In the thread on a recent post about how faculty men’s and women’s personal lives compare in these times, some commenters observed that they have male colleagues or professors who date young students. Deborah Judge wrote,
My college also has the pattern of young male faculty ‘grooming’ wives for themselves by marrying former students or recent college graduates. It makes me seriously grumpy, not least because it makes socializing with male junior faculty really, really challenging.
As I was finishing up my Ph.D. in grad city, I noticed many male profs getting engaged to, marrying, or dating undergrads, or recently graduated undergraduate women, which kind of disgusts me. Not to say that these women are not smart or intelligent or do not have any aspirations, but what it seemed to me was that these male profs were grooming academic wives for themselves so that they could “have it all.” They liked their jobs, wanted to stay where they were, you know, which is fine, but I find it hard to ignore the power dynamics there, too–a) former prof in most cases; b) significant age difference–on average about a 13 year age difference. It honestly mad[e] me lose a lot of respect for both the profs and their girlfriends.
life of a fool chimed in, “I have also seen plenty of what maude and others have commented on — faculty men marrying (recently) former students, and it creeps me out for the same power dynamic issues already mentioned.”
Does this really still happen? I assumed that this went out with the 1960s or 1970s, what with the increasing tenure standards and decreasing libertinism that have characterized faculty life over the past 30 years. Unlike my aforementioned commenters, I haven’t seen it among my peers. Am I just completely out to lunch? (I have to confess that everyone always knows about the romantic intrigues in my circles months before I do, so maybe I’m just clueless on picking up sex vibes. Maybe mine is a less complicated reality? La la la la la!) Are there some disciplines that harbor more predatory (or pathetic) faculty than others? I think that if a colleague of mine started dating undergraduates, that faculty member would lose a lot of esteem among his peers, men and women alike. In fact, a male colleague of mine once gave the creepiest and most damning criticism of professors who date their students I have ever heard: he called it a theft,and described as a vampirism in which the (older, natch) faculty member was sucking the innocence and idealism out of a young person and feeding on it. Eeeeww. (But all the same, very apt I think.)
I find nothing whatsoever attractive about undergraduate men–I couldn’t even stand most of them when I was 18-22 myself. Some of them haven’t yet figured out how to shower and shave on a daily basis, let alone have anything of interest to say, so the idea of a dating or intimate relationship with any of them is just repulsive. (But then, I never had a problem finding dates or romantic partners who were age-appropriate.) I can see where some men in particular who didn’t get a lot of action as younger men and who are perhaps still socially awkward would find it attractive to date women and men who aren’t their peers in any respect–age, educational attainment, etc. I can see a nerdy guy being seduced by the fact that attractive young people are hanging on his every word in class, and thinking that it must be because he’s such an awesome lecturer rather than because he wields the grade book.
I don’t respect it–but I think I understand it.