''A'' is for affair with professor?

Dear Alice,

I recently have begun having sexual relations with one of my professors. I know that it in itself is kind of wrong but I can't help it. He has told me that he is divorced but new evidence has come to my attention that allows me to believe he may be married with children. I've confronted him but he always avoids my questions with kisses. I think I am falling in love but I don't want to share him. What should I do?


I want to get an "A"

Dear I want to get an "A," 

Having a hot, new romance can be very exciting. However, your student-professor relationship and suspicions about their home life may be worth considering further. These factors may be complicating the situation and creating the potential for bringing a bit of mess into your romance. In addition, many colleges and universities have policies that prohibit relationships between professors and students for critical reasons. These policies are in place because of the power dynamics that exist between teachers and their students. They help to protect students, faculty, and staff to ensure that romantic or sexual relationships don’t have a bearing on professional or academic activities. That being said, only you know the relationship between yourself, your professor, and your school’s policies on these types of relationships.  

An analysis of student-teacher dynamics found that students often believe that part of the implicit contracts between teachers and students are that teachers acts in the position of authority in the classroom. Often, professors and students felt uncomfortable when that power dynamic is shifted, in which professors didn't act from a place of authority. This analysis was done from purely an academic perspective. However, its findings can be helpful in understanding the types of relationships that professors and students usually have, given that students and professors are comfortable within certain roles and power dynamics. In what ways do the power dynamics in the classroom replicate (or not) in your relationship? In your case, do you feel a bias towards surrendering power completely to your professor, even outside of your academics? If your professor is constantly setting the terms of your relationship, are you okay with that? Thinking through some of these questions may help you figure out what types of power you’re working with in your relationship to help you understand how to move forward.  

Now, just because the common relationship between a professor and their student tends to be unequal, there’s still nuance in how these relationships develop, particularly in secondary education institutions such as colleges or universities. There’s a stereotype of student-professor relationships that paints the professor as abusing power and preying on their students. Those against these relationships view any type of relationship between a professor and their student as unethical due to the power dynamics of academia. However, others take this view as stripping the student of their agency. Regardless of their views on the relationship itself, others simply view the situation as a conflict of interest. How objective or valid can a grade or evaluation be if the professor views one student favorably? What is certain is how contentious and controversial a relationship like yours can be. You may find yourself facing a significant number of strong viewpoints on your relationship no matter what you decide to do. 

With so many differing viewpoints, it can be too simplistic to view relationships such as the one you have with your professor as clear-cut and with only one course of action. In fact, those who have been in your position have made a variety of different choices, and even their feelings about their relationships may have contrasted with their actions. A study found that undergraduate students tended to hide their relationships with professors while most graduate students were open about their relationships. It also found that people who began relationships as professor and student often advised others not to follow their example. However, they didn’t regret engaging in their relationships, even if the relationship was over. Still, all of those interviewed believed that supervisory relationships between the professor and student were inappropriate, and if in place, needed to end. If you were to decide to continue your relationship with your professor, would you be willing to drop his class? Would you be willing to put the relationship on hold until the class was complete? If you choose to end the relationship, in what ways may he still hold power over your grades or work? Though you may care for him greatly, recognizing what power that he has over your academic and professional work may help you determine some of the next steps that you take.  

You also note his alleged infidelity and that he avoids answering your questions. If he weren’t your professor, how would you handle this situation? Is this behavior that you would be comfortable with from another partner? While you certainly need to consider the implications of his position as your professor, it’s also helpful to think about what you’d want in a partner. If he’s not able to meet those needs due to the other relationships he has in his life, you may have more information about your future together, regardless of professional position.  

The difficulty in weighing the merits and potential disciplinary actions that could come out of your relationship can be taxing. The student-professor dynamic alone can present many complications. Throw in your questions with his fidelity, then it’s understandable that you’re feeling unsure about what to do. A mental health professional can help guide you as you think about your university’s policy stance on your relationship as well as your own personal considerations. You may decide to end it or you may decide to go against social convention and continue the relationship. Whatever you decide, here’s hoping you still get that “A” on your own merit.  

Last updated Aug 20, 2021
Originally published May 23, 1997