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Case 12. Sexual Relationships


Professor Smith is teaching a graduate seminar on the work of a particular sociological theorist. During the course of the seminar he is asked to write an article for a Festschrift honoring the theorist. The deadline is short, but he feels that with some help, he can produce a quality piece for the volume. He asks seminar participant Melissa to be second author on the paper because, on the basis of other courses she has taken with him, he knows that she has a good mind, good writing skills and is better acquainted with the work of this theorist than most of her peers. Professor Smith has often offered promising students second authorship and feels that it is something faculty should do when they can. For her part, Melissa is flattered by the offer, sees it as possibly leading to her doing a dissertation in this area with Professor Smith, and immediately agrees. She tells Professor Smith her reasons for taking him up on his offer. He is delighted that she might have a long-term interest in this theorist and they begin work immediately. They spend a good deal of time together and, within six weeks, have become lovers. Professor Smith is single and so is Melissa. Eight weeks remain in the semester.


  1. What is Professor Smith's obligation to Melissa as a student in his seminar? As a possible dissertator? 
  2. Does his relationship with Melissa create any ethical problems for him or her with regard to the other seminar participants?
  3. Does Professor Smith have any ethical responsibilities to his colleagues in the department as a result of what has occurred?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.