Not putting the skeleton back in the closet: a quick note and some links on professor-student sexual relationships

Richard Jeffrey Newman (whose poetry I recommend to all) has been blogging at Alas for a while now, and last week offered this piece on student-professor sexual relationships. It’s not much of Newman and a lot of extended excerpts from this a Tony Judt post at the New York Review’s blog site. The comments are interesting. (True confession: I only found the post when I checked the stats on my own blog, and found a number of hits to this post of mine, linked by Amp in the thread. Let me offer this post as well for the discussion, as well as the entire “student crushes” category archive here.

The subject of my past came up again recently. Two of my students were in my office on Monday. One of them, a regular reader of this blog, remarked that based on what she heard from her classmates, I still had a reputation as a professor who had slept with his students. The other student remarked that he had heard much the same thing. Both were quick to say that their classmates generally seemed to know that this behavior was in the past, but that some had their “suspicions” that I might still be up to no good, as it were. We all laughed together, and I gently assured the students that what I had once been I was no longer.

I certainly don’t advertise that I was wont to sleep with my students, but I don’t hide it from it either, for the reasons I’ve made clear time and time again. Sexual and romantic relationships between professors and students currently under their supervision are invariably unethical, regardless of the age of either the student or the professor. Relationships between professors and their former students need to be entered into with caution, particularly if the student involved is likely to be in need of a letter of recommendation or is still on the campus. And my general caution about age-disparate love affairs applies here as well. As I have said and will continue to say, for a three-year period in the mid-to-late 1990s, until I got sober in the summer of 1998, I had a series of unethical relationships with students. I deeply regret my behavior. As part of my amends to those whom I hurt, I helped write the campus consensual relations policy . And I have continued to speak out on this issue.

It has been a dozen years since I last crossed that line I ought not to have crossed. In that time, I’ve worked damn hard on good boundaries. And I’ve been a public and forceful (and, unfortunately, insufficiently humble) advocate for safe, non-sexual mentoring. I have little sympathy for those who continue to defend the indefensible exploitation of the teacher-student relationship. I was wrong, deeply so, when I slept with my students. And though it might seem wise to not mention these Clinton-era transgressions of mine again, I think there is value in pointing out the deeply problematic nature of these relationships to new generations of faculty and students, even at the risk of my own mild embarrassment.

One more link to a post I’ve written: A follow-up on student crushes — what not to do

7 thoughts on “Not putting the skeleton back in the closet: a quick note and some links on professor-student sexual relationships

  1. I just want to say that I appreciate your kind words about my poetry, Hugo. I only wish the post on Alas that you linked to were one I was more happy with. I, rightfully, got my head handed to me.

  2. Well, given the state of Tony Judt’s health, we’re all a bit inclined to cut him a break these days. I just assume that’s what you were doing!

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