In some ways, sex between students and their professors is part of the mythology of academia. It turns up regularly in film and literature. The scenario typically involves a young female student seduced by her older and more knowledgeable teacher.
Historically, male professors have considered a campus full of available young women a perk of academia. They used to call it the candy store, according to the Women’s Research & Education Institute. Attitudes began to change in the 1960s and 1970s, with the rise of feminism and an increasing number of female scholars in academia. Real policy changes did not occur until the late 1980s and 1990s, when courts said schools could be held liable in sexual harassment cases. Since then, many universities have begun to address student-professor dating.
University fraternization rules are sometimes vague. It is a commonly held belief that everyone is considered an adult at the college level and should know where to draw the line. At many schools, there are no formal rules about professors dating students. It is discouraged, but not prohibited. For most educators, there is an unwritten rule that getting involved with students is a bad idea. Even though the vast majority of educators already live by an ethical norm, you still need to show the institution’s position and deal with the rare cases when someone violates it.
Nationally, universities have taken different approaches to the problem of professor-student relationships. At Ohio Northern University, the faculty handbook dictates that “faculty and staff members should not have sexual relations with students to whom they are not married.” At the University of Michigan, romantic relationships are not forbidden but are considered to be a violation of ethics if the faculty member supervises the student. Faculty members are also required to inform their supervisor if they are having a relationship with a student. At the College of William and Mary in Virginia, all dating between professors and undergraduates was banned. This is the direct result of a former instructor writing an embarrassing article about his affair with a student.
The most popular approach is to ban relationships between professors and the students they supervise. This eliminates conflicts of interest but does not get involved in the personal lives of consenting adults. It is usually suggested that no professor should date a student in his class. If a relationship would develop, the professor is required to disclose it so that conflicts can be managed if they arise. Most rules do not specify whether it is acceptable to date after the student is no longer a student in the professor’s class.
Generally, most students have no interest in dating one of their professors. For most students, professors are authority figures who are considered off-limits sexually. If you insist on dating your professor, it is best to wait until you have graduated from school. While it is true that some students have been able to date their professors without any problems, this is the exception rather than the rule. Some of the problems that can occur because of dating your professor include:
Another thing to consider is sexual harassment – or at least the appearance of sexual harassment. By dating a student, the professor is vulnerable to charges of harassment. This may not be the case, but that might be what it looks like. Sexual harassment can end a professor’s career. Students that date professors can come under suspicion of sexual harassment as well.
One thing to look out for is the older (usually male) professors who seek out attractive young students to boost their self-esteem. This stereotype doesn’t apply to all professor/student relationships, of course. If you find that you are a trophy for a professor you are dating, you should question whether you really want to be with someone who cares about you because you are a boost to their ego.
Some relationships between professors and students fizzle when you leave the classroom environment. What you originally found sexy and charismatic may seem horribly normal and bland outside of the classroom. In addition, part of the attraction of the professor/student relationship is that is taboo. Once the semester ends and the taboo is gone, that attraction may disappear.
There is no need to categorically rule out a relationship with your professor. Love is a hard thing to find and sometimes it begins in less than ideal situations. If you are considering such a relationship, think carefully about your decision. Keep in mind the reasons you are attending college. A sexually charged atmosphere is not usually conducive to learning. Isn’t that why you’re here?
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