Pop Quiz: Liaisons dangereuses
The recent release of two novels that share a common theme of student-professor entanglements have once again brought out into the forefront of the public imagination an old academic tradition that most of us would prefer to leave in the Bad Old Days, except for the fact that even decades of institutional pressure and an overwhelming shift in cultural attitudes haven’t quite managed to root it out entirely. I would bet that most of us in academia know at least one couple of a certain age who met when one was a student of the other, and many of us probably also know that one professor who has a reputation for behaving badly with impressionable young undergraduates. At my undergraduate institution, for example, there was (and I suppose still is) a professor who actively sought out undergraduate men on the internet and in his classes, with the eventual (and rather shocking) result that a substantial minority of male members the campus LGBTQ organization admitted to having slept with him in an introductory game of “Never have I ever.”*
I have thankfully never been in a position to have to rebuff a student’s romantic overtures (let’s say that, despite my lack of chili pepper on the pit that is rateyourprofessors.com, it is because all my students know I am a consummate professional). I have, however, definitely seen it happen at close range: while I was finishing my MA there was one TA in our department who was openly sleeping with a first-year in his tutorial. I never found out if the professor in charge of the course was aware of the situation, or what effect (if any) this had on the student’s marks for the course, but the whole scenario really seemed inappropriate despite the two students’ relative closeness in age (the TA in question was in his first year of graduate school). I have also heard stories from older colleagues of open offers of sex in return for grades, which is presumably among the reasons our new faculty offices now have glass paneling instead of walls.
But I can’t help but wonder why (especially now) people are willing to put their careers on the line for something like this. Even at the ripe old age of 29 I can’t really imagine anything more boring than dating an undergraduate with no real experience of the world and an incomplete education. Is the paederastic instinct (in the educational if not always literal sense) just that strong?
So what about you guys? Has anything like this gone on at your institutions? Have any students put you in an awkward position by making advances? Have you actually seen a colleague get punished for this kind of behaviour? What gives, anyway?
*Note to campus LGBTQ groups: this game may not be the best way to make first-year students feel comfortable with you during orientation week, especially when it starts to cover this kind of territory.
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.