Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences now formally bans sexual relationships between professors and undergraduate students.
That’s not because they think there’s all kinds of professor-student dating on campus: The professor who led the panel that wrote the policy said she has never heard of it happening, in years of studying and teaching at Harvard.
The new policy is there just to clarify that it would not be okay.
The new policy comes at a time when sex and gender issues — all the ways that people define themselves, their sexuality, their relationships, and how they interact with one another — are relentlessly discussed on college campuses.Billie Dziech, a professor at the University of Cincinnati who has studied and written about relationships between professors and students, said policies about such relationships are evolving. “Institutions wouldn’t go near it, just wanted to avoid pushback from faculty. There are many institutions that have what I personally would describe as very weak policies. What Harvard and an increasingly long list of universities has done is to have prohibitionist policies.” Dziech said some policies have earned complaints from students who would say, “‘Oh, we’re grownups, we can choose with whom we have sex.'” She said Harvard’s decision was courageous.“It sends a message: You don’t sleep with other people’s children — whether they agree to do it or not — because you’re abusing your power,” Dziech said.The American Association of University Professors stopped short of recommending a ban on relationships, but it sounded a similar warning, saying that professor-student romantic relationships can make voluntary consent by a student suspect because of the power dynamic.Scores of universities are under scrutiny from the federal government for its handling of sexual assault cases, as the Obama administration uses Title IX legislation, which bars discrimination based on gender, to pressure colleges on the issue.
Under a settlement with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, Harvard University and its law school promised to revise sexual harassment and assault policies to ensure a safe campus.The committee had meetings all fall with students, faculty and staff who eagerly participated and asked tough questions, Johnson said.In a statement, the organization also said that sexual relationships can later make the faculty member and the institution vulnerable to allegations of sexual harassment.“Sexual relations between students and faculty members with whom they also have an academic or evaluative relationship are fraught with the potential for exploitation,” the AAUP said in a statement.“In their relationships with students, members of the faculty are expected to be aware of their professional responsibilities and to avoid apparent or actual conflict of interest, favoritism, or bias.When a sexual relationship exists, effective steps should be taken to ensure unbiased evaluation or supervision of the student.” In some ways, it’s easier for schools to ban such relationships so they’re not forced into taking sides — or acting as judge and jury — in cases where a student or faculty member complains about harassment, or worse, Dziech said.