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In my own family, when my grandfather’s sister left Smith in the 1950s in order to move to North Carolina and get married to her geology professor, no one questioned her decision. Research from 1990 about sexual harassment indicated that while harassment does occur between same-gender faculty and students and between female professors and male students, such cases were “statistically insignificant.” In 1993, after many colleges started placing restrictions on sexual relationships, Jane Gross wrote in the that they seemed to be “inspired by feminists on campus, who point to the inherent power imbalance between a professor who gives grades and writes recommendations and a impressionable young woman who is either flattered by the attention or fearful of spurning it.” The issue, furthermore, was “propelled by growing recognition that sexual harassment is a serious problem that could land professors and administrators in court.” A professor can’t sleep with his students for much the same reason bosses can’t sexually harass their secretaries without potentially running into real legal trouble: some of the victims started to speak up.The first no sex policy came in 1984, when Harvard banned relationships between faculty members and students they taught. In 1986 it adopted a very specific policy barring romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and their own students, but allowing relationships with students professors don’t specifically “teach or supervise.” Harvard Dean Henry Rosovsky, introducing the policy at his school, wrote that relationships between teachers and students were "always wrong." John Kenneth Galbraith, emeritus professor of economics at the school, publicly wondered how he, who had been married to a former graduate student for almost 50 years, should atone for his sins.For about half of my undergrad, I was having an affair with the professor I worked for.This man had been one of the biggest influences on my thought and education while at university — he had my utmost respect as a scholar. The previous policy at Connecticut was to "strongly discourage" any relationship in which there was some sort of "power imbalance between the parties." In fact, the vast majority of American colleges have no specific prohibition against relationships or sexual interactions between professors and their pupils, though many have suggested that they may not be such a good idea.That is, this new rule seems completely uncontroversial, but it’s a very recent development.Her behavior reached the eyes and ears of the police Sex Crimes Unit, who made the arrest. So a 17-year age gap seems perfectly fine for them if it involves a male victim, who must have been a willing participant and a female perpetrator, who just couldn’t help herself.When the local paper ran the story, the comments from readers (all male, of course), ran along the usual: “Where can I see a picture of her? This is every teenage boy’s dream.”; “I think he’ll recover fairly quickly.”; “How much ‘therapy’ will it take to help this poor young man recover from the trauma? ”; “Where were these teachers when I was in high school? But when the roles are reversed, and a 34-year-old male teacher has a sexual relationship with one of his 17-year-old female students, let the howling for justice begin.
While there’s a troublesome power dynamic at work here—a tenure-track economics professor’s relationship with a freshman in his macroeconomics class, whose grade he determines, is obviously different from any relationship that student might develop with another economics professor; likewise, that freshman would have a different relationship with another freshman—nobody seemed to think this one was such a big deal. If a professor were to approach (or text message) a student today to ask for a date it would strike many as incredibly inappropriate. While it’s true that that UConn prohibition extends to any professors and any students of every gender, the traditional dynamic here is a male professor and a female student.The idea of boundaries conjures an array of images for all of us based on the circumstances of our individual upbringing and life experiences.When it comes to boundaries in our everyday relationships, some of us wait until a situation has escalated beyond our comfort zones before we set one because we are trying to please and be nice.My former professor has a side to this story too, but the story that you are about to read is mine and mine alone.I got to know him the way most students get to know their professors — by taking one of his classes.