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The Ethics of Teacher-Student Relationships

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When I was starting out in my academic career, I was assigned a senior colleague as a mentor. This is not an unusual practice. The hope is that the senior colleague can provide advice on how to navigate the thickets of academic life. I remember at one of our meetings the topic of teacher-student relationships came up. This colleague told me, in no uncertain terms, that any kind of sexual or romantic relationship with a student (graduate or undergraduate) was inappropriate and should be avoided. Sound advice, but a little bit ironic for two reasons. First, this particular colleague was in a long-term (and by all accounts happy and well-functioning) relationship with a former graduate student. Second, the thought of entering into such a relationship had never crossed my mind nor had it been a feature of our conversation prior to that point. I believe the only reason it had come up was because I was unsure of how to deal with a student whose mother was dying. To say that the advice was disconnected from the context would seem to be an understatement. If I were to characterise the relationships I have had with my students over the years I would say that they are, for the most part, extremely distant. To be fair, this my normative baseline when it comes to all relationships. I have very few close friendships and I am, for the most part, reclusive and solitary. That said, I probably take this reclusive attitude to extremes when it comes to students. For example, I try to avoid all social gatherings with students. This includes socialising at university-related events. I don’t like to attend formal dinners or graduation with students, nor do I like to hang around and talk to them after guest lectures or other events (I will, of course, talk to them after my own lectures on course-related topics). When I hear of colleagues going to student balls or taking groups of students out for informal dinner or drinks, perhaps to celebrate the start or end of term, I balk at the. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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