Having a flirty professor sounds fun, but in reality it’s just creepy and uncomfortable. Here’s my experience dealing with a skeevy Anthropology professor my junior year.
New Professor On The Block
With one professor retiring, the Anthropology department at Mount Holyoke College selected Professor Matt Watson as the new hire. Professor Watson was 35 but looked older. He was balding and always looked doughy when he jogged around campus. Although he was average looking, he also had a smooth voice that made lectures easier to listen to.
At first, I really liked Professor Watson. He assigned interesting readings, gave energetic lectures, and hey – he was an easy grader. He also had a kind of sweet, Midwestern air to him and a nerdy passion for linguistics that made him likable. I never expected that he would be inappropriate with students.
He always acted differently in office hours, when we were one-on-one. It took me almost the whole semester to realize that he had a reputation as a flirty professor. There were even rumors that he had slept with a student. I hope no Moho let her standards drop that low.
I remember walking into office hours being completely freaked out about the upcoming essay. I was self-conscious about going to him for help, so I asked to close the door in case any of my classmates would overhear me. His eyebrows jumped up for a moment and his lips curled into a smile that to this day gives me slight nausea. “Of course, Annaliese” he crooned.
Can I get a ride?
It was 10pm and I was stuck at Bradley airport, 40 minutes from campus. The next campus shuttle wasn’t coming for an hour. After 7 hours of flying from Seattle, WA, I could almost feel the cortisol simmering in my brain. And then the flirty professor walked by.
It was time to use my feminine wiles. I asked how his flight was, mentioned that I was stuck here for another hour, and he offered me a ride in less than a minute.
He was flirty office hours, but I did not expect the level of blatancy. It started out as normal small talk. Asking about the flight, hobbies, winter break. When I mentioned I took salsa classes, he let out a suggestive “Ooo” which I ignored.
What felt awkward but flattering at school now felt real and dangerous, alone in a car with a man almost twice my age. I knew how his face would abruptly darken when I disagreed with one of his academic points. How would he react if I didn’t keep up with this weird game?
I tried to steer the conversation toward neutral topics. We were talking about jet lag and lack of sleep, so I mentioned that it was interesting how people will put off survival needs, like sleep, for something unnecessary for survival, like reading a book.
The tone in his voice took on a pseudo-seductive tone. He said, “Oh, yes. It can be hard to ignore certain… desires“.
Professor Watson put on a feminist front, but I’m certain that he flirted with students as a way to validate his waning sense of masculinity. He was getting older, and there was no place to prove that he’s still “got it” then by flirting with students 15 years younger than him at a historically women’s college.
This of course introduces uncomfortable power dynamics in the classroom. Although both parties are (barely) consenting adults, the professor is in charge of a student’s academic future, which pressures them to reciprocate. This is not why I went to Mount Holyoke, a college that was founded with the goal of being an academic sanctuary for young women.
I talked to the head of the Anthropology department. Thankfully, he took me completely seriously and promised that he would confront Professor Watson. I doubt that Watson changed his ways, but I hope that young college students will keep in mind that flirty professors are only using you to boost their own egos. Think about the fact that they’re hitting on younger woman instead of being with someone closer to their own age.
They also probably like the book Lolita. Always a bad sign.