Saturday, July 10, 2010

(Not) Hot for Student

The recent discussion of students’ genitalia and sexual harassment reminded me of my former school’s policy regarding student-teacher relations. The TA handbook said, explicitly, sex between teachers and students wasn’t against the rules (but perhaps you should strongly consider whether it is wise before doing it). To me, it just seems obvious that it should be against the rules (both consent and fairness in grading are too muddied by the mix of sex and imbalance of power). Perhaps this is a prudish hang-up. Perhaps it’s because my previous experiences teaching primary and secondary students makes me think of sex with students as a kind of abuse. Perhaps it’s because I like men and happen to think they get more attractive with age (within certain limits), so I’ve got no interest in the 18-22 year olds that make up most of my students. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve got someone at home who keeps me more than satisfied in bed. But, really, are academics so horny (or so desperately out of luck) that they can’t just make it against the rules to bone their students?


  1. 'Cause if you make it against the rules, then you have to discipline people and show them that actions have consequences. Duh! *eyeroll* [/sarcasm]

  2. It usually IS against the rules, most places I know of. Of course, I've heard - and this could just be a rumor - that a few universities can't get rules like that passed due to obstinate faculty, which is amusing and worrisome all at once.

  3. This discussion seems to assume students are all 19 and professors who sleep with students are old and desperate. What about a 38 year old assistant professor and a 40 year old graduate student? Does this change the rules?

  4. That two people are close in age doesn't erase the complications introduced by someone in a position of power banging someone over whom they can exert that power.

  5. Confession time: I find the power of the mind quite sexy, and regularly get quite large crushes on my professors. However, even being a non-traditional (read: older) student, I'd NEVER act on that or even show it, because of how markedly unfair the power imbalance is. On both sides.

    Oh, all the questions that would bring up. Is he/she grading me, or the 'relationship'? In what way would my work change if I know that the attraction is sexual instead of mental? Would my grade go down if the relationship went bad? Would my grade go up if I threatened to tell the (insert higher-up here)? It's really an endless, painful, and completely avoidable list. A little professionalism, please people...

  6. This is not a prudish hang-up! I have had some rather attractive professors during my three years at my small liberal arts college, and though I don't think myself to be the most attractive person all of the time, I do know that enough people find me attractive, too. I don't want to wonder if there were ulterior motives for any of my professors to be so willing to spend time helping me when I need assistance--or just discussing whatever material I find stimulating and want to discuss in more detail. He is the professor, I am the student, and any changes to that will compromise my ability to learn. (And I'm paying enough to not want to compromise that...)

    If a student wants a sexual relationship with a professor, or if a professor wishes to pursue a sexual relationship with a student, s/he should wait until that student has graduated. Otherwise, it gets too messy. Friendships are another story entirely--if both parties can agree to not let the friendship affect the class or the grading, I don't see a problem. I enjoy a meaningful friendship with a professor I had my first semester at Moravian, and that relationship has helped me through the rough times, such as being sexually assaulted by a graduate student at the seminary. It has also driven me to explore areas in my studies that I may not have otherwise. I am thankful for it, and don't find it inappropriate.

  7. Exactly. After graduation is an entirely different thing. And I am very friendly with many of my professors, men and women both, but we all know that when we're talking about class, or when we're in class, that's not the friendship time. In fact, I can't wait to not be their student so I can talk more broadly with them on many different subjects, but for now I just enjoy the knowledge they can bring to my life and the friendship they give within the bounds of the student/professor relationship. One more year to graduation... *ehn! ehn!*

  8. In my second semester teaching at Big State College (freshman comp), I had a student follow me back to my office after class to discuss my opinion on things ranging from prostitution to affirmative action. Since this was at least initially well within the realm of relevant to his research paper on the legalization of prostitution, it didn't seem odd at first. When things wandered fairly off track, I finally politely asked him if there was anything else he needed, as it wasn't office hours and I'd like to eat my lunch.

    Only after he left did one of my fellows-in-Cubicle-land pop his head out from his cubicle and inform me that I was being hit on. It honestly didn't occur to me. My undergraduate institution had a standard policy (at least officially) of firing any employee who had a relationship with a student -- even if said employee worked in, say, the Alumni office, or some other non-contact position.

  9. One more year for me, too, Lab Girl. And then it's time to pay back this lovely small liberal arts school with a degree in religion. Fun times...

    Regarding Procris's comment... students with any respect for their professors should know better than to hit on them, especially with a policy like that in effect. Even though you didn't pursue anything (or even realize the student's intentions), the wrong pair of ears or eyes witnessing the conversation could have made life very difficult for you.

  10. Two grad school stories of relevance here:

    #1 - 50-ish "affiliate" (better term for adjunct) male professor, "bad" marriage, adult kids, well-respected, well-liked started a relationship with 1st year 30-ish female grad student he was mentoring. Kept hush-hush until he abruptly divorced wife, impregnated grad student, then quickly married.

    Ick-factor ensued among 70% of the student body. Many of us discussed this and realized that what bothered us was that she was a 1st year; another prof married a grad student when she was ABD, and although it was likewise icky they were closer in age, both single, and he was not her advisor.

    #2 - 45-ish male professor, single, geeky, recently deceased dog (thus lonely), mentions to female grad student "friend" he has been thinking about dating a student. Discussion mostly theoretical and he was obviously not interested in her.

    Enter young, immature MA student with a great deal of ambition (but not a great deal of smarts), a willingness to play the game of academia via sucking up to profs, and has been noticed flirting with prof, wearing tight blouses with more buttons undone than usual, and meeting for "friendly" lunches at downtown hot-spots. She is angling to advance to PhD program. Rumor has it the standing faculty said a collective "Hell, no!" and student slipped away into the night without sealing the deal.

    Do I think profs and student shouldn't date? Hell, yes!

    Do I think some wiggle room should be allowed in cases of profs dating students they have no educational affiliation with? Of course.

    A prof and student should be allowed to date so long as she's not HIS/HER prof and s/he's not HIS?HER student.

    Any pedagogical relationship between the 2? Keep the lips off and the pants zipped until after graduation. Just seems obvious to me.

  11. I think it makes perfect sense to avoid relationships between students and their teachers, whatever the ages. Here's an example. My boyfriend is ABD and teaching. We're in the same department. And the rules would allow me to take one of his classes, since we have a preexisting relationship which the department is aware of (we hang out with the professors and graduate students constantly). But I still wouldn't take a class from him. The whole situation is just too iffy. We'd both be constantly second guessing ourselves. Besides, he thinks so highly of my abilities, I'd worry he'd grade me harder than the other students!

  12. PLUS! One last thought...

    Remember the first day of class in the Fall, when the students are all tanned and buff and fresh and wearing skimpy clothing? Remember looking out at them and you see a few who are do-able or even attract your lingering eyeball once or twice?

    Then remember that 1st assignment and you find out they're about as bright as a pile of logs?

    That'll take the bloom off the rose right quick!

    Well, except for the profs with big egos who like being "the teacher." (Remember the prof Olympia Dukakis befriends in the restaurant in Moonstruck? Ick.)

  13. Relations between students and professors are everso highly frowned upon at my university. In fact, relationships between professors and professors in different departments are kept so discreet, I didn't realize my favorite professor was married to another professor until I stumbled upon the information in a radio address they did together. And they work down the hall from each other.

    Mulling back on things, most of the prof/prof pairs I know don't socialize with each other at school functions. It saves anything at all from reaching the gossip tree.

    And I only know of one professor/student scandal, and that was coercion by the professor, no doubt. Ick. He's still around (tenured and no one could prove anything), but he stopped getting awards for his teaching, and many of his fellow professors give him a rather wide berth now.

  14. There is no problem with prof/prof relationships so long as there is no 'conflict of interest' (that is, my husband, a prof in my university though not my department, would not serve on any committee that decided my tenure/promotion/grant applications). I don't see any ick factor. It's entirely possible most of our students don't know we're married, but it's not because we're 'being discreet' - there's no reason to be. But someone has to be home with the kids while the other one is out at university functions, so we trade child care duties and don't show up at the same official functions that often.

    The rule in my university is that you can't be involved with a student in one of your classes; if there's a pre-existing relationship, then the chair has to be informed and someone else has to evaluate all the student's work. I frankly think the bar should be more stringent than this.

    The problem is the power gradient, but it is also that Plato is right - the pedagogical relationship IS erotic, in that the student wants to be like the professor and know what he knows, but because the student is usually at that highly-hormonal age, this desire can become confused with sexual desire. (I say "he" for the prof because powerful older women are not considered sexy generally in this culture, where powerful older men are; so students don't get crushes on female profs nearly as often, in my observation).

    It is up to the prof to put the brakes on this, to recognize what is going on and be formal, cool, and impose strict boundaries; because we are the adults, damn it, and we're also the professionals. And because it's only by maintaining those boundaries that the student and the prof will both get what they REALLY want - for the student to become like the prof, learn what he knows and how to learn more on their own. To succumb to an affair will usually short-circuit that process, leave the student untaught and shortchanged, and the prof will not have given the student the one thing the student was really there to get.

  15. why would anyone want to date or marry an academic? I see enough of them all damn day.

  16. Here here, Calico! I love that when I go home, I am completely removed from academia!

  17. Ah, but we know what we know. To the outside world, academe is so exciting, glamorous, and full of hidden wizardly powers! That's why they keep cutting our funding - they're afraid we'll take over.

  18. I tend to have crushes on some of my professors, but that's where it stays as a crush. Not only because most of the professors I have a crush on are married, but because 1) I know that my feelings for my professors generally have another root cause which would not be conducive to a relationship 2) I don’t want my academic achievements or lack thereof to be based on who I am dating. 3) I prefer the fantasy to the real thing. Relationships are messy and complicated and more so if you are dating someone who is your professor. How professors act in academia and how they act outside of it, are not always one and the same and students don’t always realize that.
    Once the student has graduated or if there was a pre-existing relationship then fine. But people a student in a professor’s class and darting him or her while she is still your teacher makes life needlessly complicated. If for some reason, they both think they are in love then perhaps the student should transfer from the class.

  19. It's not ethical and should be banned if the faculty member has any influence over the student's grades or is otherwise in a position of power and influence. Even if not, it's probably not a good idea if there's a big difference in age or maturity. I know a professor who treats the freshman class as his personal dating pool, selecting the most naive and impressionable young woman to seduce. Of course they are thrilled with all the attention from an older hot shot faculty member. I thoroughly dissapprove but they aren't breaking any rules since the students aren't in his classes. Another professor fell in love with a student not in his class who was not much younger - maybe 5 years' age difference. She used to bring him into the dormitory for their liasons. I can't be too hard on him, he was madly in love with her and probably would have married her if she was willing, but she ditched him, not wanting to be tied down to just one guy.

    Relationships with students who are currently in the professor's class should be banned. How can the professors be objective about grading their lovers? But you can't infringe on personal liberties and relationships between professors and students not in their classes may be inadvisable and frowend upon, but shouldn't be banned.

  20. Writing a rule is so cut and dried. The icky ones are obvious, what about the less-so?

    Mid-career grad student back (during this shitty job season) for a MS or tech PhD. Meets a young, nubile, humanities prof in local bar. They hit it off, go back to one of their apartments and bump nasties. This would seem to be completely appropriate and completely against a written rule.

    Older prof works at Big State U. Prof's spouse retires, takes advantage of State's rule allowing free classes for seniors. Now the Viagra prescription is worthless, because according to Big State U's rules, they can't do the dirty.

    Are they silly situations? Maybe, but they are completely realistic. Making a rule is stupid. Banging one of your students is also stupid.

    This shit should fall under generic conduct rules. Seriously. Delineating the specific locations one may stick their cocks (or particular items one may insert into their cooches) is at least as immature as the places/things folks stick (into) their cocks/cooches.

  21. A rule need not be so hard and fast. Why not a rule that says, "Don't fuck someone you could exert power over and don't enter a role (e.g., diss. committee member) through which you could exert power over someone you're fucking, except in extremely special cases"?

  22. That last is essentially the rule at my uni. Where there is no conflict of interest, there is no issue.


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