Feminist Philosophers

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Plea for advice November 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jender @ 2:01 pm

from a reader of my other blog, actually. But that one doesn’t allow comments, so I’m cross-posting here in hopes of getting some good advice for him:

This is not a story, but a plea for advice. So maybe it is a story, but not in the usual, straightforward way.

I’m a young junior academic. I’m male. A new female PhD student just joined our department. She’s four or five years my junior. I’m not involved in her doctoral supervision, so I have no direct professional relationship with her. Now my problem (is it a problem?) is that I rather like her — let’s call her Jane. I rather like Jane, and I would certainly want to get to know her better. I may wish for this to develop into something romantic, or not. I don’t know whether that’s desirable or even possible (I just know that she is straight and single, and I have an inkling that she may be vaguely interested too). But after reading this blog I’ve become even more conscious of the fact that even creating the occasion to explore that possibility (asking for a date, that is) may be inappropriate, for lack of a better word. What should I do?

 

50 Responses to “Plea for advice”

  1. amos Says:

    Play hard to get. Don’t come on too strong and pray that she doesn’t read this blog too. Good luck.

    As you can see, I don’t see any ethical problem per se in you two having a relationship.

  2. justbecool Says:

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with romantic relationships in a work setting as long as it doesn’t impact on professional decisions. But since you said you don’t have a direct supervisory relationship then this hopefully won’t be a problem.

    I would suggest to you just be genuinely friendly towards her, get to know her better, let her get to know the real you, and don’t make her feel uncomfortable by coming on too strong. If she’s interested in you then she’ll start to make more of an effort to speak to you and to hang out in the same places. You will have to be patient with this because it might be a while before she becomes sure of her feelings and sure that you like her for who she is (rather than anything else that men are supposedly stereotypically interested in!).

    The more cool you play it (whilst still paying her attention) the more likely that she’ll make the first move. Whatever you do, don’t try to kiss her (like one male friend did to me when I wasn’t romantically interested in the least – it actually meant that I avoided him after that) or push things too fast. If she isn’t interested in you then at least you will have a good friend.

    Hope this helps anyway.

  3. Kathryn Says:

    My current significant other and I worked together when we met. On a number of occasions we invited each other to group social events as friends, and it worked quite well. We got to know each other a bit better, and frankly, it gave us a period of time to test the waters where if one or both of us didn’t want it to turn romantic, it wouldn’t have been awkward or made working together difficult (extending the easy exit period so to speak).

    However, (and maybe other readers will disagree with me on this) even though you’re not in a supervisory position vis-a-vis this student, if you do develop a relationship with her, presumably this will give her an indirect relationship with others who are, that other students won’t have (assuming you have relationships with other faculty members). And whether or not this would be the case, it seems reasonable that others would percieve the situation this way.

    I think the appropriate thing to do depends very much on the particular context.

  4. pragmatic realist Says:

    I would say, forget it, man. Work on getting something in shape to publish. By the time you get this figured out she is going to go home for Christmas and re-appear with some kind of relationship you never suspected existed.

    Faculty and students should not mix no matter what the technical lines of supervision are. Bad policy.

    The voice of experience.

  5. demeter Says:

    Must agree with pragmatic realist.: “Faculty and students should not mix no matter what the technical lines of supervision are.”

    Not only is it dangerous for her, but it’s very dangerous ground for you. Befriend her, by all means, but keep it as a simple friendship. It seems that you must talk with her a bit already since you like her and would like to get to know her better. It can be helpful, as a female graduate student, to feel academically supported by other professors. Grab lunch one day, talk about philosophy or, as a professor and I did several times, about Mystery Science Theater 3000.

    If your mind cannot accept that distinction of FRIENDS ONLY, then leave her be.

  6. Ben Says:

    I agree with Kathryn. If the two of you become an item, it’s very likely to create resentment among the other students. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should give up on the idea; it’s just something to keep in mind. Are you comfortable with possibly being the most unpopular person in your department?

  7. Beth Says:

    I have to agree with Kathryn. Early in my graduate program, a friend of mine started to date a professor in the department, was brought to many social events that other students were not invited to attend, and quickly began to be offered opportunities that other students weren’t – requests to write book reviews for journals, employment opportunities at the journal edited out of our department, etc. She is certainly a good philosopher, but there were other good philosophers in our cohort, and I know that there were some frustrations from others around these issues.

    I don’t think that there is anything wrong with being involved with her, since there is no supervisory relationship, but if she does express an interest in you, I think that you do have some responsibility to discuss with her the possibility that she will be put in this position with her fellow graduate students.

  8. amos Says:

    Everywhere there is malicious gossip and everywhere people are envious of those who have a good love life, and generally that malicous gossip and that envy disguise themselves behind a mask of morality, but if you’re going to let malicious gossip and envy govern your love life, it’s going to be poor indeed.

    Unless someone finds something ethically wrong with getting involved with that woman, and so far, no one has. I agree with Justbecool that it’s wise to get to know her as a friend first.

  9. rrede Says:

    I cannot assume you are in the US, but if you are, I’d agree with Beth and Ben and others above: you don’t have to be in a supervisory relationship to be in a position of authority as a faculty member: you might be on a committee giving awards, or ta-ships, etc. There will be resentment on the part of other students if you two have a relationship. Plus, if it goes bad, all sorts of ripple effects can occur (and she will be the one to suffer the most negative results).

    But what nobody else has said: you need to check your university’s procedures/policies: they can differ. Some universities allow romantic/sexual relationships as long as there is not direct supervision; some don’t allow any romantic/sexual relationships between faculty and students. That’s in fact the best advice I have for all graduate students and junior faculty: study your department policies/procedures, study your university’s policies procedures. Yes, they’re long, boring, and in legalese (and nowadays they can often be changed via online without very much notification), but it’s worth it.

    On a personal level, I don’t believe any facutly member should engage in any relationship with any student at least in their own department under any circumstances. Yes, I know it works out sometimes, but I’m in my fifties, and most of the time the women (who are almost always the students; I’ve only known one woman faculty/male student ) are screwed in more ways than one.

  10. sk Says:

    a few thoughts:

    1) friends don’t give friends grades. much less lovers. so if she’s under your supervision in any capacity, whether in your classroom, or at the graduate student review committee, or in grading comps, then just no.

    2) this has the potential to feed into the common situation that women graduate students in philosophy cannot tell whether men philosophers think that their kung fu is good because it is good, or because they want to sleep with them. that is damaging. so i would say, become friends with her, and, after a good long while, talk to her about it. tell her that you think her work is good (assuming you do think this) and that you are attracted to her, and that the former is not the condition of the latter. put the ball in her court a little bit, but give her assurances that it’s well and truly in her court, not that you are coercing her in any way (see number 1). hopefully she works in a totally different subfield!

    3) but for the most part i would side with pragmatic realist above. if she does get together with you, then various others will think that you underwrite or authorise her work. that she “slept her way to the top.” that anyone only thinks her work is good because you’re sleeping with her, regardless of whether you supervise her directly or not. that sucks, and maybe it’s worth it, but maybe you or she won’t see that clearly or it won’t matter much until later, when its too late.

  11. dana Says:

    I’d second the advice to check with your university’s policies, but I also want to note, as others have above, that the effects of a relationship are a) not limited to the classroom (especially if your department is small) and b) not limited to the two of you. Even if “supervisory capacity” excludes departmental awards, TA-ships, &c formally as a matter of policy, as a matter of pragmatics if the two of you are an item there are going to be many, many perceived (and real!) conflicts of interest. This has the potential to create a very poisonous climate among the grad students and faculty; but much depends on factors such as the size of the department, the areas you work in, the feasibility of excusing yourself from conflicts of interest.

  12. Anonymous recent PhD Says:

    Another comment in support of pragmatic realist and dana. In short, don’t sh*t where you eat.

  13. elp Says:

    i speak as someone who was the female student in just such a situation some time ago. so here’s my two cents:

    basically, i agree with what everyone else has said. it’s *not* on for you to ask her out, even tho she’s not your student. if you make a move and she doesn’t reciprocate, then even if there’s no ‘real’ damage done, she’s still going to feel mighty uncomfortable. remember, students don’t know what goes on w the faculty when they’re not around to hear it. for all she knows, you’re bad-mouthing her after she turned you down. you’ll be setting her up for loads of discomfort in the department.

    *that said*, you are surely free to be friendly to her, emphasis on *friend*. and if she reciprocates your more-than-friendly feelings, chances are she’ll make the move. she’ll know that you’re not in a position to do so, and will take the initiative herself.

    if something does come of it, *keep it out of the department*. don’t talk to colleagues about it; don’t turn up to departmental parties, etc, together. don’t make a big secret of it, but do keep it personal and out of the office. *but* if you find yourself in a conflict-of-interest situation (on an award board, etc), then time to quietly fess up.

    if it becomes known, her peers will be nasty about it. trust me extra-much on that one. the nastier of them will decide that any success she has is down to sleeping with faculty, etc. and who knows, maybe your colleagues will, too.

    (just so you know how my story ends: junior academic moved on to another department soon after we started seeing each other, which made the whole thing much easier. we’ve just had our second child.)

  14. Jender Says:

    One caveat about this bit of advice:
    “if something does come of it, *keep it out of the department*. don’t talk to colleagues about it; don’t turn up to departmental parties, etc, together. don’t make a big secret of it, but do keep it personal and out of the office. *but* if you find yourself in a conflict-of-interest situation (on an award board, etc), then time to quietly fess up.”

    Your university may have rules requiring you to declare the relationship to your Chair, or somesuch. As others have noted, it’s important to be sure that you follow the rules of your institution. So no secrecy if the rules preclude it.

  15. elp Says:

    yes, sorry, i left out that bit. do follow procedure. but (assuming the relationship is allowed at all) do so quietly. only talk to the people you need to, and make clear that you want to keep it to yourselves.

  16. elp Says:

    (also, err on the side of caution when being friendly. esp as you are an academic (and so, probably not socially-adept), you must be make very sure you’re not being creepy.)

  17. Confused Philosopher Says:

    Thanks for all the advice — it’s much appreciated. The relationship would be allowed under my Institution’s guidelines. Nonetheless I now see that it could be problematic in a number of ways, especially for the PhD student. Almost certainly I’ll just have to sit this one out. Again thanks.

  18. amos Says:

    Mr. Confused Philosopher:

    A few points:

    1. You must be a very scrupulous and ethical person or you would not have submitted this personal issue to this tribunal.

    2. You must be very interested in this woman or you not have submitted this personal issue to this tribunal.

    3. You lose nothing by befriending this woman. You don’t have to sit out friendship with her.

    4. Once you get to know her better, as a friend, you’ll be in a better position to judge the other variables involved.

    5. It would be sad that when you reach my age, 64, either alone or, what is worse, tied to someone whom you do not love, but who is right for you according to all the conventional standards which decide who is right for you, without taking into account you, your self,
    you realize that in sitting out befriending this woman, you blew the chance to be with someone who is right for you, your self.

  19. Jender Says:

    To add to Amos’s thought: pretty much every relationship carries ethical risks. I say get to know her, think hard and be careful. But don’t write it off.

  20. jj Says:

    Could I just follow on with elp’s remark #16. Something no one has commented on, I think, is that the power difference in this relationship may result in her entering the relationship because she really likes men with power. While I don’t want for a second to suggest anything in the present case, it is not unusual for men who couldn’t compete in a normal dating market to be attractive to stunning students. And if that’s the case, it might also be a site for unflattering comments behind your back.

    I agree with Jender that relationships carry ethical risks, but I’m especially bothered by those where there’s this sort of very official power differential. One psychiatrist told me, “They all do it – doctors, ministers, lawyers, professors.” Sleep with clients, that is. That’s a great exaggeration, one hopes, but you might think of yourself as like her doctor’s medical partner; you might have something of an inherited alure.

  21. amos Says:

    De gustibus non est disputandum.

    If some women really are atracted by powerful males, I don’t see the ethical problem.

    The ethical problem is when powerful males use their power to extort sex from women.

  22. Kathryn Says:

    Amos, what do you think about the idea that there’s ways in which power may accidentally be exerted in problematic ways? Imagine a student wanting to end a relationship with a professor who is good friends with the other faculty.

  23. amos Says:

    And the professor does not want to end the relationship?

    I see your point.

    However, a power differential is not always problematic in that way;
    A woman sleeping with her doctor or her minister, because she finds doctors and ministers attractive, examples given above, isn’t in that position. In general, it’s easy to find another doctor and to change churches.

  24. jj Says:

    But, Amos, doctors and ministers who sleep with their clients can get in a lot of trouble; it’s pretty much forbidden, I think, with doctors. Churches may vary on whether it’s allowed, I don’t know.

  25. amos Says:

    I don’t know if doctors and ministers are forbidden to sleep with their clients. Catholic priests certainly are.

    However, that something is forbidden does not make it wrong.

    I understand, as Kathryn points out, that relationships with a power differential may create problematical situations, which no one anticipated at the moment of beginning the relationship (since love is blind), as, I may add, may relationships without a power differential.

    I think that relationships with a power differential within the academic community are especially problematical, because while it’s easy to change doctors, it’s not easy to change universities and changing from one university to another, for “emotional” reasons, does help your career possibilities. Granted.

    Nevertheless, my question is whether relationships with a power differential are inherently wrong, if there is no possibility of extortion on the part of the more powerful partner and if the less powerful person is genuinely attracted by persons with more power.

    I think that they are not wrong. Attraction is irrational. Few of us are attracted by the objective ethical qualities, if objective ethical qualities exist, and by the wisdom, if wisdom is anything more than
    a form of power (see Foucault), of others. Why is it worst to be attracted by power (if there is no possibility of extortion) than by
    a beautiful body or by a pleasing personality?

  26. amos Says:

    Sorry. That should read “does not help your career possibilities”.

  27. Confused Philosopher Says:

    Attraction is irrational, but I guess that it isn’t a sufficient condition for pursuing a relationship.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    I’m a grad student dating a professor. Don’t enter into anything lightly, get to know each other first, and proceed with the utmost caution and respect. If you aren’t sketchy, then most people will just be happy for you.

  29. jj Says:

    I don’t think it’s wrong to be attracted to power. That’s not the point.

    Actually, I think it is wrong for a doctor, lawyer or minister to sleep with clients; it too easily leads to a conflict of interest. Elp’s advice might be taken to be about how to lessen the conflict, and its good advice anyway.

    I have seen the possibility of conflict of interest work itself out in a quite tragic way. An assistant professor I know slept with one of his grad students; about a year later, he was asked to assess something of her’s. The relationship was completely over, but when she saw the B, she filed a complaint and he was fired. Firing was in fact in violation of the official policy, but he failed to win his countersuit. How sympathetic is a court going to be to his claim that he could be entirely impartial? And what are going to be his chances of getting a new job when he’s been fired for sexual misconduct, failure in fiduciary responsibilities and so on?

  30. Xena Says:

    Power dynamics change quickly in academic settings. In the time I’ve been where I am, my GPA and my life have slipped into the toilet, down the gutter and into frikkin hell. One assistant prof I worked with was just a TA the year before I enrolled and he’s now a PhD candidate, due for his Next Big Thingdom in spring 2011. (He’s also one of those off-limits charmers I was on about in another post–short but cute :-))

    I say wait and watch. If she’s as brilliant as you say she is, she’ll want to postpone marriage&kids for another few years anyway. Stay in touch as a friend, but give her time to meet you as someone closer to your equal. 2 years(?) maybe. If she’s everything you say she is, she’s also worth waiting for. She’ll let you know when it’s right.

  31. Heidi Says:

    I’m glad to see so many comments on this post — and especially to see that folks have pointed in the direction of reviewing official policy, the likelihood of creating a pernicious environment for other students in the department, the possible social ramifications for both the graduate student and junior faculty member, and the difficulty of clearly delineating the boundaries of supervision. (Merely being in the same department often means that there is some indirect “supervision”. I think the metaphor of an extended family is helpful in understanding the subtleties of the faculty-grad student relationship. In highly functional departments, faculty often quietly work together to support advanced grad students or recent PhDs who are on the market. The entire faculty “supervises” or supports each student, to a lesser or greater degree, in the same sense that an entire family “raises” or supports each child, to a lesser or greater degree.)

    So I echo the sentiments of all those who say that even consensual relationships are problematic.

    One worry that I don’t think has been raised, though, is the extent to which consensual relationships may damage or inhibit a female graduate student’s work (rather than simply her reputation).

    This is a difficult and delicate point to make, so I’m going to appeal to an area outside of philosophy. Prior to returning to philosophy, I spent a decade or so as a “professional” (aka sponsored) high-altitude mountaineer. I was always the only female climber on the team, and often one of only a few or even — in the case of peaks like K2 — the only woman out of 40 or 50 climbers at base camp. For whatever reason — I’m just stating this as a fact, not arguing for the rationality of the attitude — I invariably felt that I needed to carry more, strive to climb higher, generally work much harder than all of my male teammates. And I wasn’t alone in this. Wanda Rutciewicz, the first female to reach the summit of K2, expressed similar sentiments. I can’t remember whether Wanda or I or some other female mountaineer (Alison Hargreaves, maybe?) said this — but many of us said things to the same effect: “show me a woman in the mountains who doesn’t feel she has to work twice as hard as her male climbing partners, and I’ll show you a woman who is sharing her tent.”

    In other words, in order to stabilize the often very-fragile gender dynamics on an expedition, you must be unavailable: either engaged with a member of the group, or universally respected and somehow out of reach.

    Now, I’m not saying that all female climbers had the same experience. The gender ratios on some peaks, such as Everest, is closer to normal. And there may be other ways of stabilizing the gender dynamics. (Explicitly prohibiting consensual relationships is one way that comes to mind — tho’ climbers are not the sort of folk who like prohibitions of any sort, explicit or otherwise.) Nor am I saying that there is a direct and obvious analogy in philosophy. Many, if not all, of the female philosophers I know who “share their tent” with another philosopher are, simply put, unnervingly energetic women whose accomplishments continue to exceed those of their male cohort. I am in awe of what they have accomplished, and can’t imagine how they might have achieved more had they opted not to share their tent.

    What I *am* saying is that I think there is a very real possibility that the student who engages in a consensual relationship with a faculty member during those formative graduate student years could experience an unexpected shift in all those intangible inner motivations that give her the competitive edge.

    Finding the right balance of motivations to finish the PhD is hard enough as it is. Why risk the complications?

  32. alpha Says:

    Aside from romantic relationships, I have issues with faculty and grad students being friends. Our job is to be collegial mentors and teachers. Friendship carries obligations that are unfair for a student to hold. I have known many women students who became close non romantic friends with faculty members and it never turned out to be a good thing for the student. For example, a student took classes from a professor who was a friend, classes that did not support her program of study, because she felt an obligation of friendship. Another example, a Masters student who became friends with her advisor. The advisor was a close friend and a not so hot advisor. The student continued to work with the friend as a doctoral advisor knowing that it was a bad professional move because she did not want to hurt her ‘friend.’ Power differences play a role in friendships as well as romantic relationships. If a person wants to be close friends with a student, wait until they graduate. If a person wants a romantic relationship, it needs to be strong enough to merit getting a different job.

  33. extendedlp Says:

    i agree w all of this, and want to point out to amos that demanding sex isn’t the only negative way that power can come into a relationship. who does what practical tasks (dishes, fetching the dry-cleaning, making dinner reservations), etc, can be skewed in inequitable ways. *and yet*. one tends to move from PhD student to staff right around the time that one would normally be ‘settling down'; so, of course, people at that stage of life and looking for something serious will often be on different sides of this divide. …i don’t know. it’s nice to have a philosopher for a partner. it strikes me that the benefits of it are so high, that we oughtn’t lightly give in to the tricky issues that it throws up. it seems obviously worth it to try to navigate it.

  34. Amsterdam Says:

    This may be redundant, but:

    You (Confused Phil) are a junior faculty member and so perhaps you are inexperienced in handling students who will be (inevitably) attracted to you on the basis of your position. (You say you sense she has feelings for you.) In fact many professors receive these kinds of signals from students. I guess all the power we have — and we do have alot of power over their lives, whether the involvement is direct or not — can be very seductive. So this is a good opportunity to remind yourself that your students (and this woman is a student of yours in an extended sense) really need the space to grow and develop as philosophers without having to deal with all the difficulties caused by being attached or dating to a faculty member.

    Do you really care about this person? Then the best thing you can do for her is to take her seriously as a philosopher — believe me. At least in my own case, being taken seriously by my male professors, without anything personal entering into it, gave me something really solid to fall back on in moments of self-doubt.

  35. amos Says:

    J.J:

    I still don’t see why it’s wrong for a doctor to sleep with patients.
    In the case of a therapist, it’s wrong because he or she handles lots of confidential information about the patient and because of problems of transference-counterference. However, a dermatologist or a specialist in back pain?

    I got involved with a doctor years ago; her air of scientific and medical competence, that is, the power differential, attracted me as did her cutting intelligence and the beauty of her face. After a while, she broke off the relationship, because she was involved with another person, and I stopped seeing her as a doctor. Nonetheless, a few years later, I began to consult her again, as a doctor, because she is a good professional. When my son was ill, she proved to be a real friend, all of which shows that sometimes bungling your way through life, as I do, can have a happy ending.

    I’m not an academic and let me generalize. The picture of academic life which I get from this thread is of people with good intentions about their love relationships frightened to death that others will project their bad intentions onto them, so frightened to death that they avoid basic human relationships: one post above suggests that students and faculty members avoid normal friendship, because others may suspect that undue influences are at work. Should women students wear the burka?

    It’s sad when people with good intentions and moral scruples let suspicious minds, envy and the “idea” that everyone is calculating, cunning, and obsessed with sex dictate the way that they live.

    I free lance. No one with whom I work cares about how I dress, that I’m missing a tooth or who I slept with the night before.
    After reading the comments above, I now see that I made the right career decision.

  36. extendedlp Says:

    amsterdam: i think there’s probably something to what you’re saying, but the way you say it, it’s as tho pstgrads are 12 years old. they’re not; they’re fully-functional adults. and as confused points out, he’s basically the same age she is. i think there’s a danger of being a bit too prude in all of this.

  37. extendedlp Says:

    ‘postgrads’, that should read.

  38. professional ethicist Says:

    Amos, with all due respect, the picture you are getting of academic life from the thread isn’t accurate. I doubt anyone who posted is frightened to death of gossip – malicious or otherwise – much less of how others will perceive them. Obviously, those are real concerns in any organization. But that’s simply not what’s going on here. The concerns being raised and debated are legitimate ethical concerns, about the appropriate ethical boundaries and responsibilities that obtain between faculty and graduate students. As someone who has witnessed the kind of harm (often unwittingly) done to students (particularly women) In departments where consciousness of such boundaries and responsibilities is nearly non-existent, I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to finally see this discussion beginning to happen. It’s long overdue.

  39. Amsterdam Says:

    Sorry if I left the impression that I think of post-graduate students as any less than fully-functional adults! Especially since I have learned so incredibly much from my students over the years–not only intellectually, but about life in general too.

    I had in my mind the many, many episodes of attraction I have witnessed. I was trying to say that junior faculty have to learn not only how to navigate their own feelings, and CP is to be praised for asking about this, but they also need to learn how to handle situations in which they themselves are the subject of personal attention on the part of their students. Both kinds of attractions are very natural, of course. But not personalizing the situation is usually the wiser option.

  40. dana Says:

    The prohibitions against doctors and lawyers sleeping with their patients and clients are for reasons similar to those reasons that therapists aren’t permitted to sleep with their patients. In all cases, there is a significant amount of trust required (the dermatologist, e.g., may need to see you naked; the lawyer may know of your crimes) and an (obviously) asymmetrical power relationship. These are good reasons to ensure that these contexts are formally and explicitly non-romantic. The relationship between a young junior professor and a grad student isn’t exactly like that, but there are a number of structural similarities.

    Accepting that doesn’t entail that one is arguing for burkas, or letting envious people dictate your love life. Just a little recognition of the complexity of human relationships when power is involved, and an admonition to proceed cautiously.

  41. Xena Says:

    I agree with Amsterdam up to a point. As I noted above, with Dr. Next Big Thingdom, smart guys are sexy. It’s not even about the power so much as the sense of building something together, intellectual intercourse, mutual discovery, and validation through non-flesh creative endeavours. I’ve crushed on more than one prof since I came here. But I’m twice as old as a typical undergrad and older than some of my younger profs. I know the difference between a real, workable attraction and just being hot for a cunning linguist. Many people, regardless of age, gender or social standing still have trouble being objective about that difference. That’s another reason I suggested waiting a couple of years. Time is the test that allows real affection to grow, and exposes the impracticalities in a fleeting infatuation. I consider myself lucky for being able to work with profs who do understand that difference, because my face is like an open book. I actually blush when I’m horny. If any of my prof-crushes had ever acted on my involuntary biological signals, the situation could have become downright ugly if you know what I’m saying.

    However, I don’t agree with alpha. What happened to your (alpha’s) friends is unfortunate, but they sound like the exception rather than the rule. Most people don’t take altruism and loyalty to friends far enough to seriously harm their own careers. That kind of self sacrifice is something we usually save for family. I wouldn’t want to work in a place where I couldn’t make any friends at all. I’m sure the student to whom Confused is referring didn’t get to the PhD level by NOT knowing the difference between friends and competitors. But backstabbers are always a possibility in any work environment. Like I said, wait and watch with every hair-splitting tool your discipline has given you, Confused. Better to spend years wondering if that ambush you sidestepped was for real, than to know its soul crushing certainty through the lens of hindsight. I’m not saying give up on friendship altogether, just be mindful of the possibility that people might try to ruin it for both of you.

    Amos, you’re lucky enough and probably talented enough to have found a great career. I wish I could find employment in a field where nobody cares who I’m sleeping with, but things are different for women. Prostitution is the only job where nobody cares who a woman sleeps with. Of course, people relate to sex workers as sub-human, and don’t care about anything else that they do either. And “anything else” includes bleeding, getting raped, tortured and killed. Not for me, thank you.

    If a woman wants to put bread on the table AND love her work AND have a good relationship, BOTH parties in that relationship have to be hypersensitive to outside scrutiny. Money, power and sex or lack thereof, unfortunately turn people into a**holes. Lynchmobs are an everpresent reality that just goes with being human and being female or otherwise othered. Laws and regulations governing professional conduct, as annoying as they can sometimes be, are usually designed to protect the most vulnerable. Of course there are many many individual cases where two consenting adults break the rules and things work out just fine. The rules are designed to keep professionals from sliding down that slippery slope into crotch-groping 18-year-old frosh and raping coma patients, or being wrongfully accused of doing so. When an act is sometimes ok and sometimes not ok, it’s best to design the rule for the people who stand to suffer the most by not having a rule to protect them, and work out the provisions and loopholes from there, imo.

  42. amos Says:

    Xena:

    I’m not especially talent nor is translating such a great career.

    Take care of yourself.

  43. Anonymous Says:

    Based on your post, it seems as though Jane is very new to your department. If that’s right, then I do think it’s both moral and professional to wait until she has established herself in your department before trying to begin any kind of relationship (or even friendship) with her. Give her the opportunity to be someone other than a prof’s girlfriend— let her develop friends, a reputation for the quality of her work, professional relationships with other faculty members that can’t be unfairly undermined or enhanced by her relationship (or friendship) with you. If things go badly between you two, it becomes especially imperative that she have all these things in place.

  44. Xena Says:

    Thanks Amos. Don’t worry so much about *great* or *not so great* careers. Sometimes the work itself is more important than money or glory. At least that’s what we poor but proud people keep telling ourselves ;-)

  45. amos Says:

    Xena:

    Thank you. Your argument about the rules defending the weakest possible cases and the rest of us using our good sense (phronesis) convinced me.

    If you’ll accept a cumpliment, you’re good at convincing people. That’s a complex skill.

  46. Xena Says:

    Thanks again, Amos. Like I said, sometimes the work itself is more important than the rewards. I’m not a good academic, because I think it’s better to learn to apply knowledge across class, gender and other social boundaries. I like to use the things I know. So I taught myself to remember my lessons in broad concepts instead of memorizing argument styles x, y and z with standard footnotes. Some of my TAs hate that I do that. I don’t even remember my sources half the time. And what I do remember is often mixed up with stuff from several other disciplines.

    I’d give my Ethics prof and his mentor a nod for that argument, but I’d be breaching this site’s privacy policies. At the very least I can cite John Rawls. That argument was mostly his. There’s a bit of John Stuart Mill in there as well as stuff from other ethics classes, but I couldn’t cite those sources if my life depended on it.

    I’m also working to keep my sentence structure closer to the way my Spanish speaking friends write in English, to be polite and to make it easier for you to translate. I only speak a little bit of Spanish, but I can sort of intuitively remember the syntactical differences between the 2 languages. That’s my secret to being convincing. I’m not trying to change people. I’m trying to share something that will make life easier for everybody. If their way works better than my way, I’m happy to learn from them.

    At least I know my time at this university wasn’t a total waste. I hope that today I helped somebody figure out what it means to do the right thing, from the heart, no textbook :-)

  47. amos Says:

    Xena:

    I can see that you don’t always argue following the academic rules, which probably is negative within the university setting and allows you to be more convincing outside of it.

    It’s strange, but in several years of following philosophy online, I’ve almost never been convinced of anything by philosophers, inspite of their skill in arguing. Laypeople, like myself, are more likely to be convinced by good journalists than by philosophers.

  48. anonymous Says:

    I dated a professor in my philo grad program. After I graduated, we married and later divorced. There were some wonderful aspects of dating a professor — we had great conversations, and I learned a ton of philosophy from him. I was invited to other professors’ homes for dinner parties (I assume because it would have been rude to invite him but not his partner). I got to live in the awesome, subsidized faculty housing. But I deeply regret the relationship, and not just because it ended badly. It cut me off from other graduate students; they would never open up with me or share their vulnerabilities and frustrations because they didn’t know if I would pass that information on. Once I walked into the lounge where a couple of students were griping about TAing for my partner (the sort of fun conversation I love to participate in), and they immediately shut up and looked both embarrassed and annoyed. But I also had trouble with faculty relationships. They treated my partner as a colleague and an equal, had meetings with him, sought his advice, and all the other things they should have been doing for a junior faculty member. They could hardly treat me that way, and I often felt resentful of the fact that my own partner had such different status from me. And then there was the pressure of feeling like I couldn’t break up with him, even if things weren’t going well. I didn’t really think he would then badmouth me or make my life in the department difficult, but I could never be sure. And, finally, there was the fact that when I finally graduated and became an equal, our interest in each other quickly diminished. There was a reason I was attracted to a professor, and there was a reason he was attracted to young graduate student.

    Every situation is different, and I don’t claim my experience is representative in any way. But I think serious caution is in order.

  49. desdemona Says:

    focus your attention upon this, little plato, people meet people and that’s the wai it is

  50. Nina Says:

    I am a female tenured professor and have observed many faculty-student relationships. One was supposedly secret as the junior prof was married to someone else; the others were openly admitted. All were quite obvious to the whole department.

    Whenever there is a professional context in which one person has more status than the other, there is a power dynamic involved, whether the parties deny it or not.

    Some people think it unproblematic for psychiatrists to sleep with their patients, when such relationships are “mutually consensual.” However, the well-known phenomenon of transference makes this kind of relationship unethical in my view. If you serve on any committees in your dept, you will have influence over decisions affecting this young woman in her first year of the Ph.D. program. Please don’t make any moves on her.

    Surely the young woman is not the only person you can imagine having a romance with. Consider dating more broadly, perhaps asking out non-philosophers or even a non-academic like my spouse, who provided me with much-needed balance and perspective while on the grueling tenure-track.

    If you are absolutely determined to date this young woman, then don’t ask her out until you have left her department.


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