It’s a thought that some college students have had in class. A moment of realization where one might think, “Hey… my professor is kind of attractive. I wonder if they are single?” For obvious reasons, there is a negative stigma surrounding the idea of a professor and student pursuing an amorous relationship. On the other hand, these pairings have led to healthy relationships—including marriages—even here at UVU. So what exactly is UVU’s policy on consensual relationships, and is this something that the university sees very often?
“Consensual relationships have not been a problem,” said Dr. Ian Wilson, senior vice president of academic affairs. “Perhaps an isolated one here or there.”
In class there are clear roles that shape how professors and students interact with one another. Outside of the classroom there can be less professionalism in how we conduct ourselves.
“I think communication through Facebook posts, or conversation on twitter puts casual conversation between students and professors into the public eye,” said an anonymous UVU instructor. “Seeing these sorts of interactions brings curiosity and interest to this topic.”
In recent years, communication between students and professors has changed dramatically with it not being uncommon for professors and students to communicate through text messages.
“I’ve had professors that I’ve sent Facebook friend requests to who have declined to add me till the semester is over and I’m no longer in a class they are teaching,” said Jake Jones, UVU student.
The advent of social media is impacting the way students and professors interact with one another. The extent it impacts relationships with professors and students remains to be seen.
Concerning UVU’s policy for professors engaging in amorous relationships with students, there is one factor that separates such relationships from being prohibited to being permitted—but permitted with severe caution to avoid compromising academic and professional integrity.
That factor is whether or not a student is currently enrolled in a course being taught by the professor or participating in academic work that is supervised by the professor. Being a teacher’s aid, for example, would fall under the category of a prohibited romantic relationship for students and professors.
According to the university’s official policy, “The institution educational mission is promoted by professionalism in faculty/student relationships. Professionalism is fostered by an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Actions of faculty members and students that harm this atmosphere undermine professionalism and hinder fulfillment of the institution’s educational mission. Trust and respect are diminished when those in positions of authority abuse, or appear to abuse, their power.”
It is with this mission in mind that the university has this policy in place. The relationship professors have with their students includes a distinct power differential. Professors hold sway over scholarship opportunities, grades and other factors important to students. Any allowance of amorous relationships between students and their professors may lead to an environment where any academic treatment students receive by professors they may be involved with is cause for suspicion.
Even under circumstances where a relationship between a student and teacher would be permitted under the university’s policy, there are a number of conflicts that can result. Regarding a permitted relationship between a student and professor, the university’s official policy states, “Amorous relationships between faculty members and students occurring outside the instructional context may lead to difficulties. Particularly when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit or in units that are academically allied, relationships that the parties view as consensual may appear to others to be exploitative. Further, in such situations (and others that cannot be anticipated), the faculty member may face serious conflicts of interest and should be careful to distance himself or herself from any decisions that may reward or penalize the student involved.”
While relationships between students and faculty are permitted when an instructional or advisory relationship does not exist, there are many sensitive professional elements that need to be considered if such a relationship is to be pursued.
Many students are in full favor of UVU’s policy on this matter.
“I agree completely with UVU’s policy on this matter,” said Paola Serrano, student at UVU. “Favoritism would be really hard to avoid if students were allowed to date professors of a class they were enrolled in. I might even be for a stricter policy on student/professor dating.”
Professors agree that the policy promotes professionalism but offers enough room for a healthy amorous relationship between two adults to function as long as conflict of interest is avoided.
“Amorous relationships, even consensual, must absolutely not occur between teachers and currently enrolled students for many reasons,” said an anonymous source linked to the university. “But the policy is not so restrictive that it wouldn’t allow for a relationship between a teacher and a student who isn’t enrolled in a course by that teacher… I do know a few married couples who met while one was a student in the class of the other, and usually there is a marked age difference.”
Some students feel that favoritism from a professor to a student can never be completely avoided even with a policy in place that prohibits professors to be amorously involved with students enrolled in a course they teach.
“I feel there will be a degree of favoritism between a professor and their students even with dating not being allowed between them,” said Raquel Smith, student at UVU. “I feel I’ve experienced that throughout my time in school.”
A look at the policies for this subject from other universities in the state shows a general consensus on the matter. Utah State University’s policy is nearly identical with UVU’s and the University of Utah’s policy is similar with one notable difference; for students and professors who share an instructional relationship, by discussing the matter with department heads and shifting responsibilities, some leeway is allowed.