Just call him "Dr. Love?"

Hey, young layyyyydeeeee!

Hey, young layyyyydeeeee!

In the thread on a recent post about how faculty men’s and women’s personal lives compare in these times, some commenters observed that they have male colleagues or professors who date young students.  Deborah Judge wrote,

My college also has the pattern of young male faculty ‘grooming’ wives for themselves by marrying former students or recent college graduates. It makes me seriously grumpy, not least because it makes socializing with male junior faculty really, really challenging.

Maude also wrote here,

As I was finishing up my Ph.D. in grad city, I noticed many male profs getting engaged to, marrying, or dating undergrads, or recently graduated undergraduate women, which kind of disgusts me. Not to say that these women are not smart or intelligent or do not have any aspirations, but what it seemed to me was that these male profs were grooming academic wives for themselves so that they could “have it all.” They liked their jobs, wanted to stay where they were, you know, which is fine, but I find it hard to ignore the power dynamics there, too–a) former prof in most cases; b) significant age difference–on average about a 13 year age difference. It honestly mad[e] me lose a lot of respect for both the profs and their girlfriends.

life of a fool chimed in, “I have also seen plenty of what maude and others have commented on — faculty men marrying (recently) former students, and it creeps me out for the same power dynamic issues already mentioned.”

Does this really still happen?  I assumed that this went out with the 1960s or 1970s, what with the increasing tenure standards and decreasing libertinism that have characterized faculty life over the past 30 years.  Unlike my aforementioned commenters, I haven’t seen it among my peers.  Am I just completely out to lunch(I have to confess that everyone always knows about the romantic intrigues in my circles months before I do, so maybe I’m just clueless on picking up sex vibes.  Maybe mine is a less complicated reality?  La la la la la!)  Are there some disciplines that harbor more predatory (or pathetic) faculty than others?  I think that if a colleague of mine started dating undergraduates, that faculty member would lose a lot of esteem among his peers, men and women alike.  In fact, a male colleague of mine once gave the creepiest and most damning criticism of professors who date their students I have ever heard:  he called it a theft,and described as a vampirism in which the (older, natch) faculty member was sucking the innocence and idealism out of a young person and feeding on it.  Eeeeww.  (But all the same, very apt I think.)

I find nothing whatsoever attractive about undergraduate men–I couldn’t even stand most of them when I was 18-22 myself.  Some of them haven’t yet figured out how to shower and shave on a daily basis, let alone have anything of interest to say, so the idea of a dating or intimate relationship with any of them is just repulsive.  (But then, I never had a problem finding dates or romantic partners who were age-appropriate.)  I can see where some men in particular who didn’t get a lot of action as younger men and who are perhaps still socially awkward would find it attractive to date women and men who aren’t their peers in any respect–age, educational attainment, etc.  I can see a nerdy guy being seduced by the fact that attractive young people are hanging on his every word in class, and thinking that it must be because he’s such an awesome lecturer rather than because he wields the grade book.

I don’t respect it–but I think I understand it.

61 thoughts on “Just call him "Dr. Love?"

  1. I used to T.A. for a professor in his 40s who would say that all of the women his age had been so screwed over by men that they had too much baggage and wouldn’t trust him. Therefore, the only women worth dating were in their late teens and early twenties — 25 was getting too old for him.

    Of course, if he went to the places where 18-24 year olds hung out, he would look like the skeevy older dude. Instead, he’d turn to his classes as a dating pool. He had the gall to ask me on the first day of class if I saw “any good prospects” for him among the students. When I told him that I didn’t approve of that, he told me I should “get over it.”

    He had actually married one of his students something like a semster after she had been in his class. She was all of 19. The marriage didn’t even last a year. He was back, trolling the classroom the next semester, before the divorce papers had been filed.

    Then — it gets better — he told me that I should date him (and I was over the 25 year old age limit) because that would shut down the rumors that I was having sex with my advisor. Who started the rumors about the advisor? The advisor himself. I wasn’t the first he had started rumors about, either, nor the last. He liked to find some young, naive, single student, get her to take classes only from him with late meetings in his office when the building was empty, and then tell the other professors what a slut she was. Since he was the department bully, if he decided you were his target, you were poison to anyone else as either a friend or a student.

    I later worked for a professor who took it upon himself to file a harassment suit against his department chair on behalf of the graduate students in that department. No one asked him, he just didn’t like that the chair was dating another grad student. Well, the whole time that he was filing this complaint, he himself was dating a grad student. The chair, at least, wasn’t married at the time. This particular professor ended up having three wives. Their ages all stayed the same, but he kept getting older.

    Somewhere along the line I began to wonder if it was just me, if I was a magnet for scumbags, or just brought it out in the people around me. Then, I realized, it was the whole system around me — the power, the sexism, the vestiges of an age that permitted sexual harassment, the younger men who were pissed that they were unable to live in that age, and, on some level, the juvenile antics of overgrown boys trying to prove to the other boys that they are the most virile of the pack.


  2. Pingback: Caroline Knapp on professor-student relationships : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  3. The reason I realize how many male professors are married to former students is that I have been where I am for as long as I have, and secondly, I have also worked at another university in South Louisiana, so I have absorbed a lot of information over the years.

    I still keep getting surprised to find one more case of it. I wonder sometimes whether in the end I may find it is almost all of them.


  4. And once again, the propositioning is RAMPANT and I wouldn’t know if I weren’t so immature and didn’t have all these friends who are former students, halfway between the undergraduate age and my age.

    The other night I was at dinner with a friend who was an undergraduate here years ago. A colleague of mine, someone I’ve always liked and wouldn’t mind having in my social circle (or so I thought) came up and hit on her.

    They hadn’t seen each other in 10 years. She was horrified and said OMG, he used to hit on me when I was in college, and now he still thinks he can come and do the same thing. And she told me he had a huge rep for this. And the faculty does NOT know.


  5. Pingback: On prohibiting faculty-student sexual relationships : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  6. Pingback: Humiliation and Longing: Part II of my discussion with Tenured Radical of Terry Castle’s The Professor : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

    • Love happens where it happens, man. I’m really close friends with a former professor I never dated. He’s more like me than any man I’ve met since, and I’m thirty. Give the eccentrics a bit of a break.


  7. I realize I am late to the game but this something I am conflicted about. I agree it is complex and as with most things I think it depends on the situation. I also think, however, that most of the time it’s pretty clear to any adult (professor) with a sense of responsibility and decency would know. I am currently a professor and have some experience in this matter.

    Undergrad- I attended a small college (less than 1000 students) in a town where the college was it (rural). Professors and students frequently formed close relationships outside of the classroom, socializing was normalized and encouraged. That close bond, if anything, seemed to make the mentoring relationship stronger. To my knowledge, no student-professor relationships of a romantic or sexual nature occurred (and this place was small so good luck hiding anything). Of course it was also likely you would have had or were going to have any given professor in class at some point (I took classes from a least 70 percent of the faculty) and the ones you spent considerable time with you probably had classes with every semester or research. Faulty regarded us as up and coming scholars and were respectful, fun and encouraging but still regarded is as kids in some light. And we were to some degree. I am very thankful that none of them tried to exploit their power or ruin those formative and carefree years. They will always be special, regarded as an authority, and I wouldn’t advise dating if/until the person has been out for many years and earned an advanced degree, then perhaps it would be reasonable. People had crushes on professors, professors may have known, they didn’t encourage, and they viewed it as their responsibility to draw the line. As a professor I now think it my responsibility with my students. Example well set.

    Grad school – I went to a larger school, much larger (15,000) students. Graduate school itself is smaller though and I was very much accustomed to close relationships, more than my peers who came from large school. This led me to interact with faculty quite well, which was good in most cases and the other students eventually got the hang of it. A professor there came on to me, I was shocked (I know naive right?) but the age difference had me in a mindset where the thought didn’t cross my mind. He was almost 40 years older. Predatory as I found out late he had done this many times before and the department knew it and jus pretty much turned their heads. Nice. Now I’m not sure if it’s always wrong and for me it wasn’t a big deal, I hang had him in class, wouldn’t in the future and he had no supervisory role over me whatsoever. So was it wrong? It was in poor taste and he was married so that part was wrong. I’m also a firm believer that most people under 25 should stick with people 2 or 3 years in either direction. Why? Brain devleopment. Experience. Had I been 27 and he 40 I wouldn’t say it was a great idea (just as I think dating in the workplace in general is inherently problematic) but certainly not wrong. On the flip side I’ve been asked out by students, both as a TA and a professor. Sometimes I can tell arsd of time sometimes I’m surprised. I know who it’s going to be this semester by the way. As a TA I don’t know if it would have been wrong entirely, one guy was actually a year older than me and it was only 1 class that was 4 weeks long. I was hardly his mentor. But my answer is always the same, I’m sorry, I wouldn’t feel comfortable…power dynamic…integrity…professionalism…I don’t care what the policy of the school is (a lot seem fine with grad students dating undergrades een if they has them in class just not currently) and I’m not entirety opposed to that, however not for me. I’m also not sure if it’s wrong for someone who is in grad shool, say 29 or 30 to date a professor who doesn’t have a supervisory role over her or him, even if at one point they did. I would argue your advisor had too much of a mentor relationship but other than tht you are in the same field (which is often small) there is a spark, it’s might be okay I’m not sure. Not for me but that doesn’t mean it is wrong necessarily. Once someone is 30 their brain is developed into an adult brain, they have a sense of identity, just like with any relationship a discussion should be had about any power issues but even if the professor is 50, as long as it won’t impact the students work like sitting on a committee, grading any exams, funding then I think it can be healthy at least it’s possible but there is always the influence she or he might have over other faculty so they should be mindful to not comment on said student. It would be bed to wait until graduation at which point a grad student who is a graduated phd and a former grad professor would probably be fine (unless of course it was an advisor).

    That’s my take. Not saying I am an authority, I know this is a complex issue an in most cases it was probably wrong on the professors part (I don’t care if the stand threw herself or himself at the professor it’s the professors job to be the adult because she or he is especially with undergrads). I recall thinking I was an adult back then and even somewhat equal to professors, now I realize just what a child I was in some ways and am glad they never tried to rob me of my experiences with other children. I agree it is stealing something at that age, professors have so much influence the students don’t even realize. I’m not saying everyone would be hurt by it either but still professors should be fostering development not grooming mini me’s for dating or using them for sex. Sorry for the long post I just feel strongly on this issue.


  8. Human beings are human beings and love is quite rare for some people. Prohibitions on falling in love is not going to prevent it from happening; it’s just going to make sure it ends tragically when occasionally something quite nice can happen from it. Shame on people who don’t believe in love but only in sex and “taking advantage of”. Shame.


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