College Council Examines Student-Faculty Sexual Relations
By Isabelle D'Arcy '13, News Section Editor
The College Council, a 12-member body composed of faculty members, students and administrators that deals with non-academic policies, recently revisited the College’s guidelines regarding relationships between faculty members and students.

This examination came as part of a general look at College polices in light of the changing President. The current wording is “…the College does not condone, and, in fact, strongly discourages consensual relationships between faculty members and students”, a clause that has been in place since a faculty meeting in Mar. 1993.

Originally, the need to address the College’s sexual harassment policy arose in part due to a report of sexual harassment by an Amherst professor in 1990. At that time, the College considered two different policies. The first policy forbade sexual relations between students and faculty, while the second policy, which was eventually adopted, required that faculty be removed “from any supervisory, evaluative, advisory or other pedagogical role involving a student with whom he or she has had, or currently has, a sexual relationship.” After much deliberation, the College decided to discourage rather than forbid faculty-student relationships, lest a ban dissuade students who were sexually harassed from speaking up for fear of disciplinary repercussions.

In reconsidering this issue this year, members of the council looked at the policies of other schools, particularly Yale University’s much stricter policy that prohibits “sexual or amorous relationships” between students and teachers.

“The council agreed that our policy, by forcing faculty members’ removal from any pedagogical role concerning their current or past sexual partners, sufficiently protected students from unfair treatment” said College Council member Nathan Nash ’12.

From talking to students about the current policy, AAS President Saumitra Thakur ’11 gathered that while most students “feel uncomfortable with a student dating a professor who is in their department or teaching a course [that they are taking],” they were more relaxed about situations like “a Green Dean, who graduated recently but has no direct connection to most students, dating a student.” If a case such as this were to surface, “instituting a very strict policy would just deny harmless relationships between mature adults,” Thakur said.

Nevertheless, some students seemed to favor the idea of considering a stricter policy.

“Normally I don’t like the idea of people telling two consenting adults what to do in the privacy of their bedrooms, but the idea of a professor getting with a student is a little weird,” said Hannah Greenwald ’14.

The council aims to be sensitive to the needs of students and faculty and would not want to deny students adequate protection or dismiss legitimate concerns regarding inappropriate or detrimental conduct; however, because no problems that would need a revision of the existing policy have been brought to the attention of the council, it is unlikely the wording will change.

“The average Amherst student isn’t approaching their professors wondering if they’re trying to sleep with them,” Professor Luca Grillo said. “Prove me wrong.”

For now, the faculty-student relationship policy has shown no problems. And given its adequacy, Nash raised the concern that “a campus-wide debate on changing a functional yet charged policy would probably do more harm than good and could result in a different meaning than what was intended.”

Issue 16, Submitted 2011-02-23 03:56:23