Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

April 11, 2017

GPSA Debates Banning Faculty-Student Relationships

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Graduate and professional students debated Resolution 14, which called for a ban on most student and faculty relationships and enforcement of this policy, in the first Graduate and Professional Student Assembly meeting since the union election.

Anna Waymack, grad, submitted the resolution in response to both a lack of adherence to a previous policy on student and staff sexual relations and a Faculty Senate decision in 2015 to vote against enforcement of that policy.

Waymack argued that resources for a student in a relationship with a faculty member do not exist and advocated for “a viable reporting option, where a point person checks in to ensure the relationship is consensual and that the student has resources, and if the relationship isn’t disclosed, then there is enforcement for that,” she said.

According to the resolution, relationships “between students and individuals who might reasonably be expected to write them a letter of recommendation” and “who can directly control grades, academic progress or professional development” would be banned, with room for review in regards to gray areas.

In response to questions about the resolution’s necessity, Waymack said there is a concern of coercion and explained that the original policy in place is vague and does not offer a policy of “checking in with the student to ensure that there is no pressure.”

The resolution offered statistics as evidence of such coercion, such as a 2016 study which found that “57.1% of female law students have been sexually harassed by faculty or staff.”

Further statistics and cases at peer institutions indicated that “contemporary studies showed no improvement” in matters of sexual harassment between faculty and graduate or professional students since Cornell’s Faculty Senate originally adopted a policy in 1996.

This resolution differs from a similar one made last year. However, the resolution presented last year never made it to the floor of the Faculty Senate, according to Waymack.

Waymack said she wants to allow the Student Advocacy Committee to be able to present this new resolution to the Faculty Senate, ensuring graduate and professional students get a voice in an issue that pertains to them and the Faculty Senate does not avoid addressing the resolution indefinitely.

“There’s a bit more accountability built into this and we get to speak for ourselves,” Waymack explained.

“I am uncomfortable with the way that the Faculty Senate felt comfortable speaking our behalf,” Waymack continued. “I want to make sure GPSA is listening to our constituents and listening to the Student Assembly.”

Waymack also said that a policy regarding student and faculty relationships “should not be something where we’re behind.”

“It’s a little appalling that a lot of corporate workplaces have more stringent rules about romantic and sexual relationships as they pertain to office hierarchies than academia,” she said.

In dissent to the resolution, Richard Walroth, Counsel, gave examples of faculty who are married to former students.

“This is an indication that in some cases these relationships do work out well for students,” he said. “A blanket ban seems to ignore that fact.”

Walroth was also in agreement that “the issue here is coercion” and was concerned that “a blanket ban would just drive these issues underground.”

Manisha Munasinghe, grad, argued that changes to the policy deserved a referendum, involving a larger body of people in making the decision.

“We can’t say that we know how a graduate or a professional student feels about this.” Munasinghe said. “We need to understand what the students want and come back with a strong policy change.”

Jesse Goldberg, grad, acknowledged how important it was that the resolution looked forward towards individuals’ professional careers.

“We should think about the ways in which our relationships follow us for years in ways that aren’t clear at the moment of a class,” he said. “While it sounds like a very strong blanket ban, I think it’s very limited.”

At the end of the discussion, Resolution 14 was recommitted to the Student Advocacy Committee and will be on the floor again at the next GPSA meeting.