Ask Bwog: Relationships with Professors, TAs, and Guest Lecturers

Written by

Intense bearded man.

Platonic disapproval

It’s that time of year again, when Columbia students choose their classes, make new friends, and get hot and bothered when Professor Sexy Time bends over to pick up the chalk. Despite all the TAs, professors, and guest lecturers who look like the soles of Michael Phelps’ feet, there are still countless babes-with-brains teaching on Columbia’s dime. But, ask the more ambitious students, how about some hands-on education—or, to put it another way, what are Columbia’s views on private office hours in a nice place downtown with a quiet bar and a quieter doorman? Bwog’s ‘Licit Sexpert Rae B. tackles this burning question…

Take a cold shower and turn in your Econ homework on time, because the official Columbia University policy on student and teacher/TA relationships is NO. That is pretty much as subtle as the official wording gets. In the policy listed by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, faculty members are forbidden from having consensual, “private” relationships with any student “over whom he or she [the professor] exercises academic or professional authority.” Also, if you have any previous personal relationship with a faculty member, they can’t touch you with a ten-foot laser pointer. (Not literally touch you, of course, as lasers are made of particles and waves and things that don’t touch anyone—bottom line: if you want to do the teacher, drop the class.)

The policy for Teaching Assistants is even stricter. “Personal relationships, whether intimate or not,” are so deeply un-okay that—rumor has it—TAs who get to know their students too well are grouped by academic focus, entered into a lottery, and forced to fight to the death in a forest arena beneath the Teacher’s College. Although it is acknowledged that some TAs are not made of stone and consequently might become friendly with their students, the official stance is that any kind of relationship whatsoever outside of the academic environment can be grounds for removal, for showing “poor judgment as a TA.”

The main concern for the University seems to be that student and teacher/TA relationships “pose a threat to academic professionalism in situations where they compromise, or appear to compromise, the faculty members’ judgment of students.” Fair enough—there’s no way to prove that Professor von HitDatAss isn’t giving that chick in the fourth row an A because he’s doinking her, or giving her an F because he isn’t anymore. It is also unfair to students who rely on professors and TAs for time and attention if some can exert pressure based on an intimate relationship.

But, there’s some good news for those amorous at heart! Although Columbia does have these policies in writing, there are no automatic penalties: all complaints are reviewed by the administration before action is taken. So if you do get a chance to, uh, “manually elevate” your TA’s grading curve, don’t worry, coming clean won’t get anyone fired, at least right off the bat.

However, smoke 19 feet away from a dorm and they’ll cuff you like the devilspawn you are.

Free razors via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. but...

    ... what if it's a professor/TA of a class/classes in which you're not a student? or in which you're a former student? is the rule just that you can't date the people who teach ypu and therefore grade your work or is the teaching staff simply off-limits to students in general? seems relevant, especially for TAs who are oftentimes just a couple years older than their students...

  2. M.L. BC '14  

    I could be wrong, but it seems that the policy at the institution across the street isn't as strict. The following is from the 2012-2013 Barnard Faculty Guide:

    Resolved, that the Faculty of Barnard College discourages in the strongest possible terms all sexual relationships* between students and faculty members as being incompatible with standards of professional behavior.
    *"Consensual" sexual relationships can change into non-consensual or coercive relationships,
    and can be subject to discipline under the College's sexual harassment policy.
    [Resolution passed by the Faculty, May 3, 1999]
    The College Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment encompasses the goal that faculty, staff and students are to be able to work and study free from gender-based or sexual harassment. Appropriate disciplinary action may be taken against those found to have committed harassment, up to and including dismissal.

  3. Anonymous  

    ...hmmmmmm...consider buying a fleshlight. Maybe read some Kant and avoid these issues. This is why we need a class just on Kant in the core.

  4. Anonymous

    crap. i wanted to fuck my TA so badly.

    it's going to be a long semester...

  5. Anonymous what about RAs? just wondering i mean mine is pretty fine.

  6. Anonymous

    in other news...

    "Wanna go to the state university party?"
    "A WHAT party?"


  7. Anonymous

    what if you were dating the TA from before the class started / you knew them before?

  8. Van Owen

    You don't even go here!

  9. former TA

    Frequently TAs are told that if they know one of the students that they are supposed to be grading (from sports, extracurriculars, their floor, etc.), those students can be graded by another TA, to avoid conflicts of interest.

    Less frequently, the TAs become friends with their students and are invited out for drinks with them. Until we've returned your final graded piece of work, we can't meet you outside of class/office hours. Sorry! But after that is totally fair game.

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