Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Yet Another Reason Not to Take a Job at Yale...

As if there weren't already enough reasons, here's yet another reason not to take a job at Yale...
After more than a quarter century of debate, Yale faculty members are now barred from sexual relationships with undergraduates—not just their own students, but any Yale undergrads.
More madness here.


Anonymous said...

Still waiting to regret that decision, huh Spiros?

Confused said...

I'm confused (and ambiguous). Is the reason that one ought not to take a job at Yale that they only recently prohibited sexual relations between faculty and undergraduate student or that they prohibited sexual relations between faculty and undergraduates simpliciter?

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure it's the latter, but isn't meant seriously. But what do I know?

Anonymous said...

My sig oth went back to school to get a second ba at the place I took my first job. glad it wasn't yale.

Anonymous said...

Hey, from what I hear, profs can still date even their own, current students at GW. So there's that.

Anonymous said...

We don't tolerate doctors who sleep with their patients or lawyers who sleep with their clients or supervisors who sleep with their subordinate workers. Why do so many look the other way at professors who sleep with their students?

This is a huge problem in higher education. Many schools have policies designating this "unprofessional conduct" (and worse). Why don't they all?

Anonymous said...

Any data on how "huge a problem" this is in higher ed?

Anonymous said...

Its only a problem if it causes harm. More than that, it must cause more harm than is caused by interfering in the emotional and sexual lives of others via regimented social policy.

When I was in grad school, the policy was no relationships with students while they were in your class. I don't see how this is an irrational policy. I can see how there might be complications if we are talking grad students and profs in their department, but cannot reasonable adults figure out how to live out their lives without college administrators intervening?

Anonymous said...

If we open the possibility of relationships with students who are not in our classes, then we are de facto limiting those students' educational opportunities by restricting them from taking our classes in the future because of the conflict of interest involved (which I think anyone would allow in that case). And it may well be that they need our classes for their educational goals. Given the age/social power differences involved as well, it's usually the student potentially placed at disadvantage here--not the professor. Is it paternalistic on the part of Yale? Yes. Unreasonable? No. I usually agree with Spiros; not here--unless I am missing really subtle sarcasm on his part. Which would be more likely if it's actually *her* part.

Anonymous said...

I know a professor who began dating someone who went on to become an undergraduate at her institution. Since the two interacted like peers, it would have been ridiculous if the two had been separated by a policy forbidding such relationships. Somewhat luckily, her institution allowed such relationships.

Chairephon said...


Anonymous said...

Yale's are policies based on aggregate benefits and harms--e.g., the fact that there is one demonstrable case that neglect of seat-belt use resulted in saving one life can't in and of itself count against the general wisdom of seat-belt laws to save lives across the board. Of course one could appeal to injustice against individuals in an attempt to thwart all prohibitions based on societal/utilitarian considerations: but would that be desirable? Maybe Randians or forms of egoism would approve.

About the example of the professor and student cited above--the fact that they "luckily" were not prohibited from their relationship was a form of luck that extended only to their particular circumstance; it does not generalize to undermine the basis of policy used to justify Yale's position. The lucky non-seat-belter above was indeed lucky in a restricted sense--but still not in any generalized sense wise.

Anonymous said...

I think Yale should remove all soda and snack machines from their campus-- they're harmful too. They shouldn't allow pizza on campus, either. And I wonder if it's not the case that intimate relationships among college students are per se harmful (mine tended to be).

Sure, prof/student relationships are problematic. But as a student I dated a prof from another school in my university, and we've been happily married for 18 years. Perhaps my case is uncommon. But maybe not every kind of harm is such that the University has the authority to protect from.

Anonymous said...

It is then an empirical question: is the lucky couple the exception, or does the lack of formal policies against faculty/student relationships lead to greater tragedy?

I know of two married couples who met in a classroom. I know of a few other cases of romantic relationships between people who met as teacher student. As far as I know none of these people thought they would have been helped by Yale type policy.

One would have to also look at the effect on other students, colleagues etc., but its not like there are all these profs going out with students. Though that, too is an empirical question

But it really is an empirical question. I wonder if there is data somewhere?

Anonymous said...

I'm that dissenter here. For the record, I not only dated a student in my very first full-responsible TA class--which fortunately did not work out because I was a clueless idiot--I also unfortunately eventually married the wife of a professor whom I met while I was in that professor's class (Want irony? I got the only A in that class--because I deserved it.) Messy indeed. And maybe our marriage would have worked out if we were simply better people. But it didn't--because we were the awful people we were and are--and a policy like Yale's would not have prevented my own self-made misery. But you know what? My own particular joys, sorrows, and stupidities cannot drive the overall argument. Yale's policy is overall sound, despite the vicissitudes of life that can tip anecdotal evidence to the plus and minus side.

BTW--my word verification is "fated".

Anonymous said...

It is only an empirical question if you adopt a utilitarian/consequentialist approach and want to know what policies maximize overall welfare.

If you favour individual liberty, then things look very different. Mature human beings should be free to conduct themselves as they choose. Although people are talking about disparities of power, does it really often happen that professors use their power to cajole students into bed? In this day and age I just don’t see it happening.

The problem is rather certain students being attracted to professors because they are (relatively) powerful. Then the relationship goes wrong because there is no basis for a serious relationship. With the result that people suffer. But that certain students are stupid enough to be attracted to powerful individuals is not a reason to forbid mature human beings (and yes many students fall into that category) conducting their relationships as they see fit.

Mediocre U Prof. said...

FYI I'd take the Yale job in a heartbeat regardless of their amorous relations policy.

Anonymous said...

I think a good utilitarian case can be made that policies like this are a bad idea. As Mill would say, human beings grow and develop best when they are left as unfettered as possible.

I really think the policy is a case of a solution looking for a problem.

Anonymous said...

The biggest mistake I made in graduate school was sleeping with one of my fellow graduate students, which caused huge amounts of pain and suffering. Can't we prohibit that as well, since we're banning stuff?

Verification word: sorest.

Damn straight.

Anonymous said...

On the grad student issue, a grad student who's in a relationship with a prof is much less likely to have his/her work evaluated in a fair way. She'll (probably) be in the same social circle as prof's and be regarded more as a peer by them. At least, that's how it went in my grad program.

Anonymous said...

What about a non-tenured faculty member having a relationship with a tenured faculty member.

These issues are complex when viewed from a personal, moral perspective.

Obviously, routinely seeing your students as prospective dates is not a good rule of practical reason.

The question is: should the ban be an official policy (unofficial shuning is probably a good idea)
What if a prof and a student fall in love? Are we going to make the student drop out, or the prof resign? I guess the relationship could be held back until graduation, but passion unconsumated creates all the same issues as passion consumated. What will likely happen is that the relationship will be secret.

And do we need Plato to teach us that love is strong, really a kind of madness? In the midst of passionate feeling few of us are going to just give up on it becasue of some administrative rule.

Anonymous said...


I'd like to see statistics on how many undergrads are mature under various definitions. Too many middle-aged people are very immature (e.g. materialistic, selfish, impatient, thoughtless).

To me freedom is not about being allowed to do whatever you want (which is mostly due to conditioning and chance), but about having the opportunity to improve yourself and free yourself from detrimental influences.

I take it you don't think it's right to forbid the mature ones, however few they are, to protect the others. But if they're really mature, they'll understand that they're not the center of the universe and that it's a worthy sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

Does not freedom include the ability to determine for yourself what counts as a "detrimental influence"

Anonymous said...


An empirical study. I wonder if there are any more recent ones.

Chairephon said...

I can't believe you jerks are still talking about sex with students after the DOOM linked in my post of 9:12 PM.

Modal Pontiff said...

Everything worked out fine for Heidegger and Arendt right?

Jaded Dissertator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tod said...

Chairephon, I thought the point of your link was that relationships between students and faculty were miracles. Or did I miss something...

Confused said...

I thought the DOOM point was that you could sleep with your students as long as you were wearing clown make up ... which, to follow up on Tod's point, would make relationships between faculty and students miracles.

Anonymous said...

9:48 AM

Does maturity consist in sacrificing yourself for stupid people; or in realising that others are not entitled to sacrifice you to stupid people?

If someone has to bear the cost of a person's stupidity should it not be the stupid person rather than the non-stupid person?

Perhaps making the stupid person bear the cost of his stupidity will lead him to learn and grow in a way that mollycoddling him will not...

Anonymous said...


Considering the examples I listed of immaturity (selfishness, materialism, impatience, thoughtlessness), the answer should be pretty obvious. As support, I would point out how selfish very young children are and that as they mature they (hopefully) learn about sharing.

You seem to think the proper attitude towards stupid people is contempt and indifference. But stupidity is one of the worst disadvantages there are, so the rational response is compassion and beneficence.

If you think maturity is 'realizing' you don't have to care about other people you're in a sorrier predicament than most people you refer to as stupid.

As for the thought about mollycoddling, that's just an excuse to not care. Because the fact is that no matter how much you try to help a stupid person, you can't shield them entirely, and their stupidity will hurt them very often all the same.

Anonymous said...

Not 6:53

But caring about people involves letting them make their decisions.

Imagine that you thought you were in love, and some adminstrator told you that the relationship cannot happen.

Of course it could be silly and stupid. But the intrusion!!!!

yes I am drunk. pardon.

Anonymous said...


You wouldn't say that caring about your 5 year-old means you should let them make all their own decisions. The reason is that they're not mature enough. Imagine if you were that 5 year-old and you really wanted something but your parents told you you can't have it. The intrusion!

Why are children not entitled to liberty? The only answer I can think of is that they're not mature enough to know what's good for them. But the same is true of many adults (e.g. Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Tiger Woods... just to focus on one type of immature action).

And with regard to college students dating faculty members... might as well let high school teachers date students if they're not in that class (in many places the age of consent is pretty low so it'd be legal in that sense)... after all, some high school students are kind of mature.

Anonymous said...

This is the key issue, I think. Are college students adults, or children, or something in between.

And of course an 18 year old just out of highschool is more child-like than a 21 year old student.

Maybe we should have kept the age of majority at 21?

I think we have started to treat older and older kids as if they were younger kids. This has nothing to do with sex, but with our culture. My ex is always wanting to supervise.. I always want to let roam and be free.

The more freedom we give our children (I mean the freedom a typical 60s parent would have given) the more mature they will be when 18.

Anonymous said...

I’m 6.53.
Reply to 9.43

You misread me. I do not say that we should not care about others, be beneficent and so on. I agree with you that we should be.

The issue is whether you and I should be harmed by others (e.g. the authorities) in order to benefit the immature/stupid. I do not think we should.

Thus I may choose to help the immature/stupid person, perhaps by giving advice, help etc., and of course not taking advantage of him/her. That’s fine, and I have a responsibility to do such things. But should the authorities introduce rules which harm me – or potentially harm me – merely to benefit the immature/stupid? I do not see why they should. Surely if the authorities have to choose to either make me suffer a harmful constraint of liberty, or allow the immature/stupid person to suffer from his/her own behaviour, then they should choose the latter.

Obviously a line has to be drawn somewhere, regarding when you give people responsibility to live their own lives. But given that 18 year olds can vote and go to war, it does seem reasonable to think that by that time we should treat them as adults rather than as 5 year olds.

Anonymous said...


I don't think I misunderstood. What you just said is pretty much what I thought you meant.

You have a minimalist concept of 'caring', which does not include sacrifice, even in the form of being deprived of things you might get and like, much less in the form of putting up with things you don't like or giving up things you have and like.

Some college students are pretty mature. The vast majority are very immature. If it was the other way around, it _might_ be reasonable not to protect the few immature ones at the inconvenience of the mature ones. But given what it actually is like, Yale's policy is right on. And, no, I don't think very many 18 year-olds are mature enough to understand what joining the military means either. As for voting, look at various opinion polls and the mess California is in through their ballot initiative system and the people they elected, and it should be clear that even older people are for the most part not mature enough to vote.

Anonymous said...

I'm that same old dissenter--right on 11:47!

Besides those good points on maturity, to me it's mainly a function of professionalism--the fact that we are placed in a position to educate our charges. May we press their received beliefs? Of course. Make them feel intellectually uncomfortable? We'd better. Insult them? Not in a personal way at least. Seduce them above and beyond the beauty of our presented ideas? We'd better draw that line pretty sharply. We can be friends of mutual inquiry with students at best--but if we cross the line into lurid affection, lust, or even love--we aren't educators any more. We're allowing our role as educators to benefit us in ways that has nothing to do with that professional position--and we are indulging ourselves selfishly. I have served for many years in a state Supreme Court committee that oversees lawyer conduct, and by far the formal complaints are about two things: laziness (lack of due diligence) and taking advantage of clients financially or sexually. I don't think our own profession is much different in its main failures, except we can't directly filch cash (though some do sell grades I guess). I see Yale as proactively addessing a pervasive and unfortunate tendency in all human nature. And as I've said, my feet are as much clay as anyone's.

Teaching is a position of power. Like Spidey's uncle Stan Lee said--with great power comes great responsibility. Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

I’m 6.53 & 8.42
Reply to 11.47

You say of me: ‘You have a minimalist concept of 'caring', which does not include sacrifice, even in the form of being deprived of things you might get and like, much less in the form of putting up with things you don't like or giving up things you have and like.’

No I do not. I do not say that you as an individual should not choose to make sacrifices in order to help others – I think that you should.

What I say is different. It is that *others* do not have the right to sacrifice you & me, in order to help others. It is that we should not give a third party (‘the authorities’) the power to harm you & me *when they see fit* (e.g. when they think that by harming you & me they can benefit the immature).

Furthermore, you seem to think
1) That the majority of people are immature. And
2) that immature people should not have the responsibility to live their own lives, but rather that the ‘mature elite/authorities’ should have the authority to live their lives for them (and least in certain crucial respects). And
3) furthermore, what you say implies that you think that the ‘mature elite/authorities’ are entitled to produce rules that harm those who are not immature, provided that the immature benefit.
4) This suggests that you are happy for there to be rules which remove from the mature the ability to live their life, if doing so benefits the immature. This just sounds like a recipe for an authoritarian state.

Finally, I certainly agree that the general population do need to be far better educated, not least in ethics, so that they will live their lives better, make better decisions when they vote and so on.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Students who are truly mature (i.e. including not being selfish) would be willing to forsake fucking faculty members in order to protect the large number of immature peers they have. It's as simple as that. Being mature isn't just being able to look out for yourself, it's also looking out for others (see 9:43). I'm sure lots of people who think of themselves as mature and have read Ayn Rand would dispute this, but thinking you're mature doesn't make you mature. Students who are immature and want to fuck faculty members are the reason (together with unscrupulous faculty) rules such as this are needed in the first place. So who here is being harmed? Are mature people being harmed by being forbidden from doing something that they would willingly abstain from anyway because they see how it benefits their peers?

And I do not equate with having rules prescribed to you with 'not living your life'. Are you 'not living your life' because there are rules against stealing? You're free to steal if you want, just know there are consequences for it.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how everyone went anonymous on this one whether for or against.

My word verification is hersheng. The verb that wasn't.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I'm currently both a faculty member fucking five of my undergrads and an undergrad fucking three of my teachers (two of whom are married and one of whom has great-grandchildren). If you don't believe me, it's just because you're jealous.

Anonymous said...

I guess I thought that if you are prevented from having a love relationship, you are being harmed.

I posted this before, but my former colleague met her very serious partner in her class, another old colleague met her husband in her class. When I was a graduate student, I had an undergraduate girlfriend and no one thought it was strange (There was maybe a three year difference in age?)

I don't know of a case where someone was harmed by being involved with a faculty member. I do know of one extremely obnxious prof who through sexual harassment and just general assholeness/immaturity/ psychological problems/ made it impossible for many students to take his classes.

I am glad that nowadays such an individual would be not be shrugged off as a "difficult personality"

But the harassment cases are different in kind from consensual relationships between one person who happens to be a student and another who happens to be prof.

Anonymous said...

Suppose x and y are people who have a strong physical and psychological attraction to each other.
On the face of it, preventing x and y from having a sexual relationship is harming both. It is being like the parents of Romeo and Juliet.

Therefore, when x and y are strongly attracted physically and psychologically, the presumption should be, let them see how it goes.

The presumption can be overidden, of course. But blanket rules such as this one in the end will just cause people to have underground affairs etc.

Its like banning marijuana. Passion can take over even the most Aristotelian members of our species.

Anonymous said...

Two words: Soon Yi

Anonymous said...

It seems like those in favor of the Yale type policy think of it as this:

I am this cool prof, this hot chick thinks I am cool. WOW boy am I going to have some fun fucking her.

Whereas I, naively perhaps, think its more like the following

This chick is really cook. likes to talk philosophy. I like her a lot!
What am I to do? We both like each other, we both relate on all sorts of levels

The prudent thing, I always thought, was wait until the class was over, have coffee and lunch. see how it goes..

But the Yale policy is : NO NEVER!
if you are prof, you cannot ever really love a student

But that is, excuse me, Bullshit.

Love happens all sorts of times, in all sorts of circumstances.

If we agree that love is agood, then we should agree there should be no blanket policy about it.

Again, this is not to say that in general a prof should not look on students as possible dates. Its just an argument against some administrative policy that tries to force people to act against the dictates of their heart.

Anonymous said...

This argument probably looks different if you are in a big city with lots of opportunities to find love, to if you are in a small town, where your chances are largely restricted to students and faculty.

Though come to think of it, even if they are in a big city, most philosophy faculty work so hard that they do not have much time to meet people outside of the university.

Anonymous said...

Love almost NEVER just happens.

You pursue spending time with someone, eventually, it happens.

But if someone is off-limits, you have ways of making it not happen.

You know, like when the person is married to someone else? Or if the person is just a wee bit too young? Easy: don't go there.

The power differential is extreme, and when bad shit goes down, it can be impossible to sort out. So here's an easy way: mutual consent is so excuse.

Anonymous said...

Yes you can avoid love if it is inappropriate (if someone is married or clearly too young). But what if it is not? Most of us do not have lots of shots at love. If we meet someone with whom love may be a possibility, then we pursue it. It is the most important thing in life. Why should authorities outlaw it?

Anonymous said...

If students are suffering b/c of consensual relationships with faculty then there is a strong case for banning it.

But what is required is not ideological talk of "power" but some actual data.

Maybe I am just blind and naive but

(1) I don't see all these relationships happening. How many old codger profs are dating 20 year old students?

(2) The cases I know about from years back lead to happiness, not unhappiness.

Anonymous said...

I imagine that the situation is more commonly young professors dating older students, in which case the age difference is not extreme, or even that much more unusual than in a normal relationship.
If such a situation is the case, then the focus is primarily on the power difference, as has been noted, rather than the age difference. What is particularly strange is situations in which the student is older than the professor. Say, a 30 year old student dating a 28 year old professor. Very strange indeed.

Anonymous said...

Of course it might be that the student and the professor address each other as normal human beings - and all this stuff about power is irrelevant...

Anonymous said...

But you're forgetting that people involved in academia aren't normal humans, so that option is a non-starter.

Anonymous said...

This thread convinces me that blogging has absolutely no use. Those of a certain blush of conviction will use universals and particulars to one use, and those of the reverse, the reverse. I can't think of a better instance to say this: stay within your mind-set. It's safe. It's good. Fuck your students with impunity of conscience. Or--don't. It's all good. I'm done with this stupid exercise of self-indulgence. If you cannot extend your own experience beyond the perimeter of your prejudices, then the blogging life apparently is for you. And with this I'm done with the waste of time that is otherwise called blogging.

Wisdom at last. Life without the keyboard.


Aand my verification is "graph".