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Old 05-24-2012, 05:01 PM
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samines samines is offline
Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: (Mountain-y, western) NC.
Posts: 28

I'll start out saying, you seem to have a very inflexible opinion on the student/professor relationship, and I don't quite agree- but I take it that's because of your position as a professor, and I do really appreciate that you're part of the discussion.

Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
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.
Yes, it is about the context to a large degree- but the context of my college seems to be different than the context of yours. I was actually a little surprised at first, but it's just the way it is here. Students and faculty are friends, they share details of their personal lives, they interact out of school... certain faculty consider some students to be like their "children"- not in a special-exception way, but almost as a rule- my adviser has that relationship with most of the people she advises.

I can't say that they'd be excited, or even particularly tolerant, to have a teacher dating a student... but it's less far-fetched than it might be in another, stricter, context.

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.
Here's where I'm going to argue. Doing something bad, and doing something people see as bad- they might have a lot of the same consequences, but they are *not* the same thing. You seem to be treating them as equal offences, as almost interchangeable... I would be prone to do what I want, if it's not bad, and to stand up and simply say that I think I did nothing wrong. (Well, better to go through the proper channels and *then* do it.) And talk through the why. And hopefully, have the powers that be accept it as such.
I'm willing to do that, to administration or the community or my family or whoever it is that gets worked up.

But of course, most of this is a decision A has to make, and I'm trying to figure out how I can help him slow down and think through it, if that's what I have to do, without pressuring him to follow my (obviously very strong) convictions.

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.
There is no way for A to play favorites! And of course A will have an opinion for himself... and it might be closer to yours, I don't know... but it seems to me that making a personal decision about a relationship does not betray the obligation even to a governor, unless it's actually effecting those responsibilities. Maybe the Governor would get upset about it, yeah, but it's not actually any of his beeswax.

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.
I was responding directly to what km said. Yes, there is a difference between student/teacher and child/parent relationships, but I understand how it could be one thing to have that overlap (like it does at my school, where faculty often consider certain students their children) and a totally different thing to have a partnership, like dating, overlap with the student/teacher relationship. It's the idea that the power rests differently in each situation, and it could be hard or impossible to keep that separated.

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!
First- it is a community college, and I'll only be here for one more year. I know it doesn't fix things, but it does help limit the damage anything could do. For example, I expect he would already know if he was about to be promoted to something more all-encompassing.

The other thing is- I really don't intend to sneak around on this. If he was assigned to a committee that had to decide something he was uncomfortable deciding, or something that would be inappropriate, I expect there would be a way to go to the next person on the chain of command and work around it.

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.
Yes... and I'll go ahead and re-read that in an attempt to let it sink in... obviously, I don't want it to be the reality, but it is.
Still, I think it's about our particular context, and about what exactly A understands as his responsibilities- which may be different than the way you see yours.
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