I’m a huge fan of The Police. No, not actual police officers, but the 80s English rock band. One of their biggest hits was “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” a ballad about the social and emotional struggles of a teacher who was in a romantic relationship with a student half his age. He faces “strong words in the staff room,” while his younger mistress is ostracized by her peers for being the new teacher’s pet. These situations seem scandalous, but there are multiple stories about the taboo of teachers dating their students. Scenarios like this are what led Arizona State University to revise its policy on student-teacher relationships, which now states that teachers cannot be in romantic relationships with students – and it was for the best.
Yes, college students are usually 18 years or older, but there are still boundaries crossed when professors decide to pursue their students. It’s not professional. I call my professors Mr., Mrs. and Dr. because they are my superiors and I respect them. When two people are in a romantic relationship, they are equal partners. This confuses the plane of authority that professors should have over their students.
If you’re sleeping with someone, you’re more inclined to treat them differently than you would treat your buddies. This isn’t any different for teacher-student relations. According to a study conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, teachers who give preferential treatment to certain students are in violation of interactional fairness. Students who get more attention than others receive higher grades than those who get less attention. This eliminates any incentive for a professor’s girlfriend or boyfriend to work hard in the class to earn a decent grade.
Professors who decide to pursue a student are unfairly taking advantage of their authority. If a student decides to be in a relationship with the teacher, they know they can stay and reap the benefits. If a student rejects a professor’s advances, there’s a fear of being treated unfairly by the professor. Students are left with a catch-22. It’s already strange enough to date your professor, but it gets even worse if there’s a breakup. A tumultuous split in the middle of the semester doesn’t mean a student can pack their bags and go. They have to finish the class, basking in awkward eye contact with their former lover, yet current professor.
The revision for Arizona State’s policy was inspired by one student’s negative experience with dating her professor. When graduate student Tasha Kunzi decided to break off her relationship with her professor, her academic career ended when he told everyone in the criminology and criminal justice department about their affair. After the relationship was revealed, Kunzi had trouble finding research-based jobs and advancing her progress toward her PhD. Without a choice, she dropped the program.
In the end, nobody wins. Students who date their professors are judged by peers because they’re unfairly breezing through the system. Professors lose their jobs and have trouble finding work again. If you’re a professor, maybe it’s best that your student doesn’t stand so close to you. If you’re a student, date classmates.
Column by Carly Besser, Opinion Editor