New Policy Governs Consensual Relationships between Faculty and Students

UMass Amherst word mark

The university and the faculty-librarian union have agreed on a policy governing consensual relationships between faculty and students or postdoctoral researchers.

The policy was outlined in an April 4 broadcast email from interim Provost John J. McCarthy and Eve Weinbaum, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors. The message affirmed the university’s commitment “to providing a professional and supportive learning environment for our students and employees where all decisions about work and academics are made fairly and without conflicts of interest.”

The email added, “Dating or sexual relationships between faculty and students or post-docs are problematic in many ways, because of an unequal power dynamic between the parties. The integrity of the faculty when it comes to evaluating students’ work can be undermined, and trust and respect between faculty and students can erode. None of these scenarios is compatible with the educational mission of UMass Amherst, and for these reasons the University strongly discourages such relationships, even when both parties willingly consent.”

Effective immediately, faculty are prohibited from entering into a sexual relationship with any student or postdoc for whom the faculty member has any responsibility for supervision, evaluation, grading, advising, employment, or other instructional or supervisory activity. Relationships that predate the policy or that began before the faculty member assumed the responsibilities, the relationship must be disclosed to the faculty member’s immediate supervisor and, if possible, give up the supervisory or instructional responsibilities.

Supervisors are charged with monitoring the situation to minimize conflicts of interests that might be detrimental to the university or either party in the relationship, “while at the same time maximizing the student/post-doc’s educational and professional opportunities.”

Policy violations should be reported to the faculty member’s supervisors, who will deal with the matter in accordance with university policy and relevant collective bargaining agreements. McCarthy and Weinbaum said nothing in the policy should be construed as overriding or altering the campus’ Sexual Harassment Policy.

More information is available from Michael Eagen, associate provost, at 545-6221 or meagan@umass.edu.

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