The University of Connecticut has joined Yale University in purporting to ban sex between professors and undergraduates, even if the professors have no “power” over the students.
The LawandMore blog wonders if such bans can open the universities to lawsuits.
As the article writer Gregory Hladky notes:
“Court rulings have upheld the rights of universities and colleges to regulate professor-student relationships where the faculty member has power over the student …”
But the enforceability of the no-sex policies leads to some questions to be asked.
Consider that the chairman of Yale’s Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations Department was this year suspended because he violated the university’s three-year-old ban. John Darnell sent an e-mail out in January announcing his 12-month suspension and apologizing for his intimate relationships with a student and a professor — both of whom he had authority over.
Those affairs were, according to Yale Daily News sources, “an open secret within the department.”
Stites has long been in favor of colleges and universities adopting policies that prohibit sex between a professor and a student when the professor has some authority over the student. In fact, she says she lobbied for 25 years to get UConn to adopt such a policy and to get tough on professors who abused their positions and student trust for sex.
Stites says it’s clear from her experience and other research that “the most common participants” in professor-student relationships are grad students and that nearly all involved male professors and female students.
“It’s very rare among same-sex couples… or when it’s a female faculty member,” says Stites.
The debate and the stories surrounding professor-student sex have been going on for a very long time. Colleges and universities around the U.S. began establishing policies to discourage that sort of hanky-panky at least as long ago as the 1980s.
It wasn’t until the beginning of this month that UConn’s board of trustees finally went with the absolute no-professor-undergrad-sex policy.
UConn President Susan Herbst said when the new policy was adopted that the university had already been operating under guidelines that “strongly discouraged” any professor-student sexual or romantic relationships where there was “a power differential” between the two people involved.
That power differential is the key. If a professor has authority over a student’s or grad-student’s grades or chances for postgraduate work, then sex between them can get complicated fast. Is the student swapping sex for a good grade? Does the graduate assistant believe sex is required to get into that doctoral program?
Herbst also indicated she’d been surprised when she arrived in the president’s office a couple of years ago that UConn’s policy seemed a lot milder than those of many other universities and colleges.