Friday, May 29, 2009

Star Trek and professional ethics

Warning: this post contains spoilers for the new Star Trek movie. This is an issue that came up in conversation; I seek feedback from fellow academics.

Here are the basics:

Spock is an instructor at Starfleet Academy. For the sake of argument, let’s call it a graduate institution, not an undergraduate institution. Uhura was, at one point, his top student in a particular class. Spock is still an instructor and Uhura is still a student; he observes an exercise in which she takes part but as far as it appears he does not have the power to grade the exercise. When crisis strikes, he has the authority to assign students to ships based on their qualifications. He initially assigns Uhura to the Farragut; when she protests, he explains that he has done this to avoid the appearance of favoritism. (Spock’s ship, the Enterprise, is more desirable.) She correctly points out that she’s the best at her job, and he reassigns her to the Enterprise. Later, on board, they kiss for what may or may not be the first time. After the crisis, they return briefly to the Academy, but quickly take up full-time posts on the Enterprise, with Uhura presumably now a graduate and Spock reassigned from his instructional duties.

Questions: Has Spock violated your institution’s rules on former student/teacher relationships? From an academic rather than a quasi-military perspective, should there be rules against this scenario? Does it matter whether their first romantic encounter comes before or after he assigns her to the Enterprise?

Disclaimers: I really like Spock and Uhura. I really like sf. I think the movie has a bunch of structural problems related to its disregard for institutions versus individuals, as elaborated here.

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