Niche College Scholarship Blog


Naughty Professor: Love or Lechery in the Classroom?

Naughty Professor: Love or Lechery in the Classroom?
Susan Dutca-Lovell

Social networking is strongly encouraged these days in the academic and professional realm. But what happens when a professor and student delve into a much deeper, complicated relationship? Northwestern academic Laura Kipnis exercised her academic voice to support professor-student relationships as "learning experiences" which received strong backlash, including a student protest and a filed Title IX complaint. Kipnis opposes college conduct rules that ban professors from dating students. Quite obviously, there are many issues regarding conflict of interest, favoritism and the like. We can never be too certain of people’s incentives in such relationships - is it true love, a gateway for strong recommendation letters, or for promising job opportunities post-graduation? Admitting to having one herself, the relationship between a higher-power professor and student now necessitates protection, whereas it did not in the past. Current sexual-harassment guidelines and laws prohibit relations that could further “skyrocket” student’s vulnerability. But you may ask, who is really vulnerable: the teacher on the brink of being fired for an originally-consented relationship or the student suffering emotional injury?

In the exact environment where there is high student accountability, "sexual panic rules." There is a large difference between consensual and nonconsensual romantic relations, as Kipnis points out- the latter requiring true concern. What is at stake here, in lieu of the consensual professor student relationship, is the degree to which new sexual harassment policies and the like come to "expand the power of the institutions themselves." When students accuse professors of emotional abuse, say in the case of a breakup, they are taught to tattle and are spoon fed reassurance. The student crying woe is me, for their own choices, does not decrease professor vulnerability but quite the contrary. All of a sudden, the honeymoon phase is over and professors face job termination due to their students' emotional injury.

In higher education, where students are at the age to consent and make their own choices, consistently pleading for more independence, would it make sense to impose laws that treat them as children? Should students be equally responsible for their romantic involvement without using laws as a crutch when things go awry?

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