Monday, December 29, 2014

The "True Love" Exception

Stacy McCain considers the problem of student/teacher dating: True Love Is Always an Exception
“She was 15 and he was 28 and her teacher at the Ferrer Modern School in New York, when they met, and married, in 1913.”

That sentence, from the 1981 obituary of Ariel Durant, is an important historic note to keep in mind when considering prohibitions against professors dating their students. Kelly Anders, an administrator at the University of California-Davis, writes at Prawfs Blog:
In several law schools where I have worked, there are professors or employees who are happily married to former students, whom they began to date while they were students. Perhaps schools turn a blind eye because law students are adults — in contrast to undergraduate students — and, in theory, they are thus freer to make decisions about whom to date, much like people who date co-workers. But what about unwanted attention or a perceived inability to say no?
The reference to “unwanted attention,” of course, brings us onto the legal battleground of sexual harassment. It has always struck me as absurd that anyone could be expected to know their attention was “unwanted” prior to actually expressing that attention. It is one thing if Employee A continues to make overtures toward Employee B after the latter has made clear that the interest is not reciprocated, but it is not rarely the case — and one hears horror stories about these cases — that the very first attempt at flirtation lights the fuse on a powder keg of resentment that leads to a sexual harassment complaint.
. . .
There are cases which seem genuinely exceptional, and the amazing love story between Will and Ariel Durant is one of those. Where these truly exceptional cases occur, there is no need to create a loophole in a policy that generally forbids faculty-student romance, because even if the faculty member were immediately fired under such circumstances, this would seem a small price to pay to have obtained true love. And I think that’s really the appropriate standard: If you really love somebody in that happily-ever-after way, you’d quit your job to be with them if the rules of your job stood in the way.
At every place I've gone to school, or worked in academe, at least once I reached high school, there were incidents of teachers dating and or marrying their students, or in the case of laboratories, their interns and technicians.  Humans, are, well, human, and proximity breeds familiarity.  But I think the rule that Stacy outlines at the bottom is a good one. You should only participate if it's important enough to give up your job over.

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