Changes to the University’s sexual harassment policy that aim to remove the inherent conflict in student-faculty relationships were presented at a Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting yesterday.
Although the proposal is only in its drafting state, it resulted from a review the University conducted on the sexual harassment policies of other academic institutions, said Valerie Castle, associate provost of academic affairs.
“The main difference about this policy is that it does not include a blanket proposal. There is no single prohibition statement saying that faculty and students cannot have a relationship. In our policy, we will make an attempt to remove the conflict inherent in faculty and student relationships, if we can,” Castle added.
She said that if the University can successfully manage the relationship, the student can progress with his or her academic career.
But for the implementation of their proposal, communication between faculty members and students must be altered.
Castle said that faculty members must disclose the relationship with their administrator. Once the administrator has been informed, it is his or her responsibility to work with the faculty member and student to manage the conflict.
“It is the administrator’s job to remove the real or perceived conflict that occurs because of the relationship, to protect the student, the faculty member and any third party involved,” Castle said.
But Castle added that if the administrator cannot remove the faculty member from a position of supervision over the student then the student faculty relationship is prohibited.
Castle said that at first the policy was criticized because there was no blanket statement prohibiting relationships between student and faculty. But Castle said the administration realized that option was not realistic because with a blanket statement, there is no acknowledgement of the diversity in terms of age and education within the University.
“It doesn’t acknowledge that student and faculty are consenting adults. And oftentimes we can remove the problems inherent in these relationships and obvious conflicts if we can remove the faculty member from a supervisory position. … We don’t want the faculty member supervising the student in a relationship,” Castle said.
But University of Michigan at Dearborn Associate Biology Prof. and SACUA member John Riebesell said he has some grave concerns about the proposal.
“It disturbed me, I think people with reason to keep it secret will not come out, and people that already have the relationship out in the open will,” Riebesell said.
He added that reporting to an administrator could in some cases turn into self-incrimination for the faculty member involved in such relationships as adultery or homosexuality, which are illegal in some parts of Michigan. Another variable that he addressed was in the case that a faculty member hires a prostitute that later enrolls in their class.
“I think there are some civil liberty questions that need to be considered. The reason some institutions don’t have (sexual harassment) policies is because their unenforceable they bridge on protected rights,” Riebesell said.
Castle said this policy will next be reviewed by the senior administrators and Regents. She hopes it will become an official University policy by next fall.