little earrings, and projects the bemused and tolerant cool of a counselor at an artsy summer camp. "Jane is deeply narcissistic, but her relationship to that narcissism is so developed, she's so committed to thinking about it, that she believes other people will be similarly committed. I completely respect that there are students who don't want to work that way, but I do."
We're eating breakfast at a diner the size of a small ranch, which Amirault has taken me to because it's regionally authentic, and between flapjacks he's been telling me about an unsuccessful paper he wrote several years ago for Gallop. "It was the most intense pedagogic experience I've ever had. We went through every sentence and what was behind it. Jane had covered the paper with 'I don't understand this'es, pointing out for example that I was using 'paradox' and 'contradiction' interchangeably. At first I felt very aggressed." And, with the mixture of startling self-awareness and Gallopesque jargon I have noticed in several of her students, Amirault says: "Eventually, I came to realize that it was written wholly within an unthinking transference. Its putative subject was how smart Freud was, but its real subject was how smart I was and how smart Jane was."
Amirault pulls out a more recent paper in which he has cast an unpitying eye on his Paolo Freierian fantasy of teaching as political act and on his investment in a bright undergraduate named Shannon. Gallop has annotated it with standard editorial comments ("Nicely put" and "Sentence could be crisper" and even "this has yet to be sufficiently integrated/digested. Chew harder!") but also with remarks like "Your use of the adjective 'own' is truly interesting (symptomatic) in this paper. Of course, possession and boundaries are what's at stake" and "Would an explicit reference to the sexual version of this fantasy be helpful or is it just my ('own') wish for prurience?"
"It's teaching, not analysis, for her. She asks students to produce readings and then she produces readings of those readings. It's not about explaining the psyches of the people in the room," Amirault says, taking a sip from one of his bottomless-cup-of-coffee refills. "But Jane makes you feel like your own position needs to be investigated. There has to be engagement, affect, discomfort sometimes. If those things aren't there, there's no learning. That comes in part from feminism--the idea that you have to reflect on who you are and where you are in society. And, of course, she has this deep commitment to a certain kind of poststructuralist psychoanalysis."
The student-teacher relationship holds such fascination for Gallop both because graduate school (at Cornell) was such a forcing ground of her own identity, the place where she'd dared her own Doktor-Vaters to accept her intellectual interest in sexuality, and because her relationship with her mentor, Jeffrey Mehlman, a theory-oriented professor of French, was particularly close: "That's where I really learned to do good work, that's where I learned my personal investment in my professional identity--through my personal relationship to my teacher," she says. Gallop has borrowed from psychoanalysis much of the language in which she writes about graduate school and her own experience of it. She views crushes on professors as a form of transference--the endowing of new people in our lives with the emotional significance our parents once held for us. She has analyzed her own desire to be an intellectual as a yearning to usurp the place of the father and compel powerful men to recognize feminism's claims. And she has explored her relationship with Mehlman in terms of the push-and-shove of family love and sibling rivalry.
"Mehlman was my dissertation director," she writes in Thinking Through the Body, "the teacher who intro(se)duced me into the world of Lacan, French poststructuralist theory, and Freud." Gallop makes this remark in an afterword to one of her essays, in which she explains why she neglected to mention that the idea for it came from a former lover: "Argyros had been a student with me in graduate school; Mehlman was also his dissertation director. Argyros and I had lived together as best friends and lovers. Structurally, Argyros was my brother, Mehlman our father. I excluded Argyros to be textually alone with the father, out of my sense and fear that everything conspired to exclude me and to reinforce the academic father-son relation. This is not a commentary on the real men Mehlman and Argyros--both of whom took me quite seriously as a scholar, neither of whom seemed to want me to leave the room--but upon a structure which threatened to exclude me despite my having gotten myself into the room, despite any man's intentions toward me."
Nowadays, Gallop--who at forty-one is often no more than a decade older than some of her students--flirts and jokes with them not just for the fun of it, she says, but because it seems to her a good way to dispel a little of the parental authority they invest in her. When students develop crushes, as they frequently do, she thinks it best to talk about them openly, looking upon infatuation as an analyst looks upon transference: an instrument of understanding if acknowledged, a block to learning if not.
Gallop had been teaching for fourteen years--first at Miami University in Ohio, then at Rice--when she came to UWM in the fall of 1990. She'd been hired after a contentious search for a senior feminist theorist, a search whose smoke signals the English department's sizable detachment of feminist graduate students had observed closely. "She's a big name in feminist theory," says one student. "She filled a big teaching vacuum in the department, and I think a lot of people were hoping for a nurturer."
That's not exactly what they got. Even students who love Gallop say she's a tough grader and a harsh critic, that she has been known to push them through four or five drafts of a paper. "A lot of grad students are into various kinds of warmed-over liberal pedagogy," says Amirault. "And Jane is authoritarian in the sense that she believes she has something to teach you and you have something to learn. She's opinionated and abrasive. Of course, there are male professors who are exactly the same way, but it's not a problem for them." Jeff Walker, the grad student whose dissertation is on mother and sons, makes a similar point: "Grades are meaningful to Jane in a way that they aren't to many professors. She's given Bs and Cs to graduate students. And there's a tension, I think, between her rigorous pedagogy and high demands and her casualness in other respects, her willingness, for example, to socialize with graduate students. In psychoanalytic terms, she's playing two parental roles: One embodies the law of the father and the other the presumed supportiveness and informality of the mother."
Elisabeth Ladenson, a former protégée of Gallop's who is now an assistant professor of French at the University of Virginia and who calls Gallop's teaching "unconventional, self-referential, sort of dangerous," tells a story about sitting in on a feminist lit-crit seminar that Gallop taught for graduate students at Rice. "One day a woman gave a presentation, and she had basically ignored everything Jane had asked her to do in the assignment: She talked about five or six essays instead of one, she argued with them instead of doing a close reading, and after the allotted fifteen minutes were up, she showed no sign of stopping. Jane asked her quite directly to think about the fact that she hadn't fulfilled the assignment--very firmly and very neutrally, sort of like an analyst. And the woman started crying. Frankly, it would have thoroughly disarmed a male professor. But Jane didn't let it go. She began talking about how the precise way this woman had flouted the rules was symptomatic of something larger in feminism, a kind of resistance to theory. She turned this excruciating situation into an edifying pedagogical moment." Did the tearful student get much out of it? "I don't think so," says Ladenson. "Except maybe some feminist jargon. On the last day of class she complained about having been victimized."
Though Gallop seems the soul of friendliness, I can see how she might be formidable. She has a deep voice, and she talks loud and fast, hell-bent on making her points. "Students are blinded to her nice-guy side," says Ladenson, "because she's very smart, she doesn't suffer fools gladly, and when she's in the classroom, well, she thinks about what she's thinking about. She's not worrying whether you have a comfy chair." Her appearance challenges, too, in part because she pulls off the curious sartorial trick of looking both clothes-conscious and utterly indifferent to fashion. Her outfits and accessories--the skirt made of men's ties, the glove-tight Joan Crawford suit she sometimes dons for conferences--seem to announce themselves with quotation marks as "parody" or "eccentricity" or "fetish." For both of our interviews, she is casually dressed in shorts and a brightly colored vintage shirt and wears no makeup. But a single rattail braid hangs from her tousled shoulder-length hair and she flashes a Married to the Mob manicure--long crimson nails, except for one gold pinky nail. Jeff Walker says he was "terrified of her on the first day of class, because, first, she was wearing this bright red power suit with all these wild accessories. And second of all, she started out by telling us we'd have to work harder to satisfy her expectations than we ever had before."
The work she wanted the students to do in that class--the first she taught at UWM, and a repeat of the feminist theory class Ladenson describes--focused on her then book-in-progress, Around 1981 (published by Routledge in 1992), and its main theme: the acceptance of feminist criticism as a legitimate branch of literary studies. They were to analyze its institutionalization in the academy at a time--the early Eighties--when, as Gallop writes, "feminism as a social movement was encountering major setbacks in a climate of new conservatism." But Gallop tends to underestimate the extent to which some of her own feminist students perceive her as an exponent of institutional power, resent her for it, and wish to make that the subject of the class. In each of the three feminist theory seminars she has taught since 1985, she says, "some subset of the seminar decided to band together to try and challenge me because they thought I was authoritarian." And in the sexual harassment complaints, her accusers also seem disgruntled with her status, stressing Gallop's "fame" as a theorist (as one of their supporters explains to me, though the students didn't have to take courses with Gallop in order to complete their degrees in their chosen fields, they felt "pressure" to do so "because she is famous"), her position as the only woman at UWM to have achieved the rank of Distinguished Professor, and the "extremely unequal power differential," as one of the complainants puts it, that separates professors and graduate students.
"One of the misunderstandings I had with that class," Gallop says, "is that they somehow saw my giving them my writing as a way of redoubling my authority, whereas I saw it as a way of making myself more vulnerable, because, after all, these were drafts."
In hindsight, Gallop wonders whether offering up her unfinished work was the only "gesture of informality" that her students misinterpreted in light of that "power differential." Early in the semester, she started going out after class with a group of female students who wanted to continue the discussion, maybe get a little more airtime than they had managed to snag in the overenrolled seminar. They'd drink beer and joke around; the conversation would often turn to sex. Gallop joined in; she welcomed the opportunity to remind her new students that, though she sometimes sounded pontifical in class, she was a real person, not "some kind of totally professional being."
"Certainly part of who I've always been socially since I was an adult, or even a semi-adult," Gallop says, "is someone who makes sexual jokes with just about anybody, aside from strangers on a bus. I am someone who is sometimes flirtatious and who likes acting somewhat outrageous. So with grad students in a social situation, I find myself reacting as I would to anybody in a social situation. And with a sense that that is what they want. I mean, grad students are always trying to get professors to go out drinking with them, to come to their parties; they seem to want to break down some of that distance."
In the past, that flirting was apparently understood more in the spirit that Gallop intended it than as, say, a proposition. The university's finding in the sexual harassment case states: "None of Professor Gallop's students [an unspecified number were interviewed for the investigation], either former students or UWM students, had any personal knowledge of any sexual relationship, consensual or otherwise, that Professor Gallop had had with any student. None of her former Ph.D. candidates felt any sexual overtones in her dealings with them. Each described her as either 'provocative' or 'performative.'" This accords with my own picture of Gallop, which is not of a coy or predatory flirt, but of a rather straight shooter.
"Jane flirts with everybody," a friend of hers says. "She flirts with inanimate objects. That's just Jane. Always has been as far as I know." But these days when Gallop throws back a few beers and pals around with her grad students, it has a different meaning than it had when she was younger, untenured, less published, about as unfirmly ensconced in the academy as feminism itself. It was naive, perhaps, not to realize that sooner. "I now have students like [one of her accusers] who come to work with me because they've read my books on the reading lists for their M.A.s, students for whom I am an authority because I'm an author," Gallop says with a Rodney Dangerfield grimace of disbelief. "I still look at my writing as something I hope is good enough, something I'm anxious about the unfinished drafts of. But for my graduate students, I am the author of The Daughter's Seduction, the author of Reading Lacan. They perceive me as something that is still barely imaginable to me--as what I call Jane-Gallop-in-quotation-marks."
After talking to several of her students, I begin to realize that Gallop makes some of them angry because she reminds them that distinguished female professors aren't necessarily any nicer, more indulgent, more intuitively ethical, than their male counterparts. Just like the guys, they sometimes hand out bad grades, refuse to write letters of recommendation, pack reading lists with their own books, turn importuning freshmen away at their office doors. Only it's worse, because students, especially women, want more time and expect more comfort from female professors. There are still so few in the higher ranks of academe--women make up more than half of all college students but only 11.6 percent of full professors nationwide--that each one must carry an unwieldy burden of expectation. They must embody with George Sand-like brio what it means to be women and intellectuals, while nurturing every tender ego that comes into their orbit. If they should happen also to be feminist scholars, they raise the further hope, fed by much of the writing on feminist pedagogy, that their classrooms will be havens of sisterly equality where the gladiatorial rivalries of the "patriarchal" seminar are given no quarter.
The feminist students now working toward doctorates are the first to study under feminist teachers with tenure and clout, and this has produced some curious reactions. "One of the things I have experienced is that our students tend to imagine we have more power than we do," says Nancy K. Miller, a feminist literary critic at the City University of New York. "Our generation had no women ahead of us: We were rebelling against father figures, and that was simpler in some ways. Now I'm the same age as some of my students' mothers, and I stir some of those feelings of identification and repudiation you might expect."
But rebelling against Gallop is peculiarly tricky, because she's such a figure of rebellion herself. The authorial voice Gallop adopts in Thinking Through the Body is boldly exhibitionistic and coolly self-critical ("In the original paper I talk about the 'American feminist' and her investment in the clitoris. If I am distancing myself from that, it is both maturbatory guilt and more general embarrassment with the celebration of the self. . . . The attack on the American celebration of the self has become stock discourse contrasting American and French feminism. Yet who am I when I say that?. . . Encoding the guilty as American acts out an identification with the 'French woman' and an aggressive distancing from the 'American feminist' "). She's only too happy to disrupt her sophisticated discussion of the distinction between "phallus" and "penis" in Lacanian thought with a Borscht Belt dirty joke ("Anna Freud was reaching maturity and began to show an interest in her father's work, so Freud gave her some of his writings to read. About a month later he asked her if she had any questions about what she had been reading. 'Just one,' she replied. 'What is a phallus?' Being a man of science, Freud unbuttoned his pants and showed her. 'Oh,' Anna exclaimed, thus enlightened. 'It's like a penis, only smaller!' "). And she's eager, in her readings of the big boys, like Roland Barthes, "to outdo the fathers at their own game," as Ann Snitow put it in a review of Thinking Through the Body, "to seduce them, too, until they are forced to subvert their own rules, or to admit the failure of their systems to contain everything and particularly to contain the unreadable, unresolvable body." Students seem to like the way Gallop swaggers across the page, but a lot of them, I suspect, would rather be her than be taught by her.
Gallop knows she is caught in a bind: "I'm realizing that one of the reasons I can't undercut my authority with students by being shockingly informal is that my authority is based on an authorial persona or a theoretical persona that is itself shockingly informal--that's part of its authority. It seems like a terrible contradiction." Gallop pauses to take a long sip of mineral water. "The sexual innuendo that functioned ten years ago to mark me as one of the girls with my students now marks me as one of the guys."
Dana Beckelman was not one of the students who bristled at Gallop's authority. At least not at first.
When Beckelman, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in the rhetoric and composition program within UWM's English department, signed up in the fall of 1990 for Gallop's graduate seminar on feminist theory, she was already, as she puts it, "smitten." In an autobiographical paper she later wrote for another professor, Beckelman recalls how she'd fantasized all summer about "sprawling" under the oak trees in her backyard with Gallop, discussing writing with her--playing Phaedrus to Gallop's Socrates.
At thirty, Beckelman was in search of a mentor to foster her own flamboyant style. A lesbian with the muscular build of the Texas state shot-put champion she had once been, a talented writer torn between fiction and literary criticism, she wasn't sure where, or even if, she belonged in the academy. "But I figured, here's Jane Gallop, this person who's not your typical academician, someone who could be a role model for how to be yourself and still be a successful academic. We're both sort of bad, boisterous, outrageous. We enjoyed that about each other," Beckelman tells me on the telephone from a friend's house in California.
Even better, Gallop was, in a manner of speaking, famous. Not Madonna famous; not even k.d. lang famous. But a name with real pull in high theory and feminist circles. "I'm a Capricorn, I'm very ambitious, very driven," says Beckelman. "And I'd gone to Milwaukee to get on the fast track by hooking up with someone well known. I was dazzled by Jane--it was the first time I'd ever worked with a scholar who had a national reputation." At another point in the conversation, she says, "If Jane had approached me for a fling during the first few weeks of school, I think it would have happened."
Two weeks after enrolling in her course, Beckelman asked Gallop to be her adviser, and Gallop accepted. The women became friendly outside of class. Beckelman concedes that she participated in, and even initiated, much of the beer-drinking banter (she remembers holding forth one night about her "very Seventies, Marge Piercy-esque, we're-all-nonmonogamous theory of open relationships"), though the sexual harassment complaint she would file two years later suggests that Gallop's contributions to that same banter amounted to an abuse of power. "Look, I'm five feet nine, 170 pounds, and very dykey," Beckelman says. "People look at me and say: 'How could this happen to you? How could you let Jane do this to you?' But grad school is a pretty weird, paranoia-inducing place. I was trying to work with someone who was well known, and I liked her. She's gregarious; she has a certain amount of charm. When she flirted, I flirted back. It reminded me of the wordplay in her books and I thought, Hey, this must be the latest hip and trendy theoretical thing. But then I began to be confused by what she intended with some of her remarks."
By way of example, Beckelman says Gallop told her she had "beautiful deltoids" and that she liked Texas women. After Beckelman's open-relationships speech, she says Gallop remarked, "From all that practice, you must be quite a good lover." Gallop remembers similar themes, different inflections: She says she kidded Beckelman about how she showed off her deltoids when she talked; told her she enjoyed hearing a Texas accent because she missed Texas; and said, "in a spirit that was sarcastic, not admiring," that it sounded like Beckelman was trying to impress the group with her "experience."
At first, their work together seemed full of promise. Beckelman was eager to try out her own version of Gallop's confessional style and pleased when Gallop gave her an A/A- on her first class presentation, which blended analytical work with a memoir of her grandmother. But Gallop's reaction to her second presentation came as a blow. "It had a lot of inside Freudian jokes," Beckelman recalls, "so I thought she'd think it was funny. But I was questioning her position as a woman who says she's attracted to women of another class, even though she lives with a man and has a son."
Beckelman is citing a parenthetical remark in one of Gallop's essays that jumped out at her the first time she read it. By the time Beckelman told me about it, she had come to regard this comment as the key to Gallop's "eroticization" of graduate students. Gallop delivers the aside in "The Other Woman," an essay about an essay in which the French feminist Annie Leclerc explores her sensual fascination with the maid depicted behind her mistress in Vermeer's The Letter. Gallop is interested in what Leclerc's reverie might disclose about the fantasy of a classless sisterhood, oceanic and all-embracing, so attractive to so many feminists. In typical Gallop fashion, she chides Leclerc for romanticizing the working class while congratulating her for owning up to a desire that others share but deny: "Of course, there is a long phallic tradition of desire for those with less power and privilege (women, for example) and I cannot but wonder about the relationship of Leclerc's desire to that tradition. Just as I cannot but be reminded of the romantic and essentially conservative tradition of the happy and beautiful folk, the earthy, free working class. . . . Despite these problems I have with Leclerc's desire for the maid (an erotic attraction to women of another class which I share, I should add), I think it valuable as a powerful account of just that sort of desire, a desire that is frequently hidden under the 'mantle of redressers of wrongs.'"
In early October--before the second presentation--Beckelman told Gallop she needed to talk to her, and they went out to dinner. She wanted to clarify, Beckelman now explains, what the "woman wanted from me." She quoted Gallop's glib remark in the essay on Leclerc, and said it bothered her. Was Gallop just striking a theoretical pose, or did she really have lust in her heart for other women? Gallop told her it was none of her business. Beckelman persisted: "Are you coming on to me or just flirting?" "Just flirting," Gallop replied, adding that she thought of flirting, theoretically, as a way of seducing students to learn, and that she was most definitely pursuing a pedagogical, not a sexual, relationship with her. Gallop recalls that Beckelman seemed relieved. And they agreed for a time to drop their ribaldry.
But in that second class presentation later that month, Beckelman again brought up Gallop's "erotic attraction to women of another class"; as Gallop understood it, Beckelman was accusing her of pretending to a fashionable lesbianism. (For the record, Gallop says she has slept with both men and women, and in the early Seventies she identified herself "publicly and politically" as a lesbian. She has been involved with her current boyfriend, however, for the past thirteen years.)
Gallop gave this talk a lower grade than the first--an A double minus--because, she says, the ideas were muddled and it lacked the kind of narrative passages in which Beckelman shone. But Beckelman took the grade hard; to her it was evidence that Gallop "loathed" her work, that she "just went ballistic when I challenged her position." Beckelman felt reassured when Gallop gave her an A/A+ on her final paper, which alternated between a scholarly analysis of Thinking Through the Body and a series of sexually explicit love letters to an unnamed woman. The grade was unusually high for Gallop--so unusual that she called Beckelman at home in Texas over Christmas vacation to tell her about it--but for Beckelman it was just a sign that she and her mentor were "back on track."
Hearing Beckelman talk about her excitement when Gallop liked a paper and her dark suspicions when Gallop didn't, I remember the sensation of yearning for an adviser's approval, feeling embarrassed about the childlike quality of that yearning and yet knowing that, professionally speaking, the approval is necessary. At one time or another, most graduate students have entertained the suspicion that their adviser controls their destiny, and it's true in just enough ways to make paranoia seem justified. "The professor combines the transferential authority of the parent with the actual power of a director of graduate studies," writes historian Peter Loewenberg in a smart essay on the sticky emotional climate of graduate school. "The faculty-student relationship, particularly on the graduate level, is not that of equals. It is one of domination and submission. Whereas reality factors in other professional relationships such as attorney-client or doctor-patient are limited to a contractual transaction whereby the latter agrees to pay and obey while the former ministers with the promise of relief, in academia the reality gives the professor authority over the student's finances, employment, academic record, references--to say nothing of the emotional rewards--heightened self-esteem, enhanced prestige, and the fantasy of eventual inheritance of power. . . . For any student who has been an independent adult on his own, a return to graduate school most certainly represents an emotional regression."
On at least one occasion that they both confirm, Beckelman seems to have been trying to impress Gallop with her sexual savoir-faire. One fall afternoon Beckelman showed up at Gallop's office with a package she had received from her lover in Texas: Beckelman described it as a "Freudian fantasy kit"; Gallop describes it as a bundle of "sexual props." Gallop was, she wrote in her official response to Beckelman's complaint, "horrified," and asked Beckelman "to put it away, told her that her fantasies [were] and should remain a private thing between her and her lover, and that [she did] not want to see or hear about this package."
In the spring semester, Beckelman opted to take an independent study with Gallop in which she would read Freud, Barthes, and Lacan, as well as her adviser's two books on Lacan. It was the low point of their pedagogical relationship. When they held their first meeting, to discuss Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Gallop felt, as she wrote in her reply, that Beckelman's "readings were very uninformed and extremely inaccurate. Dana had never studied Freud and, I believe, had never even read him before but had, as does the culture in general, a lot of presuppositions about him. When I would try to point out the ways that her readings were implausible, wrong, or didn't make sense, or when I tried to ask her leading questions to get her to see these problems, she simply argued with me, defending her 'position.' " Gallop suggested they try something different. Beckelman would come in with questions about what she didn't understand in the text; Gallop would clear them up. But this approach, too, soon dissolved into argument. When I ask Beckelman about it, she agrees that their meetings were often combative, but offers a different interpretation: "It was frustrating. I'd want to talk about my ideas and she'd just want to talk about hers. I felt like she was threatened by me, but I thought, This is weird: This woman is very secure; she's got her books. How could a grad student be threatening to her ego? But the more I said things that went against her ideas, the more she'd say, 'That's not valid.'"
Gallop considered it a breakthrough when she and Beckelman began openly discussing the tensions between them. At one point, Beckelman accused her of wanting to relegate her to student status forever so that she could continue to exert control over her. She worried, she said on another occasion, that Gallop would never be satisfied with anything she did and then confided that in this sense her adviser reminded her of her father, a high-school football coach who wanted Dana to excel at sports but couldn't show any pleasure when she did. ("I told her about my father," says Beckelman. "But I also told her I'd been through therapy and didn't have those issues anymore.") Later, Gallop says, Beckelman told her that when she was a student in the master's program at UT-Arlington, her female adviser had seemed put off by both her lesbianism and her outrageous style. (Beckelman denies having said this.)
Gallop, reluctant to be miscast as either withholding father or prissy professor, reverted to the light, slightly off-color teasing that she believed was "comforting" to Dana because "it was where I treated Dana as a peer and showed her I was not a judgmental authority."
When I try to puzzle out how Beckelman must have felt, one of Gallop's colleagues' remarks sticks in my mind: "I never thought what Jane did was sexual harassment. But I wondered about her judgment. Dana idolized her and I think she should have realized that with this student she was on shaky emotional ground." Gallop figured she could handle whatever ambivalent feelings a bright, audacious student like Beckelman might have about her. "I think I had a kind of hubris in which I felt I could teach any student," she says. "I could get over their resistance or whatever. I hesitate to say this in print, because I don't tell the students this, but I actually agree to work with any student who asks to work with me, because a lot of students get very intimidated by me at first."
In February 1991, Beckelman interviewed Gallop for a publication called Composition Studies: Freshman English News, and both women think of it as a reliable document of what was best about their exchanges. It makes a lively read, yet there are stretches of the interview where both Gallop and Beckelman seem not so much to be swapping ideas as thinking aloud in each other's presence. When one or the other hears the word "sex" they seem to have found their point of connection, but it's illusory. Gallop compares writing to sex, for example, while Beckelman seizes on the sexual analogy to steer the discussion to their relationship:
JG: I had a realization sometime last fall about my specific relation to writing. It's not the actual writing that is difficult, but there's something I'm terrified of that makes it very hard. I feel like I don't want to write, I don't want to sit down to write, I don't want to start, I want to get up right away, yet when I say it's very hard I'm exaggerating because I sit down and do it every day and once I start it's extremely pleasurable. So I had this realization that I felt the exact same way about sex.
DB: Something told me that we'd get to sex sooner or later.
JG: Of course, but I want to explain because I had one of those moments like light bulbs going on in the sense that I avoid doing both, or think I want to avoid doing them. I mean, I've been living with someone for years, and every night we get into bed together, but that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to have sex, and my first reponse is to think I want to watch TV or I want to go to sleep. But a lot of times, particularly if a couple of days have gone by, I make myself start having sex, and as soon as I cross over some kind of threshold in which I commit myself to having sex I find that it's extremely pleasurable. But there's something in me that doesn't want to do it so that I have to make myself do it, and I have the exact same relation to writing, which is that once I start writing I very seldom have trouble, I very seldom get stuck, I very seldom write much that I have to throw away, so that I actually write well and get a lot of pleasure from it. So they're both sources of great gratification and yet also things that I'm terrified of and resistant to.
DB: But it's more than just a fear of failure--
JG: Yes, I think that there's some fear that I will be confronted with some terrible inadequacy about myself, but it's also about how one constructs one's self-image--
DB: In the sense that you don't want to be someone who writes about sex and doesn't have it--
JG: Right. Jane never has sex, she just theorizes it.
DB: Well, speaking of sex and writing, where does your view of teaching as a form of seduction fit in?
Gallop thinks she made mistakes with Dana Beckelman, but not the one that everybody else seems to think she made, which was to kiss her at a crowded bar in the presence of other graduate students. Indeed, it's hard to find anyone other than Gallop herself who will defend the "twenty-second soul kiss," as one witness described it. Especially since it occurred the evening after Gallop jokingly referred to herself as someone whose "sexual preference is graduate students."
Gallop's remark was intended to be provocative, she says, but she made it in the service of an intellectual critique. Taking the floor at a gay and lesbian conference after one speaker had waxed enthusiastic about butch and femme roles, Gallop remembers saying something like, "As one of the few people here who is not a graduate student, as someone who might say her sexual preference is graduate students, I want to ask why you are celebrating all sorts of differences, thinking it progress that they are no longer denied, while one kind of difference is bad, remains something that should be reduced as much as possible--the difference between teacher and graduate student."
That evening, Beckelman, Gallop, and a handful of other grad students who had been at the conference went out drinking at a local lesbian bar. For a long time, Beckelman and Gallop talked about their troubled relationship, with Gallop sitting on a bar stool swigging beer and Beckelman standing between her legs. Gallop kept making the point that no amount of repartee could alter the fundamental fact of their relationship: She was the teacher, Beckelman the student. Beckelman hadn't been able to accept that, she said, and had wanted to "fuck the teacher out of her." Beckelman says Gallop touched her breasts and stroked her shoulders as they talked; Gallop says she may have touched her arms for emphasis, but not her breasts. After half an hour or so, Beckelman broke up the tête-à-tête by urging the group to dance--a moment she describes in a paper she wrote for another professor as "egging" Gallop onto the dance floor, then smirking with her friends about what a lousy dancer she was.
Before Beckelman left the bar, she and Gallop embraced, as they sometimes did when parting. According to Beckelman, Gallop then "mashed her lips against mine" and "shoved her tongue in my mouth." According to Gallop, Beckelman was the one who turned a peck into a French kiss. But both women say that from there on in, the smooch was mutual. Gallop says they were engaging in a "performance," not acting on desire. Beckelman, in her complaint, describes her apparently enthusiastic participation this way: "So I kissed her until she responded, more as a vindictive act than a reciprocally sexual one. I was angry and hurt, and saw kissing her as a form of revenge, a way to manipulate her desire, knowing I would never go any further." In our interview, Beckelman sticks with this oddly pulp-fictionish scenario. "My attitude," she recalls, "was, sure, I'll kiss you. I will give you the kiss to end all kisses and then I'll never touch or flirt with you again."
According to the university's finding, "The individuals who witnessed the kiss varied in their perceptions of what they saw," proving, one supposes, that a kiss is neither still nor just a kiss: "Some thought it was a performance. One saw it as 'humorous' that a student who had been flirting with Professor Gallop had finally kissed her. Another surmised that outside its context, others would 'miss the point.' One student stated that Professor Gallop 'definitely forced [Ms. Beckelman] between her legs while they were at the bar.' "
By Gallop's logic, it was the very fact that she kissed Beckelman so brazenly that exonerated her from sexual harassment: If she were trying to hide either a coercive or a consensual relationship with Beckelman, she wouldn't have stood there twisting tongues with her before a semicircle of gaping students. And, in fact, several of her friends and colleagues talk to me about Gallop's "masquerade" or "performance" as a "bad girl"; much of what Gallop would do in public, they say, is precisely what she wouldn't do in private. Her critics on the UWM campus, though, could interpret the kiss only as a tip-of-the-iceberg anecdote: If this is what Jane Gallop does in the open, just imagine what she does behind closed doors.
Gallop's own account of the barroom clinch does more to advance her pedagogical theories than it does to clarify her motives. "I wanted the other graduate students at the bar to think about the erotics of the relation between teacher and student," she says. "You know, a lot of the reaction, both gossipy and official, to my case is that what I have done in general, and what I must have done that night, was to make students uncomfortable. And the way things are going with sexual harassment policy, people are beginning to interpret 'hostile environment' as anything that makes students uncomfortable. Well, I have a problem, because I feel that part of my job as a teacher is to make students feel uncomfortable, to ask them questions they don't necessarily want to face."
Gallop may have been deluding herself when she assumed that she and Beckelman shared the same playfully transgressive agenda or that Beckelman could ever resist the opportunity to use the kiss against her. She probably should have paid heed to the barely contained rage in Beckelman's conference presentation the next day, when she amended the paper she was giving to include the lines "I don't have a problem fucking Jane Gallop as long she practices safe sex. After all, she is merely an 'other woman.' I do have a problem fucking my dissertation adviser." Beckelman says she meant this as a "public rejection of any intent to have sex with Jane." Gallop says she didn't think of it much one way or another since the paper dealt with her work and was full of bold puns; besides, she says, she already took it for granted that she and Beckelman would never sleep together. In fact, Gallop told her afterwards how much she liked the paper, though she challenged Beckelman's interpretation of the nurse on the cover of Thinking Through the Body as "a lesbian figure." (The cover photograph shows a nurse assisting at a birth.)
If Beckelman felt any lingering anger over the kiss, she didn't show it. She and Gallop continued to work together during the spring and summer; they went out at least once for Mexican food and once for beer, and, Gallop says, hugged "in the manner of old friends" when they said good night. Though Beckelman told Gallop that her girlfriend, who had been at the bar the night of the kiss, had been made jealous by it, Beckelman never said she was disturbed by it herself. The trouble came, as it always had with Gallop and Beckelman, when Gallop began passing judgment on her work.
Beckelman was writing her preliminary proposal--the three- to five-page essay in which she was to define the field she'd be examined in and which Gallop thought of as a key intellectual exercise, the first step in transforming a grad student into "a mature, autonomous, and original scholar." Gallop found Beckelman's initial attempts to formulate her field (she wanted to work on some aspect of feminist academic writing) confused, and the teacher marched her student through four or five drafts (Beckelman says five; Gallop remembers four). "I was very frustrated," Beckelman says. "I called it the rigor patrol. The second version I thought was very good, the third draft I thought was better, but the fourth and fifth got worse. I realized that the first three were all trying to articulate my ideas, but the fourth and fifth were trying to articulate hers." (In her complaint, she writes that "I feel at this point there is a direct relationship between Jane's rejection of my proposals and my rejection of her advances, but I cannot, of course, prove this.")
The following December, Beckelman wrote to Gallop to tell her she had decided to withdraw from the rhetoric and composition program and switch to the creative writing concentration. Gallop was disturbed by the wistful and intimate tone of the letter--Beckelman, she says, wrote that she had been sweeping her new apartment in the nude, it was four o'clock in the morning and she was thinking of Gallop, feeling sad about her plan to switch to a program in which Gallop could no longer advise her. (Beckelman's recollection of the letter varies slightly from Gallop's: She says that when she mentioned sweeping in the nude, she was alluding to a photograph of Gallop taken by Blau that hangs on Gallop's office wall.) Gallop showed the letter to a colleague, who remarked that it sounded like a letter from a lover mulling over a breakup, and urged her to talk to Beckelman about the basis for her decision.
Here is where Gallop's and Beckelman's accounts diverge most markedly: Gallop says this conversation occurred over coffee a few weeks after she got the letter; Beckelman says it happened earlier, in September, when Gallop would have still been her adviser. Whenever it took place, the conversation began amicably. Beckelman said she had always wanted to pursue fiction writing but had worried about making a living at it. Gallop said she respected her decision to develop her talents as a prose stylist because it was her narrative writing that, as her teacher, Gallop had always thought the strongest. (In her complaint, Beckelman says she was forced to switch to creative writing by Gallop's amorous attentions--a problematic claim, since Gallop doesn't teach in the rhetoric and composition program or serve on its advisory committee, and Beckelman had gone out of her way to work with her in the first place.)
But later in that same conversation, Beckelman returned to an old theme: Had Gallop ever slept with women? Had she ever really been attracted to a student--to her, say? "Attempting to be fully honest in my answer," Gallop writes with astonishingly reckless--yet typical--candor in her official response, "I said that I had in general not felt any attraction to her" but that she remembered noticing on one occasion how nice her breasts looked in a silk tank top and had once "wondered to myself and in conversation with Dick if Dana's sexual experience with women meant she knew something that could free me from a pattern of increasing sexual rigidity." Why would she say all this to a student, even a former student, who brought more baggage than a Ryder van could hold to this particular conversation? The titillation of resurrecting a fleeting desire, perhaps. Or Gallop's compulsion to confessional honesty. Or her reluctance to be thought of as some goody-two-shoes hetero chick. Her explanation is that she was "trying to say that although I do not have sexual relations with students, I do sometimes experience real desire. I said this because I was also responding to her earlier suggestion that I was playing with a kind of fashionable lesbianism, pretending to feel attraction to women when it was in fact a pose."
For almost a year, Beckelman pondered filing a complaint, but didn't. She eventually earned her Ph.D. in creative writing (and now holds a teaching post at a university in Tokyo). She still talked about Gallop, but usually only to express the congealed scorn and pity of the up-and-coming for the old-and-out-of-it: "It's a boredom thing," she tells me. "She's done everything she set out to do. I mean, I'd feel like I was just hitting my stride, like Madonna. But maybe she feels, Hey, I've done the book thing, I've done the child thing."
What finally convinced her to file charges, she says, was hearing that another grad student, a friend who was also a lesbian, felt she, too, had been badly treated by Gallop. Beckelman told the friend that together they could stop Gallop. As Beckelman explains in her complaint, while she couldn't "link Jane's sexual behavior toward me with her negative responses to my proposals," the other student's story "showed that Jane uses academics vindictively against sexual rejection." Besides, Beckelman had worried that if she was the only student lodging a complaint, she would be "constructed as having implicated myself by having kissed [Gallop] in the bar."
The truth was that Beckelman had not only implicated herself but also seemed at times to revel in her implication. When she brought the case up in a column she wrote in March 1993 for the Lesbian and Gay Studies Newsletter, Beckelman sounded less like an aggrieved victim than a P.C. Hedda Hopper, hard as nails and almost gleefully dishy: "Gossip has it, my dears, that at the MLA the rumors were flying (or being whispered discreetly) that I and someone else had filed sexual harassment complaints against Jane Gallop, so I don't think it's entirely out of line to confirm those rumors here. Yes, the investigation is in progress, and yes, as a result, that's all I can divulge (at least publicly). I can say, however, that the entire ordeal has been cause for my thoughts to be preoccupied."
Whatever one ultimately concludes about Beckelman's complaint, it's not hard to see why it warranted investigation. But why did the university treat the second student's complaint with equal seriousness? The charge was bolstered, of course, by its coupling with Beckelman's, but it's also useful to remember that in the fall of 1992, UWM had a strong incentive to treat sexual harassment complaints with elaborate deference--it had a P.R. nightmare on its hands that had everything to do with its record on such cases.
The second student (she has since transferred away from UWM, declines to be interviewed, and prefers not to be named) focused her complaint on Gallop's refusal to write her letters of recommendation to Brown and Johns Hopkins, though Gallop had previously written a letter on her behalf to the University of California at Santa Cruz. She admitted that she had willingly "engaged in a mode of sexual/intellectual pedagogical exchange with Gallop," but, she claims, Gallop then made sexual advances and when they were thwarted retaliated by treating her in "an inconsistent and conflicted" manner--that is, writing a letter of recommendation to one school but not to two others. In au courant, if somewhat confused, diction the student goes on to explain that "it is at the level of the institutionally enforced power differential (which Professor Gallop knowingly exploited) that I wish to locate the harassment."
The notorious rocking-chair incident occurred one night in June 1991 when the student dropped off a paper at Gallop's house. It was raining, she was riding her motorcycle, and she asked to stay for a while. They sat in the living room talking and had a few drinks. When the student said she was hungry and couldn't drive home until she ate something, Gallop poked around in the fridge and pulled out some leftover tabouleh. On her way to the kitchen, she walked past a downstairs bedroom and seemed to pause, which the student found insinuating. At another point Gallop reached over with her foot and rocked the rocking chair, which the student also found insinuating. Much is made in the complaint of Gallop's foot being bare. The student also mentions that a few months earlier, at a party after the gay and lesbian graduate student conference (the same conference during which Gallop was supposedly pursuing Beckelman), she felt Gallop was hovering in or around the groups of people with whom the student was talking. (Since the student's complaint alleges quid pro quo harassment--that is, that Gallop refused to write the letters of recommendation because her sexual advances had been spurned--it seems worth noting that Gallop wrote the one letter and declined to write the others within the same three weeks in December, more than six months after the alleged come-ons occurred.)
Gallop says she could support the student's application to UC-Santa Cruz because the student had told her she wanted to pursue gay studies, and Santa Cruz was strong in that field, but she could not endorse her for a more general graduate program in English at schools not known for gay studies. The student had taken only one class with her--an undergraduate lecture course she had actually audited--and she had been faltering at UWM, picking up incompletes and growing ever more frustrated with the scarcity of gay studies offerings there. In her official response, Gallop also says she cannot see how declining to write a letter of recommendation constitutes a form of retaliaton against a student.
When UWM's Office of Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity finally released a finding on the case in December, it agreed with her, and in strong language: "While [the student] claims she felt these acts were 'sexual in nature,' she does not describe a single incident that could be defined objectively as such. Such feelings, unaccompanied by words or actions on Professor Gallop's part, are not contemplated within the definition of 'sexual harassment' by either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's regulations or courts. . . . Professor Gallop's reasons for refusing to write letters of support for her are entirely reasonable and plausible."
The second student's complaint may have been patently, even comically, flimsy, but it's important to remember how inflamed the atmosphere was when the charges were filed. A state legislative audit performed in the spring of 1991 had faulted UWM for not taking complaints of discrimination and harassment as seriously as the law demanded. The affirmative action office, it said, did not keep adequate records of student complaints, dragged its feet when it looked into them, and sometimes lost files altogether. Meanwhile, a routine U.S. Department of Labor investigation had revealed that the university had not filed the affirmative action report required by federal law for five years. So the Department of Labor decided to look a little deeper: In the fall of 1992, it issued a stinging report that identified "patterns and or practices of discrimination" in UWM's hiring and promotion of women. It threatened to freeze federal grants for the entire UW system--some $350 million worth--if UWM didn't take steps to rectify the problem. (The university has since reached an agreement with the federal government in which it promises to revamp its affirmative action procedures and offer jobs and back pay to a number of female faculty members who left or were not promoted.)
None of this was happening quietly. For months, the Milwaukee newspapers and politicians had been taking UWM to task. State senator Barbara Notestein had declared that "something was rotten at UWM" and called for the resignation of Chancellor John Schroeder unless he took steps to correct sex discrimination on his campus. Somebody organized a Victims of UWM Support Group, which advertised its mission in the student paper: to aid "healing by acknowledging what the UWM families will not--the covert nepotism, patronage, unethical practices and discrimination by UWM Families based on gender (male and female victims), race, economic class and ethnic or religious affiliations" and by pursuing remedies such as discrimination suits for those "crippling abuses."
Moreover, the individual cases of discrimination and harassment that had come to light were embarrassing in the extreme. The best known--it even showed up as a segment on NBC's Street Stories--was the Ceil Pillsbury case. Pillsbury was an accounting professor in the UWM business school who filed a sex discrimination suit against the university for denying her tenure in 1989 while granting it to three similarly qualified men. Last year she settled with UWM, winning tenure plus back pay and legal expenses. In the meantime, Pillsbury proved to be a stunningly marketable injured party. A Republican and born-again Christian who had never been, as they say, a troublemaker, she was fresh-faced, preppie-looking, and married to a wealthy businessman who did not begrudge her the mounting costs of battling the university. Worse still, she told tales of a sexism so crude and retrograde you wondered whether her colleagues had been cryogenically preserved since the Barney Rubble era. After deep-sixing Pillsbury's tenure bid, for example, the business school's tenured professors, all twenty of them men, issued a memo defending their decision. In it, they saw fit to mention that Pillsbury had once attended an office Christmas party clad in "a sweater that had a small boot suspended from each breast." Their argument seemed to be that because Pillsbury wore sexy sweaters, she could not be a feminist, and because she was not a feminist, she could not accuse them of sex discrimination. The offending sweater, which Pillsbury brandished on Street Stories and in the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education, turned out to be a bulky wool number featuring a fireplace bedecked with Christmas stockings, one of those special holiday purchases you see advertised in Spiegel-style catalogues. Even if Pillsbury's wearing of sexy sweaters were remotely related to the tenure decision, this was not a sexy sweater.
And if the business school excelled at what's-she-doing-in-our-clubhouse sexism, the art department distinguished itself with tacky sex scandals. Students complained that it had become a place so preoccupied with frantic coupling, it was not only hard to get work done but sometimes downright unsafe. In the fall of 1992, for example, the university initiated dismissal proceedings against one Gary Schlappal, an associate professor of ceramics upon whom, one imagines, the pottery wheel scene in the movie Ghost had a big impact. Students claimed Schlappal (who did not not contest the charges of professional misconduct and later resigned) said things like "Let's go back to your place and party" (to a female undergraduate) and "I had her in a motel room for a month with nothing but a bare bulb swinging over us, and she still doesn't get it" (to one undergrad about another). In addition, Schlappal allegedly had sex with a student in his office one night while other students were working nearby in the ceramics studio. They might not have noticed, except that the woman closeted with Schlappal had left her kiln unattended, causing it to become, as the university report on Schlappal puts it, "red hot": "This created an embarrassing and awkward situation for students J and K as they felt helpless to do anything as Gary Schlappal was in his darkened office with Student I at least until past 12:30 a.m."
Chancellor Schroeder thought one way to diffuse the embarrassing and awkward situation in which cases like this had landed the university would be to ask sociologist Eleanor Miller, one of his critics on campus, to head the affirmative action office and see what she could do to clean it up. Miller had held the post for less than a year when the Gallop complaint came in. Though both feminists, Gallop and she were not allies--Miller had objected strenuouosly and publicly to a conference Gallop had proposed on teacher-student sex--and Miller says now "there was no complaint I wanted to deal with less." Though she worked on the case initially, she recused herself a few months into the investigation, because "there were reasons I felt I wouldn't be seen as an unbiased judge in the case." (The finding was written by Barbara J. Meacham, a lawyer from outside the university who succeeded Miller.)
There were others on campus who wanted to see the case against Gallop pushed as far as it could go. They saw it as a chance to prove the integrity of sexual harassment codes by applying them as stringently to a prominent feminist as they would to some unrepentant Lothario. "Jane Gallop is as bad as--no worse than--the men who do this kind of thing," says Christine Ruh, a former student and self-declared "Victim of UWM" who has devoted much of the past eight years trying to get the university to redress her grievance--a complaint against a professor with whom she had a consensual relationship and who later, she says, treated her badly in class. "[Gallop's] research is about the empowerment of a group of people who have been discriminated against for millions of years. But this case completely negates all that stuff she has said. It's a betrayal of her work."
Gallop's two accusers took advantage of sentiments like these when they began to organize against her on the UWM campus. Last spring, although the investigation was still in progress and was supposed to be confidential, they called a meeting of their fellow grad students to air their complaints against Gallop and to urge a boycott of a conference she was organizing under the auspices of UWM's Center for Twentieth Century Studies. During the conference itself they formed an ad hoc group called Students against Sexual Harassment (SASH) and set up a table immediately outside the hall, at which they sold cookies, muffins, and Day-Glo bumper stickers that read "Distinguished Professors Do It Pedagogically." Students also passed out flyers exhorting conference participants, "Do not allow yourselves to be co-opted into Jane's deluded world."
When Gallop first proposed the conference, she had imagined that it would focus on sexuality and learning and would serve as an occasion for speaking openly about and maybe even critiquing the new generation of sexual harassment and consensual sex policies. But so many feminists on campus protested the idea that Gallop expanded the conference to embrace any sort of personal engagement in teaching--everything from the trials of black female professors whose students are mostly white to the graduate student's ambiguous position as both student and teacher.
The conference, "Pedagogy: The Question of the Personal," attracted speakers from all over the country, from anthropologist Sharon Traweek, who studies the socialization of male and female scientists in graduate school and who is now at UCLA, to Joseph Litvak, a gay studies scholar at Bowdoin. Some of them talked about transference or erotics or sexual identity and some didn't; most of them apparently felt unsullied by their participation in it. Yet some students and professors at UWM continued to insist that the conference was at worst mere window-dressing for Gallop's antic libido; at best, an incitement to too-frank discussions of sexuality in the classroom, which would discomfit or compromise women.
SASH's leafleting incensed many of the professors who spoke at the conference. One of them, Litvak, says it created "an atmosphere of intimidation, of ideological policing" and led him to formulate an angry critique of the entire case: "I can't speak to [its] particularities," he says. "But I think that a lot of the aggression against Jane that seemed to be about sex was really about professional resentment. The leaflets played heavily on Jane's status as a distinguished professor, as though that were in itself culpable. Her salary was mentioned also. It seemed like a lot of displaced status envy getting played out, like what was really behind it was the unhappiness of grad students, their feelings of powerlessness, of abjectness. That's something that people don't talk about very much in the academy, but it's as much a force as some of the other things we're starting to talk about, like sexuality. I guess you could call it the class issue, and it's the last taboo."
In the rhetoric of the protesters and the account of the conference in Milwaukee's alternative newspaper, The Shepherd Express, the difference between say, criticizing sexual harassment policy and sexually harassing, writing about sex and forcing it on your students, seemed to have been handily erased. The Express trotted out the titles of conference papers--"I Walk the Line: The Body of the Graduate Student TA in the University"; "Discipline, Spectacle, and Melancholia in and around the Gay Studies Classroom"; and "On Waking Up one Morning and Discovering We are Them: Power and Privilege on the Margins"--imaginatively detecting sexual messages in papers with little or no sexual content. The article was reprinted in UWM's conservative student newspaper and in Heterodoxy, the right-wing academic scandal sheet.
The irony of all this was that even in its original, more provocative incarnation, Gallop's conference was at least arguably a feminist enterprise. "What I wanted to do when I proposed this conference two years ago was to take this issue and open it up to the debate about sex in feminist theory," she says. "I thought, Great: Now we can really talk about the ideas about sex, education, and women that are behind these policies. And I was truly shocked to have a phalanx of feminists tell me we couldn't discuss this issue publicly; that to publicly show that there were feminists who were asking questions about sexual harassment policy would weaken the policy, would hurt women students, would hurt the victims."
What Gallop had hoped to do at the conference, she elaborates, "is make these policies better, more feminist, and more likely to work. It is my belief that the reason universities have very tough policies on sexual harassment--and very bad records on enforcing them--is that the definition of sexual harassment is being expanded to include many things people don't really think are bad. If you include consensual sex in sexual harassment policy, then you make it easier for a lot of my colleagues around the country, men in their fifties who are married to someone who was their student twenty or thirty years ago, which is not only respectable but maybe a little dull, just to wink and laugh off the whole idea of sexual harassment. When sexual harassment sounds just like sex, then what you get is a situation where everybody officially says it's bad, but everybody does it, which is what you have in a society that thinks sex is bad. Societies that have very strong strictures against sex are not made up of people who don't have sex, they're made up of a kind of vast discrepancy between official discourse and practice--which is what I think we're getting with sexual harassment policy."
Before I leave Milwaukee, I talk with a group of three women: Ruh; Margo Anderson, the brisk, forthright chairman of the UWM history department; and Leslie Fedorchuk, a soft-spoken former art professor at UWM. As we sit around the worn picnic table in Anderson's backyard, they explain why they support the university's policy against consensual amorous relationships between teachers and students, despite the difficulty of enforcing it. "It's hard," Anderson admits, "to imagine my colleagues voluntarily fessing up to a relationship with someone under their supervision." And Fedorchuk chimes in, inadvertently echoing Gallop: "There are a lot of faculty in the art department--men and women--who are married to former students. So this policy becomes really interesting to enforce if you have the bulkhead of the department who has not only done this but doesn't see much wrong with it or thinks this is just the way it's always been done."
One way to encourage professors to pay attention to the policy is to discourage them from seeing students outside the classroom at all. Ruh tells a story about an art-professor friend named Jill who drew the line in what she thought was an admirable way: "Jill had this new student in one of her classes who was handicapped and new in town and didn't have a lot of friends. She was trying to befriend Jill--you know, 'Can we just go out for a pizza and a beer after class?' And Jill sat her down and said, 'Excuse me, but no. The important thing here is that we maintain the professional relationship. Anything outside of that betrays the professional relationship, not only with you but with all other students, because I'm not going out for beer with any of them.' "
Since Anderson nods emphatically, I ask her if she ever worries that something worthwhile might be lost under a rule of conduct so geared to protecting both teacher and student from any unguarded moments. "I think," she says, "that the issue is whether you're favoring one student over another. And you have to ask yourself whether you're getting more out of this than the other person. Why am I doing this? Why would I want to go have beer with my students? Is it because it's part of their education, which is what I'm here for? Or is it because I'm lonely and want to have beer with somebody? And if so, are my students the appropriate people?
"We're working through a whole new series of relationships here. When you look at the broad spectrum, women haven't done very well under the old way of doing things in academe. I mean, I'm the only full female professor in the history department. I look around at the meetings and it's just me and all these guys. So I don't think the old way of socializing or fraternizing your way to the top works very well. I think women lose out."
It's easy to sympathize with Anderson, with her conviction that women would do better if only some of the clubby informality of academic decision-making could be dispelled, the unwritten rules made more explicit for the benefit of newcomers to the game, like women and minorities. And it's certainly easy to understand her frustration with the scarcity of women in the professoriat, where the funnel effect--the more prestigious the school and the higher the rank, the fewer the women you see--still prevails.
But the aspect of her solution that calls for purging teacher-student relationships of as much of the personal as possible in an effort to level the playing field for women strikes me as wrongheaded, a kind of dystopia of sterile professionalism. It makes me think about the intemperate professor who urged me to be an academic, and makes me wonder whether someone has since clipped her wings to fit the times. She was the sort of person who allowed her passion for ideas and history to spill over the edges of class time into long drunken dinners with students, and because she did, she convinced us that what she called "the life of the mind" was a fuller thing than we had ever believed. Even as undergrads, we knew there was something silly and pompous about a phrase like that applied to us, but we loved her for it anyway, for the way she made a job--professor--sound like a wildly inspired vocation. And because she wore little black leather skirts and played up her resemblance to Jeanne Moreau and had a lover and a baby whom she sometimes told us about, she made it seem possible to lead the life of the mind with no apologies for leading it in a woman's body.
Like Gallop, my teacher was a feminist who set herself against the movement's more censorious faction; she must be appalled to see how utterly it has succeeded in imposing its ascetic vision of sexual politics on university life. Remembering her, I remember something Gallop said to me. We were talking about the startling fact that while in the realm of feminist theory, the dispute between MacKinnonite and self-declared bad-girl feminism remains lively and unresolved, in the realm of campus policy the MacKinnonite side has clearly won: It has convinced the world outside the academy that it represents a feminist consensus. "I haven't taught a feminist theory seminar in maybe five years in which I had one student who thought she was in the MacKinnonite camp," Gallop says. "So what I find amazing is that those classrooms in which the pro-sex side of feminism dominates and feeds into things like queer theory are ensconced within an institution in which the other side has already defined the rules. It's not so much that one side won the debate as that the other side went to another discursive space, went to the space of law and policy, and got the upper hand. Whereas the people on my side were still busy teaching classes, writing articles, and arguing with each other."
There is no question that with Beckelman, Gallop made big mistakes. She underestimated the impact that her roster of publications and her grand title had on her student. She gave in to an exhibitionist streak and perhaps to a fleeting attraction when she kissed Beckelman. Again and again, she ignored signs that Beckelman's feelings about her were volatile and ambivalent and only made more so by their friendship.
Yet there is also little doubt that Gallop is one of those exhilirating teachers who makes a difference in their students' lives, and that her kind of teaching is at risk. When university policymakers try to eliminate the possibility of injured feelings or misunderstandings or erotic currents between teachers and students, they run the risk of sanitizing all the life out of pedagogy. Nobody likes to talk about it much these days, but professors who spend a great deal of time and energy on particular students do not generally do so out of selfless devotion (academics are not a notably selfless lot) but out of fondness or identification or the sense that these students will reflect well on them in the wider world--what Freudians might call a libidinal engagement. And these are feelings stirred not only by what happens between teachers and students in class but also by what happens in unexpected moments outside it. As Gallop writes in her appeal, "Have we decided that students and teachers should not go out to eat together, should not become friends, that it is inappropriate if a student comes to care what a teacher thinks of her? It would be unconscionable to make such a radical change in the nature of education without engaging in extended community discussion."
There is something lost when we get too punctilious about defining teaching as a business relationship. And what's lost isn't trivial: It's the glimpses of the professor as a whole person that many students thrive on; the sense that learning isn't confined to the fifty-minute lecture; the passions of teachers like Jane Gallop.
Margaret Talbot is editor-at-large of Lingua Franca. She is currently based in Germany.