Professor Romeo

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jacob Barker is a libertine, a tenured, published, professor of psychology at Harvard University, but nevertheless a licentious and morally unrestrained pariah, an individual who despite his impressive academic credentials is governed more by his libido than his intellect.

As PROFESSOR ROMEO opens, Barker learns that his career as an academician and an unrestrained sexual adventurer among the female undergraduate population of Harvard University is in jeopardy. The newly appointed Dean of Women’s Affairs is determined to eliminate sexual harassment in the university, and Jake, alias “Professor Romeo,” is to be the first victim of this crusade. The term “victim,” however, is more than slightly inappropriate with respect to Barker, for, as he would be the first to admit, the charge of sexual harassment is completely justified. Indeed, since his days as a graduate student Barker has preyed on the vulnerable and the academically suspect in a never-ending quest for sexual nirvana--a lascivious journey which has brought about the wreckage of two marriages and the destruction of a score of women whom he has used and, to one degree or another, abused.

Anne Bernays set herself an extremely difficult task, namely, to humanize, analyze, and yet not empathize with this deeply flawed man. Sexual harassment of students by those entrusted with their intellectual and moral development is a crime with an ancient lineage, but one which has all the moral standing of incest. In this sense, therefore, Bernays performs a useful service in that she gives a human face to the mass of statistics and anecdotal evidence concerning this most pernicious of professorial malefactions. Jake Barker is anything but an attractive person in a moral sense, and Bernays is to be applauded for presenting him without the slightest socially redeeming feature.