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Old 05-24-2012, 05:56 AM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2011
Location: Georgia
Posts: 412

Originally Posted by samines View Post
I'm not in A's class, and although it sounded interesting, it's an elective I can definitely skip it if it means a relationship with A and/or E. A's not a department head or an administrator. He's the advisor for multiple clubs I'm in but the student/advisor dynamic is a lot more flexible than the student/teacher one, it's a lot more of a partnership from the onset.

Honestly, I see is very little power imbalance or ulterior advantage to this particular relationship, if it happens. The biggest thing would probably be time-management- I already ask A for help with a lot of events and ideas I've tried to pull together, and I wouldn't want something as stupid as a college luncheon (well, the favor-asking that goes with that stuff) to screw up our relationship. But we can talk that through, and it really wouldn't be the end of the world if I had to take a step back from organizing campus stuff together. I can definitely find another teacher as a platonic friend so that A isn't my go-to faculty guy.
It does change things - very slightly - that A is not in a direct supervisory role over you.

Even so, the power imbalance exists, and it is real, because of the institutional context in which you interact.

You see, conflict of interest isn't just something that can be worked out between the individuals in a relationship. It's a matter of context.

To be a member of a college or university faculty is to take on a particular role, one that has many benefits, but one that also brings with it serious responsibilities. Other people - students, parents, colleagues, the administration, and the broader public - have certain reasonable expectations of people who fill those particular roles.

One of those is that I not allow outside relationships - personal, financial, or whatever - to cloud, or potentially cloud, or even seem to cloud my professional judgment. If I come across to students, parents, colleagues, etc., as the kind of person who would pursue a sexual relationship with an undergraduate student - any undergraduate student, not just the ones currently in my classes! - then I will seem less worthy of the trust placed in me, and my department and my institution would be tarnished accordingly.

Why should parents allow their children - whose arrival at "the age of consent" is a mere legal convention unconnected to the reality of neurological development - to attend a university at which lecherous old profs are to be found?

It doesn't even matter if the prof really is lecherous. Where professional ethics is concerned, the appearance of wrongdoing can be as serious as the reality.

In my case, I work at a state university, so I am in effect an officer of the state in which I reside. The chain of command runs from me, to my department head, to the dean, through the provost, and from there all the way up to the Governor himself! I have obligations to my institution, the state, and even my profession in addition to my obligation to my students to treat them each fairly and equally, without playing favorites (or even seeming to be the sort of person who could play favorites)!

My own desires, the promptings of my heart, don't even enter into it, let alone any deal I might privately try to work out with a particular student.

You brought up the parent/child relationship in connection with the teacher/student relationship. The two really are quite different, and the obligations of each can easily come into conflict. I would not allow one of my children to take a class I was teaching, because there is a conflict in the way I would think about "their best interests" in the two different roles.

As a parent, I may be expected to place my child's interest ahead of the interests of other children; that's what parents do. As a teacher, I am reasonably expected to treat all my students equally, and not even appear to do otherwise, and also to take into account my institution's interest in having meaningful grades attached to meaningful degrees.

Finally, even if A has no direct supervisory role over you, he still has authority where you are concerned. Suppose he ended up on a faculty committee that considers petitions from students, and you need to file a petition. Or suppose he is involved in developing curricular policies that would have a direct affect on your course of study. Or, given the times, suppose he was involved in a decision to cut one or more programs from the academic offerings of your school, and your degree program was on the block. Or, suppose he ends up becoming Dean of Students, or even Provost.

Et, voila! Full-blown conflict of interest!

In the end, all these words come down to a simple point: It's not just about you, not even about you and him; it's about the context.

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" - Charles Darwin

"Mystical explanations are considered deep. The truth is that they are not even superficial." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 05-24-2012 at 11:27 AM.
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