In our issue of 17 September Terence Kealey was commissioned to write on ‘Lust’ for our feature on the seven deadly sins of academia. Following media attention today, we are happy to publish this statement from him:
This is a moral piece that says that middle aged male academics and young female undergraduates should not sleep together. Rather, people should exercise self-restraint. Because transgressional sex is inappropriate, the piece uses inappropriate and transgressional language to underscore the point - a conventional literary device. At a couple of places, the piece confounds expectations, another conventional literary device, designed to maintain the reader's interest. Sex between academics and students is not funny, and should not be a source of humour. But employing humour to highlight the ways by which people try to resolve the dissonance between what is publicly expected of them and how they actually feel - not just in this context - reaches back to origins of humour itself. In his introduction, Matthew wondered how many of his contributors would enter into the spirit of levity that inspired the idea of the seven deadly academic sins (submitting a piece on prevarication late, etc) and I suspected that one could get to heart of all that is wrong with sex between scholars and students by employing the good ol' boy language of middle aged male collusion. I'm not sure I'm wrong.
I am a woman (as helpfully pointed out by a poster on the original article), a feminist and I have a sense of humour. Most importantly, however, I believe in academic freedom and the right to free speech. Terence Kealey was asked to write on the theme of “the seven deadly sins of academe”. He was explicitly asked for a “lighthearted” or “wry” piece, and we suggested the topic of “lust”, which was a “sin” identified by a straw poll of academics; it was not Dr Kealey’s own suggested topic. Dr Kealey’s article was satire. I fully support his right to express himself in this way. If people are offended, that is their right and they also have the right to express that.
If we cannot have freedom of speech and robust debate in the academy where can we have it?