Skip

No student/faculty dating policies?
July 8, 2002 11:32 AM   Subscribe

No student/faculty dating policies? I found it odd that most universities don't actually have written policies regarding student/faculty dating. What's even more surprising is how difficult it seems to get tenured faculty out of their positions despite the number of allegations that happen to have been made against them. Or am I wrong in that type of thinking?
posted by SentientAI (30 comments total)

 
They're all adults.
posted by NortonDC at 11:44 AM on July 8, 2002


Last year, a professor at McGill, notorious for having slept with several of his students, was fired. He taught Sexual Ethics.
posted by Marquis at 11:45 AM on July 8, 2002


No, you're not wrong in that type of thinking. It's tough to get faculty members to try out new positions.

Seriously though, I don't know why you'd need a policy on student/faculty dating. If a prof has favourites and hands out biased marks, I don't know how much a relationship with a student is going to change that.

University/College students are old enough to watch out for people taking advantage of them. And I don't know why you'd have rules in place to prevent relationships that tend to "end badly."

Do what you want, I say. And be careful (as with any relationship).
posted by ODiV at 11:45 AM on July 8, 2002


You're wrong
David Mamet said it all (well, he wrote it)
posted by matteo at 11:47 AM on July 8, 2002


Offhand I can think of 3 professors that married students at the small liberal arts college I attended in WA, including the current Dean of Faculty. I always thought this was strange.
posted by rotifer at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2002


dan savage endorses (scroll down to the third letter) such behavior, and you can't get a more convential wisdom-y respected viewpoint than that.
posted by mlang at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2002


The point of tenure is that it's hard to get rid of them. Theoretically it allows academics with long years of service to hold unpopular opinions. In reality it entrenches people. Perhaps the tenure system should be done away with.
posted by ilsa at 12:45 PM on July 8, 2002


Isn´t tenure just having a job? Much the same as any other full-time job? The only reason it's exceptional is that so many academics are on short term positions.

One reason I left academia was that I was fed up with changing where I lived every 3 years. A big reason why I'm living in Chile is that my partner found a tenure position here. Short term positions really mess around with your life.

What I'm trying to say is that the stability tenure gives is important. Too important, imho, to be dismissed because two adults can't end a relationship cleanly...
posted by andrew cooke at 12:55 PM on July 8, 2002


Yours truly, a female junior faculty member, just had a conversation about this with my father, a male (isn't that redundant?--ed.) senior faculty member and department chairman. Both of us teach at public comprehensive colleges. The gist:

1) Absolute bans may not even be legally feasible at state institutions, for the reason NortonDC mentioned. Private colleges have more leeway, as they do in most things (e.g., tenure). Neither my campus (a SUNY) nor my father's (a CalState) has such a policy in place.

2) Ironically enough, there may be other reasons to reprimand a faculty member for engaging in a relationship with a student--for example, if they were, um, doing it in said faculty member's office. (Misuse of state property, for one.)

3) It is reasonable to forbid faculty-student relationships when the student is under the faculty member's supervision. I have always felt, however, that in those cases it is the other students who are being protected: to be blunt, they don't have to sit around wondering if the grading couch is the only way to get an "A."

(Personally, I've always thought that a different reason for refraining from such relationships was because it makes the faculty member look like a blooming idiot. Looking back on my undergraduate and graduate days, I seem to recall an incredible amount of student contempt for those faculty--normally male--who made a habit of getting involved sexually with their students. We were kinder to those who actually married their students, and, more importantly, stayed married to them.)

4) My father pointed out that, despite the usual argument (complaint?) that faculty-student relationships only became taboo during "the age of sexual harassment," that in fact it was already a serious issue in the early 1960s. (Or, as he was warned in graduate school: "Keep your hands off the students, because nobody will believe you if something goes wrong.")

Incidentally, our discussion appears to be encompassing both consensual faculty-student relationships and those considered "harassment." Barring the presence of a total ban on faculty-student relationships (unlikely), there's no reason to dismiss a tenured faculty member for the former. On the other hand, it is certainly possible to get rid of tenured faculty for the latter, or at the very least penalize them. Whether or not the penalties are sufficient is, of course, a matter of debate. A famous case in the 80s involved a Princeton faculty member who was found guilty of harassing one of his male graduate students; he was suspended for a year without pay (a rather hefty financial penalty, in other words). However, his department clearly disagreed with the punishment, since there was a mass exodus upon his return...
posted by thomas j wise at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2002


They do have a point about the significant power differential though. As a student in college, I can certainly see the temptation of having a relationship with a professor if it would either improve your grade or prevent your grade from being worse. And believe me, with the favoritism professors show in their grading, I'm sure the opportunities abound.

However, if the professor doesn't have the kid as a student, what's the point of regulating it? As Norton said, they're all adults. I was extremely insulted by the provost's comment about not being mature enough to make a decision by 18 or 19. If you're not mature enough by then, when are you?
posted by statusquo at 1:03 PM on July 8, 2002


If you're not mature enough by then, when are you?

For some people, never.
posted by jaden at 1:06 PM on July 8, 2002


Sample policy:

"It is unwise for faculty members to engage in sexual relationships with students even when both parties have consented to the relationship. Such relations are prohibited when a student is enrolled in a class taught by the faculty member, is an advisee, or is in some other way subject to the faculty member's supervision. Also prohibited are sexual relationships between staff and students they advise or supervise."
posted by sheauga at 1:36 PM on July 8, 2002


Consenting adults should be allowed to have sex with each other whenever they wish.
posted by bingo at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2002


tjw:

(Personally, I've always thought that a different reason for refraining from such relationships was because it makes the faculty member look like a blooming idiot. Looking back on my undergraduate and graduate days, I seem to recall an incredible amount of student contempt for those faculty--normally male--who made a habit of getting involved sexually with their students. We were kinder to those who actually married their students, and, more importantly, stayed married to them.)

looking back on my college career (which concluded recently), i can't recall any student-faculty relationships except possibly one. even then, the person involved was a graduate student (albeit one who taught). i guess this is more common in some schools than in others?
posted by moz at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2002


This is funny, bcause just last night me and my boyfriend were dicussing him taking a teaching job at a private college. I'm 24, he's 30. I have a year left at this school, and he won't be teaching any classes I will be taking. The point being, if he decides to take this job, we have to keep our long term relationship under wraps because of the school's policies. Doesn't seem fair in this case, but that's the way it works, eh?
posted by Windigo at 3:04 PM on July 8, 2002


i guess this is more common in some schools than in others?

I wouldn't know if it was "common" at either school I attended--it was more a matter of notoriety. We all learned fairly quickly which faculty a) slept with, b) made passes at, c) had been charged with sexual harassment by, or d) married their students. (Never underestimate the power of the student grapevine.)
posted by thomas j wise at 3:44 PM on July 8, 2002


What Norton Dc said. The college system is becoming a prolonging of childhood, with the College simply replacing the parent.
posted by brucec at 4:51 PM on July 8, 2002


More patronizing puritanical interference in the lives of adults. The problem, where it exists, lies in favoritism and grade inflation. And that wouldn't be any different if someone's wife or husband enrolled in one of their classes. What happens outside of the scope of the classroom is irrelevant.
posted by rushmc at 5:51 PM on July 8, 2002


Would you please explain exactly how "favoritism" can be defined, legally or otherwise, and how to go about eradicating it?
posted by raysmj at 6:18 PM on July 8, 2002


presumably favoritism in this context simply means that a student receives a grade in the course disproportionate to the quality of their coursework and/or performance in examinations and midterms.

in a lot of cases, it's going to be really difficult to make a "legal" definition of that stick, but i gather the assumption is that if an instructor is involved with a student while that student is taking said instructor's course, then you're just asking for problems, no?
posted by juv3nal at 6:50 PM on July 8, 2002


Exactly. I think "favoritism" here is something on the order of "conflict of interest" and "nepotism."

There are complications with professors dating students that go beyond grades or favoritism. For example, you walk into a professor's office, realize there's nobody else around at the moment, and start feeling uncomfortable that the professor might be scheming on you, given that he's asked your friends out before. This atmosphere is not conducive to focusing on learning and intellectual development. Admiring beautiful young students from a respectful distance is fine, but all too often, chivalry and courtliness get replaced by soap opera. Just ask people who have witnessed a messy professor-student breakup what went wrong, and you may well hear about situations which were very disruptive for the larger community. What makes these professor-student situations so unusually problematic? I don't know exactly. One factor is that professor and student can have way too much at stake-- should things go sour, it may become necessary for one party to leave their livelihood or course of study in order to separate.
posted by sheauga at 7:02 PM on July 8, 2002


I just want to know which universities you people attended where professors actually graded material. Sure, the prof always has final say (well, there is the dean), but even in relatively small classes (30-50 interested students) at the senior/graduate level, the single TA does all of the actual grading. I had one professor that insisted on grading all of the tests (but none of the homeworks or projects), and he was a noteworthy exception!
posted by Eamon at 7:23 PM on July 8, 2002


Tenure makes professors lazy. Talk to university web designers. They'll tell you about how the new assistant professors are excited and active in getting their course material online. Tenured professors, generally speaking, could care less. And it's not an age/old dog issue either.
posted by fleener at 7:32 PM on July 8, 2002


What makes these professor-student situations so unusually problematic?

Professor-student relationships are often emotionally charged to begin with, particularly if it's a student with whom you're working quite closely. Students may translate a professor's expressions of approval and encouragement into feelings of "love" and "liking," for example. And sometimes those feelings really are there--there was a lovely article in the Chronicle of Higher Education a couple of weeks ago about "unconditional love" between faculty and students--but often the student has over-personalized the situation. There's also the issue of hero-worship. From the other side, professors can get drunk on the realization that students admire them. Indeed, many faculty admit that there is a kind of eroticism involved in the teaching process: you're "romancing" the students, trying to get them emotionally invested in the subject matter.

I just want to know which universities you people attended where professors actually graded material.

At a research university, you are indeed going to get a T.A. for any class above 25 or so (more, of course, in very large lectures), but the professor should be doing his/her own grading in a smaller class, lecture or otherwise. When I taught for a year at the U of Michigan--Ann Arbor, I had a reader for one class per semester but did all the grading for the two freshman comp sections. I'm not sure about the "no grading" routine--at the U of M and the two research universities I attended as a student, the professor was required to grade a certain percentage of student assignments. (In fact, I thought having a grader increased the workload, since I had to double-check what he or she was doing to make sure that our grades were matching up.)

However, if you're at a "comprehensive" or at a college with no Ph.D. program, you'll have the exclusive attention of the professor. I do all my own grading (between 60-110 students per semester, depending on the classes I'm teaching).
posted by thomas j wise at 7:48 PM on July 8, 2002


For example, you walk into a professor's office, realize there's nobody else around at the moment, and start feeling uncomfortable that the professor might be scheming on you, given that he's asked your friends out before.

Or, as happened with two of my roommates, you have to interact with a professor in whose class you're having troubles. Meanwhile, you know that he's been sleeping with the roommate who hates you, and has probably heard her skewed complaints/viewpoint about you, therefore shading his perceptions. Or you're afraid that he has, which can be just as bad.

If we all lived in a bubble, then these sorts of things (like employees sleeping with the boss, or fraternization in the armed forces) might not be worth discussion. But in the real world, our choice of relationships can have a negative impact on those around us, especially when they're between people who are not peers, and with whom there is an imbalance of power.
posted by Dreama at 8:07 PM on July 8, 2002


Hmm. I had exactly one professor hit on me. She was reasonably attractive, and I was single, but my surprise, wariness and naïveté (yes, I was wary and naive) kept me from showing any interest. I thought it was weird, and nothing became of it, at all.

I attended two colleges. The first was 2X,000 students, the second about 4,000. At the smaller school all my work beyond physics labs was graded by professors, while at the larger school it was an unpredictable mix, ranging from TAs to computer-evaluated programming code to completely direct evaluations solely from professors.


P.S.
The smallest class I ever took (6 students) was a classics in translation class at the larger school, taught by the professor that hit on me. There's some personal attention!
posted by NortonDC at 8:21 PM on July 8, 2002


I attend a small Liberal Arts college where all of my work is graded by my professors and there is a great deal of individual student/professor interaction. In such a setting where there isn't a layer of TA's to separate the students from the faculty I think it's not all that difficult for educational interests to become twisted with romantic interests. (Heard it through the grapevine) Were the two to become tangled I'm afraid the outcome would be pretty messy.

Just because it's legal doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea. If the pair interact in the classroom or other academic setting I'd say it's ethically objectionable.

Also, if Universities can't put together legally defensible rules against such relationships, how about an 'honor code' of some kind?
posted by lpqboy at 8:46 PM on July 8, 2002


I also think that a hard (as it were) policy against student-prof interactions may not take into account the volume of older students who are returning to university.

Whereas it might be in bad form for a 45yr old teacher to hit on an 18yr old student, what about when a 45yr old student asks a 40 yr old prof out? It's situations like that where the "rules" get a little fuzzy...at least in my mind.

My rule of thumb as a student was to avoid profs in my department. As a university employee while in grad school, dating freshmen didn't even cross my mind as something I'd want to do...no real Mrs. Robinson desire to train up my own cabana boys I guess. ;-)
posted by dejah420 at 9:11 PM on July 8, 2002


I have a friend who lectures at one of the newer British universities. Their policy is that lecturers can have relationships with students, so long as the relationship is written into the 'book of shame' (I suspect it has a different official title) to ensure there is no favoritism in marking etc.
posted by prentiz at 4:27 AM on July 9, 2002


The point of tenure is that it's hard to get rid of them.

How true. While I don't believe that tenure should be dismissed entirely, I do think that it should have stricter limits. The last thing I'd want to see is a sociology professor running willy-nilly all over campus with nothing but a pair of socks on.
posted by samsara at 11:31 AM on July 9, 2002


« Older   |   Of all species that have... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post