Harvard bans relationships between students and professors


Harvard University has joined Yale and Connecticut in banning “sexual or romantic relationships” between students and professors, strengthening the language used in its policies on sexual misconduct.

For the first time, faculty members are prohibited from relationships with undergraduate students. Relationships between faculty and graduate students under their supervision are also banned, while graduate students must refrain from entering into relations with undergraduates “if the graduate student is in a position to grade, evaluate or supervise the undergraduate”.

“No [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] member shall request or accept sexual favors from, or initiate or engage in a romantic or sexual relationship with, any undergraduate student at Harvard College,” the policy reads.

The policy previously in place at Harvard only prohibited relationships between professors and students in their classes. According to Bloomberg, the University-wide review of policy and practice comes in the wake of the US Education Department’s investigations into sexual harassment and assault on a large number of campuses which were conducted last year.

A Harvard representative commented that a review carried out by a Faculty of Arts and Sciences committee discovered that “the existing language on relationships of unequal status did not explicitly reflect the faculty’s expectations of what constituted an appropriate relationship between undergraduate students and faculty members.”

Harvard history professor Alison Johnson, who chaired the panel that wrote the new policy, commented: “Undergraduates come to college to learn from us. We’re not here to have sexual or romantic relationships with them.”

The University’s actions follow those of Yale University and the University of Connecticut; the former banned relationships between faculty and students in 2010, while the latter implemented the same restrictions in 2013. The faculty of Arizona State University also voted to prohibit themselves from dating students for whom they might “reasonably be expected” to have academic responsibility in January, according to Arizona Central.

Alison Johnson expressed her surprise at the media interest in Harvard’s decision, suggesting that headlines should instead read: “Harvard professors happily agree to never have sex with students and not change their prior behaviour.”

Other US universities have a more flexible approach to this issue. The University of California, Santa Cruz, says that “the best time to date your professor, if at all, is after you gave graduated from school”; this advice appears reproduced on the website of Northwestern University’s Women’s Center.

The University of California adds: “While it is true that some students have been able to date their professors without any problems, this is the exception rather than the rule.”

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