July 10, 2014

SO THIS PIECE ON PROFESSORS DATING GRAD STUDENTS misses the point. The real problem is the structure of PhD programs, which give people immense and unaccountable power over others’ careers. Forget dating — look at somebody wrong in the hallway or criticize their favorite movie and they might turn against you. And the reasons for approving or disapproving dissertations are extremely nebulous and difficult to assess. When the Insta-Wife was getting her PhD I was struck by how much warmer and friendlier a place the law school was than her graduate program in psychology. But I think that’s because we have (1) anonymous grading in most classes; (2) clear standards; and (3) litigious students who would be harder to push around. At the law school, if you take the classes and pass them you get your degree. In a graduate program, you can do everything you’re supposed to, only to have the rug jerked out from under you at the end. We adopted this system from the Germans in the 19th Century. Maybe it’s not a good one for the America of the 21st Century.

Also, note the sexism in assuming that such relationships are always between a senior male and a junior female. Not so. And one final question: If it’s okay to regulate relationships because they are “bad for the department,” not withstanding “the disingenuous guise of a ‘private life,’” would it then be okay to regulate relationships in general because they produce negative externalities for society? Because if so, then shouldn’t we be punishing single motherhood, which quite clearly does just that?

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