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03 November 2011

Personal/Private or Personal-Private?: How to Live?

When I was teaching as a graduate student at Indiana University, we got the standard lectures about appropriate conduct with our students and heard all the normative rumors about faculty members who had slept with students--and worse--that read like morality plays. The lines were very clear: do not fraternize with your students. The truth was, though, that I looked forward to working at a liberal arts institution where these lines became fuzzy and in some cases disappeared all together. (To be clear, I did not and do not want to sleep with my students.) I had heard stories from friends who went to true liberal arts schools about how their professors attended fraternity parties and invited them over to their homes for dinners. I remember from my own undergrad days at a quasi-liberal arts college how faculty seemed somehow more like actual people than formless apparitions in a distant ivory tower. Now, in the midst of my third year as faculty, I can report that I've found the balance between professor and friend to be a difficult one to strike. I have one very close friend now who is a former student (although, to be fair, my wife and I met her before she was enrolled in my class so we were technically friends first). There's a student who is currently enrolled in a couple of my courses whom I've gotten to know over the last couple years, and I really appreciate him. He's invited me out to have a drink a few times now, and I've been somewhat hesitant even though I feel like we could be good friends, and frankly, good friends have been hard to come by here. Any similar stories for those of you out there who teach?

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