Are Professors Especially Vulnerable To Stalking?

A new survey claims that professors are more vulnerable to stalking than the general population, and that male professors suffer it nearly as often as women.

According to True/Slant's Kashmir Hill, about 5-6% of Americans have been victims of stalking. But a third of the 934 professors at Indiana universities who responded to a 2007 survey said they had been stalked at some point in their careers. Almost half — 46% — of respondents who had been stalked were male. Dr. Robin Morgan, the clinical psychologist who conducted the survey, says professors face a disproportionate risk of stalking, often "with no previous sexual relationship, unlike the stalking that tends to occur in the general population." Morgan says the most common type of campus stalker is "the delusional stalker," who believes, "This faculty member really cares about me, wants to be in a relationship with me."

A big caveat: as Hill notes, people who respond to a survey on stalking are more likely to have been stalked, and it doesn't seem as though Morgan controlled for this. So Hill's warning — "Professors, be scared. Some of those students might be stalkers" — seems a little alarmist. At the same time, professors, like celebrities, have a larger "audience" than the average person. And by the nature of their job, they are often more important in the lives of their individual students than their students are in theirs (since a student has only a few professors per term, but a professor can have hundreds of students). As a result, it seems plausible that they would be vulnerable to people who imagine their relationship is closer than it really is.

Morgan says, "There's a tendency at universities to take the student's side. Many of the professors felt they had no rights in the process." That "tendency" may be due to a very real power differential that has long existed between student and teacher. Students still need to be protected against harassment and inappropriate behavior from people who have control over their grades and futures. But, as Morgan notes, students now have more control than ever over their professors' futures, through online professor-rating sites and course evaluations. One bad course evaluation probably won't derail a career, but a false allegation of a relationship might — and Internet rumors could harm professors both professionally and personally. Morgan cautions professors to avoid releasing personal information online: "Don't post photos of children, phone numbers, or personal e-mail addresses," she says. But it might be worthwhile to caution universities too, reminding them that teachers, as well as students, need to be protected.

Professors' Peril: Getting Stalked By Students [True/Slant]