I was nearly sickened by watching the news this morning.
A Washburn University professor has resigned because of allegations that he had affairs with a student and multiple faculty members while teaching there. But that’s not what got under my skin. I wasn’t upset by the story itself; it merely prompted me to shake my head in disgust, muttering to myself, “Another one.” Two things about the reaction to this incident really bother me.
The first is the lesser of the frustrations. The opening sentence of the article about this was absolutely ridiculous: “Students and staff at Washburn University are shocked after a professor is accused of having sex with a student.” Shocked? Really? Come on. Please do not pretend like this isn’t happening at every university across the country. False moral outrage makes me want to scream and pretending to be shocked by this would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. It is even more ridiculous than people being “shocked” when a high school teacher does it; but at least when a high school teacher is caught, there is legality to fall back on and the teacher can be deservedly prosecuted. But claiming to be “shocked” that a college professor is sleeping with a student and/or other faculty members is merely selective naïveté at its worst.
But there’s something even more upsetting…
My wife found the article posted on Facebook by KSNT, and the comments to the article she showed me were every bit as appalling and ridiculous. Most carried the common theme that “they are adults” and “they are in college” and “it’s legal,” as though these would somehow excuse a college professor from being in-the-wrong for having sex with a student. People who maintain this opinion are completely missing the point; it’s about trust, ethics, and integrity. The issue has nothing to do with the ages of the students or whether or not they are legal adults. That is a moot point. This man violated his ethical and moral responsibilities as an educator, crossing an absolute line that must not ever even be approached, let alone crossed. People who are focusing on the mere age of the students with whom he had sex are completely overlooking (or ignoring) the genuine reason why this professor was wrong: He was a teacher, she was his student. That’s it. For this reason and this reason alone, she was off-limits. But by crossing the line, this professor has compromised the integrity of the entire profession, casting doubt upon his colleagues and his university, and likely ruining his career.
“But it’s legal.” I don’t care. It’s still reprehensible.
And he won’t spend a single day in jail — but he should.
In Kansas, it is illegal for a high school teacher to have any sort of sexual relationship with a student, even if the student is 18-years-old. The crime is called “Unlawful Sexual Relations,” and, in my opinion, this crime should extend to universities as well. College students, who have only just left high school, still see their professors as teachers, and teachers of all levels carry an inherent level of power and influence. Thus, to use that position to advance a sexual agenda, as this professor was, should be a criminally-prosecutable offense. After these past several years of personal reflection, I have a deep understanding of this distorted mindset. And in my opinion, this man is every bit as guilty as I was, and should be treated as such.
It is important to point-out that this professor was not fired as a result of discipline; this professor resigned as a result of humiliation. To assume his actions were permissible merely due to the age of the student with whom he had sex is to ignore the real problem. If a college student is over 18, that does not mean it is okay for her professor to pursue her sexually. Her being in college does not make it any less damaging to her. He is still violating his position of trust and power. And he deserves to go to jail.