What is the policy?

Posted: October 28, 2010 by Jender in Uncategorized

I’m a recent PhD from a Big Name philosophy program in North America. Several years ago, in preparation for a Visiting Committee review, the Chair suggested that female faculty and graduate students meet for dinner to discuss any thoughts or perspectives we might contribute to the departmental self-assessment.

One of the issues raised was a verbal complaint that two undergraduates had made to a graduate T.A. regarding a male junior faculty member who had slept with several female undergraduate students. The two undergraduates felt uncomfortable taking a class with the faculty member in question because they were worried that he might be prone to gender biases in grading, or worse.

“Were the relationships consensual?” one faculty member asked, “I don’t think there’s any policy prohibiting consensual relationships with students.” This turns out to be false. Big Name university does indeed have a policy, originally written in the late 1990s, which explicitly prohibits consensual relationships between faculty and students. But there are no policies regarding dissemination of the policy, and so most (if not all) of the philosophy department faculty were unfamiliar with the university’s policies on relationships, sexual harassment, discrimination, and related topics.

It is also worth noting that in the ensuing discussion about the commonplace nature of faculty-student consensual relationships in philosophy, there was no mention of the fact that a tangible harm was done to the two undergraduates who felt that their course options were restricted.

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