Relationship policy needs penalty clause

Sex sells. But hopefully the University’s Board of Regents won’t be sold on the University Senate’s most recent policy proposal on consensual relationships. To the Senate’s credit, the faculty committee is doing what it can to assure that no disadvantageous consequences arise from consensual romantic relationships between students and faculty members. But the Senate passed a relationship policy April 16 that has little substance. When regents and University President Mark Yudof discuss the policy in May, they should recognize that the current outline will not change the involved parties’ acknowledgement of these relationships. Now the task is revising the policy further.
The Senate’s final version of the policy concludes that students and faculty members who are in romantic relationships with each other must notify administrators. But the policy offers no incentives for those involved in such relationships to report to managers. If a relationship is not reported, the policy imposes no consequences.
The goal of the policy is to protect the student — the subordinate individual in any relationship with a professor. Upon report of the relationship, department administrators would restructure the academic association between the student and faculty member involved. The procedure is meant to avoid conflict and favoritism. In theory it would. Yet, in practice, the policy’s goal of alleviating conflict is unrealistic. A subordinate would rarely seek removal from a seemingly problem-free situation. The student would not generally find romantic association with a faculty member to be problematic. Unless the relationship affects the student’s grades in a negative way, the motivation to report the relationship would not come from the student.
Faculty members, conversely, would be more likely to view conflict and favoritism as potential problems. Instructors would make the decisions that would assess, either positively or negatively, the student’s classroom performance. While this policy attempts to relieve a faculty member of making these biased decisions, it does not provide an easy alternative. Many faculty members would find reporting a romantic relationship with a student to be a humiliating and reputation-threatening act. Instructors would not notify managers simply because the administrators ask nicely that they do so. Silence would prevail over any sense of obligation to a policy that has no consequence if not enforced. Unless a distinct reprimand for failing to notify superiors of faculty-student relationships is added, very few cases will ever come to the administration’s attention.
If the latest proposal is approved by Yudof and the regents, the consensual relationships policy will do little to protect students’ interests. The University Senate should be commended for attempting to create an open policy, rather than trying to impose a ban on student and faculty romantic relationships that would be impossible to enforce. And while the policy encourages communication with those involved, it will not motivate students and faculty members to report their relationships. If the University’s goal is to protect students, the latest policy outline is not an effective way to do so. Only when consequences are added can such a policy be effective.