Faculty-student love matches called off

May 2, 2003

It may be spring, but romance between US university faculty and students is being nipped in the bud, writes John Marcus.

While there have long been unwritten rules discouraging faculty from engaging in relationships with students, potential litigation has prompted several campuses to formalise guidelines.

The latest is the University of California system, where the dean of a law school was charged with sexually molesting a student after she passed out while they were drinking together. The law school dean, who has stepped down, said the incident was consensual.

Faculty at the university system are now scheduled to vote on a proposal that would make it an ethical breach to engage in "a romantic or sexual relationship with any student for whom a faculty member has, or should expect to have in the future, academic instructional, evaluative, or supervisory responsibility".

The proposal calls the student-faculty relationship "the foundation of the university's educational mission. The unequal institutional power inherent in this relationship heightens the vulnerability of the student and the potential for coercion."

Yale, Duke, Ohio Northern, Michigan and Iowa universities have banned classroom courtships. Many other schools, including the universities of North Carolina, Arizona and Stanford, discourage faculty from dating students but have not imposed a prohibition.

At Ohio Northern, faculty are warned against having sexual relations "with students to whom they are not married". Faculty at Michigan are required to tell a supervisor if they are having a relationship with a student.

The California law school dean was not the only faculty member to be caught in a scandal over a relationship with a student.

A writing instructor at the College of William and Mary two years ago wrote in the magazine GQ about his sexual escapades with undergraduate women.

At Ohio Wesleyan University, a humanities professor admitted to having a nine-month affair with a Pakistani student, who was then accused of stalking him.

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