It may soon be official – faculty members who engage in a romantic or sexual relationship with a student may violate the University’s code of conduct.
The UC Board of Regents is considering an addition to the Faculty Code of Conduct making it a violation for a faculty member to engage in a relationship with a student for whom he or she has an academic responsibility or should expect to have such a responsibility.
The amendment, which was endorsed by the Academic Council on April 23, 2003, is yet to be adopted by the UC administration and the board of regents. However, it will be discussed during the upcoming May 28 meeting of the assembly of the Academic Senate.
The revisions are expected to affect all University instructors, including professors, lecturers and teaching assistants. For many graduate students, the revisions to the amendment hit closer to home, as they tend to interact more with the faculty.
“I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to date a professor,” sociology graduate student Kelly Graydon said, “but there’s an important distinction between a romantic relationship and just hanging out in a collegiate manner with a faculty member.”
The proposed revisions to the policy have sparked a campuswide debate. According to Sexual Harassment Prevention Education Coordinator Judy Guillermo-Newton, the new standards will bring the UC in line with other California universities, as they are based on a Yale University faculty code.
“Discrepancies between different departments and different campuses can often cause a lot of confusion,” Guillermo-Newton said. “There’s a real differential of power between students and teachers, and that’s what leads to problems.”
To many people, faculty-student romantic relationships can have unfair consequences, both for and against the students participating in them. While third parties may perceive a student engaging in a romantic relationship with a professor as receiving advantages, it is when those relationships end that people really get hurt, Guillermo-Newton said.
“It always bothers me when I see someone abusing their power,” sociology Professor John Baldwin said. “I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve seen it happen. I know that there are people in our department it would affect.”
On the other hand, disagreement with the proposed amendment has been widespread. While the new revisions are specific to students to whom a faculty member has a direct academic responsibility, many people are resisting the University’s extension of regulation into their personal lives.
“I agree that it could be a problem if you were in the professor’s class, or under his instruction, but where does it stop?” second-year religious studies and English major Nicole Palmer said. “I mean, we’re adults; the University has no role in policing every relationship, on campus or off.”
While it might be true that many students opt not to involve themselves in romantic or sexual relationships with faculty members, some are upset that the University is seeking to take away their decision to do so.
“It might not be the classiest thing to sleep with a teacher to improve your grade,” said freshman political science major Andrea Bravo, “but I’d definitely say that there are far worse things that go on at this campus.”
Guillermo-Newton said that regardless of the UC Board of Regents’ decision on the proposed policy, difficulties caused by faculty-student relationships gone awry might be hard to regulate.
“The problem I see is that we are trying to change the culture,” she said. “The question is, can we do this by law?”