Conduct codes discourage any staff-student sex

December 18, 2008

Some universities are asking staff to abide by conduct codes that explicitly advise them against having sexual relationships with students.

The University of Warwick is reviewing its policy on staff-student relationships after it emerged that a mature student had an abortion and a mental breakdown following a relationship with Istvan Pogany, a 57-year-old professor in the School of Law. The professor is understood to have informed the university about the relationship.

A university spokesman said: "We are aware that some institutions within the UK are moving towards the establishment of a code of conduct in respect of such matters, and this is also presently under review at Warwick."

While most universities say they do not wish to prevent staff-student relationships and simply offer guidance on managing any potential conflicts of interest, others take a more prescriptive approach.

The University of Cambridge last year endorsed a draft policy on staff-student relationships that says staff have a "moral obligation" to ensure that their relationships with their students, including graduate students, "remain strictly professional in nature".

The policy says: "Members of staff are strongly advised not to enter into any romantic or sexual relationship with a student whom they are responsible for teaching, assessing, advising or supporting."

The university council has asked for the document to be reconsidered in conjunction with a redrafting of guidelines on harassment and bullying, but several Cambridge colleges have independently approved similar policies.

The guidelines at King's College London say the university "regards it as unprofessional for any staff member to actively seek to initiate" a relationship with a student. Brian Salter, the academic registrar, said the policy was drafted several years ago after an unfounded conflict-of-interest complaint about a prize being awarded to a masters student.

The University of St Andrews strongly advises staff against such relationships because they will "always involve serious risks", while University College London also strongly advises against them.

In contrast, City University London's code says it "does not wish to ... necessarily be aware of liaisons between staff and students, and it relies upon the integrity of both to ensure that abuses of power do not occur".

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