Professors debate "amorous relationships"

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Cloe Shasha

Faculty members gathered on Jan. 7 to discuss a proposal regarding “amorous relationships” between faculty and students. Led by President of The College Ronald D. Liebowitz and Faculty Associate in Admissions Miguel Fernandez, the meeting covered a range of moral, ethical and professional issues surrounding these relationships.

Liebowitz mentioned that American colleges and universities have different policies surrounding the issue of faculty-student relationships. After extensive research and discussions, Middlebury has proposed to follow the American University Policy guidelines which stipulates that faculty entering supervisory, advisory, evaluative or pedagogical roles with students must report an amorous relationship to the dean of faculty so the College can evaluate the situation case by case.

“We are avoiding a punishment for the relationship,” said Fernandez. “We are instead punishing faculty in these positions who are not reporting their relationships with students.”

A debate about the word choice of “amorous” rather than “sexual” was spurred during the meeting. Some faculty expressed their preference of a full ban on relationships between faculty and students.

“We considered a full ban, but encountered challenges,” Liebowitz explained. “How would we enforce a policy against these relations? Who would investigate, and with what judicial mechanism? If there were a ban, faculty could be threatened to lose employment. We also do not want to infantilize our students. Our primary goal is to minimize the negative effects of these relationships on the education of our students.”

Faculty members are discouraged to engage in amorous relationships with students, although this is vaguely stated in the proposal from the American University Policy guidelines.

Stafford Professor of Public Policy, Political Science and Environmental Studies Chris Klyza suggested that the proposal include the line: “Such relationships are viewed as inappropriate.”

Fernandez explained the fundamental concerns of the College regarding the type of relationship that a faculty member engages with a student.

“If a faculty member gets into a relationship with a student once in a career, it may not be a concern to the College,” said Fernandez. “If, however, it happens every semester, it might be an issue. Our policy is trying to address that issue. These relationships should be avoided for the community’s sake and for the individual’s sake. If a relationship between a faculty member and student is jeopardizing a student’s educational interest, the relationship could be reported to the student’s parents.”

Some faculty at the meeting responded with concern for student privacy.

Assistant Professor of History Amy F. Morsman stated that student privacy was important, but faculty professionalism should be a priority.

“You can be a lover as long as you can maintain professionalism,” said Morsman. “We do not want to create a sense of a police state. We want people to think about how to act professionally.”

Based on the conversations conducted by student focus group, Liebowitz concluded that students are uncomfortable with the idea of their peers engaging in amorous relationships with faculty. They also, however, feel that a ban on these relationships would be wrong.

Several faculty members expressed that student discomfort was not an issue that should be prioritized for the best policy. For example, there are students on campus who may be uncomfortable with the idea of faculty engaging in homosexual behavior. But this discomfort does not merit regulation.

“We are not looking for a tally on the number of faculty who do not report their relationships with students,” said Fernandez, ending the discussion. “Our goal is to know about people who are repeat offenders, and to deal with these individuals.”

The new proposal will be amended to the College Handbook after a faculty vote in February.

A faculty meeting on Feb. 18 will continue to discuss issues from this meeting.