UOG Professor Calls for Stricter Policy on Student-Faculty Relationships

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The University of Guam filed an adverse action against Associate Professor of Psychology, Michael Ehlert, causing a stir amongst faculty members.

 

Guam–  One professor is speaking out about a need for a no-tolerance policy at the University of Guam.  According to Ron McNinch, Professor of Public Administration, the current UOG policy does not prohibit relationships between faculty members and students of other professors. McNinch says he believes UOG needs to adopt a policy similar to those in the U.S. mainland prohibiting romantic or sexual relationships between all faculty members and all students not just prohibiting a professor from a relationship with their own students.  He says that currenty there is a gray area because professors are able to engage in relationships with students of other faculty members. 

He also adds,”We need to treat relationships differently. I have students from 20 years ago that regularly consult with me and I’m proud of them.  Nothing makes a professor more proud than their students.  There should be no reason for faculty members to have sexual or romantic relationships with students.”

However, when PNC asked UOG President Robert Underwood if there was a policy against professors and any students having a relationship… this was his reply.

“Yes we discourage them.  We absolutely discourage them. Sanctions can be taken against faculty members and supervisors of other faculty members and staffers who have a relationship where they can assign a grade, make any evaluation, or make a determination about performance.  Any relationship that touches on that is inappropriate and sanctions will be taken against those individuals.” However when PNC received a copy of the UOG Policy from a source who commented on the issue, it revealed that there was no verbiage “prohibiting” consensual relationships but rather statements regarding the cautions on what happens in the event that a consensual relationship develops.  The policy states that the faculty member must remove his or her self from a position that may incur a conflict of interest within their policy concerns listed.  The policy states the following:

 

 I.                   CONSENSUAL RELATIONSHIPS.        

 

The University of Guam discourages consenting amorous or sexual relationships between members of the University Community when one person has the power or authority over the other.

 

For purposes of this section, the terms faculty or faculty member shall mean all those who teach at the University, and shall include adjuncts, teaching assistants, both graduate and undergraduate, and other instructional, service, and research personnel.

 

Student respect for and trust in faculty, administrators or staff greatly restricts their freedom to reject amorous or sexual advances. The power of faculty, administrators, or staff to give or withhold rewards, such as praise, grades and recommendations, further limits the extent to which an amorous or sexual relationship between faculty, administrators or staff and student can be considered consensual.

 

There are similar problems with an apparently consenting relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate. Even if a subordinate student or employee does not object to participation in an amorous or sexual relationship, this does not mean that the individual welcomes the relationship.

 

Moreover, a third party may claim that the participant in a consenting relationship received preferential treatment and may file a complaint of sex discrimination against the faculty member or supervisor. Amorous or sexual relationships that may result in complaints of sexual harassment and sexual favoritism and that create a conflict of interest include, but are not limited to, those between:

 

1.         a          A faculty member and;

b.         A student who is enrolled in the faculty member’s course, or;

c.         A student who is in a program for which a course taught by the faculty member is a requirement, or;

d.         A student who is an advisee of the faculty member, or;

e.         a student whose academic work is being supervised by the faculty member;

2.         A faculty, administrator, or staff member and a student if the faculty, administrator, or staff member is in a position to evaluate or otherwise influence the student’s education, employment, housing, or participation in any University activity;

3.         A supervisor and subordinate employee;

4.         An administrator and a faculty member in a unit under that administrator’s direction;

5.         An administrator and staff member in a unit under that administrator’s direction;

6.         A faculty member and staff member in the same unit;

7.         A tenured faculty member and an untenured faculty member if the tenured person  participates in peer recommendations about the untenured person.

 

If a faculty member, administrator, or staff member becomes amorously or sexually involved with a subordinate student or employee, that faculty, administrator or staff member must remove himself or herself from any decisions affecting the other person as soon as practicable. The faculty or staff member shall arrange with his or her supervisor to appropriately transfer such responsibility. Failure to do so is cause for disciplinary action as outlined in this Policy Manual. “

 

McNinch has stated that he has already taken the next step in proposing a policy to match Stanford standards and he believes that his fellow faculty members would fully support it.  He has reached out to the community and the University to support the need for the policy specifications.

McNinch is requesting that the policy matches the Stanford policy completely.  Below is the portion of the Standford policy specific to teacher and student relationships:

 

“The University expects teachers to maintain interactions with students free from influences that may interfere with the learning and personal development experiences to which students are entitled. In this context, teachers include those who are entrusted by Stanford to teach, supervise, mentor and coach students, including faculty and consulting faculty of all ranks, lecturers, academic advisors, and principal investigators.  The specific policies on teachers outlined below do not apply to Stanford students (undergraduates, graduates and post-doctoral scholars) who may at times take on the role of teachers or teaching assistants, policies for whom are addressed in a separate section.

As a general proposition, the University believes that a sexual or romantic relationship between a teacher and a student – even where consensual and whether or not the student is subject to supervision or evaluation by the teacher – is inconsistent with the proper role of the teacher.  Not only can these relationships harm the educational environment for the individual student involved, they also undermine the educational environment for other students.  Furthermore, such relationships may expose the teacher to charges of misconduct and create a potential liability, not only for the teacher, but also for the University if it is determined that laws against sexual harassment or discrimination have been violated.

Consequently, the University has established the following parameters regarding sexual or romantic relationships with Stanford students:

First, because of the relative youth of undergraduates and their particular vulnerability in such relationships, sexual or romantic relationships between teachers and undergraduate students are prohibited – regardless of current or future academic or supervisory responsibilities for that student.   

Secondwhenever a teacher has had, or in the future might reasonably be expected to have, academic responsibility over any student, such relationships are prohibited. This includes, for example, any faculty member who teaches in a graduate student’s department, program or division.  Conversely, no teacher shall exercise academic responsibility over a student with whom he or she has previously had a sexual or romantic relationship. “Academic responsibility” includes (but is not limited to) teaching, grading, mentoring, advising on or evaluating research or other academic activity, participating in decisions regarding funding or other resources, clinical supervision, and recommending for admissions, employment, fellowships or awards.  In this context, students include graduate and professional school students, postdoctoral scholars, and clinical residents or fellows.

Third, certain staff roles (including deans and other senior administrators, coaches, supervisors of student employees, Residence Deans and Fellows, as well as others who mentor, advise or have authority over students) also have broad influence on or authority over students and their experience at Stanford. For this reason, sexual or romantic relationships between such staff members and undergraduate students are prohibited. Similarly, relationships between staff members and other students over whom the staff member has had or is likely in the future to have such influence or authority are prohibited.

 

When a preexisting sexual or romantic relationship between a university employee and a student is prohibited by this policy – or if a relationship not previously prohibited becomes prohibited due to a change in circumstances – the employee must both recuse himself or herself from any supervisory or academic responsibility over the student, and notify his or her supervisor, department chair or dean about the situation so that adequate alternative supervisory or evaluative arrangements can be put in place. Failure to disclose the relationship in a timely fashion will itself be considered a violation of policy.”

 

To add to his proposal, Professor McNinch has taken to social media to challenge others in the community to take a stand for a need to implement a stronger policy for students and faculty at UOG.  He posted a video on his Facebook page displaying an ice water challenge calling out members of the community to join in.