Prohibiting professor-student relationships isn’t necessary when it doesn’t infringe on academic interests.
Last week, Harvard University announced a formal ban on sexual and romantic relationships between professors and all undergraduate students. The policy also includes relationships between teaching staff — such as graduate students — and students who fall under their supervision or evaluation.
The ban is meant to clarify an earlier policy that labelled relationships between professors and students they teach as inappropriate, but didn’t explicitly prohibit them.
At a time when conversations surrounding sexual assault and consent are prominent on North American campuses, Harvard has made the right step in clarifying their policy.
With the inherent power dynamic present in teacher-student relationships, banning relationships between professors and students they teach is warranted, as it could be effective in preventing sexual harassment and exploitation.
But banning relationships between all undergraduate students and professors — even when there’s no academic overlap — is a step too far.
The policy change was made after a panel reviewed the University’s policy under Title IX — the American federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education.
In general, teaching staff and students should be protected from such discrimination — but if they aren’t in the same academic circle, then the ban simply infringes on their right to pursue an outside relationship as two consenting adults.
If there’s a risk of overlap — where a student is under the professor’s direct supervision or evaluation — the onus is on the individuals involved to avoid any academic conflicts of interest, by either taking a different class or seeking out a different supervisor.
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