Magazine article Insight on the News

An Old Taboo Is New Again on Campuses

Magazine article Insight on the News

An Old Taboo Is New Again on Campuses

Article excerpt

In spring a young man's fancy may lightly turn to thoughts of love, but at the University of Virginia he proceeds at his own risk. Especially if the young man is not so young.

On the lush green campus, where coeds stroll among the daffodils and dogwoods, reading Shakespeare's sonnets, odes by Keats and the Federalist Papers, the Faculty Senate is debating a burning question:

Should professors, and particularly teaching assistants, known as T.A.'s, be prohibited from dating students?

The restriction would not be limited to students in a professor's class, but to all students.

Thomas Jefferson didn't have to worry about such questions (so far as we know) when he designed and founded the university in Charlottesville. Women weren't admitted until 1970. But the contemporary debate bedevils not only the student body, but many others as well. Professors and students are forging sexual relationships in increasing numbers.

A clue to the dispute may be found in the strict honor code established by students at the university in 1842. Students are expected to "have the moral fortitude to abide by the community's standards of moral conduct."

Moral standards on campus -- and off -- have changed since the hoary days of honor codes. So, for that matter, have "the community's standards of moral conduct." Universities used to be paternalistic. Dormitory living was mandatory, and schools maintained all manner of restrictions and curfews. Men were not allowed beyond the ground floor of a women's dorm. Coed dorms were unthinkable, and a professor who wooed a student was asking to be banished.

Student rebellions of the 1960s, and then modern feminism, changed all that. But now the Women's Concerns Committee at the university, which introduced the ban on sexual relationships between teacher and student -- even if consensual -- wants to turn back the calendar.

"We're not talking about sex," a coed, with her consciousness raised, told an interviewer for CNN. "We're talking about power. We're talking about an educational mission in college in which these students have left home for the first time for an educationally and psychologically safe place'"

She's right, of course, and Mr. …

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