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I have two closely-related questions:

First:

What are the possible pitfalls of a university employee (faculty or staff) and a student at the same university being roommates?

And, in the event that I need to take on a roommate as a faculty or staff member at a university:

Is it best to avoid living with a student and ask, for example, another university employee to share my living space?

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  • This is two separate questions. The first sentence is one question (what's better?), the second sentence is a totally different question (does it count as discrimination?). The first question seems subjective and thus does not seem suitable here (it just calls for opinions). The second question is a question of law, which is off-topic here (and will probably depend on jurisdiction as well). Would you like to edit your post to clarify what exactly your question is, and to make sure it is suitable for the Stackexchange format?
    – D.W.
    Jun 28, 2015 at 4:28
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    Voted to close as "Unclear what you're asking". Roommate does not necessarily imply landlord (lessor) vs. tenant (renter) relationship. Please clarify.
    – Nobody
    Jun 28, 2015 at 5:11
  • @D.W. I remove the 2nd question, but the first should have some facts also.
    – Thomas Lee
    Jun 28, 2015 at 21:40
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    I think the question needs more clarification. "Can a faculty be roommates?" Of course they can -- it's physically possible -- but I doubt whether that's really what you are asking. Would you like to rephrase? "Is it better?" -- better in what sense? That sounds a bit subjective. Please see academia.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask for advice about asking subjective questions and how to pose a good subjective question.
    – D.W.
    Jun 28, 2015 at 22:00
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    Voted to reopen. Please let me know if I have maintained the spirit of your question. If you don't like the edit, you can always roll back to a previous version.
    – Mad Jack
    Jun 29, 2015 at 23:49

3 Answers 3

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It would be very strange for a faculty member to live with student roommates (setting aside relatives or romantic partners, which are separate issues). It would be considered socially unacceptable in the university contexts I'm familiar with, and it would create at least the appearance of conflicts of interest if there was any overlap between the fields. Even if the students were in a totally different field, it could still be awkward if they socialized a lot with students in the professor's field. This doesn't mean it would be impossible, but I'd strongly recommend against trying it. Even in the best case scenario, people would wonder why living with these students was important enough to be worth the negative attention.

As for staff, it depends. I don't think it would be unusual or problematic for, say, a university IT staff member to share an apartment with some similar-aged grad students. Postdocs are a gray area: it would of course be inappropriate to live with students they might teach or supervise, but otherwise it's much easier for a postdoc to get away with living with students than a faculty member.

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    I'm not sure it's inherently that strange; it's mostly the relationships that make it out that way. Presenting it as "I have students for roommates" is a bit odd (and will probably raise some eyebrows), because it implies everyone has equal status. I'm not sure anyone would find it strange for a professor living near campus to rent out a back-house or garage apartment to a student. I agree direct conflicts of interest should be avoided, but would you really find it that strange if a colleague said they rented out their guest bedroom to a student each semester?
    – abathur
    Jun 27, 2015 at 20:36
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    Yeah, I guess it depends on the situation. I think it would look strange if a faculty member got together with a group of students to share a rented house/apartment, but renting out a back-house or garage apartment to a student would feel different. The latter is more of a landlord-tenant relationship, whereas the former sounds more like it involves shared amenities and socializing together. (Which is not intrinsically a bad thing, but would lead to gossip and disapproval in the faculty social circles I'm familiar with.) Jun 27, 2015 at 21:08
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Yes, it's basically allowed everywhere I know of, but there are plenty of situations where it might get weird. On the non-weird end of the spectrum, I was a researcher and manager at my university when my live-in fiancee decided to go to grad school there in a different department. We even got married the summer between the two years of her master's program. There were no problems and no rules that prevented this. We didn't even need to tell anyone about it.

Now, if she had worked for me or enrolled in a class that I taught, there would have been some people we would have needed to tell to make sure that there was no favoritism for her and that everything was fair for other students or employees. She probably would have had to have a different manager appointed for work if I would have otherwise been her boss, etc. Our living situation wasn't the determining factor, but rather our romantic involvement.

If the staff member isn't romantically involved with the student who is also their roommate, then there's generally no issue. However, if the nature of the relationship changes from roommates to partners, then depending on local rules and the proximity of the staff member's job to the student, someone probably has to be notified at the very least and a management plan created in some cases to deal with it. If the student and the staff member aren't in the same department, then there's usually no need for notification at my university.

E.g. if a psychology student wants to room with an admin in the Geology department, it's fine. If a student wants to rent a room from his English professor, then maybe some departments want to know that. If a Physics student wants to date/marry a Sociology prof they will never take a class from, it's very likely that the university needs to know, and they may try to forbid it. And if a student wants to become involved with their PhD supervisor, the university will definitely get to have a say.

As best I can tell, the rules tend to be about who is romantically involved with whom, not where students choose to find their accommodations.

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    Could you explain why the university would want to forbid a physics student dating a sociology professor who they'll never have classes from? Why would the uni care? On what grounds would they forbid it if there's no academic contact between the two?
    – terdon
    Jun 28, 2015 at 8:40
  • I agree that if the depending person (e.g. student relative to prof) is the landlord, there's no issue. What if it's the other way around? If a professor depends on a student for their accomodation, does this not skrew with their authority in the classroom? (That's probably an unlikely scenario, but the question does not specify.)
    – Raphael
    Jun 28, 2015 at 8:51
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    @terdon, Northwestern University (PDF) bans relationships between faculty and undergraduates saying: "When undergraduate students are involved, the difference in institutional power and the inherent risk of coercion are so great that no faculty member or coaching staff member shall enter into a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship with a Northwestern undergraduate student, regardless of whether there is a supervisory or evaluative relationship between them."
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 28, 2015 at 11:58
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No. That leads in to favoritism and special exceptions with students plus a whole lot of other liability issues.

They should live with colleagues that they are not the boss of and do not manage or are managed by.

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    There should be plenty of students at a university that a particular member of staff has no relation with whatsoever. So I don't agree with your answer.
    – gerrit
    Jun 27, 2015 at 18:07
  • Even if they are from in different departments?
    – Thomas Lee
    Jun 28, 2015 at 4:07
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    We weren't allowed no matter what. Regardless of the departments because a friend-of-a-friend situations. Since this question was posted I've asked around and I'm yet to know anyone personally that has answered yes.
    – Memj
    Jun 29, 2015 at 3:07

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