Head to Head / Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Is a Professor Not Allowed to Get Involved With a Student?

Hebrew University paid about NIS 38,000 to a student who complained that a professor in the sociology department had harassed her.

Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, the head of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University's Law Faculty, is an expert on family law and feminist theories of law. She's also a member of the UN Committee for Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Her book, "Women in Israel: A State of Their Own," was published in the United States in 2004.

Yesterday, Haaretz reporter Or Kashti revealed how Hebrew University paid about NIS 38,000 to a student who complained that a professor in the sociology department had harassed her. At first, the university treated the student's complaints that the professor had harassed her after their relationship was over with derision. Then it dismissed the professor. Finally, a deal was struck and the plaintiff was compensated.

Moti Milrod

So from now on, it's forbidden for a professor to get involved with a student?

Look, it's really ironic - after all, academia began with a story just like this one, between a lecturer and a student. It's the story of the French priest and philosopher Pierre Abelard who taught at Notre Dame de Paris in the 12th century and fell madly in love with his student, Heloise, whom he secretly married. They even had a son. But their forbidden love ended in tragedy and the story has become the symbol of romance. Of course, everything has changed today.

Do I hear in your voice the sound of nostalgia for romance?

In certain ways, yes, but not really. I certainly see the possibility in exceptional cases where there is an authentic relationship, completely devoid of exploitation - this is human behavior. And it's possible that there would be relationships between couples of this kind that, even though they formally fit the legal definition of "exploitation of authority" would nevertheless not be so in any way and would be egalitarian relationships. But there's no choice - in view of the old norms and the abuse of them, society must put together regulations that will protect the weak and promote equality between the sexes.

But it's already forbidden now, isn't it?

From the legal point of view or the social point of view?

An excellent question.

Well, a distinction must be made between the normative attitude in the law and the social norms. There's a big gap between these two today, which was created because legislators concluded that the social norms were being abused. Those norms that form the basis for the meeting between men and women in society may harm women.

You're phrasing your words very carefully, but you know very well that especially at the university it's hard to distinguish between a real romance and exploiting authority. After all, this is the most lively, young and intriguing meeting place between the sexes.

That's right. It's possible to compare the university to what used to happen in the Israel Defense Forces. These are the two most significant frameworks where social, intimate and romantic relations develop - in most cases between unattached people who want a relationship. However, Israeli society, which has undergone a maturing process, recognized about both these worlds that there are extreme cases involving power relationships.

Both in the IDF and in the academic world there are, a priori, unequal relations involving authority that can be abused. In both of them, almost always the person who has the power, authority and sway is the man.

Was it much easier to impose the new norm in the IDF?

Correct. The relationship of authority in the academic world is more covert, but its significance is sometimes greater. For example, when we're talking about a supervisor of a doctoral student - his power to help determine one's course in life represents control that is difficult to compare to any employer-employee relationship. The control of a supervisor over the life and future of a doctoral student is tremendous and may, if it's abused, be fateful.

The advantage of the army lies in the visibility of the hierarchy; also, its rules are rigid and applied. At academic institutions, nature is less prepared to accept fixed rules of conduct and supervision. I certainly view the re-opening of these rules at the universities as a sign of the maturity of Israeli society.

I often hear anger and panic among young people. What do you women want, people ask. Both to be protected by law and to be opinionated, successful and strong? Both to come to class with a sexy open neck and also with a "don't touch me" attitude? They sound like they are in a panic especially regarding what they see as the improper use of a line of defense for playing a game. In other words, they have the feeling that their young female friends want to have their cake and eat it, too.

That is, the law has gone too far.

Not the law, the women.

Yes, but this new situation is possible only because of the law because it ... gives women more power, and this really causes anxiety for those who were in power until now. It's very understandable and very characteristic of a transition period. The pendulum is swinging wildly.

The question is whether the swinging pendulum has also given responsibility to women, who have finally won an important right?

I agree with that. I certainly think that responsibility here is placed on the women. Especially in view of the changing reality, they must ... be aware.

Is it possible that a new front is opening here, different from the previous one, in a war between the sexes?

It's possible. I think that at this stage everyone is confused. Both the men and the women. This is a generation that grew up with the previous norms and the traditional values and still sees all the conservative stereotypes in the media. And their romanticism has been painted in hues of power, and suddenly the rules of the game have changed in an extreme way.

From their point of view, this has happened very quickly, without social preparation and in total contradiction to the surroundings that more than at any other time see pornography as the almost sole possibility for eroticism. ... There is an extreme lack of compatibility between the legal norms and the social norms and messages, so confusion is unavoidable. And it's possible that there are women who take advantage of this gap in an unfair way.

But still, this possibility is preferable to what we had previously. It's not terrible that now men are a little bit scared because there is no comparison between the harm that some of them experience and the damage and power of the harm that women have experienced and still do.