Southampton Solent reviews guidance as relationships turn ugly

Institution acts after students complain when affairs with staff sour, Melanie Newman writes

February 19, 2009

A university is reviewing its policy covering staff-student relationships after two relationships between lecturers and students turned sour.

Paul Kavanagh, a law lecturer at Southampton Solent University, was convicted last year of harassing a criminology student whom he bombarded with emails and texts after he had been told by police to leave her alone.

Mr Kavanagh was not directly responsible for the student concerned.

But Times Higher Education learnt that a second student made a complaint about another Southampton Solent lecturer for failing to disclose their relationship.

The man accused was directly responsible for the student and continued to teach her during their relationship. The student is understood to have complained to the university after the relationship ended because the lecturer would have been marking her exam papers and she feared discrimination.

The university this week declined to comment on the complaints, but said that the lecturer in the second case was no longer employed by Southampton Solent.

Mr Kavanagh is understood to be still employed by Southampton Solent, but is not currently teaching.

At the time of his conviction, Mr Kavanagh's lawyer claimed that his client had tried to ensure that the student remained comfortable at the university in the wake of the break-up and that he now wanted "to get on with his life".

Mr Kavanagh appealed against the conviction, but this was dismissed in January. He is subject to a restraining order preventing him from contacting the student, but he is allowed to visit the campus.

The student, who has completed her degree, criticised Southampton Solent's handling of the case.

She said: "The university seemed to be more interested in protecting (Mr Kavanagh's) rights as an employee than protecting me from him."

Mr Kavanagh already had a police caution for harassment of another woman, which was known to the law department at the time she raised her complaints, she said.

Despite this, the university took several months to act.

The student said she removed herself from campus for the final year of her degree to avoid seeing the lecturer.

A university spokeswoman said Southampton Solent was proceeding with an internal review of the case.

"Paul Kavanagh is suspended from all teaching duties," she said.

"Southampton Solent University places great importance on the professional integrity of its employees and has recognised a need to review its policy covering staff-student relationships to safeguard all parties," the spokeswoman said.

"An updated draft policy includes clarified guidance on circumstances when disclosure is required, together with more stringent arrangements to avoid any potential conflicts of interest," the spokeswoman said.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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