'Sex with students was perk of the job'

August 7, 1998

JEAN NORRIS, whose lecturer husband has had more than one affair with a student and has now left her for one, wants to set up a support group for other women in her position.

Paul Norris, a social sciences lecturer at Southampton Institute, was formally disciplined in 1992 for having a sexual relationship with a student on a course that he both taught and assessed. The relationship was deemed to have been "ill-advised and prejudicial to the interests of the institute".

This week it emerged that another student at the institute has been named as the third party in divorce proceedings against Paul Norris by his wife. Mr Norris has not contested the adultery alleged in the petition.

Mrs Norris says that the case raises questions about university guidelines governing cases of consensual relationships between adult students and staff. The Association of University Teachers and Natfhe, the college lecturers union, have such guidelines. The institute also has its own and insists that in this latest case Mr Norris has acted within them.

But Mrs Norris said: "It seems to me that some lecturers perceive sex with students as a perk of the job. It seems common to me, and universities seem very blase."

Mr Norris was warned in 1992 that another relationship with a student was likely to lead to his dismissal. It is understood that Mr Norris has now had a relationship with a student who graduated from a politics course this year, and was based in the same school as him.

The institute's regulations on staff-student relationships state:

* Personal relationships between staff and students are considered incompatible with the professional responsibilities of staff

* Where both a personal and professional relationship exist action will be taken to ensure that the professional relationship is severed

* No member of academic staff shall be involved in the assessment or assessment process relating to a student with whom the staff member has a personal relationship

* A staff member "should not normally" be involved in teaching such a student

* Any relationship must be declared to the head of department, who will take action to ensure no teaching or assessment takes place.

It is understood that the rules were followed in this case. Howard Rose, head of the social sciences department, said: "There are no outstanding matters of a disciplinary nature that I'm aware of."

Following the formal investigation of complaints against Mr Norris in 1992, Tim Wheeker, the director of the environment school, wrote to Mr Norris:

"I should advise you that should there be a recurrence of conduct which is considered to be prejudicial to the interests of the institute, this will certainly lead to a disciplinary hearing, the outcome of which may be your dismissal." The warning, he was told, "will remain on your file and shall not be removed".

An appeal against the decision by Mr Norris was not upheld, but the duration of the final written warning was reduced. It remained on his file for 12 months and had expired before he was investigated for the second incident.

Mr Norris declined to comment.

GUIDELINES FOR GOOD RELATIONSHIPS

Moves to draw up guidelines on consensual staff-student relationships have been fraught with questions of personal freedom.

In 1995, after lengthy and controversial debate sparked by a flurry of media interest, it was agreed by higher education trade unions that some ground rules needed to be set down.

Natfhe, the college lecturers' union, noted that while most such affairs are seen as equal "adult-to-adult" relationships where both parties willingly embark on a relationship, the staff-student relationship invariably involves a "great difference in power".

Similarly, the Association of University Teachers asserted that "a sexual/romantic relationship with a student will always involve serious risk and may involve serious difficulties rooted in the unequal power, and hence choice, of the parties concerned".

Research by Pam Carter and Tony Jeffs, of Nottingham Trent University, found that the huge majority of consensual relationships involved male staff and younger female students. Relationships of genuine mutuality were rare, they found. The typical scenario, noted Natfhe, was the "predatory" male lecturer who "engages in multiple concurrent or consecutive affairs". Even in cases of female staff with male students and homosexual relationships equality was rare.

In 1995, Natfhe passed a motion that "consensual sexual relations between academic staff and students who they currently teach or assess I are ill-advised, unprofessional and to be discouraged".

The AUT's guidelines, endorsed by the National Union of Students, echo this.

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