12. Sexual Relationships
Professor Smith is teaching a graduate seminar on the work of a
particular sociological theorist. During the course of the seminar he
is asked to write an article for a Festschrift honoring the theorist.
The deadline is short, but he feels that with some help, he can produce
a quality piece for the volume. He asks seminar participant Melissa to
be second author on the paper because, on the basis of other courses
she has taken with him, he knows that she has a good mind, good writing
skills and is better acquainted with the work of this theorist than
most of her peers. Professor Smith has often offered promising students
second authorship and feels that it is something faculty should do when
they can. For her part, Melissa is flattered by the offer, sees it as
possibly leading to her doing a dissertation in this area with
Professor Smith, and immediately agrees. She tells Professor Smith her
reasons for taking him up on his offer. He is delighted that she might
have a long-term interest in this theorist and they begin work
immediately. They spend a good deal of time together and, within six
weeks, have become lovers. Professor Smith is single and so is Melissa.
Eight weeks remain in the semester.
1. What is Professor Smith's obligation to Melissa as
a student in his seminar? As a possible dissertator?
2. Does his relationship with Melissa create any
for him or her with regard to the other seminar participants?
3. Does Professor Smith have any ethical
responsibilities to his
colleagues in the department as a result of what has occurred?
Reflect on the above questions and form your
own answers before clicking the Discussion
key to review the commentary provided with this case.
Professor Smith's attempt to involve Melissa is his research and
publishing is admirable. His major problem is that his sexual
involvement with Melissa has created a conflict of interest or at least
the appearance of one. Even if he were to argue that he can be a
dispassionate critic of Melissa's work, many issues still remain. Will
Melissa be able to trust his evaluation of her work as genuine and
objective? If others know of their relationship, will this affect their
assessment of Melissa as a scholar? Will the other students in the
class be led to suspect that the best route to positive evaluations and
joint publication is a sexual one? Will those who are barred from such
a route, for whatever reason, feel that they are disadvantaged?
If such a message is communicated to the graduate students, will it
contaminate their relationships with other instructors in the
department? Professor Smith might have decided that this relationship
would have to wait until Melissa was no longer in his class and/or no
longer his student. With the relationship a fait accompli, he might
have arranged for another colleague to work with Melissa on her
dissertation. This strategy deprives Melissa of the best mentor given