As a teacher, can I refer students to my professional business?
August 12, 2013 10:37 AM   Subscribe

I teach writing to adults. When they ask me to edit something that's not for class (say, for their professional work), can I refer them to my private writing/editing business, even if they're currently enrolled in my class?

From time to time, a student will ask me if I can critique or edit a piece of writing that they are working on not for class—something for their job, usually. Typically, I have gently explained that I can't do extra, non-class work for free. But I also have a sideline business in freelance writing and editing, and obviously I'm interested in finding new work. So when a student approaches me with a proposed 'outside job,' can I say: 'I can't do this for free, but please check out my website where I list my services—you could hire me'? If that's unethical, I can't quite put my finger on why; on the other hand, I'm hesitating a bit, and I'm not sure why that is, either.

FWIW, these students generally aren't taking my classes for credit, nor will I have most of them for more than one term.
posted by toomuchkatherine to Work & Money (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Where do you teach? Your institution likely has a policy on this, or if not, someone who can advise you whether this is permissible under the institution's general policy and/or your employment contract, if any.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:38 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Specifically, if you're teaching at a university, you want to search the policies for "conflict of interest" or "conflict of commitment." Or look for an office with those terms in the title.

It may or may not be ethical; but chances are even if it's okay, you probably want an official sign-off from someone at your institution saying it's okay, to protect you later if you're ever accused of improper behavior.

For what it's worth, I work in such an office. Knowing next to nothing about your situation, my first reaction is that if you came to me I'd tell you it's not ethical to do this until after they are no longer your students. If your interaction with them in your business capacity goes wrong (they don't pay you; they say mean things about your critique; whatever) I'd have a concern about whether you might even unintentionally take it out on them in class or in their grading. I might let you do it with sign-off from your department head. Maybe. We'd have several conversations about it and you'd need to do some paperwork.

But that's our policy and our procedures. You need to find out what policy you're working under.
posted by Stacey at 10:45 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it is problematic while they are currently your students. It introduces the possibility for bribery/etc. I'd probably say something like, "Right now I'm your teacher and will only work on course-related material, but if you'd like to hire me after the course ends for outside writing, here's my website."
posted by vegartanipla at 10:46 AM on August 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

Yep, you're looking for potential conflicts of interest. Check your institution's policies for this sort of thing. If they are at all unclear (which they probably are), pose the same question to someone whose say-so carries weight, probably a dean of academic affairs or something of the sort. Get them to put what you can and can't do in writing (if they want to have a conversation, follow up the conversation with an email that says "Hey, I just wanted to confirm in writing the terms we discussed today, where you said XYZ is okay but ABC is a no-go." That way if any questions arise down the road you can hold up your authorization.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:58 AM on August 12, 2013

These are a few things that may help you to think about this:

-I have also worked in a teaching environment (some for credit, other stuff as a volunteer) and one strict policy that has been intact in most places is that you cannot directly provide services to current students. However, many places had a rule in place that you could offer tutoring or whatever services to people who were NOT in your class. So I think that a far more ethical way to do this would be to refer someone else in your department. Likewise, other people would refer you as pool of potential candidates. But this does seem unethical if you are offering your services to current students.

-Even if offering your services is not against your institution's rule/conflict of interest, I would not do it. Why? Your students may perceive favoritism, etc. (i.e. student A paid for something --- what if you answer more of student A's questions in class vs. student B and C?). You may be very fair, but do you want to do things that have students question whether you are being fair to them?

-If you offer your services to others who are not in your class, one additional benefit that you can offer is to edit and provide comments and/or teach them WHY to do it a certain way (in a comment box in tracked changes). If you were an editor who offered this skill to people learning to write/ESL, etc., I think that many people would want your services vs. others.
posted by Wolfster at 11:07 AM on August 12, 2013

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