U will chaperone grad student dates

Our lives proceed through cycles. Like the phases of the moon or the annual progression of the seasons, some events invariably come along at predictable intervals. Pathetically, my love life follows just such a cycle.
It started freshman year, when I convinced a dormmate named Honor to break up with her long-distance boyfriend and start going out with me. (She had three sisters and a brother named Faith, Hope, Joy and George III. All that from a father who was a colonel in the United States Army. Go figure.) Eventually Honor and I went our separate ways, and two years passed before I started dating one of my fellow graduate students at Indiana University. She lasted just more than a year. Another two years passed, and I was on summer break when I started going out with one of my softball friends — for a month. Finally, two years after that, last year, I had a few dates with a University undergraduate.
The moral of the story? I am in the middle of a two-year cycle. Some time next year I might find a date, though the apparent decreasing returns in my dating life point to an affair lasting mere hours.
The problem with cycles, though, is that sometimes the world does not conform to them. Right now, I know two young ladies, both of whom I would like to ask out. Dr. Date would probably tell me to just get over this stupid two-year hang-up and go for it. But it is not that simple. The women in question are both students in the Introduction to Philosophy class for which I am a teaching assistant, and in the same recitation to boot.
At first I had figured that some good fortune was rolling my way — there had been a dearth of interesting women in my recitations prior to this quarter, and now I had two in one. I was on cloud nine until I started thinking things through.
I consulted with one of my fellow graduate students about how I should proceed, looking for a worst possible scenario if I asked one of them out. My friend made it eminently clear that things could get real ugly, real fast. The student might say yes, and we might go out for a few weeks. Then a breakup, and she sues me for sexual harassment. Not a good scene. Fortunately the University Faculty Senate has put any doubts to rest by passing the “Nepotism and Consensual Sexual or Romantic Relationships Policy.”
This policy states, in part, that one cannot be involved in a “personal relationship” with any person whose grades one is in a position to influence. Therefore, I cannot do anything about my dating prospects until the end of the quarter when it will be too late, because summer break will be starting, and I will be out of town for three months. I might as well forget about the whole thing. The University, protecting itself from potential lawsuits brought on by scorned lovers, has dictated how my love life is to proceed. Fair enough. Like any other big corporation, it needs to have reasonable deniability.
But let us not fool ourselves. Any University regulations aimed at curbing romantic relationships between teachers and students is directed toward our graduate students. Professors, we hope, are already married and have the good sense not to sleep with someone half their age. Only TAs walk the fine line between student and faculty member, trying to contain youthful hormones and face the impositions of this policy head on.
The Faculty Senate was not content with just placing a moratorium on teachers dating current students. “Members of the University community who are in personal relationships with each other and are likely to be placed in a position to … grade or advise, or otherwise influence the academic progress … of the other person in the relationship, must consult with an appropriate administrator.” They have taken a page from the military and rewritten it to their own ends. “Don’t ask, do tell,” will be the new motto on and around campus, wherever relationships commence.
If I decided to start going out with an undergraduate who might someday enroll in a philosophy course, I would have to tell my department chairperson about it. Moreover, with our 5,000-level classes that have mixed enrollment, if I am dating a fellow graduate student, it seems that the same rule would apply. The last thing my meager love life needs is University administrators meddling with it.
Sure, this policy does not seem to have much direct effect on me personally, at least not for another year; but consider some other unfortunate souls who may be forced to reveal their romantic interludes to the University.
Imagine the Don Juan of graduate students who finds himself romantically involved with three different undergraduates. He must reveal each of these relationships to the University, not only running the risk of exposure to the three ladies, but also of losing any semblance of respect the department chairperson may have had for him — not that graduate students get all that much respect anyway.
Or what about the homosexual student who has not come out of the closet? When she meets the love of her life, she will be forced to endure the emotional trauma of coming out to an administrator, even though she has not been able to reveal the truth to her friends or family.
The simple fact of the matter is that this policy unduly invades student privacy. It might have looked good on paper, but implementation will bring nightmares to everyone involved. Love-struck students will be miserable, and voluntary compliance makes enforcement nearly impossible.
If some graduate student does not wish to reveal his sexual exploits to the University, odds are he will just keep it secret. The Faculty Senate must consider giving the policy a little more bite. They should establish a secret police with a mandate to track down illicit relationships. Empower this force to tail suspects back to their bedrooms and to execute sting operations all in the name of keeping the University a wholesome place of learning.
Should President Yudof sign off on this policy, he will curtail the right of all students to actually have a private life apart from the University. Students are not as ignorant as the faculty seems to suspect. Students — TAs or not — have enough common sense not to get involved in questionable relationships that could potentially end a career. It is time for the University to realize this.
As for me, I am not too worried — I still have a year until I can expect another date. But come next spring, any smart young ladies on campus who like brainy types should watch for me. My cycle will have reached its apex, and once again I will be looking for Ms. Right. I will be asking and I won’t be telling.
Chris Trejbal’s column appears on alternate Mondays. He welcomes comments via e-mail to [email protected]