Should professors date their students?
Probably not, say officials at the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College. But since it sometimes happens, school officials are working to create a framework for dealing with the fallout."It's not a subject people agree on," said Carol Hahn, affirmative action officer at the University of Idaho. "People agree sexual harassment is a bad thing, but people have different viewpoints on consensual relationships."
That's why Lewis-Clark State has a policy about consensual relationships between faculty members and students as part of its sexual harassment policy. The University of Idaho will be considering adopting its own consensual relationships policy outside its sexual harassment policy in the coming year.
Earlier this month, Lewis-Clark State's faculty association voted to ask the state Board of Education to separate the college's consensual relationships policy from the college's sexual harassment policy after President Lee Vickers refused.
Lewis-Clark State's policy bans personal relationships between faculty members and students enrolled in their classes or under their supervision - even if both appear to have consented to the relationship.
Personal relationships between faculty members and students outside their instructional and supervisory areas also are "not encouraged" under the college's policy, adopted by the Board of Education last spring.
Lewis-Clark faculty members objected to the policy because they maintained a consensual relationship is not sexual harassment, and they are concerned about their freedom of association and privacy rights.
The University of Idaho does not have a policy covering personal relationships between faculty members and their students, but they are not encouraged, Hahn said.
She said she talks about professional ethics, the inherent power of faculty members over students and the potential for complaints when she counsels faculty members who ask if they are allowed to get involved with their students.
The University of Idaho's affirmative action committee has drafted a "consensual, romantic or sexual relationships policy" for students, faculty members and administrators. It still must be approved by the Faculty Council, General Faculty, President Richard Gibb and the Board of Education.
While the proposed policy would not prohibit consensual romantic or sexual relationships between faculty members and students in their classes, it says such relationships "are generally deemed unwise, inappropriate and unethical" and should not be allowed to interfere with the academic integrity of the teacher-student relationship.
The proposed policy also would warn faculty members who enter into romantic or sexual relationships with students that it would be very difficult to provide immunity on grounds of mutual consent if a sexual harassment complaint were filed.
Hahn said the proposed policy would not be included in UI's sexual harassment policy because the sexual harassment policy is based on prohibitions set out in state and federal law while the consensual relationships policy is a "statement of advice."