In the volatile mix of academia and sex,
Abramson is sharply criticizing his own employer and colleges nationwide that have adopted restrictions -- and, in a few cases, outright bans -- on romances between faculty and students.
Of course, sexual harassment should not be allowed and no one should supervise or give grades to a romantic partner, says Abramson, who has taught at UCLA for 31 years. But those concerns should not restrict the right of consenting adults to have a non-exploitative relationship, he argues in a new book.
The rights to romance and to choose whom to love are as basic as the freedoms of speech and religion, Abramson writes in "Romance in the Ivory Tower: The Rights and Liberty of Conscience" (
Readers looking for sexy material will be disappointed by his 172-page volume, unless they get turned on by constitutional law and copious references to Jefferson, Madison and the 9th Amendment. There are no steamy scenes of stolen kisses in library cubicles.
But the book has steamed some critics.
University leaders say anti-dating rules protect students, usually graduate students, who may feel their education is at risk when a relationship ends. As expected, the book has triggered a few smirky comments about its author, who teaches courses on human sexuality and whose previous writings tackled such topics as abuse and incest, the spread of AIDS and the history of sexual freedom.
Conservative critic Dinesh D'Souza called Abramson's constitutional arguments a "legal absurdity" and wrote in his online column that the UCLA professor "is certainly entitled to cruise the bars of Los Angeles if he wants to. I just think he should leave his copy of the Constitution behind."
Salon.com, in a blurb that set off a blistering online debate about the classroom and the bedroom, suggested that Abramson might be "a campus Casanova in his own right."
To that, Abramson reacted wryly during an interview at his campus office. "I'm 57 and have three kids and two grandkids. If I'm the campus Casanova, then the campus has a lot of problems," said the professor, who has longish graying hair, a goatee and an earring.
Abramson concedes that his personal life was complicated in his 20s but says he has been a staid suburban soccer dad for the last two decades. Thrice divorced, he is married to a 51-year-old neonatal nurse who has never been affiliated with UCLA.
He points out that he has not had a romance with anyone at UCLA for 20 years, although he said he had serious relationships with two former undergraduate students nearly 30 years ago. One was 13 years his senior, and the other, whom he eventually married, was five years his junior. He met them in his classes but did not date them until later, he said.
Too many people have an unrealistic stereotype of campus love, he said. "The picture of it is the older professor and Suzie Coed. I'm sure such things happen, but the greater likelihood are people of similar ages, with similar interests, going for the same music and movies," like a 27-year-old assistant professor and a 24-year-old graduate student who later get married, he said.
Abramson's book began as a reaction to regulations adopted by the UC regents in 2003; they didn't ban such hookups but declared that professors should avoid romantic or sexual relationships with students for whom they have "or should reasonably expect" to have teaching or supervisory responsibility. That includes students interested in a subject within the professor's expertise -- a definition that Abramson finds overly broad. Sanctions range from written censure to dismissal.