I am a professor teaching political science. I am divorced, 42 years old and have been single for 3 years. One of my current students is showing some clear signs of being attracted to me, as I am to her. She is in her mid 30s and has a kid – she is not a young co-ed.
I’d like to ask her out but two friends of mine have warned me against it. One of them reads your blog and suggested we let you settle the matter. So, advice goddess, what do you think? Can I date my student?
Ah, the age old question of whether or not it’s ok to add a little something extra to your syllabus.
Your question is really two questions:
1. May I play with the box my student’s kid came in? and
2. Should I play “putting the sour cream in the burrito” with my student?
The answer to question #1 depends largely upon the policies at your university. You told me in subsequent emails that you teach within the Oregon system and that your understanding of university policy is that there is no clear prohibition against professors dating students.
In fact, this is an extremely gray area. I believe you are correct there is currently no such policy, but what there is instead is an extremely nebulous sexual harassment policy. I won’t quote the policy in its entirety, because the most frightening and relevant portion is contained in a simple note:
*Note: In cases of behavior by a UO employee toward a UO student, behavior does not have to be unwelcome, or sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute sexual harassment, but need only to interfere with the work or academic performance of a student because it has created an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or academic environment for the student who is the object of the conduct and a reasonable person of that student’s gender would have been similarly affected.
(Oregon Administrative Rule 580-015-0010(2))
You could date this woman and conduct yourself with the highest standards, but if the relationship ends poorly and she decides to engage in a little old school woman scorned retribution shit, buddy, you are fucked.
So the question is: is the screwing you plan to get worth the screwing you may receive in the end (by the way, this analysis also applies to men who marry women that think they shouldn’t have to work for a living…but that’s another rant for another day)?
Because I can guarantee you it won’t feel as nice as the first screwing. Screwing #2 will be more akin to bending over and becoming familiar with the working end of an ankus without the benefit of proper lubrication or even being treated to dinner and drinks first.
Let me take this moment for a mini rant: fuck zoos and circuses and the like, especially those that use these types of tools (I’m looking at you, Oregon Zoo). Click this link to read about the horrific conditions at our local animal enslavement and breeding facility: http://www.helpelephants.com/oregon_zoo_health_status.html
OK, sorry for the tangent. May you date your student? Probably. This leads us to question #2. Should you date your student?
ARE YOU CRAZY, MAN?
Let’s talk about the two perspectives involved in this potential relationship: yours and hers. You get to go first because you wrote the letter and you have the most to lose. Take another look at that note on the sexual harassment policy. Here’s what you are putting at risk:
1. Your job (you aren’t tenured yet, dummy);
2. Your financial security;
3. Your reputation; and
4. Your potential for future employment.
You also need to consider what could go wrong for your student if you start waging a war on chastity with her. She may think she can slack off in your class and earn an “A” in the back of your Prius rather than in the library, which will cheat her out of the full educational benefits of your class.
Actually, if she can figure out a way to hide your Ferret in the Mouth that Cannot Bite in the back of a Prius, she probably deserves an “A” regardless of her academic achievements.
She could also feel trapped in the relationship out of fear of retaliation. Do you want to be in a position in which your girlfriend may be afraid to break up with you because she’s worried about her college career? I can imagine some twisted folks might be into this skewed power dynamic, but from our communications I don’t think you are that guy.
Now the big reveal and in honor of our continuing underlying theme here at AskDesCamp that it’s all about me:
I dated a professor my freshman year at University of Oregon. Well, “dated” may not be the right term. Let’s just say we spent some time together outside the classroom on a few occasions. He was 47, I was 19. He was married, but his wife eventually left him for a woman.
While I take full responsibility for my own actions in this relationship, I have several regrets about what occurred and how I was lured into becoming yet another student conquest by this professor. He singled me out in class (when I bothered attending) and made me feel special.
That led to drinks at Guidos with other students in the class, which led to his professing (ha!) his attraction to me, along with heaps of praise regarding my intelligence and beauty. I should have known then and there he was a liar, because I was pretty rough looking in college:
And not nearly the striking beauty I am today:
Anyway, I was very vulnerable at that time: my dad and stepmom were going through a divorce and I had transferred to U of O after a disastrous first college semester at University of Colorado. He knew that and yet he pursued me pretty aggressively.
Two years after our “relationship” he was accused of sexual harassment by a student and the resulting investigation proved he had been engaged in this conduct for years. Since he was tenured he did not lose his job, but he did lose all his undergraduate classes. Why? Because he taught geology, and the graduate courses consisted mainly of male students.
My point is this: the relationship I had with my professor was a fairly negative aspect of my college experience.* Even though you and your student are on more equal footing given your respective ages, you still are entwined in a skewed power dynamic that isn’t healthy for either one of you.
You told me she is graduating in the spring. If you are still pining after her you can motorboard (look it up) her after she wears her mortar board. Until then, get your jollies elsewhere.
*The most devastating part of my romance with my Rocks for Jocks professor is I received a “B” in his class, which led me to question what exactly I was being graded upon and years of insecurity regarding my sexual prowess.