ProfsBlog asks the question regarding law professors and law students, but the question doesn’t change by narrowing the definition. The question is really, and only, “Is it ethical for teachers to have romantic relationships with students?” The answer is, has been, and forever shall be, “No.”
The answer to an ethics question sometimes becomes obvious when it is apparent that every argument on one side is either a logical fallacy, an unethical rationalization, or the application of an invalid ethics principle. Such is the case here, and thus I somewhat question the motives of the author of the post, Kelly Anders. Wishful thinking, perhaps? Asking the question creates the illusion that there is a real controversy. In this case, there isn’t.
I addressed this question a long time ago, in an early post here barely seen at the time but among the most frequently visited since. I wrote:
[P]rofessors [are] obligated to maintain a position of authority, objectivity and judgment as mentors and teachers of the whole student body, and [have] a duty to their schools not to allow their trustworthiness to be undermined by having intimate relationships among the same group that they [are] supposed to be supervising and advising. Dating a student is a professional breach of trust, and one that adversely effects the integrity of the entire educational institution…. The appearance created when a supervisor/manager/leader indulges in intimate relations with someone over whom they have authority, status and power—and every professor has authority over every student, in class or out— undermines the institution and the profession, by sending the false message that such relationships are standard, approved, and implicitly desirable in the culture where they occur…A professor has a potential teacher-student relationship with all students at a university, not just those in his or her classes.
Dating a student who happens not to be in one of those classes is what lawyers call “a distinction without a difference.” Many students and professors will reasonably assume that the pairing arose out of the student-teacher relationship, and in some ways it almost certainly did. A teacher always has superior power over any student by virtue of his or her position of authority, and it is an abuse of that power to use it to entice students into dates or bed…
[It] is naive to ignore the extended conflicts such relationships create. Might the professor’s best friends on the faculty be more generous when grading their friend’s significant other if he or she is one of their students? Will the professor consciously or subconsciously be easier on the friends of his student lover if they are in his class? The fact that the question can be asked shows that the situation should not occur where it can be asked.
Students, all students, must be off-limits as romantic partners for professors and administrators in universities, regardless of what rules are in place.Professors who date students risk their jobs because a student body is not their sexual smorgasbord, and it is a breach of trust and duty to treat it like one.
I wouldn’t change a word, except that typo I just noticed, and just fixed in the original. Nor is anything I wrote then revolutionary or new. These are the realities of authority, professionalism, leadership and power. It’s just that sometimes people really, really wish they were not. Continue reading