Emory Report

September 20, 1999

 Volume 52, No. 5

Emory takes stance on teacher-student romances

After a year of discussion, President Bill Chace recently signed into a policy an official University position regarding consensual sexual relationships between teachers and students at Emory.

The policy was developed over the last year with much interaction between faculty, the provost's office and the deans, led specifically by Harriet King, vice provost for academic affairs, and Laura Kimble, assistant professor in the School of Nursing. It prohibits consensual relationships when one of the participants is in a supervisory capacity over the other; this applies not only to faculty, but to graduate students, department chairs, graduate advisors, program directors "and all others (each of whom is considered a teacher) who have supervisory academic responsibility for a student." It also says teachers must decline a supervisory role over a student with whom a prior sexual relationship occurred.

"This is an ethical standard of what's appropriate for a university campus," Chace said of the policy, the first explicit Emory policy that deals with consensual sexual relationships. Nonconsensual relationships are covered under the University's sexual harassment policy.

"The relationship between teacher and student is the foundation of the academic mission of the University," the policy states. "This relationship vests considerable trust in the teacher, who, in turn, bears the responsibility to serve as mentor, educator and evaluator. In discharging this responsibility, teachers are accountable for behaving in a manner that reflects the highest levels of professional responsibility, recognizes the dignity and worth of each person at the University, and protects the integrity of the teacher-student relationship."

Provost Rebecca Chopp said the policy is more a preventive measure than a reactive one; her office's research indicated most major universities are either in the process of adopting such a policy or have in recent years. "It's simply prudent to spell out our code of ethics," she said. "This does not prohibit relationships; it simply asks for good judgment."

Indeed, some faculty felt the policy should prohibit all teacher-student relationships, not just those in which the teacher supervises the student. But this, both Chace and Chopp said, was ignoring the reality of life at a university.

"That approach runs afoul of fact when we recognize that there are some perfectly wonderful marriages between faculty and graduate students," Chace said. "But supervisory relationships and romantic relationships cannot coexist. If you start the second, you must end the first."

"We tried to craft a policy that respected the cultures of the different schools and the different kinds of relationships that exist," Chopp said.

John Boli, president of University Senate and chair of Faculty Council, said he agreed with limiting the policy as it's written. "We're not here to tell people what is moral and proper behavior," Boli said. "We're here to make sure that, when relationships develop, they don't interfere with professional responsibilities."

For reported violations, the policy calls for further investigation and, if the allegations are shown to be valid, allows for "appropriate disciplinary action or remedial measures against the teacher involved." "Egregious breach of this policy is adequate cause for termination under 12(C)" of the Gray Book, the policy states. Chopp said there have been no specific instances recently where such a written policy would have been useful.

"We'll see," Boli said of the policy's effectiveness. "We've created it and implemented it, and we'll see if it can handle the situations as they arise."

-Michael Terrazas

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