Monday, April 29, 2002

More colleges prohibit romance between students, faculty



By LIZ SIDOTI
Associated Press Writer

        DELAWARE, Ohio — Ohio Wesleyan University banned love affairs between students and professors after a student was charged with stalking a professor when the romance turned sour.

        At the College of William and Mary, the catalyst was a former writing instructor's story in GQ magazine about his relationship with a married student.

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    American Association of University Professors: www.aaup.org
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        Hearing about such cases was enough to make Duke University adopt a rule discouraging such affairs.

        In a society that has become much more prone to lawsuits, dozens of schools decided over the past decade that written rules are needed to prevent students from being harmed, preserve the academic integrity of colleges and protect schools and professors from potential claims.

        “Officials are recognizing that such relationships create conflicts of interest,” said Bernice Sandler, a senior scholar at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington

        “How do you evaluate someone you're sleeping with? It's very easy for power to be abused in those situations,” she said.

        In some cases, policies were the products of highly publicized incidents that embarrassed schools. In others, the schools wanted to prevent problems by making it clear where they stood.

        “We read the papers. We knew that there was the potential for this to happen here,” said Sally Dickson, vice president for the Office of Institutional Equity at Duke.

        The university, based in Durham, N.C., officially discourages faculty members from dating students they supervise. Teachers who can't resist are to report the relationship so they can be removed from a position of authority over the students.

        Ohio Wesleyan, a 1,850-student campus about 25 miles north of Columbus, acted last month after evidence surfaced of a past affair between humanities professor Conrad Kent, 59, and one of his students, Erum Ahmed, from Pakistan.

        Kent admitted they had a nine-month affair starting in 1998. Last year, Ahmed, then 25, was charged with stalking Kent. Prosecutors dropped the charges when she agreed to return to her homeland and cancel her visa.

        Professors at the university now can be reprimanded or fired if they date students they supervise, advise or evaluate.

        Ohio Wesleyan, like other schools, does not hold the students responsible.

        “It would have made the policy a lot more difficult to write and pass,” said Keith Dailey, 21, president of the university's Council on Student Affairs. “As it was, it was not an easy issue by far.”

        The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Va., had “strongly discouraged” such relationships until last November, when it banned affairs between professors and all undergraduates, and graduate students whom professors supervise.

        “With a 12-to-1 student-faculty ratio, we put a great emphasis on student-faculty academic relationships and wanted to clarify what was outside the bounds of appropriate behavior,” university spokesman Bill Walker said.

        The faculty at Ball State, in Muncie, Ind., has been trying to decide how strong a statement it should make when it votes on a policy next month.

        “We're trying to find an appropriate way to acknowledge this kind of relationship without being overly intrusive,” said John W. Emert, chairman of the University Senate.

        Virginia Lee Stamler, an Iowa City, Iowa, psychologist who co-wrote a book called “Faculty-Student Sexual Involvement,” said colleges reacted to court decisions in the 1980s and '90s that schools were responsible for protecting students.

        Administrators began adopting the policies to protect schools from lawsuits and students from bias and exploitation, she said.

        “These relationships destroy the educational environment,” Stamler said. “They are detrimental to students.”

        That's not always the case, said Jane Gallop, a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

        Gallop had affairs with professors while she was a graduate student in 1974. As a 27-year-old professor, she had a yearlong romance with a 29-year-old student.

        She said it's illogical to ban all romances simply because some could become exploitative.

        “There are two ways of looking at college students — treat them as children or treat them as adults,” said Gallop, 49, who no longer dates students. “The policies don't distinguish between relations that students want and relations that students don't want.”

        Barry Dank, an emeritus professor of sociology at California State University-Long Beach, said such policies violate privacy and don't work.

        “When it comes to matters of the heart, bureaucracy is not going to help matters,” said Dank, 60, who met his wife, Henrietta, 62, four years ago when she was one of his students. They dated for a year and a half.

        The university discourages such relationships, but the Danks said their supervisors never voiced objections.

       



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