It’s likely a group of inner-circle faculty leaders at Duke University will push their colleagues to forbid any consensual dating or sexual relationships between professors and the university’s undergraduates.
Members of the Academic Council’s executive committee “believe it’s time” to change a policy that presently allows such relationships if the student involved isn’t taking classes from, working on research projects with or being mentored by the professor involved, said Don Taylor, the council’s chairman.
Taylor said the existing policy has “so many hoops and steps and hoops and steps” that “it would be the best thing to say this is not an appropriate thing for faculty members to be engaged” in.
It also would underscore that “we as faculty have this incredibly privileged role in trying to seek truth and new knowledge and invite students along in doing that as well,” he told the council at its most recent meeting.
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He didn’t offer a timetable for putting the change up for a vote, an ambiguity he later indicated was intentional.
The council’s executive committee – eight professors out of the dozens who are members of Duke’s version of a faculty senate – has to decide on whether to make “a very narrow” change to the faculty handbook’s so-called “Appendix Z” or rewrite it completely, Taylor said.
“It’s something that we will probably sit with over the summer,” the Sanford School of Public Policy health-policy specialist said, explaining that a decision isn’t likely in what remains of the 2017-18 academic year. “A more realistic timetable might be something that we brought back to the council during the fall semester.”
One problem the committee has to address is that the existing policy’s definition of faculty includes teaching assistants – graduate students who may themselves be only a few weeks or a couple of months on from having finished their undergraduate degrees.
The simplest of all possible changes would thus bar graduate teaching assistants from dating undergraduates, just as it would bar professors from dating them.
But now “there is no policy about undergrads dating grad students,” and “that is not something we would be interested in changing,” Taylor said, noting that the only existing prohibition covers relationships between a teaching assistant and someone they have authority over, as in a class section.
The committee is focused on the university’s tenure-track and non-tenure track professors, he added.
Also, it doesn’t appear that a parallel move to completely bar professors from dating graduate students is in the cards, at least for now. That issue “is more complicated” and merits comparisons of Duke’s policy to those of other universities, with an emphasis on making sure there’s “clarity and sunlight or sunshine on the situation,” he said.
Committee members have discussed the possible change regarding undergraduates with Provost Sally Kornbluth and President Vince Price.
Kornbluth and Price in turn have signaled that they’re interested in taking a look at the broader issue of Duke’s anti-harassment policies, which cover matters beyond just sexual harassment. Behind-the-scenes work on that is underway, and is on a track separate from the issue of the dating-students policy, Taylor said.
On dating, “we have a fairly clear notion of what we’d like to do,” and the faculty can lead on that. A revision of harassment policies, however, involves “the totality of Duke” including its health system and involves “the university as an employer going first,” Taylor said.
Appendix Z, the dating policy, now says faculty and students shouldn’t have a consensual relationship when the student is under the faculty member’s authority. Its definition of faculty covers not just professors and teaching assistants, but coaches, academic advisers and anyone else involved in teaching or supervision. There’s no distinction in it between undergraduates and graduate students.
In theory, relationships can bleed over into the classroom if a dean gives permission. But it warns both students and faculty that a relationship can be career-altering, that a blooming relationship can force changes in class enrollments and that deans hold the ultimate power to “terminate the situation of authority.”
The Duke policy is more complex than its counterparts at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, which track with UNC system policy. UNC-CH bars employees, professors and teaching assistants included, from evaluating or supervising anyone they’re related to or having an “amorous relationship” with. It also bars employees from have sex with any student who’s younger than 18.