Love-struck lecturers are to be deterred by union officials from having sex with their students - at least until they graduate.
Campus love affairs were condemned by Natfhe's annual conference in Torquay as ill-advised and unprofessional. Delegates resolved that a detailed code should be drawn up to discourage sexual relations between academic staff and the students they teach or assess.
"The best advice is to duck for cover and hands off until they are no longer a student," said executive member Jenny Craven-Griffiths. "Nobody is suggesting that people should not have the feelings or even have a bit of fun or even fall in love. We don't choose how we feel but we can choose what we do about our feelings. We cannot defend those who leap before they think."
Fellow executive member Mary Davis said: "The number of cases I have to deal with is amazing and is increasing." She said there were principled reasons for avoiding staff-student love affairs, because of the power advantage lecturers have as assessors, as well as pragmatic reasons. "You have to take into account the views of the student's peer group. Even if you think you are being as even-handed as possible I can guarantee you the peer group suspects there is favour."
West Midlands delegate Caroline Gray opposed a code of conduct, saying: "This will stop us from defending members in these relationships. It is not our job as a trade union to find ways for management to pick on our members."
And a Sunderland delegate said the Natfhe motion was too intrusive and urged that his university's own code, calling on staff to identify a campus relationship to their team leader, be used as a model.
However, delegates backed a Natfhe code of deterrance after hearing executive member Mary McGarry described how staff/student relationships had ruined lives. "Our members are getting into terrible difficulties. A neighbour of mine has been on medication for 28 years and become schizophrenic because a professor dumped her in the middle of finals," she said.
She also told of a maths teacher who left her husband and family for a student who in turn left her, and of a male lecturer who lost his job after "going through his entire class like a dose of salts" when his marriage broke up. "We need to give a steer to people before they commit themselves," she said.