Although all of us have personal examples of a faculty member who married a student and lived happily ever after, many, if not most, of these relationships have a very short shelf life.
This had been a cause of great distress for the department chair and undergraduate program director, who had mistakenly believed they could do nothing about the situation because the university had no policy.
I then wrote a policy on close personal relationships between instructors and students which was subsequently adopted by senate.
Institutionally, however, I don’t believe the university should censor or prohibit such relationships, even if it were legally possible to do so.
Whether or not the student is taking any courses from the professor, if the relationship turns sour and the student makes a complaint of sexual harassment, then faculty members should know that they will bear most of the risks. To minimize its own liability, the university needs to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment and discrimination from occurring in the first place, and if harassment does occur, to deal with it promptly and effectively to bring it to an end. Typically, the student first makes a complaint under the university’s sexual harassment policy.
This policy requires the instructor to disclose a close personal relationship with a student and make other arrangements for the evaluation or supervision of the student’s work. The topic of consensual sexual relationships between students and faculty is a “hot button” topic. I’d like to remove some of the emotion from the topic, and raise awareness of the risks inherent in these relationships for the student, the faculty member and the university.
Let me flag my own position regarding sexual or intimate relationships between faculty and students.
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If the student complains of sexual harassment, the risks to the faculty member and the university are high indeed.