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Updated 3:00 PM May 8, 2003



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University plan calls for restrictions on consensual relationships

A University policy currently under review prohibits romantic or sexual relationships between a faculty member and a student under his or her supervision, but acknowledges that such relationships do occur. The proposed addition to the Standard Practice Guide (SPG) requires a faculty member to disclose such a relationship so that a plan for managing the situation, which most often will involve removing the student from the faculty's supervision, can be put into place.

"Unlike some institutions that simply have said such involvement will not be tolerated, the new policy acknowledges that relationships between consenting adults cannot easily be restricted and sometimes are not totally inappropriate, but that the University has an obligation to protect students, faculty and the institution by removing conflicts of interest and any potential risk of sexual harassment," says Provost Paul N. Courant. "This policy is designed to meet that obligation in the most effective way possible."

The Faculty-Student Relationships policy defines faculty supervisory responsibility as including, but not limited to, teaching, research, academic advising and coaching. It also involves serving on evaluation or thesis committees, grading, and recommending students in an institutional capacity for employment, fellowships or awards. It covers faculty, graduate students and all other undergraduate student supervisors, such as coaches in summer programs.

"We included anybody who can influence the career performance of a student," says Valerie Castle, associate provost for academic and faculty affairs. "Clearly there are multiple conflicts that can arise because of the power differential the supervisor has over the student."

The policy says that faculty members have an obligation to disclose their relationships with students or face charges of misconduct, which could result in sanctions, up to and including termination, says Castle.

The policy states that once the faculty member has disclosed the relationship, the immediate supervisor must develop a conflict management plan in consultation with the head of the academic unit. Most often the plan will change the reporting relationship by reassigning the faculty member or coach to another class or camp, and removing him or her from any position in which he or she evaluates the involved student's work. In the event the two are involved in a research project, the student likely would be assigned to another researcher. If the situation is deemed to be unmanageable, where perhaps there are no other sections of a class offered or no appropriate reassignment for the faculty member, the policy states that the relationship must be terminated, Castle says.
The policy says that faculty members have an obligation to disclose their relationships with students or face charges of misconduct.

Faculty members and students involved in relationships are not the only affected persons. Such relationships also can be of concern to third parties, says Kathleen Donohoe, director of gender equity in the Sexual Harassment Policy Office (SHPO).

Other students, faculty or staff members may believe they have received unfair treatment as the result of the romantic or sexual relationship of a student and faculty member, Donohoe says. Under the new policy, they can file a complaint with the unit's sexual harassment liaison or with the SHPO.

"Most of these cases are brought forward by a third party," says Donohoe. "Parents, roommates and classmates often report them because the involved students are vulnerable." Most often, the student who is involved romantically or sexually with a faculty member is putting up with the relationship out of fear, she says.

Since faculty-student relationships sometimes develop into charges of sexual harassment, the University also is amending SPG 201.89, which remains the standard for issues of harassment and has included the policy for consensual relationships since 1993. It, too, contains language making it clear that reporting faculty-student relationships is mandatory. It also includes a reference to the new SPG item and the University's nepotism policy, which says that romantic or sexual relationships between employees with a reporting relationship require disclosure and review. The new SPG also does not preempt existing provisions in the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, Castle says.

"Not every faculty-student relationship is harassment but all need to be managed because of inherent conflicts," says Carol Hollenshead, director of the Center for the Education of Women (CEW) and chair of the President's Advisory Commission on Women's Issues (PACWI), explaining the need for a separate faculty-student relationship policy. She said the new plan is unique from those the group reviewed from other institutions, and could set a standard. "It's great for the University in the way the plan works, and it could be a benefit to other institutions of higher education."

The Faculty-Student Relationships policy and recommendations for amending the Sexual Harassment SPG came about following a review by PACWI. The Office of the Provost then took the group's input—along with feedback from CEW, the Office of the General Counsel, SHPO, and Human Resources and Affirmative Action—and drafted the new and revised policies.

The proposed changes have been reviewed by a number of campus groups, including executive officers, deans and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. Over the summer, the provost's office will prepare training and support procedures for faculty and staff who will be responsible to investigate allegations and develop management plans. Castle says the policies will be reviewed by Senate Assembly in the fall, and should be put in place by December or January.

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