Lecturers exposed to flirtatious e-mails and malicious allegations

December 23, 2005

In a snapshot internet poll for The Times Higher by the Teacher Support Network, 34 of the 68 respondents said they had experienced unwanted sexual attention from a student, writes Phil Baty.

Experiences ranged from inappropriate touching to flirtatious e-mails or text messages. Eight respondents said that they had faced malicious allegations of a sexual nature from students, with one lecturer accused of rape.

But the TSN poll found that staff were unsure what to do when faced with such problems.

Some 13 of the 34 respondents who reported unwanted sexual attention said that they spoke to the student face to face "without a colleague present".

Fifteen respondents did not tell their line manager or human resources department. Of those who did, six said the university authorities "laughed it off or ignored it". Only three reported that there was an attempt to address the situation.

Overall, 11 (18 per cent) said that they had had a sexual relationship with a student. Of the self-selecting sample, 17 said that they did not know whether their institution had a policy on the issue, five said that their institution had no policy.

A spokeswoman for TSN said: "TSN believes strongly that it is important for institutions to implement well-defined codes of conduct, specifically with regard to boundaries in staff-student relationships and appropriate behaviour, as well as processes for dealing with unwanted attention and malicious allegations.

"Institutions should consult with both staff and students when forming codes of conduct, to ensure that everyone understands the policy and what is acceptable behaviour.

"It is important that these institutions adhere to their codes of conduct consistently and fairly to ensure that students and lecturers are adequately protected where necessary."

Andy Pike, national official at lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "Natfhe believes that every institution should take the necessary steps to ensure that staff and students are protected from harassment.

"In a culture where the customer is king, many lecturers do not believe that their employer will take any action against students who harass a lecturer, whereas student complaints of harassment by staff are always investigated. Every institution should agree a policy setting out acceptable standards of behaviour."

TSN free helpline:08000 562 561

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