Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Dating in the workplace and the university place

The NY Times has reported that office dating is becoming more acceptable, that is, more acceptable in the office.  Not that workplace dating ever decreased in the context of sexual harassment indoctrination which demanded one adhere to the line that office dating was a no-no since it could end up in an office imbroglio or some co-worker might become offended or upset or envious that he or she was not the chosen and such could end up representing a hostile work environment.  No matter that most or almost all of the office mates might feel great that true love was blooming in their midst; always lurking in the background could be the unloved waiting to take weighty action against the loved ones and their employers.  No wonder that office romance had become closeted romance.  But now the Times report there is change and these changes in the workplace and the accompanying concerns and issues also have relevance to dating in the university place. Excerpts from the Times article follows.

“An online survey this year by CareerBuilder.com found a significant drop in the number of workers who are keeping an office romance a secret, down from 46 percent in 2005 to 34 percent in 2007. About half of workers say they have dated a co-worker, according to CareerBuilder.com surveys conducted annually for the last three years.

The taboo of the affaire de cubicle has lost some potency, but exactly how much is difficult to gauge as statistics vary from survey to survey. Still, “you see quite a bit of emphasis on work-life balance,” said Jennifer Sullivan, who oversaw the CareerBuilder.com survey, conducted by Harris Interactive. Companies, she said, are allowing more flexibility versus having a handbook dictate how employees need to behave and what those relationships should look like in the office.

As a result, she added, “people are much more open about their relationships.”

Every workplace culture is different, with some less tolerant of office dating. A survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management and CareerJournal.com found that, over all, there was fading concern about potential sexual harassment allegations (77 percent were concerned about it in 2005, down from 95 percent in 2001) but increasing concern that office dating could cause conflict among jilted lovers.

To that end there are now magazine articles and Web sites that not only condone going to work and picking up more than a paycheck, but that also offer advice on how to successfully do so. A book coming out next month, a kind of “The Rules” for the office, would have been difficult to publish in 1991.

In “Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding – and Managing – Romance on the Job” (Adams Media, November 2007), the writers Stephanie Losee and Helaine Olen (who both married colleagues) say the workplace is the new village – and therefore an ideal place to find love.

Ms. Losee said the growing acceptance of office dating (not to be confused with a hookup) is something of a backlash against dating Web sites. “I’m not surprised that the Internet has not proven to be the locus of community we thought it would be,” she said, citing the notion in Robert D. Putnam’s book, “Bowling Alone,” that “we need to be physically near each other to feel happier and better in our everyday lives.”

“Where do we still have that physical proximity of neighborhoodliness?” she said. “It’s at the office.”

Well, the dankprofessor must agree that physical proximity or neighborhoodliness should be ideal for the blooming of romance.  In the social science literature this was called the principle of propinquity.  Of course, internet dating did away with the necessity of any physical proximity. But the girl next store or the guy in the next seat still had its pull and its convenience.  Get a whole bunch of people together who are eminently eligible and one will find dating and mating.

Such, of course, is the situation in regards to university life, thousands exuding eligibility in a community setting of a university. The fact that most of the university citizenry are students and a minority faculty members does not represent any “natural” boundary to romance.  Such should not be shocking to anyone that it has never been infrequent that men who are older and of higher status are found to be attractive by females, including female students attracted to professors.

Some puritanical feminists such as  Billy Dziech simply discard the professor who is sexually responsive to a female student as being lecherous.  Others discard the professor as being hung up on young women; as being on a power trip; as someone who should grow up and date women their own age.  Others go further and view such professors as dangerous predators who victimize young girls who are unable to provide consent and who merit excommunication from the university.

Myself, I take a very pedestrian view based on the principle of propinquity.  Eligible men will wish to date eligible women who are physically proximate and who they find attractive.  Such also applies to women.  Such also applies to female students and male professors.  No big deal. No rule, no ideologues no matter how motivated, will prevent such dating and mating. Driving student/professors into the closet yes; stopping such romances absolutely no. Can one seriously entertain the notion that such sexual repression could be effective knowing that a millenium of vicious anti-homosexuality did not prevent men and women from engaging in same sex affections?  Of course, effective repression was driving homosexually attracted men and women into the closet.  In essence the dominant society wanted qay people to be out of sight and therefore out of mind.  The “good” homosexuals were the homosexuals who did not flaunt, the good homosexuals were not seen as part of a homosexual couple but rather as good friends.

However, in today’s academic world all too many campuses are characterized by a hypersensitivity toward any male professor/female student interaction which in some subtle manner might indicate a sexual component.  Some people will impute a sexual component if the two persons stand close to each other; if there is a hug that is reciprocated; if the professor and student are simply talking and walking across campus, etc.  The campus presentations of a professor and student involved with each other are often no different than everyday interactions between a non romantically involved student and professor.  Consequently, almost anyone could become suspect.  Such may be in part the  reason for the increasing impersonality of American  universities.

In addition, university environments without bureaucratically imposed fraternization bans could very well be safer settings for dating and mating.  After all, if people study together, teach and learn together on a frequent basis, it is more likely that those who become romantically involved know each other pretty well prior to the romance blooming.  No need for blind dating.  As stated in the Times article- 

“People who work together have time to get to know one another, Ms. Losee and Ms. Olen said in interviews, to see how potential paramours behave under stress or how they treat the secretary. Unlike online daters, singles in the workplace are less likely to dismiss a good catch based on snap judgments. Take Ms. Losee’s husband, who is shorter than her and who liked to wear an oversize linen jacket, she said, that leaves something to be desired. “If I met him at a bar I would not have given him a chance,” she said. So perhaps, the authors suggest, a gal need not kiss as many frogs if she is allowed to kiss Kenneth from payroll. But does that mean she should?”

Of course, the dankprofessor does not advocate that she should, what I do advocate is that it is her and his decision to make.


If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submiited for consideration to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor.

© Copyright 2007

October 16, 2007 Posted by | attractive students, consensual relationships, corporate dating bans, dating, ethics, fraternization, higher education, student professor dating, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


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