Recently, some colleges have added more restrictions on what relationships, if any, professors are allowed to have with students. Universities have varying rules regulating relationships between faculty and students, which are intended as guidelines.
The University of California is the most recent university to add to its rules on faculty-student relationships. Its new policy leaves the language vague, causing outspoken faculty members to question what their restrictions are. “Does it mean a personal relationship? Does it mean you can’t go out for coffee?” a UC professor told The New York Times.
The University of Michigan is planning to implement a policy similar to UC’s and has constructed a list of hypothetical situations to help the faculty better understand the policy. An excerpt of this policy reads, “Department chair X is having a sexual relationship with graduate student D who is a member of assistant professor Y’s laboratory in the same department. In managing the resulting conflict, chair X would have to (excuse) himself from evaluative/promotional reviews of assistant professor Y’s work while graduate student D is a member of the laboratory.” Some examples are even more complex rather than giving clear guidance on what is permitted.
A more common policy is practiced at Duke University. It “strongly discourages” faculty from having non-platonic relationships with their students and states when a relationship develops, it must be reported to the dean. The faculty member is then removed from having any academic influence over the student.
William and Mary College has the strictest policy in the country, forbidding consensual relationships between faculty and undergraduate students.
Students have voiced their concern over being patronized by these strict policies. As 23-year-old undergraduate Virginia Griffey says, “It’s like saying I can’t make my own choices about who I want to date.”
Faculty members being happily married to former students is a fairly common occurrence. Of course, faculty should never be involved in relationships that compromise their academic integrity.
Nevertheless, universities need to realize that they are dealing with adults capable of consent and that elaborate rules and restrictions, like those introduced at UC and UM, complicate the matter uneccessarily. As a professsion, faculty should be trusted to know when the circumstances of a relationship are permissable.