Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.


A colleague has written me taking me to task in regards to my comments that recusing oneself from grading a student with whom one is having a romantic relationship is not advisable.  Such recusal was advocated by Professor Abramson in his CHE interview.   A third party would be doing the grading.  My colleague writes- “There will always be situations- unforeseen and unforeseeable- in which recusal is necessary, or at least advisable.  Recusal is never considered differential treatment, legally, quasi legally or ethically even though factually it plainly is.”  He writes further “that he suspects that this is so because  as human beings we have to have a way out, a way to acquit ourselves  honorably when nothing else works, and that has always been to do nothing.  That is the essence of recusal.”

Of course, the professor should have foreseen the definite possibility that he or she would be unable to dispassionately grade a student who he or she is romantically involved with.  If  this is the case, such should have been communicated ahead of time to the student and if such involvement occurs then the student would be treated differentially and would not have the  same grader as all the other students have in class.   Recusal in this sort of situation does not appear to me to be an honorable way to acquit oneself; such is not honorable since the relationship is violated and as well as the student.  This would be the case if the relationship was based on mutuality, mutual respect for each other.  One simply does not unilaterally exile a student into never-never land.  Any such decision should be based on a mutual ethical engagement of the issue.  If this is to be done, the student-professor relationship is no longer a private one and will end up being subsumed under the mantel of insitutional authority.  If there is differential treatment, it should of the last resort and is indicative that the professor is now in deep trouble as well as the student.

In addition, it does become relevant that recusal from grading in a university is almost unheard of.  Of course, in legal situations recusal is frequently employed.  In my 35 years of university teaching I never heard of a situation of recusal occurring or being contemplated.  Also, in said 35 years, I cannot recollect being privy to any discussion of the issue, nor receiving any official university notifications about the issue.  Is the recusal process referred to in Faculty Handbooks?    Feedback on this would be most appreciated.  On the other hand,  many times during my career I heard faculty disparage in severe terms other faculty and students and who in my opinion could not dispassionately evaluate the disparaged colleague or student, and in these situations recusal never to my knoweledge ever came up.

As for myself, I never felt recsual was called for.  Let me give but one example.  After the end of a Fall semester, I began to date an ex-student who had been in one of my Fall classes.  I continued to date the student and our dating evolved into a serious long term relationship.  Come the next Fall semester, she indicated she wanted to take another class from me.  My position was that it was her decision to make, and if she took the class she would be treated the same as all other students.  She knew that such would be the case.  The fact was that amongst students I was known as a passionately impersonal grader.  It  wasn’t easy to give a poor grade to students who I liked, but such was the case.

August 26, 2007 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, ivory tower romance, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating

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