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The American Association of University Professors stopped short of recommending a ban on relationships, but it sounded a similar warning, saying that professor-student romantic relationships can make voluntary consent by a student suspect because of the power dynamic.
In a statement, the organization also said that sexual relationships can later make the faculty member and the institution vulnerable to allegations of sexual harassment.
Faculty members who violate this policy are subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
If anything, it surprised people that there wasn’t already such a ban, she said. It would be more difficult to do at a place such as George Mason, she said; “it would be strange.” Harvard’s undergraduates are mostly in their late teens and early 20s.
Because sexual harassment so often comes down to power dynamics, Johnson said, they wanted to be very clear in a case where those are as stark as an undergraduate’s interactions with a faculty member. When Johnson went to familiarize herself with the existing rules, because Harvard is such a decentralized place, she said she had to look in about 11 different places.
Graduate students can’t have sex with undergraduates if they are teaching them or grading them in some way. “I like to think of it not as telling students who they may not have sex with,” she added, “but telling faculty who they may not have sex with.” A student anti-sexual-assault advocacy group, Our Harvard Can Do Better, responded with a statement that the ban is “a crucial indictment of unacceptable unequal-status relationships that have the potential to endanger students.
“We want to be careful not to become overly paternalistic or interfere with the choices in their lives, even choices we may think are unwise choices.” But the idea of banning romantic relationships between professors and undergraduates was not controversial, Johnson said. We hope that this is just the beginning of a thorough investigation into the correlation between power disparity and sexual assault at Harvard, and we look forward to hearing more about Harvard’s plans for the implementation and the sanctions that will be put in place for violations.” Johnson pointed out that the college’s student population, while diverse in many ways, is decidedly not diverse in age; there aren’t a lot of older students, as there are at other schools.