A thin, sexy line: Cautious, but supportive of possible new relationship policy between faculty, students

The rumors on a campus will always swirl around “inappropriate” relationships between students and professors (and other faculty and administrators).

There are also always going to be disparaging remarks from young male and female students about “that one professor” who crosses the line and adds discomfort to critical analysis. This, however, is not a consensual relationship.

Sexual harassment policies are very clearly written at Portland State University and supported by the Sexual Harassment Network.

One young female student recently disclosed her experience to the Vanguard: “One proposal from my professor was flattering, but embarrassing. A second proposal for a relationship was sexual harassment.” The policies at Portland State University concur with her understanding. This pursuit of this relationship, however, is quite distinct from a consensual one.

Recently, at several colleges across the nation, professors have been fired because of “sexual” relationships with students. Rest assured, this will not happen at PSU.

PSU does not wield the power, at this time, to terminate an employee based on a consensual relationship. We strongly support this – especially at PSU, where students may be the same age (or older) than the professor. But as Burton Christopherson of Affirmative Action noted, “Conflicts of interest and objectivity of the professor will be called in to question.”

This is specifically pertinent when the professor is in direct authority over the student, such as a graduate adviser or course instructor. It also renders any evaluation process corrupted if any other PSU community member were to discover the relationship.

We, at the Vanguard, are always concerned about a further bureaucratization of sexual, consensual relationships between any willing adults in any public institution. Yet, because of the potential of conflict we understand the necessity of the recent formation of a committee to draft an Internal Management Directive (IMD), a rather humorously ominous sounding policy, we admit.

According to Christopherson, a member of the committee, the IMD is being based on what is known as the Wisconsin Model. This model requires a professor or administrator in a direct advisory capacity over the student to alert their supervisor and begin a process of relinquishment of authority over the student.

Again, we hesitate to support the necessity of professors “confessing” to their bosses, but this sustains the efficacy of their position, protects the objectivity of evaluative processes for all students, and safeguards professors and students from unjust sexual-harassment claims. The committee, in drafting PSU’s own version of the Wisconsin Model, receives our cautious support.