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Schneider16 studied 356 graduate women from a number of disciplines, and found that 9 percent reported coercive dating and sex with members of the faculty.Of the 13 percent who engaged in consensual dating with members of faculty, 30 percent experienced “pressure to be sexual.” Comments given by respondents in both of these studies reflected a full range of opinion among both former students and faculty members.Yet, both share the objective of fostering independence of the “client.” Therefore, teachers need to find a balance of nurturance and separateness in their relationships with their students, so that the students can carry that modeling into their own careers.I would like to thank Kathleen Donofrio, Peter Fagan, Stuart Keill, Stephen Max, Catherine Nugent, Judith Plaut and Bernice Sigman for their critical review of the manuscript. Teacher-student relationships differ from those between therapist and patient because of the collegiality considered important for the student’s development. Such relationships include those between teacher and student, especially those involving research or clinical supervision.Still others noted more serious consequences of such relationships, including threats or harassment from a spurned faculty lover, resignation of students from their programs, and strong feelings of isolation and embarrassment.Concern about the potential problems resulting from consensual sexual relationships between faculty and students has led some universities to enact formal policies16 and others to set less formal guidelines for faculty behavior.17 The revised Code of Ethics of the American Psychological Association18 which went into effect in December 1992, includes an explicit prohibition against “sexual relationships with students or supervisees over whom the psychologist has evaluative or direct authority, because such relationships are so likely to impair judgement or be exploitive.” As before, the ethical standards also warn against other kinds of “dual” or “multiple” relationships with those to whom one provides professional services. Despite these few recent developments, it is clear that there is still a substantial level of confusion in the academic community about the basis for any such standards.
Teacher-student sexual relationships were considered exploitive by many, and this concern may have contributed to the strong feelings about homosexual behavior, even between adults, that persist to this day.13 Since those times, little concern has been expressed about boundary limitations in mentoring relationships, except for a tacit acceptance of the “casting couch” phenomenon that is assumed to persist in widespread fashion, especially when women are dependent upon men for mentoring and advancement14 (p. However, a number of authors have questioned the appropriateness of sexual interaction in teacher-student relationships even when they are consensual.On one hand, some felt that any mutually consenting activity is acceptable.Others felt that even consensual relationships are, at the least, unwise, as they confuse boundaries, threaten objectivity, and because there is no way to predict a “successful” relationship.What can we do, as individuals, as professions, and as institutions to help ensure that appropriate student-teacher boundaries are maintained?This paper will explore these questions in light of recent concerns expressed about boundaries between professionals and clients,2-7 sexual harassment in the academic setting,8,9 and recent data suggesting a high frequency of sexual interaction between graduate students and teachers.10-12 In early Greek and Roman times, sexual relationships between youth and their mentors were often considered to be a normal extension of a close male bonding, both in the study of philosophy and in the training of warriors.