Professors enjoy autonomy to determine how and what they teach, how they go about their research activities and how they serve the university and the larger community.Because of that autonomy, they have been called fiduciaries under the law.In my experience, the topic of sexual relationships between faculty and the students is not openly discussed at universities.It is the subject of gossip and idle conversation, and from time to time, of something more.When they turn sour, the risks to all parties to the relationship can be very high.If the student complains of sexual harassment, the risks to the faculty member and the university are high indeed.I then wrote a policy on close personal relationships between instructors and students which was subsequently adopted by senate.This policy requires the instructor to disclose a close personal relationship with a student and make other arrangements for the evaluation or supervision of the student’s work. The topic of consensual sexual relationships between students and faculty is a “hot button” topic. I’d like to remove some of the emotion from the topic, and raise awareness of the risks inherent in these relationships for the student, the faculty member and the university.
This had been a cause of great distress for the department chair and undergraduate program director, who had mistakenly believed they could do nothing about the situation because the university had no policy.
The recent decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal in the case of Fariba Mahmoodi, a student who accused her professor of sexual harassment, has once again focussed attention on a controversial issue. Mahmoodi complained to the tribunal that Donald Dutton, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, and UBC as his employer, had sexually harassed her.
The tribunal agreed, awarding her a total of ,000 including ,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect, and ,200 for counseling expenses.
Because the professor’s powers affect the student’s life in a significant way, say these observers, the student cannot say no to the relationship, so her consent is actually coerced compliance.
A female student may enter willingly into a sexual relationship with a male professor, “willingly” in the sense that there is no promise of reward or threat of punishment.