Slate contributor Emily Yoffe often tackles tough ethical questions in her column, "Dear Prudence." But a question from a reader late last week may be one of the stickiest we've ever seen.
"Eve" writes that she and her university professor husband divorced after 18 months of marriage amid revelations that he had been having an emotional -- but nonsexual -- relationship with a student. During the divorce proceedings, other similar incidents came to light, and following the split, "Eve" discovered that her ex had been asked to resign from his teaching position after engaging in a sexual relationship with a university student.
But it wasn't until later, after she became curious about what her ex was up to and Googled him, that she stumbled into her current moral dilemma:
I discovered that he is teaching at a prestigious co-ed boarding school. He lives at the school with the students. What is my responsibility in this situation? Aside from my bout of curiosity, I have moved on from this relationship and have made a happy life post-divorce. I would like to ignore what I saw, because I have no interest in inviting his presence into my life again. I assume a prestigious school does a background and reference check, and that they didn’t find anything unsatisfactory. Still, there is a part of me that thinks -- what if they don't know?
Yoffe -- or "Prudie" -- advises the woman to notify the school about her ex's sordid history. However, due to a lack of documentation, Yoffe says "Eve" may face a defamation suit if she comes forward as the source of the information. So what should she do?
I say it’s time to write the good old anonymous letter, and arrange to send it from a state other than the one where you reside. Enumerate the facts you've related here and stick to them -- no character assassination -- and state your concern about someone with this personal history being in the teaching profession. Send it to the head of school and the officers of the board of trustees. Let’s hope it puts a crimp in their summer vacations and forces them to take quick action.
Check out the full exchange on Slate here.
HuffPost Divorce reached out to several experts to get their take, and not all agreed with Yoffe. Virginia Gilbert, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in high-conflict divorce, advised against sending a letter.
"As disturbing as the teacher's behavior is, I would advise his ex not to send the letter. She is not a mandated reporter and has no legal or ethical obligation to contact the school administrators, who could take action only with evidence that the teacher was being inappropriate with current students," she wrote in an e-mail. "A better way of putting her moral outrage to good use might be to support a women's rights organization whose mission it is to empower survivors of sex crimes."
But Hugo Schwyzer, an author and professor at Pasadena City College who has admitted to sleeping with students in the past (he stopped in 1998 after getting sober and "having a much-delayed but necessary moral epiphany"), said that sending a letter may be the right idea in this case. In an e-mail, he detailed a similar situation he found himself in over a decade ago:
In 2000, I started working as a volunteer youth minister at a large Episcopal Church. I disclosed my past to the pastors there, and since my transgressions had always been with legal adults who were basically my age, they didn't see a problem. But about a year later, they got an anonymous letter much like the one Dear Prudence advises be written in this instance. The anonymous letter wasn't mean, it just wanted to make sure that the church staff knew that I had a history of boundary violations, albeit with adult women. Since I'd ALREADY disclosed that, the church's attitude was accepting. I had really good boundaries with the teens of both sexes and I'd been honest about my past.
But if I'd never told them this? I think they'd have asked me to stop volunteering immediately. She should write the letter. If her ex has done his work, he's disclosed his past to his new employers and they've got parameters in place for everyone's well being. If he hasn't, he's not really changed and she should definitely bring it to their attention.
We wanted to know what our readers thought, so we put the question to them. Check out their responses below, and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.