Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

Prof. Charles Van Loan, engineering, dean of faculty, co-sponsored the resolution regarding romantic/sexual relationships between faculty and graduate students. His committee recommended a ban on same-field faculty-grad relationships to President Pollack.

May 3, 2018

CRP Committee Recommends Ban on Same-Field Faculty-Grad Relationships

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This post has been updated.

After much debate and criticism, the Consensual Relationships Policy Committee, in its final report to President Martha E. Pollack, recommended a ban on all sexual and romantic relationships between faculty members and graduate or professional students who are affiliated with the same graduate field or degree program.

This field ban was scrutinized harshly by many members of the faculty, with only 31 of the 100 votes cast by the Faculty Senate supporting the field ban. Similarly, in the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, only 13 of 41 voted for the field ban.

“It distresses me, that Cornell would put a ban on sexual relationships on people who are of-age, who have the maturity to make a meaningful choice, not violating a law really,” said Prof. Ken Birman, computer science. “It seems to me that this is an overreach.”

The committee defended its decision to include the field ban in the report, arguing that “many comments against the field ban did not account for the academic environment or misinterpreted the proposed policy,” and that those in favor of the ban were typically “concerned about the most vulnerable.”

“When we are discussing an issue where those most harmed often leave the environment, or, due to ongoing risk, don’t speak about it within that environment, polling becomes less determinative of what we should do,” said co-chair of the committee Anna Waymack grad, who added that polling “is still immensely important.”

“Within their fields, graduate and professional students must take courses from and are subject to formal and informal evaluation by field faculty, even when those faculty are not teaching required courses or directly supervising the student,” the report said.

However, Birman was concerned about the impact this ban would have on current relationships.

“There must be 50 or 100 couples, probably more, that fall under the ban,” he said. “There’s no evidence whatsoever of massive abuse.”

In March, the committee released a rough draft that featured two policy proposals: CRP-A and CRP-B. The two were identical, except CRP-A included the field ban while CRP-B allowed sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and graduate or professional students as long as there was disclosure and recusal.

The two recommendations were then subject to community debate and discussion, with all of the assemblies and the Faculty Senate voting for either CRP-A, CRP-B or neither.

Ultimately, the committee recommended policy CRP-A to Pollack, who, in her statement on Wednesday afternoon, said her goal was “to deliver a proposal to the University’s Policy Office for formal drafting and adoption by the start of the fall semester.”

The committee’s final report also proposes the creation of the 6.X office, which is meant to “ensure that effective recusal plans are put into practice and that enforcement procedures are properly executed.”

Many members of the Cornell community harbored privacy concerns in regards to the 6.X office, with many worrying that members of the LGBTQ community would be forced to “out” themselves, as previously reported by The Sun.

However, the committee addressed this concern in its report by giving the 6.X office the authority to “formulate the recusal plan without involving either party’s academic unit, thereby protecting those who may, for reasons of safety or career prospects, not be ‘out.’”

The proposal also prohibits any member of the Cornell community from exercising academic or professional authority over a student with whom he or she has had a romantic or sexual relationship. There is also a blanket ban on sexual or romantic relationships between faculty members and undergraduate students.

The undergraduate ban was received with near “universal support,” according to the report.