On Monday afternoon, Arizona State University approved a new student-faculty "amorous relationship policy." Faculty members applauded when the vote was tallied, and Faculty Senate President Helen Ossipov told New Times she was "very glad this passed." The university called it "an important step" toward "[ensuring] that faculty members and lecturers maintain only professional relationships with students."
But while members of the administration are patting themselves on the back, at least one student leader is unimpressed.
The former ASU policy prohibited student-faculty relationships when a student was "enrolled in a course being taught by the faculty member or graduate assistant," or when a student's "performance [was] currently being supervised or evaluated by the faculty member or graduate student."
Critics complained that the old policy left too many loopholes, so the Faculty Senate established a task force to rewrite it. Late last year, the group suggested banning all student-faculty romantic relationships, but the proposal was rejected.
The newest version of the policy, which passed on Monday, prohibits relationships if the faculty member can be said to have "a reasonable expectation of authority" over the student.
Jasmine Lester, an ASU alum and founder of Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault, is disappointed.
"I don't see meaningful differences [between] the revision that just passed and the policy already in place. The earlier proposed revision of a complete ban on all [professors] dating all students would have protected more students," she wrote in a text message to New Times.
Lester elaborated in a follow-up conversation, saying that the administration's move should be read as a reaction to media attention. (ASU has been in the spotlight recently, thanks in part to New Times' investigation into problematic student-faculty relationships earlier this month.)
But Lester also wonders whether ASU, which is under federal investigation for Title IX violations, is "using this to make the Department of Education think they are being proactive," so that the department gets off the school's back. ASU, for its part, did just appoint Jodi Preudhomme as its full-time Title IX coordinator, a new position. (Preudhomme declined to comment.)
Lester says she "can't take any of this policy stuff seriously when the administrators responsible for enforcing it have proven over and over to prioritize ASU's reputation over the safety of its students." Lester says that after telling the school's part-time Title IX coordinator, Kamala Green, about an unprofessional and inappropriate relationship she had with a faculty member, she felt the school did not take sufficient and necessary action. Lester filed a Title IX complaint. (The complaint is pending.)
The debate at ASU comes at a time when some schools across the country are adopting stricter rules. Northwestern University approved a new zero-tolerance policy last year, nothing that "when individuals involved in a consensual romantic or sexual relationship are in positions of unequal power at the university . . . there is the potential for a conflict of interest, favoritism, and exploitation."
According to the school's policy, "no faculty member or coaching staff member shall enter into a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship with a Northwestern undergraduate student, regardless of whether there is a supervisory or evaluative relationship between them." Yale University and the University of Connecticut also banned amorous relationships between faculty and undergraduate students in 2010 and 2013, respectively.
At Monday's meeting, some ASU faculty members said the new policy was too limiting, while others seemed to agree with Lester that it didn't go far enough.
Cassie Posshel, undergraduate student body president at the Tempe campus, spoke at the meeting, telling faculty that even though she and other students were disappointed that the previous iteration of the policy -- the one that banned all student-faculty relationships -- was voted down, they still hoped the school would at least pass this one.
Someone else pointed out that most companies prohibit intra-office dating because of potentially negative outcomes, and asked why academia should be any different.
And in a final plea to revisit the previously rejected relationship ban, an older professor stood at the microphone and told his colleagues that he's seen many student-faculty relationships end disastrously during his long tenure at the school.
"Anytime a professor creates a romantic relationship with a student--like any other romantic relationship--it's impossible to predict the future," he said. It is because of this uncertainty, and the inherent authority a professor has over a student, that he feels ASU has a "moral responsibility" to outright ban these relationships.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Lester agrees, arguing that because of the power differential, any student-faculty romance is wrong. "These are abusive situations," she says. "Not just ones that have the capacity to go wrong. They start off wrong."
Got a tip? Send it to: Miriam Wasser.