Student stalking of faculty: results of a nationwide survey.
Article Type:
Stalking (Criminal law) (Cases)
Stalking (Criminal law) (Educational aspects)
Teacher-student relationships (Ethical aspects)
College teachers (Crimes against)
Morgan, Robin K.
Kavanaugh, Katherine D.
Pub Date:
Name: College Student Journal Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0146-3934
Date: Sept, 2011 Source Volume: 45 Source Issue: 3
Event Code: 980 Legal issues & crime; 290 Public affairs Advertising Code: 94 Legal/Government Regulation; 91 Ethics Computer Subject: Company legal issue
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Stalking behaviors on college campuses have been studied and recognized for some time. However, student stalking of college faculty has remained relatively unrecognized. In the present study, college faculty across the United States completed online surveys about their experiences with student stalking in order to obtain lifetime and twelve month prevalence rates. Faculty reported demographic information about their campuses, the types of stalking behaviors experienced, characteristics of the student stalkers, emotional reactions to the stalking incidents, and the impact that student stalking had on the faculty member's behavior in and out of the classroom. Current results replicated previous research on university stalking (Morgan, 2009), both in terms of reported stalking rates and types of stalking behaviors reported.

Keywords: stalking, student-professor relationships, harassment


In June of 2009, a former student at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois was arrested for stalking a professor (, 2009). The student threatened the professor with a crowbar but was disarmed before the professor was physically injured. The student was arrested at the scene shortly after the altercation. Situations like these can end very differently. In 2002, a student murdered three professors at the University of Arizona after receiving a failing grade in one class (, 2002).

Stalking is defined as any behavior that involves a pattern of persistent, unwanted interactions and communications that would create fear in the victim or a reasonable person (Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen, 2002). Stalking is different from harassment in that stalking creates fear while harassment is annoying (Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen, 2004). Although the term stalking was originally used in the context of fans who obsessively pursued celebrities, the term is now used more generally to describe persistent threatening behavior in an interpersonal relationship (Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen, 2002).

Lifetime prevalence rates for stalking in the general population range from an estimated 4.5% (Basile, Swahn, Chen, & Saltzman, 2006) to 6% (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003) to 24% (Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen, 2004). Stalking can occur during romantic relationships, at the end of romantic relationships, in therapeutic relationships such as those with psychologists, psychiatrists and medical doctors, and, in the case of celebrities, where no prior relationship may have existed (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003). Approximately 84% of stalking cases involve a male perpetrator; 75% of victims are female with the majority between the ages of 16 and 30 (Purcell, Pathe & Mullen, 2002).

Research on stalking in the general population has identified several typologies (Mullen, Pathe, Purcell, & Stuart, 1999; Roberts & Dziegielewski, 2006). Roberts and Dziegielewski (2006), for example, described three categories of stalking behavior: domestic violence stalkers who are the most common, the delusional stalker or one suffering from erotomania, and the nuisance stalker. The domestic violence stalker represents situations where the victim and the stalker were previously involved in an intimate relationship. According to Purcell, Pathe and Mullen (2002), this occurs in approximately 13% of stalking cases. The delusional or erotomanic stalker, according to Roberts and Dziegielewski (2006), is an individual who becomes fixated on someone of a higher social status or in a higher position of power. The stalker may believe the victim is actually in love with them even though the two may have never met. The third category, the nuisance stalker, harasses the victim through indirect means such as telephone calls, letters, faxes, and countless e-mails (Roberts & Dziegielewski, 2006).

A second system for describing stalkers may be seen when looking at those who stalk mental health therapists. Hudson-Allez (2006) described three categories in which the stalking victims were therapists and the stalker was a current or prior client: stalkers who were unable to deal with the ending of the therapeutic relationship, stalkers suffering from erotic transference within the therapy sessions (similar to the erotomanic or delusional stalker described above), or stalkers suffering from a personality disorder. Among mental health therapists, the lifetime prevalence rate is approximately 24%; much higher than the average lifetime prevalence rates of 6% for the general population. Unlike the general population, females are more likely to be the stalker than the victim (Hudson-Allez, 2006).

Significant research has been conducted on college campuses assessing the prevalence and characteristics of students who are stalked by fellow students (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner 2002). Such research has found a pattern of stalking similar to that found in the general population. Fisher, Cullen, and Turner (2002), for example, found that 13.1% of female students had been stalked with 12.7% of those reporting more than one stalking incident. Almost 80% of these stalking incidents fit within the domestic violence category proposed by Roberts and Dziegielewski (2006).

Morgan (2009) expanded stalking research on campuses by assessing the prevalence of student stalking of faculty. E-mail addresses were obtained for all professors on the eight campuses of a large Midwestern university. The participants were asked to complete a survey via the Internet. The survey assessed twenty-eight potential stalking behaviors. Results revealed that 32.9% of faculty had experienced at least 2 separate incidences of stalking behaviors that led them to feel intimidated, anxious, or fearful.

This prevalence rate is most similar to that of mental health professionals. According to Hudson-Allez (2006), the prevalence rate for mental health professionals was 24%. The reasons that mental health therapists are stalked may be relevant in understanding the underlying causes of student stalking of college professors. That is, the ending of a semester may mimic the ending of the therapeutic relationship, the erotic transference in the classroom may be similar to the erotic transference that may occur during therapy, and there may be a significant incidence of students exhibiting characteristics of personality disorder. However, the results of the Morgan (2009) study also suggest that the nuisance stalker, as proposed by Roberts and Dziegielewski (2006) may also account for a significant proportion of students who stalk their professors.

The current study assesses the prevalence rates of student stalking of college professors across the United States. Lifetime and twelve month prevalence rates were assessed along with an attempt to identify the perceived reason for such behaviors as well as identify the feelings and/or the impact that stalking has on the professors' future behavior within the classroom setting. Based on prior research, the following research questions were addressed:

* Lifetime prevalence of student stalking of faculty will be greater than that found in the general population and be closer to the rates found by Morgan (2009).

* Twelve-month prevalence rate of student stalking of faculty will be greater than the prevalence of stalking in the general population.

* Female faculty will report more stalking than male faculty; similarly, male students will be reported as stalking more than female students.

* Faculty who have experienced stalking will report a range of negative emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety, depression, and anger.

* Faculty who have experienced stalking will report the incident to colleagues, including fellow faculty members and administrative personnel.

* Stalking behaviors will be described as falling into one of three categories: nuisance stalking, delusional or erotomanic stalking, and stalking by students with identified psychological problems.

* Faculty who have experienced stalking and report changes in their teaching will increase structure in the classroom and decrease opportunities for student-faculty interactions.



Participants included 4811 college faculty who had responded to an email solicitation. Email addresses were obtained from each university's publicly available website; two universities from each state and from the District of Columbia were randomly chosen for inclusion in this study. The mean age of the participants was 48.14 (SD = 13.04) years. Of the participants, 51.5% were women. Participants had been teaching for an average of 15.39 (SD = 10.8) years. Based on self-report, 91.1% were Caucasian, 3.2% were Asian, 1.9% were black, 1.9% were multiracial, 1.4% were Hispanic, and .5% identified other. Faculty rank of participants included professors (27.3%), associate professors (26.7%), assistant professors (28.3%), adjuncts or graduate students (9.9%), clinical professors (1.4%), and other (6.4%). Almost all (85.6%) of those responding were employed full-time.

The majority of faculty participating (48.5%) were responsible for teaching both undergraduate and graduate students; 40.9% taught only undergraduate students, 9.4% taught only graduate students, and 1.2% reported teaching some other combination of students. Participants represented a wide spectrum of disciplines with 11.1% of the participants teaching business, 10.9% teaching in nursing/medical, and 8.2% teaching psychology.

Sixty-one percent of participants reported teaching in public, four year universities; 37.5% reported teaching in private, four year universities, and 1.5% reporting teaching in public, two year universities. The size of the campus also varied with 35.4% reporting over 12,000 students, 18.8% reporting between 8,000 and l2,000 students, 15.5% reporting between 2,000 and 5,000 students, 15.4% reporting between 5,000 and 8,000 students, and 14.9% reporting less than 2,000 students.

Participants represented forty-nine states as well as the Washington, D.C. area, with the highest levels of participation from North Carolina (8.3%), Ohio (6.1%), Missouri (6.1%), Arkansas (5.7%), and Alaska (5.4%). Rhode Island was the only state to have no respondents.


The participants were provided a description of the study and a link to a survey. The participants reported demographic information such as age, gender, ethnicity, and state of residence, as well as information concerning the school in which they taught. This included questions about the student population and the size of the classes they taught, as well as the percentages of students that resided on campus or commuted.

The survey provided a list of stalking behaviors. Participants indicated which behaviors they had experienced on a Likert-type scale from 0 to 5; 0 being never and 5 being all the time. In a separate 1 to 5 Likert-type scale, participants indicated how disturbed the participant was by the behavior; 1 being not at all and 5 being extremely disturbed. For example "how often do you receive hang up calls" and then "how disturbed were you by the hang up calls." The survey included several different types of behaviors such as "how often did you receive gifts" "how often was your phone tapped", and "how often were you followed by a car". Questions on the survey were modeled from the Stalking and Harassment Behavior Scale (SHBS) published by Turmanis and Brown (2006). The SHBS had split-half reliability coefficients of .84 and .81. The Cronbach's alpha was above .90, indicating that the SHBS has high internal consistency. When the two subscales of the SHBS were compared, the highest correlation was r=.69, indicating that the SHBS has good construct validity. Modifications for the present study involved rewording of the behaviors to more closely reflect the academic environment rather than a stalking situation involving a couple with a prior intimate relationship.


Participants were asked to read an informed consent; if they chose to participate, a link connected them with the beginning of the survey. No identifying information was provided to the researchers. Completion of the survey required approximately ten to fifteen minutes.


Research question 1: Lifetime prevalence of student stalking of faculty will be greater than that found in the general population and be closer to the rates found by Morgan (2009).

In the present study, stalking behavior was reported by 25.4% of the participants (n = 1222). Specific stalking behaviors ranged from receiving unwanted and disturbing emails to being followed by a student off-campus. Table 1 provides a list and frequency of stalking behaviors experienced by those participants (n = 1222) who had experienced more than one stalking behavior.

Demographic variables such as age, race, and type of campus where they taught did not differentiate between those faculty who had experienced stalking and those who had not experienced stalking. With respect to teaching experience (n=4705), the group who reported stalking behaviors (M=17.16, SD=10.13) had significantly (t (4703) = 6.605, p<.O1) more years of teaching than the group who did not report stalking behavior (M = 14. 78, SD = 10.96, respectively). Student stalking of faculty was reported most frequently by faculty who taught English (10.4%), Psychology (10.1%), Nursing (10%) and Business (8.6%).

Research Question 2: Twelve-month prevalence rate of student stalking of faculty will be greater than the prevalence of stalking in the general population.

The participants in the present study are faculty members who may interact with students for decades. As such, the potential for any one faculty member to come into contact with a student who might engage in stalking will increase the longer they remain working in academia. As a result, it seemed important to identify the prevalence of student stalking within the last 12 months as well as the lifetime prevalence. Out of the 1222 participants reporting multiple stalking behaviors, 32.7% or 399 participants reported stalking in the past 12 months. The subgroup of those reporting stalking in the last 12 months did not significantly differ from the larger group of those reporting stalking on gender, age, race, number of years they had taught, or the type of campus where they taught.

Research Question 3: Female faculty will report more stalking than male faculty; similarly, male students will be reported as stalking more than female students.

Of those reporting stalking, 56.8% were female. Female faculty who reported stalking did not differ from male faculty reporting stalking on age, race, type of campus where they taught, or the number of years they had taught.

Participants were asked to describe demographic characteristics of the student stalkers. Based on these data, 48.0% of the student stalkers were male, 49.8% were

female, and 2.2% were unknown. Participants also estimated the age of their student stalkers: 38.5% were aged 17-22, 29.4% were aged 23-29 years, 21.8% were 30-40, and 10.3% were over 40. Eighty--one percent of stalkers were reported to be undergraduates, 16.7% were graduate students, and 2.3% were unknown.

Research Question 4: Faculty who have experienced stalking will report a range of negative emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety, depression, and anger.

Faculty reporting stalking behaviors were asked to indicate to what extent stalking behavior was disturbing, as indicated on a 1 to 5 Likert-type Scale; 1 being not at all and 5 being extremely disturbing. For each behavior, a mean score was calculated. As can be seen in Table 1, faculty who experienced stalking consistently reported these behaviors as disturbing.

Participants were also asked to indicate other emotional responses to the stalking. The most common emotional response was being bothered or annoyed (54.3%) with 43.3% reporting irritation, 40.8% reporting anger, 34.3 % reporting being guarded, 29.6% reporting being nervous or tense, and 27.9% reporting embarrassment. Less frequent emotional responses included being offended (19.8%), intimidated (18.3%), worried that they were doing something wrong (17.6%), confusion (17.1%), feeling jittery (14.3%), repulsed (14.1%), scared or panicky (13.9%), amused (12.8%), nauseated (6.6%), miserable (4.3%), ashamed (4.2%), hopeless (2.8%), voiceless (2.5%), and lonely (1.4%).

Research Question 5: Faculty who have experienced stalking will report the incident to colleagues, including fellow faculty members and administrative personnel.

Almost eighty percent (79.7%) of participants told a colleague, friend, or superior about the stalking incident. Of the participants who told someone, the most common reaction by the person being told was supportive; common reactions included understanding (24.2%), helpfulness (19.9%), consideration (12.2%), and compassion (10.2%). Less common were negative reactions such as the person conveying an unsympathetic attitude (9.1%), disbelief (3.8%), and blaming the faculty member for the student stalking (2.8%).

Research Question 6: Stalking behaviors will be described as falling into one of three categories: nuisance stalking, delusional or erotomanic stalking, and stalking by students with identified psychological problems.

Participants reported a variety of reasons that they believed the student stalking occurred. Most commonly, participants attributed the stalking to a psychological problem of the student (45.8%). Other reported causes of the stalking included: student having a physical attraction to the professor (36.1%), student wanting a higher grade (20%), student receiving a failing grade (14.7%), student feeling ignored because the faculty member did not reciprocate the student's romantic feelings (14.3%), student feeling upset about something the faculty member had said in class (5.1%), and the failure of a past intimate relationship between the student and the faculty member (.5%).

Research Question 7: Faculty who have experienced stalking and report changes in their teaching will increase structure in the classroom and decrease opportunities for student-faculty interactions.

Participants reported a variety of responses to student stalking. General responses varied from attempting to talk to the student stalker (24.5 %), refusing to talk to the student stalker (16%), withdrawing from social events with all students (9.8%), trying to be nicer to the student stalker (9.6%), and withdrawing from interactions with both students and faculty (4.4%). Approximately half (47.4%) of the participants reported keeping a log of the stalking incidents.

Prior to being stalked, 15.2% of the participants reported primarily lecturing with little interaction in class, 33.4% met with students during office hours, 23.1% utilized many activities during class, 11.3% primarily used the Socratic teaching method, 6.9% allowed/encouraged students to call the professor at home, 2.5% invited students to professors' home, 5% met with students at local restaurants, and 2.6% had other interactions with students. As a result of the stalking incident(s), 58.7% said the stalking had no impact on their teaching, 14.5% said they were less interactive with students, 17.6 % implemented more rules and more structure, 2.2% had easier grading scales, and 7% said there were other impacts to their teaching.


Morgan (2009) found that 32.9% of university faculty had experienced stalking by a student at some point in their career. The current study surveyed a sample of university faculty across the United States and found 25.4% of the participants reported being stalked by a student. Of those reporting stalking, 32.7% reported a stalking incident within the last twelve months. The rate of student stalking of faculty members is much higher in both Morgan (2009) and the present study than the approximately 6% rate of stalking found in the general public (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003). Results of the current study indicate that the rate of student stalking of faculty is closer to the rates reported in studies assessing patient stalking of therapists (Hudson-Allez, 2006).

Demographic characteristics of both faculty who reported stalking behaviors and their student stalkers in the current study also contrast with such data gathered in studies investigating the more general stalking that occurs as part of or at the end of an intimate relationship. In such intimacy-based stalking, women represent approximately 75% of those who are stalked with men representing approximately 84% of those who engage in stalking behaviors (Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen, 2002). In the current study, women faculty represented only 56% of those being stalked. Although it is clear that female faculty are more likely to be stalked than male faculty, the percentages suggest that the gender discrepancy seen in the larger stalking literature is not as robust when describing student stalking of faculty. Similarly, in the present study female (49.8%) and male (48%) students were almost equally likely to he reported as engaging in stalking. It seems likely that these gender differences when compared with the general literature on stalking may be due to the types of stalking that are most likely to occur between students and faculty where prior intimate relationships are rare.

In the present study, some of the most common stalking behaviors were unwanted emails, phone calls, voicemails or faxes, inappropriate class work or behavior, the stalker waiting at the faculty members' office, and the stalker unexpectedly appearing either on or off campus. These findings are consistent with other studies that have assessed stalking in other contexts where the most common stalking behaviors include telephone calls, sending letters, leaving notes, surveillance of the victim and following the victim (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998; Mullen, Pathe, Purcell, & Stuart, 1999).

The most common faculty responses to the student stalking included not speaking to the student stalker, trying to reason with the student stalker, avoiding campus activities that included students, and trying to be nicer to the student stalker. All of these can have an impact on the professional and teaching behavior of the impacted faculty member. While a majority of the participants in the current study indicated that the stalking had no impact on their teaching behavior, almost 20% indicated that they implemented more rules and structure within the classroom, approximately 15% became less interactive with students, and a little over 2% developed easier grading scales. These changes in teaching-related behaviors are of special concern as they may compromise the quality of the education provided to students. Easier grading scales, for example, may decrease standardized student test scores (Johnson & Beck, 1988). Likewise, decreasing interaction with students and creating additional structure and rules regulating faculty-student interactions may decrease the active learning that has been demonstrated to enhance student learning (Koljatic & Kuh, 2001).

In the present study, faculty members' descriptions of the motivations of the student stalkers can be grouped into three basic categories. Approximately 45.8% of the participants believed they were being stalked because the stalker had a psychological disorder; this category is similar to therapists who report being stalked more often by patients with personality disorders (Hudson-Allez, 2006). Although it is reasonable that therapists would be dealing with individuals with personality disorders, it may seem more surprising that college students would experience such psychological difficulties. However, college faculty members are now serving a broad range of students and, increasingly, more students are attending college who are experiencing psychological problems (Mier, Boone, & Shropshire, 2009). In the academic environment, the faculty member may, for some students with psychological disorders, play a similar, supportive role to that of a therapist in the mental health environment.

A second category reported by Hudson-Allez (2006) and Dziegielewski and Roberts (1995) seems to be relevant to the present study; that is, the erotic transference category or delusional (or erotomanic) category stalker seems to apply to student stalking of faculty. In the present study, 36.1% reported being stalked because the student was physically attracted to them, 14.3% reported that the student felt ignored because the faculty member did not reciprocate the student's romantic feelings, and .5% reported that the student began stalking the faculty member after a failed intimate relationship. It is no surprise that students may develop a 'crush' or emotional attachment to their professor. With the decreased formality of the college environment, students may not perceive a boundary in developing an intimate relationship with a faculty member. Students may have difficulty understanding that faculty are friendly without being their friends; in such an environment, there may be an increased chance of blurred boundaries and erotic feelings developing that are not reciprocated by the professor.

The final category of student stalkers reported in the present study may be most similar to the nuisance category proposed by Roberts and Dziegielewski (2006). In essence, the students in this category appear to use stalking behaviors to intimidate the faculty member into providing him/her a grade or to intimidate the faculty member for a grade or comment that was disliked by the student. According to faculty reports, nearly 35% of stalkers were motivated by dissatisfaction with grades, either having failed a class or having received a lesser grade than they had expected. Also, about 14% were described as being upset about something a faculty member said during a class.

Although, the present study, along with Morgan (2009), provides some information about the motivations and characteristics of students who stalk faculty members, the present study does not allow for a more thorough understanding of faculty behaviors that may be associated with student stalking of faculty. For example, one response to student stalking by faculty is to increase rules and structure in the classroom while reducing interactions with students. Does this suggest that a faculty member who creates a classroom environment where there are fewer rules and greater interaction with students may be at a higher risk for stalking by a student? Another possibility may be that faculty who engage with students outside of the classroom, for example, eating lunch with students off-campus or drinking a beer with a group of students at a local pub, may be at higher risk of being stalked by a student. Do such out-of-class interactions with students blur the boundaries between student-professor?

In a similar vein, the perceptions of both students and professors about what behaviors may constitute harassment or stalking need to be explored in more detail. Phillips, Quirk, Rosenfeld, and O'Connor (2004) demonstrated that both male and female students are capable of identifying stalking scenarios when provided with impersonal vignettes. However, when stalking behaviors occur in the context of a dating or intimate relationship, successful identification decreases as the behaviors (i.e., following, repeated calling or emailing, giving of gifts) may be seen as common in such a context (Kinkade, Burns & Fuentes, 2005). In addition, several researchers, such as Dunn (1999) and Campbell and Longo (2010), have demonstrated that female students may view the stalker's behavior as threatening when the stalker is a fellow student, but at the same time romantic and flattering. Unfortunately, it is relatively unclear on the basis of the available research how successful students or faculty are at identifying harassment or stalking behaviors--or behaviors that may increase the probability of future harassment or stalking behaviors--in their

interactions with one another. In the present study, for example, 12% of faculty members reported that they found the stalking behaviors of their students to be "amusing." A greater understanding of both student and faculty perceptions of such behaviors would be useful.

The current study had several limitations. Survey studies are at the mercy of those who willingly participate. Volunteer bias, individuals who read that the study was about stalking might have been more likely to volunteer and complete the survey, cannot be eliminated in a study such as this. As a result of volunteer bias, the actual rate of student stalking of faculty may be lower than obtained with the present data. There is no reason to suspect, though, that such volunteer bias would be more likely in the present study than in any similar survey study of the prevalence of stalking. A second limitation is that the study relied solely on retrospective reports of the participant. As time passes, it is likely that memory for the incidents may not be as clear leading to the participant forgetting details of the incident, the student, or their reactions. In the present study, this may have been mediated somewhat by obtaining the prior twelve-month prevalence rate.


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Indiana University Southeast
Table 1
Percentage of faculty reporting stalking behaviors (n = 1222) and
mean rating of how disturbing  the behavior was perceived by

Stalking Behavior                          % Faculty     Mean Level
                                           Reporting   of Disturbed *

Unwanted phone calls, voicemail,             64.1           3.25
  emails, or faxes
Inappropriate class work/behavior            48.3           4.5
Stalker waits for them at office             47.8           3.75
Unexpected appearance--watching/spying       44.3           4.23
Invasion of personal space                   41.7           4.75
Unwanted/exaggerated expressions of          39.2           3.65
Stalker sends flowers or gifts               35             4.36
Boasts about private information gained      28             3.86
Attempts to touch/show physical              25.9           4.17
Stalker driving by or coming to home         24             4.64
Intruding uninvited into conversations       23.9           4.23
Physically harms, threatens, restrains       23.8           4.14
Stalker verbally abuses participant          23.6           4.53
Stalker asks for a date                      22.2           3.98
Stalker sexually abuses participant          .08            5
Stalker threatens to discredit
  participant with
  other students                             16.7           4.5
  faculty in discipline                      26.3           4.67
  faculty outside discipline                 24.8           4.89
  superiors                                  26.4           4.52
  professionals off-campus                    9.6           3.85

* Mean calculated on Likert-type scale where I = not at all disturbed
and 5 = extremely disturbing
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