May 3, 2018

EDITORIAL | Consensual Relationship Policy Committee Went Against GPSA, Employee Assembly and Faculty Senate. That’s Not Good.

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The decision of the Consensual Relationship Policy Committee to recommend “CRP-A” to President Pollack against the wishes of a majority — three of five — of Cornell’s constituent assemblies is disappointing, as is the committee’s failure to adequately explain their choice to do so. While the CRPC was forthright in stating that the votes held by the Student, Employee and University Assemblies, as well as the Faculty Senate, were nonbinding and would only be “considered” by the committee, its decision goes against clear majorities of graduate and professional students, employees, and faculty, all of whom deserve to know why their opinions were disregarded.

“CRP-A” and its counterpart, “CRP-B” are identical except for in how they deal with relationships between graduate/professional students and faculty who work in the same graduate field or degree program. CRP-A, the policy the committee decided upon, is the more restrictive of the two, outright banning such relationships, while CRP-B allows for such relationships “provided there is disclosure and an appropriate recusal plan.” (Both policies include blanket provisions banning relationships between faculty and undergraduates, a welcome and commendable clarification of the current, 1990s-era policy.)

There are strong arguments for each variation; balancing the rights and freedoms of consenting adults with necessary protections against predation and bias is a difficult task indeed, and we applaud President Pollack, the committee and the various assemblies for taking the initiative to address this issue. But the outcome as it stands today is far too tenuous for comfort.

Support for CRP-A did not reach 33 percent in the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Employee Assembly or the Faculty Senate. The only two assemblies that voted in favor of CPR-A were the Student Assembly, whose constituents — all undergraduates — are wholly unaffected by the distinction, and the University Assembly — which includes members of all four constituencies but is by far the smallest body of the five.

Three of the five constituent assemblies voted overwhelmingly against CRP-A.

Consensual Relationships Policy Committee

Three of the five constituent assemblies voted overwhelmingly against CRP-A.

What is the purpose of convening representative bodies if their concerns go unanswered when they matter most? At no point does the CRPC report address the fact that both pertinent branches of shared governance (the GPSA and Faculty Senate) voted overwhelmingly against the recommendation. All the report includes is a single paragraph on why they were unable to produce a compromise between CRP-A and CRP-B due to ambiguity and complexity.

This issue is clearly far from resolved. (There is even a vocal contingent of faculty arguing against any changes.) While no policy will ever attain unanimous support from all involved, Cornell cannot reasonably implement a policy that has been so thoroughly rejected via the democratic process without further discussion. President Pollack should remand the report back to the committee for further review that addresses the concerns we have stated here.