In Response to: Relationship Rules

As an academic with deep roots in Princeton, I find myself horrified at the heavy-handed new rules regarding romantic relationships among Princeton faculty and graduate students described in PAW (On the Campus, April 24): New relationships of this sort are banned, and existing ones must be disclosed to administrators.

Likely the image we are expected to have here is the predatory white-male academic superstar in his early 50s. This is a hoary stereotype, and to the extent that it holds true, there have always been plenty of rules in place to sanction unprofessional behavior.

But here is what comes to my mind. For four years in the mid-1980s, I was an assistant professor in Princeton's mathematics department. I was 27 years old, and there was a whole cohort of young math faculty in our late 20s. (The youngest assistant professor was 20.) We had hobbies not related to our academic lives – in my case, centered around the folk dance and music scene of central New Jersey. My circle of friends was wide, and certainly included graduate students from various departments of ages roughly mine. Now I happened to be already married, but had I not been, would a policy like that just enacted force me to badger new acquaintances about their employment: music teacher “good,” chemistry grad student “bad”? 

Ironically, these rules will certainly hinder diversity initiatives. In mathematics, for example, a high percentage of women mathematicians have romantic attachments to men mathematicians, and many of these relationships started in a situation that would run afoul of these new Princeton faculty rules. For example, it is possible that this would apply to every woman who has been a full professor of mathematics at my excellent university. Though I can't be sure of this, because who in the world goes around investigating the private lives of their colleagues!

Here is another scenario one can envision: A new 29-year-old woman assistant professor who happens to be African American meets a nice young man of a similar age at one of the African American churches in town. Whoops, he is a graduate student in the religion department. Guess who will happily be taking a job somewhere else?

Rather than following the University’s lead, one imagines peer schools licking their chops as they ponder what faculty they can poach from Princeton: This is a time-honored response to hearing that a good university has done something dumb, as Princeton just has.

Nicholas Kuhn ’76, assistant mathematics professor 1982-86
Charlottesville, Va.