Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Dual Relationships in Higher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Dual Relationships in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Professional and Institutional Guidelines

University and college faculty face complex professional and ethical issues in their ongoing interactions and involvements with students. On the one hand, an appreciation of the powerful positive impact of faculty involvement with students argues in favor of increased interaction outside the classroom (Astin, 1993). On the other hand, obvious concerns about fairness and a growing sensitivity over the potential for exploitation of students caution faculty against personal relationships with their students. Thus, faculty are often encouraged to become increasingly active in advisement, mentorship, and social situations with their students, while simultaneously being cautioned regarding behaviors that are, or might appear to be, exploitative or unjust.

The challenge for faculty stems from the fact that the "faculty role" in relation to students is not a single role. Rather, faculty are called upon to perform complex multiple roles in their relationships with students, including those of research supervisor, instructor, curriculum planner, academic advisor, and mentor (Brown & Krager, 1985). Almost by definition, faculty members engage in what might be described as "multiple professional relationships" with their students in which they function in significant - and significantly different - roles either concurrently or sequentially (Pope, 1991; Sonne, 1994). Moreover, the increasing recognition of the importance of faculty involvement with students (e.g., Astin, 1993; Jacobi, 1991) has encouraged faculty to extend their professional roles into more personal realms and to socialize and interact with students in more informal settings.

As faculty extend their professional relationships with students outside the classroom, it is not unusual for them to find themselves increasingly involved in more personal relationships as well. For example, in more informal settings faculty may find themselves called upon to advise students about personal as well as academic issues. As faculty socialize with students at university-sponsored or private functions, they may also find themselves forming personal friendship or even intimate relationships with their students and their families. Similarly, as faculty become more involved in the private lives of their students, they may find themselves in financial or business relationships with students or their families that extend well beyond the traditional boundaries of academia (for example, hiring students as baby sitters or house sitters or involving a student in a private business venture). While these types of personal relationships often provide opportunities to further the students' personal and professional development, they also carry very different expectations and obligations than the typical faculty professional roles and may thus give rise to greater and potentially more complex ethical issues (Kitchener, 1988).

The literature of many professions, most notably the mental health professions, has provided extensive discussion of the problems inherent in dual relationships between professionals and their clients (e.g., Keith-Spiegel & Koocher, 1985; Kitchener, 1988; Pope, 1991). One of the key issues in such discussions is that dual or multiple relationships occur when the professional tries to simultaneously fill two or more different roles. Problems arise from such dual relationships when there are conflicts between the demands of the two roles and these conflicting demands result in conflicts of interest and potential exploitation of the nonprofessional member of the relationship (Kitchener, 1988; Pipes, in press). Obvious examples of such exploitative relationships include such situations as a psychotherapist persuading a client to invest in a shopping center development project with him or a divorce lawyer becoming sexually involved with a client.

In contrast to the available literature regarding dual relationships in other professions, however, the ethics of dual relationships in higher education have received little attention (Blevins-Knabe, 1992; Kitchener, 1992). …

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