Love and Textbooks - Harvard University Bans Professor-Student Romances


It has been going on since the creation of the institution. And it reads like a romance novel: the distinguished professor and the sexy coed’s eyes meet during the first day of class. They desperately try to deny their attraction to one another because of the obvious reasons. But one day after class, the sexy coed remains seated in the front of the classroom. The professor shuts the door and they passionately make love on the desk.

Although it makes a great storyline on paper, in real life, there are some ethical issues to consider. For most students, an affair with a professor is just another aspect of college life like stress, studying, roommates, horrible cafeteria food, and hooking up. But when a sexual relationship starts with a professor, college life can change radically, says the Education Portal. Here’s a look at why some U.S. universities are now considering banning romantic relationships between professors and students; and which ones have already taken action.

Love in the Classroom

It is no secret that professors and students hook up. The affairs, deemed inappropriate by some, are often glamourized on the big screen. One of the most shocking of its time was the 1967 film The Graduate where a recent college graduate has an affair with the sexy Mrs. Robinson. More recently, there is the 2012 film Liberal Arts where a recent graduate pursues a relationship with a college student.

The question here is that most college students are over 18, so what is the issue? Billie Wright Dziech, a University of Cincinnati professor, told Bloomberg News that, although it makes great fiction, these types of relationships can be abusive.

“Some schools have a tiny minority of professors who use their popularity and prestige to empower themselves, and students respond to it,” Dziech, who wrote a book on the topic, added. “This is a very, very serious problem for higher education.”

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, only suggests that professors “avoid any exploitation, harassment, or discriminatory treatment of students.” And many universities have never established any formal policies that prohibit sexual relationships between professors and students, says Bloomberg News.

“These relationships are going to occur on campus and you must put as many ethical checks on them as possible, but a blanket prohibition doesn’t seem appropriate,” Anita Levy, a senior program officer in AAUP, told Bloomberg News. “You don’t throw the whole thing into darkness by prohibiting it.”

Although the AAUP and other professor-oriented organizations nationwide are against prohibiting these relationships, colleges like Harvard, Yale University and the University of Connecticut have already implemented bans.

Ban in the Classroom

In response to the recent headlines about the overwhelming number of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses and the U.S. Education Department review of them, Harvard began an assessment of its policies in 2013. And last week the university released new language that bans sexual relationships between professors and students. The previous policy only did so between professors and the students they taught, says CNN.

“Undergraduates come to college to learn from us,” Alison Johnson, a Harvard history professor, told Bloomberg News. “We’re not here to have sexual or romantic relationships with them.”

Johnson, who led the committee that wrote the policy, developed the ban for Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences whose members instruct a majority of the university’s undergraduate students. Yale moved to prohibit professor and student relationships back in 2010 with the University of Connecticut following the school’s lead in 2013. So, what are the results?

“Now that the policy is in place, the lines are clearer,” Johnson added.

For the coed who is attracted to smart, influential and older partners, and the professor who is interested in the naivety of younger students, you will have to wait until after graduation. Another option, as unethical as it may be, is to continue to sneak around like you have always done.

Education Portal
The Washington Post