It starts with a chat during a professor’s office hours. Then the relationship thickens, and a cup of coffee is shared among buddies. Soon after, the two find themselves getting beers in the pub, discussing topics from the most recent lecture. Before you know it, a professor and student are having drinks outside of campus and the relationship has officially escalated beyond an academic structure.
Where should the line be drawn between an appropriate and an inappropriate student-teacher relationship? According to the University, there isn’t an exact answer, but there should be.
In light of this past semester’s controversy surrounding a professor and the invasion of privacy charges brought against him, we as a student body are left wondering how there are no rules at SF State that prevented Mark Landis from inviting a number of students to party at his Castro home. Months later, his alleged filming of 16 current and former students in his bathroom, and therefore 16 misdemeanor counts of invasion of privacy, was revealed to the general public.
Many of us have befriended professors and other faculty members over our years at SF State. All students should be able to have one faculty member who has changed the way they think about education, who they have put trust into and felt a stronger connection with. This school has many caring, interesting and devoted staff members who may be great to kick back with and share a beer.
Regardless of these strong connections, it is still inappropriate for a professor to act like a fellow student the moment they leave campus. Any rules, spoken or unspoken, that hold true on campus should be held with the same merit throughout the whole course of a professor’s career.
Now, this is not an attack on all professor’s who choose to meet with their students outside of the classroom to have one-on-one discussions. This is also not a claim that all faculty who do this are likely to commit inappropriate actions involving the students, such as Landis allegedly did.
While a solidified rule could have prevented Landis’ actions from taking place, it could also make it less easy for professors to choose favorites among students, or give some students more attention and time than others. Students can have favorite professors, but it’s unethical for professors to choose favorites of their own.
Students are often young and impressionable. They need to be taught from someone they respect as above them, not as a peer. As soon as a professor is allowed to remove themselves from this position of power and become equal with their students, they diminish the quality of education for those students.
When this happens, it is not the professor or student’s fault. These relationships (whether romantic or purely platonic) and the weakening of a professor’s control over their students are the fault of the University’s loose policies on student-professor relationships.
We propose a call to action for all of us students: until the University steps up and defines this line we need to draw it ourselves. No student and faculty member shall interact in a manner off campus that is not intended to better the student’s education or future professional lives.
No house visits. No favorites. No partying. Having a mentor is one thing, but having a beer buddy is another.