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Let's Get Kraken

Student Professor Relationships: When, if Ever, is it Okay?

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Something I've been thinking a lot about lately. My 22 year old friend started dating her 49 year old college professor (who I'm also close with) a little over a year ago, shortly after she graduated. To be honest, I'm pretty uncomfortable being around them, and some of his behavior does come off as just a little bit predatory. On the other hand the situation she's now in is a lot healthier than the household she was living in beforehand, so there's that.

It got me thinking about this though. What do you folks think about the ethics of such relationships? Is it ever alright? If so, under what circumstances is it not okay? And when it is, do such relationships ever "work"?

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Since they have graduated, and are an adult, i don't see how it would ever not be ok. 

Edited by BigFatCoward

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14 minutes ago, Let's Get Kraken said:

Something I've been thinking a lot about lately. My 22 year old friend started dating her 49 year old college professor (who I'm also close with) a little over a year ago, shortly after she graduated. To be honest, I'm pretty uncomfortable being around them, and some of his behavior does come off as just a little bit predatory. On the other hand the situation she's now in is a lot healthier than the household she was living in beforehand, so there's that.

It got me thinking about this though. What do you folks think about the ethics of such relationships? Is it ever alright? If so, under what circumstances is it not okay? And when it is, do such relationships ever "work"?

I agree with BFC.  It's "kosher" even if you don't like it, and I can understand why you don't like it.  That is a very large age gap.  Was she studying with this Professor before she graduated?

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The problem with this type of relationship is the power dynamic. If the student has already graduated, this power dynamic no longer exists, so therefore, no matter how creepy it seems, there isn't anything really wrong with it.

Edited by Lany Freelove Cassandra
who/how

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So they began dated when he wasn't her professor and when she was no longer even a student?  Not seeing the issue here, assuming it wasn't initiated when he held a place of power over her.  I'd need more info about what sort of predatory behavior you mean, but this seems like a reasonable relationship that wasn't initiated until it was appropriate.

My college had some ridiculous rule where students could not date any staff but could date professors as long as the professor wasn't their professor.  As such, there were a lot of student/teacher relationships and a lot of underpaid staff workers got fired if they found themselves involved with a student.  I think it was a relic from years past when it was unseemly for a upper class person to be dating the help. 

Anyway, short answer is it depends.  Certainly a professor should not seek out relationships with current students, meaning student in his or her class or department.  I think there are some cases where it's ok, but it's a case by case basis sort of thing.

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7 minutes ago, BigFatCoward said:

Since they have graduated, and are an adult, i don't see how it would ever not be ok. 

Is the professor teaching his classes with the intention of forming sexual relationships with students?  Because if so, that is a huge problem.  The fact that he (apparently) waited until after she graduated doesn't change that. 

Admittedly, it would be difficult to prove that without a pattern of behavior.  It is possible their relationship in university was purely professional, and they merely connected afterwards.  I personally find that relatively unlikely, but it is possible. 

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43 minutes ago, Let's Get Kraken said:

Something I've been thinking a lot about lately. My 22 year old friend started dating her 49 year old college professor (who I'm also close with) a little over a year ago, shortly after she graduated. To be honest, I'm pretty uncomfortable being around them, and some of his behavior does come off as just a little bit predatory. On the other hand the situation she's now in is a lot healthier than the household she was living in beforehand, so there's that.

It got me thinking about this though. What do you folks think about the ethics of such relationships? Is it ever alright? If so, under what circumstances is it not okay? And when it is, do such relationships ever "work"?

If she has graduated and it started afterward I dont see an issue at all. If she likes older guys then nobody should judge her for that either.

What do you mean when you say he was a bit predatory?

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During my senior year I had a professor suggest that we go on a date after I graduate (she didn’t specifically say a date, but it was pretty obvious what she was hinting at). I’m guessing the same thing happened with your friend, and if so, it’s wrong. That said I wouldn’t stick your nose in her business.

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1 hour ago, Dr. Pepper said:

I'd need more info about what sort of predatory behavior you mean, but this seems like a reasonable relationship that wasn't initiated until it was appropriate.

It's kind of hard to describe. Mostly little things. He puts her down a lot in front of people, which I don't like. From what I understand he did propose a post-graduation liaison while she was still his student, and I guess he also made insinuations that he could use his connections to get her into a grad program that she was really interested in. Then she moved into his house, in another state, a few weeks after they started dating (which also was apparently an idea floated when she was still a student), changed her cell phone number, and cut off contact with her family and many friends for a little while.

Part of it is also has to do with my friend's mental state. She was raised in an environment that could be described as a miniature cult, was home-schooled from the time that she was a child until she went off to college, and only really socialized with members of a very tight-knit religious community. She's super smart, but also kind of has the mentality of a teenager. I don't know if you've seen that show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but she reminds me a lot of the protagonist. Sometimes I get the impression that he saw a vulnerable person who was unhappy with their situation, and he played off that to get her into a place where he has vastly disproportionate control.

That all being said, I may just be paranoid. I had another friend get wrapped up in an extremely abusive relationship about two years ago (which IIRC I also posted on for advice) and that was on my mind a lot when this was all happening. I don't even want to make this too much about the people that I know. Rather, I was hoping to use that as a general jumping off point for a discussion about the ethics of the student/professor relationship dynamic.

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28 minutes ago, Let's Get Kraken said:

It's kind of hard to describe. Mostly little things. He puts her down a lot in front of people, which I don't like. From what I understand he did propose a post-graduation liaison while she was still his student, and I guess he also made insinuations that he could use his connections to get her into a grad program that she was really interested in. Then she moved into his house, in another state, a few weeks after they started dating (which also was apparently an idea floated when she was still a student), changed her cell phone number, and cut off contact with her family and many friends for a little while.

Part of it is also has to do with my friend's mental state. She was raised in an environment that could be described as a miniature cult, was home-schooled from the time that she was a child until she went off to college, and only really socialized with members of a very tight-knit religious community. She's super smart, but also kind of has the mentality of a teenager. I don't know if you've seen that show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but she reminds me a lot of the protagonist. Sometimes I get the impression that he saw a vulnerable person who was unhappy with their situation, and he played off that to get her into a place where he has vastly disproportionate control.

That all being said, I may just be paranoid. I had another friend get wrapped up in an extremely abusive relationship about two years ago (which IIRC I also posted on for advice) and that was on my mind a lot when this was all happening. I don't even want to make this too much about the people that I know. Rather, I was hoping to use that as a general jumping off point for a discussion about the ethics of the student/professor relationship dynamic.

Grooming a student to date after they graduate while they are in your power... creepy and in my opinion way not cool.

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34 minutes ago, Let's Get Kraken said:

It's kind of hard to describe. Mostly little things. He puts her down a lot in front of people, which I don't like. From what I understand he did propose a post-graduation liaison while she was still his student, and I guess he also made insinuations that he could use his connections to get her into a grad program that she was really interested in. Then she moved into his house, in another state, a few weeks after they started dating (which also was apparently an idea floated when she was still a student), changed her cell phone number, and cut off contact with her family and many friends for a little while.

Part of it is also has to do with my friend's mental state. She was raised in an environment that could be described as a miniature cult, was home-schooled from the time that she was a child until she went off to college, and only really socialized with members of a very tight-knit religious community. She's super smart, but also kind of has the mentality of a teenager. I don't know if you've seen that show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but she reminds me a lot of the protagonist. Sometimes I get the impression that he saw a vulnerable person who was unhappy with their situation, and he played off that to get her into a place where he has vastly disproportionate control.

 

I think you described it very well, and as a college professor myself, this is ethically questionable, to say the least. Telling someone you are interested in having a relationship with that you can "use your connections" to get them into a grad program is definitely unethical and manipulative.

Moving in with someone only a few weeks after you start dating would be unwise even without the age difference and past professor-student relationship. With those added, it is reasonable to worry that there is some undue manipulation involved. 

This may technically not be a firing offense for the professor, but it comes really close to it and personally I think he's probably a sleazy guy who should be avoided.

There certainly are some relationships between former professors and students that "work" in terms of leading to long term healthy connections, but I think it's unlikely this is an example of one of those. 

 

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I side with the skeptics too.  I'm all for consenting adults making their own decisions but a professor dating a recent student has a lot of risk of grooming, pressure, manipulation and/or inducements while they were a student.  Plus it raises questions about the objectivity of the professor's grading and treatment of students.  And once one instance becomes widely known, it creates a potential pressure on all future students of the same gender to pander in order to avoid feared punishment for rejecting advances.

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4 hours ago, Ormond said:

I think you described it very well, and as a college professor myself, this is ethically questionable, to say the least. Telling someone you are interested in having a relationship with that you can "use your connections" to get them into a grad program is definitely unethical and manipulative.

Moving in with someone only a few weeks after you start dating would be unwise even without the age difference and past professor-student relationship. With those added, it is reasonable to worry that there is some undue manipulation involved. 

This may technically not be a firing offense for the professor, but it comes really close to it and personally I think he's probably a sleazy guy who should be avoided.

There certainly are some relationships between former professors and students that "work" in terms of leading to long term healthy connections, but I think it's unlikely this is an example of one of those. 

 

I STILL think this is gross for romantic relationships.  Presumably both prof and student (especially what I've seen with grad students) are in the same field.  So the professor has a PERMANENT upper hand career-wise over the former student.  It totally grosses me out.

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A person known well to me married her college rowing coach after she graduated.  They've been together a long time and are happy, despite the fact that he was 35 and she was 22.  But truth be told, I still think it's a bit oogie.

Also, I'm 53 and have a relatively new friend who is 32 and quite attractive.  But that age discrepancy (and her utter disinterest, but honestly in that order) is too much for me.  I can't imagine someone under 25.

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5 hours ago, Let's Get Kraken said:

It's kind of hard to describe. Mostly little things. He puts her down a lot in front of people, which I don't like. From what I understand he did propose a post-graduation liaison while she was still his student, and I guess he also made insinuations that he could use his connections to get her into a grad program that she was really interested in. Then she moved into his house, in another state, a few weeks after they started dating (which also was apparently an idea floated when she was still a student), changed her cell phone number, and cut off contact with her family and many friends for a little while.

Part of it is also has to do with my friend's mental state. She was raised in an environment that could be described as a miniature cult, was home-schooled from the time that she was a child until she went off to college, and only really socialized with members of a very tight-knit religious community. She's super smart, but also kind of has the mentality of a teenager. I don't know if you've seen that show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but she reminds me a lot of the protagonist. Sometimes I get the impression that he saw a vulnerable person who was unhappy with their situation, and he played off that to get her into a place where he has vastly disproportionate control.

That all being said, I may just be paranoid. I had another friend get wrapped up in an extremely abusive relationship about two years ago (which IIRC I also posted on for advice) and that was on my mind a lot when this was all happening. I don't even want to make this too much about the people that I know. Rather, I was hoping to use that as a general jumping off point for a discussion about the ethics of the student/professor relationship dynamic.

Yeah eww gross. That sounds creepy as fuck.

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41 minutes ago, Bronn Stone said:

A person known well to me married her college rowing coach after she graduated.  They've been together a long time and are happy, despite the fact that he was 35 and she was 22.  But truth be told, I still think it's a bit oogie.

Also, I'm 53 and have a relatively new friend who is 32 and quite attractive.  But that age discrepancy (and her utter disinterest, but honestly in that order) is too much for me.  I can't imagine someone under 25.

Ok, her rowing coach. If she is not going into rowing coaching, then I think that's fine.  I know I'm on the hardass side of this line, mainly because I've mostly seen it in the legal and not fire-able end of Advisor / mentor and their grad student.  The grad student is literally always going to suffer from the imbalanced power dynamic.  Also, the fact that it was there at the beginning of the relationship grosses me out.  Now a student in an entirely different field who took one class?  IF IT'S MUCH LATER AFTER THEY ARE NO LONGER A STUDENT, then I might not judge.

:thinks about it for a moment:

Nope, still judging.

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There are certain red flags in your story, but looking at the rest of it, it appears more likely than not that she is at least not worse off than before.

Regarding when it is OK: I don't know of a general answer to that; it really depends on the specific situation. I can tell you that when I was a postdoc, my group worked with a group from another university that included a professor who had married one of the grad students he was advising (after she had graduated, but not much after). It did look a little strange at first, but everybody treated them normally and not just in the professional setting -- our groups sometimes had dinners together.

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Yeah I'm with LV on this one. While it might be legally permissible to date once the student is no longer a student, I'm basically always going to find it creepy on some level.

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I take a pretty hardline as well.  Plus, I have a hard time believing any relationship between a 40-something professor and a 22 yo just out of undergrad wasn't inappropriately manipulated by the former.  If that's not a technical violation of school policy, it certainly violates the spirit and should be grounds for a complaint and disciplinary action. 

Grad student-faculty relationships are perhaps less creepy due to the usually narrower age difference, but I still find them unethical.  One of my advisors married his (second) wife shortly after she got her PhD.  At the time she was in her mid-late 20s and he was in his early 30s, but he was her chair, and while he's one of my favorite people in the department I'd be lying if I didn't say knowing that affects my perception of him.

Then there's my most recent position - grad student teaching his own class versus undergrads.  I've had to make clear to a number of former female students (including very recently) that while I'm more than happy and eager to help in any professional ambitions, I will not meet outside of an office setting to get the message across I consider any social relationship inappropriate - even after they've graduated.

I suppose there are instances where it would be appropriate, I'm just hard-pressed to think of one....Ok, one of my department's most recent hires is someone I would not object to a relationship with (although I'm sure she'd raise a host of them; this is purely hypothetical).  But, I'd find that appropriate because there is no age difference (I'm actually a couple years older), I will never take a class of hers, and she's not on my committee (nor will she ever even in the case of an emergency).  Basically, the only thing remotely resembling a professional connection is I advised the grad student committee chair to endorse hiring her when we were considering candidates.  So, something like that would be ok I guess.

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