An Amorous Professor
By CHUCK KLOSTERMAN
Published: July 20, 2012 Comment
A professor teaching in the college where I am the dean responded to anonymous accusations that he had an amorous relationship with a student by claiming the relationship took place only after the student graduated. Today, he confessed to me that he lied ó the relationship did start before she graduated, but he said it did not influence her grades. He was in tears while telling me this. Although nobody seems to be hurt, he violated a policy that no intimate relationships take place between students and professors. Should I prosecute him despite the fact that he voluntarily admitted the offense?
As dean, you are responsible for enforcing the existing rules of the university. This man has broken two of them (one with the relationship and another with his lie). He argues that his intimacy with the student did not impact the womanís grades, but thatís not relevant: part of the reason such rules exist is that the machinations of attraction unconsciously change the way you view the work of other people. Even if he could prove that sleeping with this woman had no influence on her report card ó if he taught an objective math class, for example, and he could illustrate how the studentís grade exactly reflected her performance ó it still wouldnít matter. The issue is his action, not his motivation. You must prosecute, unless youíre willing to contradict the nature and requirements of your job.
That said, I would advise rethinking how your school handles these types of situations in the future (and to factor in the professorís remorse during the penalty phase of his tribunal). The policy should not be inflexible. These parameters try to control the sex lives of consenting adults; the inherent power relationship is problematic, but not indisputably immoral. Is this a pattern of behavior for the professor? How did the relationship initiate and progress? Are the involved parties authentically in love with each other? What are the larger consequences of this indiscretion? All these questions should factor into how this behavior is restricted.
As an authority figure, you have to impose the rule of law, but donít ignore the possibility that the rule youíre imposing is flawed.