Help! A Student Confessed to Me That Senior Professors Pay Her for Sex.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 26 2014 6:00 AM

To Catch a Professor

A student told me she has sex with two senior faculty members for money. What should I do?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudence,
I am a relatively young, male, and not-yet-tenured professor at a university. My department is overwhelmingly older (55-plus), white, and male. Several of the senior professors in my department, including the chair, have attitudes toward women that are downright sexist. On a number of occasions I have heard these faculty members make comments about the physical appearance of young women that are inappropriate and creepy. However, recently a female student confessed to me something that truly disturbs me. She said that two of the senior faculty, one of whom is the chair of my department, pays her for sex. She said she does not want to tell anyone else, partly for fear of getting in trouble because prostitution is illegal, but also because the two professors are essentially paying her college tuition in exchange for her services. I feel this is an extreme ethical violation, and judging by the character of the two professors probably only the tip of the iceberg. But I am at a severe power disadvantage in this situation. My boss can easily fire me. The dean and provost at my university are also member of this misogynistic “old boys’ club” and I don’t feel I can trust them. If the student refuses to testify, then the perpetrators can simply deny it and no one would believe me. What should I do?

Advertisement

—Ethical Dilemma

Dear Ethical,
I’m sure you’re right that this young woman is not the first student this pair of predators has targeted. Perhaps, long ago, they were somewhat more dashing figures accustomed to inviting female students to office hours for “private meetings”—back when such things were tacitly tolerated. Then they aged and codes of conduct changed. But lucky for them, tuition rates soared, which allowed these now AARP-aged lotharios an opportunity to offer their own financial aid program. This student didn’t get a Pell Grant, so instead she’s been roped into taking a Repellent Grant. I wish you could just blow the whistle on this sickening pair and end their academic careers. But as you note the blowback to you could be severe. For suggestions on courses of action, I turned to employment law attorney Philip Gordon. First of all, Gordon said you have to find out if you are a mandatory reporter, meaning you have an obligation to report this sexual misconduct. If so, that will force your hand. If you aren’t, then I agree with Gordon when he says that before telling anyone else, the right thing is to get the consent of the student who confided in you.

She came to you because she is in distress over the mess she’s in. So you need to have further conversation with her about what she wants to do, and whether she would consider exposing what’s going on. (Gordon said it is unlikely a prosecutor would go after her for prostitution, as the professors seem a better target.) She has to be prepared that revealing what’s happened could potentially be as traumatic as living through it. If the student is undecided, encourage her to seek out a confidential counselor on campus, one who can give her support and guide her through her alternatives. She could also go to the school’s Title IX coordinator, but in that case her confidentiality may not be guaranteed. If you become part of this process, whether or not she wants to tell, you might also want to consult an employment lawyer on your own. Find one with experience in Title IX to see how best to protect yourself. I’m hoping that this pair of faculty members, who have violated every tenet of their profession, get caught. If they do, I bet a generation of female students will come forward to tell their own appalling stories,

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My girlfriend has had countless cosmetic surgeries and recently she insisted I have a facelift. She was embarrassed by my “aged appearance” (we are both 37). I reluctantly agreed and spent thousands of dollars for the procedure. I was even (relatively) pleased with the results. Now my girlfriend has determined that one of my toes is “hideously crooked.” She wants it surgically corrected. I refuse to have what I consider another unnecessary surgery (the toe barely curves and I have had no pain or issues). My girlfriend is horrified that I will be out and about wearing flip-flops with my hideous toe for all to see. She told me I had a choice—her or the toe. When I told her I choose the toe, she agreed to stay if I only wear closed-toe shoes. Forever. I should mention that for 37 she has an amazing body. What do you think?

—Crooked Toe

Dear Crooked,
Of course your facelift turned out well—there was nothing to lift. Stay with this woman and I predict a future in which you end up like Michael Jackson, having to constantly wear a bandage on your nose because of all your botched surgeries. Your girlfriend may have a great body—she’s surely paid enough for it—but I’ll play doctor and suggest she may have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and as regards her demands about you, let’s add BDD-by-proxy to her list of ailments. You know there’s nothing wrong with either your face or your toe, but something’s gone awry with your head. No matter the glory of your girlfriend’s cosmetic enhancements, she’s a nut who’s going to ruin your life. Think of the possibilities of what’s next: an earlobe trim, a scrotum tuck. I say put on your flip-flops with pride and tell her to take a hike.

—Prudie

  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 29 2014 3:45 PM The Great Writing Vs. Talking Debate Is it harder to be a good writer or a good talker?