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Monday, December 22, 2014

The Dating Game

The Dating GameDating is a personal issue – unless it involves the workplace or the classroom.  In several law schools where I have worked, there are professors or employees who are happily married to former students, whom they began to date while they were students.  Perhaps schools turn a blind eye because law students are adults – in contrast to undergraduate students – and, in theory, they are thus freer to make decisions about whom to date, much like people who date co-workers.  But what about unwanted attention or a perceived inability to say no?  An increasing number of companies and schools are instituting no-dating policies for these reasons.  Should law schools follow suit? 

Posted by Kelly Anders on December 22, 2014 at 12:40 PM in Current Affairs, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law, Workplace Law | Permalink

Comments

Professors should not date students. Schools, including law schools, should forbid this behavior, full stop. Whether or not students are adults, in all of their interactions with professors -- the people who will be grading them and responsible, in non-trivial ways, for their professional life course -- it should be crystal clear to all involved what is on the table and what is not. I don't think this is a close question, even as I acknowledge that it happens not infrequently, including among people I know and respect.

Posted by: JG | Dec 22, 2014 10:48:16 PM

Yes, we'll just pass rules and regulations to cover all aspects of adult sexual relationships in law schools. Surely, they'll never be violated. And if the unthinkable should happen and they are violated? Well, we'll hold hearings and ensure that these sex criminals are punished for the temerity to have illicit orgasms about which we can only express the sternest disapproval.

I find it depressing that the original post refers to undergraduates, folks who are 18-21 or older, as non-adults. They're old enough to enjoy the franchise, but apparently incapable of consenting to have sex with a faculty member. Such relationships are often imprudent or distasteful, sometimes unethical, and have the potential for abuse. But I think the idea that there is a non-adult/adult distinction between undergraduates and law school students is fanciful.

Posted by: The Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk | Dec 23, 2014 1:24:12 AM

Professors should not date their students or any students in the school in which they teach. If they want to date a law student, they should resign and do so. Or they should date a law student at some other school.

I am not sure this needs to apply to all law school employees. If there is a youngish person working as a research assistant in the law library or as a secretary, they should be able to consider the student body as part of their dating pool.

Posted by: Blahblah | Dec 23, 2014 7:25:17 AM

My official stance is that faculty and students should not date -- period. The discussion of the distinction between undergraduates and law students was based on speculation as to why the rules might differ, and I agree that the rules should be the same. Regardless of age, students are students, and the teacher-student relationship should be held in the highest esteem, without being diluted or prejudiced by non-professional (and unprofessional) feelings. When I was in the academy, I would not have considered dating a student, and I would not have even considered dating a former student who had been enrolled during my tenure.

Posted by: Kelly Anders | Dec 23, 2014 11:34:35 AM

Well, now. No distinction between "in my class(e)" and "not in my class(es)"? If s/he is not responsible for the person's grades (even blinded), and there is no potential for favoritism (insofar as the student is not the beneficiary of anything at all, grades, references, etc), then can someone please explain who is harmed, and why that harm should trump the right of consenting adults to arrange their personal lives off campus as they see fit?

Posted by: anon | Dec 23, 2014 2:33:14 PM

What could possibly go wrong? No one should think he/she has a right to use the workplace for romantic pursuits, and in a situation of older adults having authority over younger ones, there are lots of potential issues that could arise which would complicate consent issues. Things also change -- though a Professor may not have the student in class one semester, that might change the next, and it is also problematic if a student chooses classes to avoid a particular Professor as a result of issues that have arisen outside of work. This is hardly a new issue but one that is fraught with difficulties, all of which suggest that banning dating between Professors and students is certainly in the students' and institutions' best interests. The Professor's interests should not be seen as separate from the institution. And if a school were to lose Professors because of an anti-dating policy, it is hard to see how the school is not better off.

Posted by: anon | Dec 23, 2014 5:25:33 PM

Kelly,

Just out of curiosity, what could possibly be wrong with "dating a former student who had been enrolled during your tenure"? I really struggle to see any plausible rationale for such a harsh rule. (At least in non-extreme situations, such as a professor and student who want to date but wait until one day after graduation.)

Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Dec 23, 2014 10:12:42 PM

The problem with this type of discussion is that it portrays men as predators and women as "innocent victims." Here is the deal: a large number of women students (pretty much most/all) are very attracted to male professors because - (fill in...prestige, power, etc). This is one of the rules of humanity and it cannot be changed - females are attracted to high status males. They do not always act on this but many will (even the "good" quiet girls). In the corporate world when there are out of town conferences and business trips even married women will play around and jump into bed with a rising star or someone already in a high position. These same women will tell her friends and complain about harassment if a "low" level guy in the office hits on them or if he is "looking" at them. But if a "winner" makes the move on these same women it is often very welcomed. In other words, women will often complain about "harassment" selectively. I worked in a large corporate/law entity and this conduct was rampant. You can preach and legislate but you cannot stop this from happening. No, not every woman will "give in" to the attraction but yes they are all attracted to a powerful guy.

Posted by: Telling | Dec 24, 2014 7:10:03 AM

@Anon 2:33:14:

The response, I think, is that even if a current student is not enrolled in a professor's class, that professor can still do references (assuming the student had in the past taken one of the prof's classes, which seems likely in these scenarios); give advantages to the student in school activities such as moot court competitions; give crucial help in job and internship searches; and etc. I'm not saying all of that always happens, but I think it's fair to say there can certainly still be a very real appearance of impropriety.

@Telling: Your theories about women do not match what I have observed over my 50+ years of life. And, FWIW, I used to handle sexual harassment cases, have taught in that area, am a senior-ish white male chaired professor, and have gone to quite a few out-of-town conferences.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Dec 24, 2014 12:39:49 PM

Joseph, absolutely, there is a potential for the appearance of impropriety or even, in some cases, actual impropriety. But why not tackle the things in question causing the concerns, rather than the underlying relationship between consenting adults? In the real world where there is potential for bias, we sometimes just ask for steps to minimize or compensate for bias, rather than simply prohibiting relationships outright. I am thinking about financial conflicts of interest in special government employees, or outside consulting relationships for university faculty, that sort of thing. Sometimes sunlight, structural safeguards, and integrity are sufficient. Legislating against private romantic relationships troubles me.

Posted by: anon at 2:33 | Dec 26, 2014 4:13:23 PM

Amend the 26th and give full civil rights to 18 year olds

Posted by: Tmitss | Dec 27, 2014 9:37:19 PM

A colleague used to be a professor at UC Berkeley. A curmudgeon at heart. He once told me that many of his female students used to approach him and tell him "I'll do anything to pass this class. ANYTHING."

He bent over close and asked "Anything?", to which they would reply "Anything!"

He would then ask, in a very quiet voice, "Would you ... STUDY?"

Posted by: Ken Mitchell | Dec 27, 2014 9:39:57 PM

I agree with those who say professors should not date current students at the school - whether or not the student has any classes with the professor. Ideally this would be handled at the employment contract level. Barring that, social ostracization should be sufficient.

After they have graduated, I think it would be perfectly fine for professors to date/marry former students.

Where it becomes interesting - what about a preexisting significant other who starts attending the school? Clearly they'll have to temporarily divorce during that period. /facetiousness

Posted by: Ach | Dec 27, 2014 10:49:19 PM

To allow dating of students gives rise to 'putting out' for grades, institutionalized prostitution, encouraging sexual predators to become teachers (we seem to have alot of teachers caught sleeping with underage kids now), and straining the teaching relationship between student and teacher.

None of this is needed.

Teachers teach not only by books and test but by guidance, personal guidance by conduct. The teachers showing students by their own moral and ethical example.

To allow teachers and students to interact on a romantic level (or even just sexual level) is to destroy this guidance.

No, if teachers want to date students, then they should date those in OTHER institutions, not were they work nor whom they teach.

Posted by: Deaf Smith | Dec 27, 2014 10:59:12 PM

What Dad said. "Never put your p****r with your paycheck." Dad wasn't always right. But he was mostly right and this time he's right.

Posted by: Glenn | Dec 27, 2014 11:24:52 PM

The "feminist" position of our lesbian-dominated women's studies departments is that boys and girls should ALWAYS be kept apart, coming up with such brain-children (wouldn't want to have a male-fathered child) as the new California law that makes every previous sex act in the history of mankind illegal. So far that sex-restriction is only for people under the jurisdiction of colleges and universities, but the ambition is obviously universal.

Lesbians are just one more male-brained group trying to gain and control access to females. The amazing thing is how easily duped the hetero-women are, eager to embrace the severest blockades to their being with their natural pair-bond partners in exchange for the promise of having unrestrained power to destroy the life of any man who loves them and leaves them.

Posted by: Alec Rawls | Dec 28, 2014 12:38:45 AM

What is wrong with a girl sucking a D for an A?

Posted by: A | Dec 28, 2014 1:05:33 AM

Ken Mitchell--

That comes from a scene in "The Eiger Sanction", with Clint Eastwood and Candice Rialson.

Posted by: sestamibi | Dec 28, 2014 1:55:53 AM

Typical ivory tower discussion of the "angels on a pinhead" variety. 1.) Who cares about who dates whom? 2.) How often does this occur (i.e. epidemic or happenstance)? 3.) What actual harm comes from this activity? (I know all the potential harms: grades, recommendations, etc., but do these happen often enough to make it worth another regulation?)

Anytime someone tries to regulate human instinct (in this case, the most powerful instinct), the regulation is just ignored, so why bother?

It's like violence in hockey: it happens and could easily be ended, but nobody really wants to do it. (Example: fight on the ice, get banned for life; screw a student, lose your tenure. To paraphrase Mark Twain: ain't neither gonna happen, ever.)

Posted by: Kim du Toit | Dec 28, 2014 2:43:27 AM

The first commenter said all that needs to be said. It's not a close call.

Posted by: tim maguire | Dec 28, 2014 6:41:32 AM

I see it like this: it's fine for a judge to date a lawyer, but it's not appropriate for the judge to hear a case where the lawyer is the advocate. A similar approach could work for professors/students, avoiding the central conflict issue, but it doesn't really address the big-picture problem.

I think what creeps people out is the notion that someone whose profession involves constant interaction with young adults might be in that profession for reasons other than avocation. Nobody wants their daughter winding up with a Dave Jennings type (Animal House). At least nobody I respect.

Last point: the problem of ridiculous kangaroo-court justice systems on campus is not a reason to condone conduct that should be forbidden.

Posted by: misinforminimalism | Dec 28, 2014 7:43:41 AM

No co-ed ever dated her professor and did not expect some special consideration. This puts male students at a disadvantage so they should be allowed to offer bribes, cash or expensive gifts to obtain similar grades. No.. An instructor is given authority not for their personal gain but to teach and as well to present an ethical and moral example for students to follow. The only teachers I remember are the ones who were as demanding of me as they were of themselves....

Posted by: djones | Dec 28, 2014 1:29:03 PM

. On a campus of 20,000 undergrduates, 10,000 grad students who are T.A.'s some semesters and perhaps 1000 professors, some of whom never teach undergraduates and others of whom never teach at all--- they are on pure research positions--- why have an absolute rule against dating? Note, too, that this "dating" can be perfectly honorable, with no more than a sweet kiss before marriage. If it's sex you're against, say that. Also, must all 10,000 grad students stay away from all 20,000 undergraduates? Note, too, that all the while you are permitting the wildest of exploitive behaviors by male students. Should we have a no senior-freshmen dating rule too? That actually seems like a much better idea to me--- there are a lot more girls ruined by seniors than by professors.

How is your anti-dating policy going to be enforced? I can see how you could fire professors who married their students, but how are you going to catch them on a date? I hope you don't think you could just take the girl's word for it--- in that case, all the pretty girls could get A's by just threatening blackmail.

I must admit that I myself married a student. But when a 38 year old business school professor marries a 32 year old music doctoral student there's no potential for abuse of power. And I recall my first years of teaching, when I was 2 years young than the average student in my class (I was 25 and teaching MBA students). If anyone, I was the one who needed protecting.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Dec 28, 2014 5:48:28 PM

What about former students? Is it a lifelong ban, or one that expires after a decent interval - say 5-10 years?

Posted by: Zoe Brain | Dec 28, 2014 9:21:25 PM

If everyone involved is over the age of consent, then the university has NO legal prerogative to prohibit faculty-student relationships. Attempting to enforce Victorian prudery standards is just an invitation to very expensive litigation.

-jcr

Posted by: John C. Randolph | Dec 28, 2014 10:28:36 PM

Lesbians as a male-brained group seeking control over females, dick-sucking, women in search of high-status mates per their animal inheritance, dated references to female students as "co-eds" . . . Surely I'm not the only one who's disturbed by how quickly the conversation ended up here. I'm not trying to start a whole new round of fighting by saying so. Nor am I especially given to insisting on the mechanical use of impeccably politically correct language. But I'm all in favor of treating women as women, as individuals possessed of free will who (like men) are not categorically inclined all to engage in the same behavior, and generally of treating people with a modicum of respect. I thought it was perhaps worth actually saying something.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 29, 2014 4:06:11 PM

The whole harassment topic has an inherent problem. Scientific studies have demonstrated (Google this yourselves I dont want to be accused of steering to the "right" studies) that married women will engage in infidelity with alpha males - sorry Paul yes high status). Beta males are the ones their spouses will most likely cheat on. This has been proven in study after study. In other words, if you are a "nice guy" "respectful" and "quite" women will not be awfully attracted to you. They will marry you but they yearn for the "bad boy". You can also Google the many divorced women who admit they prefer flings with "macho" guys (unlike their ex husbands) who as they admit are "aggressive/rough" in bed. So here is the issue - how can we take harassment seriously when it depends on doing the "harassment". If its from a male the woman perceives as low value it will be harassment. If its from a high status male it will be warmly received. So basically, - and I know his from personal experience - you can grab a woman's hair and spank her rear if she thinks you are a winner. Indeed she wants this. But same woman will object to the exact same behavior and accuse you of being too rough if you are not a "winner" or "alpha". This is the way the world is.

Posted by: experience | Dec 30, 2014 8:14:58 AM

Here, here, Paul. Alec's comment is not only disgustingly misogynist, it's ignorant -- when Berkeley tried to impose a categorical ban on any teacher dating any student (ie, adjunct law professor dating chemistry PhD student) a number of years ago, the feminists on campus criticized the ban vociferously.

Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Dec 30, 2014 8:18:20 PM

Oh gawd I'm so grossed out by the comments on this thread about "human nature." Who knew the kind of people who come tho this site were so backwards and bitter. And far be it for people to consider that women might be the ones in position of authority. I definitely knew of male law students dating or hooking up with their legal writing profs and in one case, a tenured prof.

Personally, I think it's fine for any adult to date any other adult on a university campus (including prof/student) as long as the student isn't actually under the professor's authority (in their class or clinic, RA'ing, etc.). I would even include 18+ undergrads in this rule. Seriously, where is the "improper use of power" if a 28 year old law student dates a 38 year old engineering prof? Or if a 20 year old physics major dates a 26 year old classics grad student?

Posted by: anon | Jan 29, 2015 2:16:06 PM

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