Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

Despite heated debate, the Faculty Senate ultimately had to table consensual relationship policy until the next meeting.

April 26, 2018

Two Possible Consensual Relationship Policies Divide Faculty Senate

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An earlier version of this article attributed the last quote about the privacy of parties to Prof. Dan Brown, animal science. This has now been corrected. 

The Faculty Senate debated two different plans to regulate romantic and sexual relationship between faculty and students in a Wednesday meeting rife with sharp policy disagreements and rampant confusion about parliamentary procedure.

Both proposed plans — Consensual Relationship Policy-A and CRP-B — prohibit faculty members from pursuing relationships with undergraduates or exercising “academic and professional authority” over graduate students and post-doctoral students that they are in a relationship with, and require faculty to disclose their relationship with non-undergraduate students to a proposed Policy 6.x office.

Upon being notified of the relationship, the office would then craft a “recusal plan” that limits the faculty’s influence on “important decisions that affect the students,” according to a presentation prepared by Dean of Faculty Charles Van Loan, computer science.

Prof. Richard Miller, philosophy, argued in support of CRP-B.

Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

Prof. Richard Miller, philosophy, argued in support of CRP-B.

“Nobody wants a love police force,” Van Loan said. “On the other hand, if you had a workplace romance, it has to be managed. It has to be disclosed. There has to be a recusal plan. People have to be informed.”

While the two policies are otherwise identical, CRP-A institutes a blanket ban on all faculty-subordinate relationships within the same field. Meanwhile, CRP-B permits such relationships as long as faculty members disclose it to the Policy 6.x office and follow the recusal plan.

After nearly an hour-long deliberation largely occupied by several accusations of failure to follow parliamentary procedures by faculty members, the senate shot down, by a 10 to 30 vote, a resolution amending CRP-B to allow faculty the option to have an “individual responsible for the academic workplace” craft a recusal plan instead of the Policy 6.x office.

“[The] reason why many of us felt this was not an appropriate proposal plan was that it involves people who aren’t trained, not professionals, and not objective,” Prof. Rhonda Gilmore, design and environmental sciences, said, arguing that the Policy 6.x office alone would have the expertise to consider faculty-student relationships. “There is not a dean nor a chair who has had training in this sensitive topic.”

The heated discussion on the resolution left no time in the 90-minute meeting for the senate to come to a consensus. Faculty members, instead, voted individually on ballots that will be given to President Martha E. Pollack on May 1.

Several faculty senators noted that the choice between the two policies divided their departments, leading many to believe that there may not be “one good opinion.”

“Equal numbers of my colleagues in feminist studies felt that a ban on any kind of relationship prevented our students from having the autonomy or right to choose to have a relationship with a faculty member. An equal number felt that … preference for one student over another violated the terms of pedagogical engagement,” said Prof. Durba Ghosh, history and feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Despite a 10 to 30 vote on a CRP-B amendment, the faculty senate did not make any significant progress towards confirming a new policy.

Despite a 10 to 30 vote on a CRP-B amendment, the faculty senate did not make any significant progress towards confirming a new policy.

Prof. Richard Miller, philosophy, supported CRP-B, arguing that the cost of a ban on all intra-departmental relationships far outweighs its professed benefits of preventing “bad actors” from unfairly assisting the subordinate’s career prospects.

“Ithaca is a small city, in which extremely busy, unattached junior faculty find it hard to develop emotional attachment with those who share their intellectual interest broadly defined,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, Prof. Cynthia Grant Bowman, law, argued in favor of CRP-A, citing that faculty members are “fiduciaries” who should be banned from romantic involvement with their beneficiaries, the students.

“I’ve spent my entire adult career studying issues of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and problems of power in intimate relationships, and I very strongly support CRP-A,” Bowman said. “Other fiduciaries are doctors to their clients, lawyers to their clients. … All those professions have banned sexual relationships with their clients.”

Prof. Ken Birman, computer science, was “very troubled” by both plans for breaching the privacy of the parties involved.

“This policy is about consensual relationship entered into by mature people,” Birman said. “We could be easily be talking about graduate students or post-docs at the age of 30. [CRP-B] demands disclosure even in situations where individuals prefer to keep things private. I find this very offensive.”