Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Fun is Over at UConn. From

by Daniel Luzer

The University of Connecticut, by a unanimous vote of the school’s board of trustees last week, has decided that from now on sexual interactions between students and professors are prohibited. That’s right: No more sleeping with your students. And no more sexting, either.

Wait, student-professor sex was allowed before this?

Actually, yes. The previous policy at Connecticut was to “strongly discourage” any relationship in which there was some sort of “power imbalance between the parties.” In fact, the vast majority of American colleges have no specific prohibition against relationships or sexual interactions between professors and their pupils, though many have suggested that they may not be such a good idea. In many cases, colleges prohibit relationships only in instances where the professor has “direct, supervisory authority” over the student.



  1. Am I reading this article to claim that if feminists didn't raise a stink, it would be OK to continue sleeping with students?

    I've had some attractive students in the years I've taught. I've been hit on by some attractive students (both male and female). I've never (!) thought of them as people to date. Perhaps it would differ if I were single and available, but I'm not sure.

  2. Yeah, kind of a stupid article, tracing it all back to feminism, the killjoys. That stupidity is a pity, because there are some serious problems with a blanket policy like this.

    What if my wife (hah! as if!) went back to school where I taught? I know several people in that boat right now.

    What about two grad students who date each other? Both are students *and* teachers.

    What about a grad student who dates an undergrad whom she met before they went to the same university?

    It's not contrived to imagine some situations that don't seem to fit this blanket "X is BAD" approach. I have no desire to date students. I'm happily partnered, they're pupae, and I have taste. But I'm not sure I think this sort of "no, it's now all verboten!" policy is such a good idea.

    1. My marriage would be banned according to that particular, over-broad UConn rule. I met my husband while I was an undergrad visiting student doing a summer research internship at the university where he works as technical staff (in the same department, no less). And then I came back to that school as a grad student, in the same department, and we got married. And now I'm a lecturer in the same department where he is still the electronics tech for the research labs. He's 7 years older than I am, we were both in our 20s when we met, and we just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary last month.

      On the other hand, I've definitely known professors who had affairs with their own students and it was kind of sleazy and ethically questionable.

      I can absolutely see how starting a relationship with a student you are directly supervising, either in a class or as a graduate student, can be perceived as (or actually be) wrong. But there are so many exceptions to these kinds of rules that I think it falls under the same kind of category as many other things--you know it when you see it and needs to be taken on a case by case basis.

  3. I agree that situations can be complicated, especially when one takes into account non-traditional-age students and/or isolated institutions, but the basic "don't sleep with someone over whom you have power as a professor or a supervisor" rule (or vice versa, though the primary responsibility for good behavior is definitely on the person with more power) works for me. If the connection between people is strong enough, it can wait until the end of the semester, or until someone can finish a degree, or transfer/get a different job, or get tenure, or whatever. Exceptions probably apply when the power is highly distributed/tangential (grad student and junior prof who won't teach that student, or junior and senior prof in a large program), but in that case it's probably best for the relationship to be public/acknowledged as soon as possible, so the sort of self-recusing that goes on when married couples come to a university in positions of differing levels can take place. I guess that last point is an argument against overly-strict rules; as a look at the history of the treatment of gay relationships would suggest, forcing people to hide perfectly-acceptable relationships isn't really a great idea, either, and can lead to difficulty in identifying relationships that are truly beyond the pale, blackmail, and other difficulties that could be prevented with greater transparency.