Caroline Forell: Expert: Delay Romance
Expert urges professors, students to delay romance
Students, teachers must shelve passion until classes end, she says
May 23, 2005
Caroline Forell offers simple advice for professors and students who have a mutual sexual attraction.
“If you want to have sex, wait until the class is over. Gosh, a whole semester. I mean, how hard is that?”
Putting love on hold is the best way to avoid running afoul of some campus policies that forbid professors from dating their students.
At the University of Oregon, Forell, a law professor, was a key player in developing a restrictive policy about sexual relationships between faculty members and students.
The policy, adopted in 1997, remains in effect.
It prohibits faculty members from having romantic or sexual relationships with students over whom they have academic authority. If such a relationship occurs, the faculty member must disclose it to a supervisor and relinquish authority over the student.
Violating the policy could result in sanctions, ranging from a written reprimand to reassignment or dismissal.
Universities need such clear-cut policies to prevent abusive relationships, Forell said.
“There’s a question when someone has the power to decide what grade you have, or if they are the supervisor for your dissertation. They have power over your future, frankly. Even if it’s voluntary, what happens if it goes south, which it often does? That can really be problematic for the student who is involved in the relationship.”
Teacher-student romance also can breed charges of favoritism, Forell said.
“As far as a conflict of interest, I don’t see how a professor is supposed to be able to grade their lover the same way as they grade someone who is not their lover,” she said. “Even if they can, how can the perception of unfairness be avoided?
“I have seen in my time here, 26 years, when these things have created tremendous bitterness and anger, not just between the student and the faculty (member), but also the perceptions of unfairness just tainted a whole class of students. They felt things really were not fair.”
Teacher-student relationships at Oregon have decreased since harassment became a legal and ethical concern, Forell said.
“I can remember when it was pretty much open game for faculty-student relationships until about the mid-80s,” she said.
The school’s policy reflects the kind of professional standards that prohibit lawyers from having sex with their clients, Forell said.
In some cases, she said, the policy can protect professors from infatuated students.
“I think in some ways having a clear-cut rule can be used by the faculty member as a shield against a student that tries to initiate a (romantic) relationship. They can just say, sorry, there’s this rule, even if I found you attractive, I just can’t.We can’t do this.”