Answer: Generally, no, it is not illegal to date your college professor (or any college professor, for that matter), with a few limited exceptions. That being said, it might not be a good idea.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Is It Illegal To Date a College Professor? (Discussion)
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Laws About Dating
In the United States, there are few (if any) laws that govern “dating.”
In fact, the term “dating” can mean a great many things, depending upon who you are and what “dating” means to you.
Dating can mean talking on the phone, it can mean going out to dinner, it can be physical intimacy.
Thus, the law doesn’t regulate dating.
Instead, it prohibits specific types of conduct between specific types of people.
For example, it is against the law in all 50 states for an adult to engage in physical intimate activities with a minor (as defined in the state).
“Intimate” activities can even include innocuous activities if they are meant with intimate intent (like touching someone’s neck, thigh, or stomach).
But technically, there’s nothing to stop an adult from “dating” a minor, so long as the adult’s conduct doesn’t run afoul of some specific law prohibiting the activity.
There are also laws that protect interactions with the elderly, those who lack capacity, and have mental disabilities.
Areas where the relationship could stray in the bounds of illegality include:
- consent (one party is pressured/threatened/coerced/influenced into the relationship)
- marriage (some states make adultery a criminal offense)
- misrepresentation (lying at work to maintain the relationship or to obtain benefits)
- sexual harassment
So long as the manner of “dating” does not involve illegal conduct, there’s nothing criminal about it.
Laws Preventing Dating At University
When it comes to college relationships, there are no laws that we know of that make a consensual relationship between consenting adults who are both available to be in the relationship illegal.
In most cases, the law doesn’t govern collegiate romance.
Instead, the employee handbook, any rules or policies of the university, the employee’s contract, and the student’s rules of conduct that governs whether a relationship with a student will cause trouble for the involved individuals.
While it may not be illegal, most universities frown upon relationships between students and professors, especially when:
- the student is a student of the professor
- the professor is in the direct chain of supervision of the student
- the professor is called upon to review the student’s work
- the professor is called upon to provide recommendations or references for the student
While the involved parties would certainly do their best to prevent the relationship from impacting the college, it can cause problems regardless if others find out about it.
The relationship can lead to distrust, accusations of favoritism, discrimination allegations, hostile work environment, and more.
While the student could suffer from the disclosure of the existence of the relationship (reputation, embarrassment, grades), the professor would likely be the one to suffer most; he could face reprimand, discipline, or even termination.
The negative impacts to reputation could follow the couple for the remainder of their careers, even if they don’t stay together.
What To Do If You Want To Date Your College Professor?
While there are no laws that would make it a crime for two single, consenting adults with capacity to be in a relationship, it might not be the best step for the careers of either individual.
If two adults who work together are serious about dating, they may consider pressing pause on the relationship to do one of a few things:
- waiting until the student is no longer a student (either by graduating or transferring to another school)
- confer with leadership in the college to set up boundaries and guidelines
- disentangle the couple (find another supervisor, for example)
In any event, getting some space from the professor at school will help the student understand whether the attraction is related at all to the power imbalance.
In conclusion, it is not illegal for an adult student to date a college professor, or vice versa. But it is not something that is recommended without serious considerations of the impact the relationship could have.
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