Tuesday, July 31, 2012

So how often do Professors have romantic relationships with their students? More common than we want to admit.

The university campus experience is a very exciting one, for a variety of reasons. For many a young adult, it is an escape from parental/family control and the first tastes of being an independent individual. For many it is their first experience of being free to think, as well as to make independent lifestyle choices. The interactions with charismatic professors who seem to know everything can also be quite intoxicating and .... seductive. Especially when hormones are raging.

On the other side of the corridor are the professors who, being married to their science, often live lonely dysfunctional lives .... and by the time they achieve some seniority invariably suffer from some undiagnosed mid-life crises.

Under these circumstances, it is not difficult to understand why a professor may fall for the charms of a young nubile female student. Or why a young female student may develop an infatuation with the middle aged academic demi-god / authority figure. This relationship is obviously inappropriate. But it takes a clear head and strong principles to be able to step away, and do the right thing. Unfortunately, university eggheads are not necessarily clear headed people.

Of course, there are also those with more sociopathic inclinations who will exploit the situation. Female students who try to sleep their way to better grades, for example. Or predatorial professors who take advantage of susceptible young female students. Worst, the senior academic who engages in habitual sexual harassment for cheap gratification.

How often does this occur in our campuses? No one has done a survey to find out. I don't think the universities really want to find out, so don't hold your breath in expectation of some expose to be published. The only survey I have come across was one conducted in a major US university campus. There, from 235 male faculty respondents, 26% reported sexual involvement with female students. This was a survey done in 1988 in a major US campus (Fitzgerald et al, 1988). I leave it to you to figure if the situation in a Singaporean campus, in 2012, is likely to be better .... or worse.

I personally think the situation is more prevalent than we care to admit. There is a tendency on campuses to look the other way unless there is frank criminal intent. Honest though inappropriate relationships just make for interesting gossip. Just think of how many senior 'respected' academics marry their graduate students. In these situations don't imagine that their relationships began after graduation.

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