Senate changes romancepolicy

by Tom Lopez

Despite criticisms from some administrators, the University Senate voted nearly unanimously to amend the consensual relationship provision of its sexual harassment policy at its meeting Thursday.
The amendment actively prohibits “sexual or romantic relationships between instructors and students currently enrolled in their classes and between advisers and their current advisees.”
The previous policy discouraged relationships between faculty member and student or supervisor and employee, but did not actively prohibit them.
“It had become clear that clearer guidelines needed to be set forth regarding consensual relationships,” said Patricia Frazier, chairwoman of the Sexual Harassment Board that developed the proposal.
Frazier said the proposal “more accurately captures the intent of the original policy, which is to eliminate conflicts of interest, not prohibit relationships.”
However, many administrators say the new policy cannot realistically be enforced.
“The policy does present problems that will really have to be thought through very carefully,” said Mario Bognanno, University President Nils Hasselmo’s chief of staff.
Employers can and should regulate conflicts of interest in the workplace, he said. But it is inappropriate and ineffectual for employers to attempt to regulate the relationships of their employees.
He said the University should “attempt to regulate the effects of the conflict of interest, not the underlying social relationship.”
Bognanno stressed that individuals who have authority over others should definitely refrain from entering romantic relationships with those people. However, he added that “problem areas” in this policy prevent it from being an effective means of preventing these situations.
The previous policy acknowledged that “the power differential inherent in such relationships … compromise the subordinate’s ability to freely decide.” However, it did not “specifically forbid sexual relationships where a power differential exists.”
The University Senate also passed a controversial resolution concerning the use of student evaluations. The resolution gives professors the option of having students fill out a second evaluation form which would be made public. The standard evaluation would continue to remain private.
After a long discussion, the resolution passed, although amid much dissent.
Peter Robinson, an associate professor of French and a member of the Faculty Senate, objected to the use of two evaluations: “a real one that will remain private and a public one which will have the appearance and probably the reality of being factitious and hypocritical.”
Robinson also objected to the senate being asked to approve evaluations that have not yet been created. The forms are to be developed next year.
He also pointed out that a second set of evaluations would cost money. “I don’t think there is anyone in this room who doesn’t believe the University is broke,” he said.
However, Virginia Gray, the chairwoman of the Senate Consultative Committee, warned the senate to consider the alternative: If the senate does not accept some compromise, the state legislature will make the current evaluations public.
Many professors consider the current forms to contain information that, if made public, would be an invasion of privacy.
“Any reporter could write an article about the 10 worst teachers and name them,” she said. “If we do not take a step today to at least begin a policy, we can predict what the outcome will be next year.”
Allan Shocker, a professor of management at the Carlson School of Management, pointed out that Carlson currently publishes evaluations, a policy that he said has been detrimental. He said grades have been inflated in Carlson, and believes public evaluations might be the reason. “Grades are going up to placate students,” he said.
Shocker said some form of professional review is necessary and that “there must be accountability.” However, he said public evaluations are not the best way to do this.
During the meeting, the senate also passed a resolution recommending that the University develop an energy and environment conservation policy.
A resolution requesting some administrative oversight of places to study on campus was also passed unanimously.
Thursday’s meeting was the last regular senate meeting of the year. It was also the last meeting presided over by retiring president Hasselmo. He was given a standing ovation by the senate.