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Power, Sex, and Friendship in Academia

1 June 2001


Any sexual offer by a professor to a student is morally problematic. An explicit disclaimer about grading issues will not change the fact that the professor has power over the student’s grades, and no assurance that the student can offer can evade the communicative difficulties created by the power differential. It is possible that there will be a sufficient development of trust that these communication problems are superseded, but it is again extremely difficult to be sure that this is so. Given this difficulty, the criterion for whether the sexual offer is permissible should be whether it is in fact misinterpreted, and the risk that it will be is entirely assumed by the offeror. Even if a fully voluntary sexual relationship is possible, duties to third parties make it improper to enter into such a relationship where the professor has power over a student’s grades or career prospects.


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