Guide to appropriate friendships among college professors and students
Every college has a set of guidelines for faculty to follow when it comes to student teacher relationships. These guidelines set down what is deemed appropriate interaction between student and instructor. While these guidelines do not specifically address friendship among students and instructors, they do address appropriate behavior. Regardless of how the students behave, the professor must always be seen as proper and in control.
Anyone who teaches at the college level should take a common sense approach when working with students. My short answer to appropriate friendship with students is, keep your distance. Never be in a situation where the student can accuse you of inappropriate behavior. Keep all conversations on the content of the course; never sway into personal areas, even if the student does. Keep the conversation on the student’s needs. The student is paying you for advice not the other way around.
It is also important to note the significance of appropriate mannerisms. For example professors should never use innuendos, or have any inkling of suggestive language. Professors should always keep a professional tone. A professor can speak in a friendly manner, but his or her voice should never connote anything a student can misinterpret or take the wrong way. Today, that applies to all genders in any combination, such as male to female or female to female, or female to male and so on. That being said, I believe professors can still have friendly relationships on an ephemeral level.
I’m not sure when such stringent guidelines were set, but I am quite sure that such rigorous guidelines were written to protect the college as well as the professor from being sued. Not so long ago, such rigorous guidelines were hardly prevalent. When I think back to when I was in college it was not unusual for professors to have students over to their homes after the course was over. Today that would be considered inappropriate. When I was in college it was not unusual for the professors to mingle with students at a bar. Today that behavior is frowned upon. When I was a grad student I had a party at my house that included the professor. I’m not sure I would do that today. Nor do I think the professor would come.
So, is there ever a time when a professor and student relationship can go beyond mere friendship? It happens, so when is it justified? The best example I can think of is the relationship between Mitch Albom and his professor Morrie Schwartz. One can read in the book Tuesday’s with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, that Professor Schwartz made many friends among his students. One could even safely assume he even mingled with his students outside the realm of the campus. Mitch Albom became very close to his old professor, meeting with him weekly. However, it is important to note his close friendly relationship with his professor came much later after he graduated and even this was on Morrie Schwartz term.
The key issue here is appropriate relationship during instructional time. During the term it is crucial that the instructor keep an objective perspective and not get trapped into a relationship that could compromise the students’ grade or the instructor’s integrity, as well as the college’s reputation. It is necessary for such guidelines because what is at stake is the safety of both the professor and the students. Colleges must protect themselves from civil suits caused by inappropriate relationships, including leading remarks, pet names, and touching. The college professor must always, without exception, have control of the situation in the classroom, on the campus grounds, or any other place where students and professors may meet. Professors can be friendly with students, but should avoid becoming too personal, especially with students in the current course being taught.