“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment,” Shakespeare writes in one of his most famous sonnets. In the same vein, the American poet Maya Angelou writes, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination, full of hope.” Love knows no bounds. Or so we want to believe.
All of us, that is, except college and university administrators. For them, there are clear boundaries, specifically between faculty and students.
Schools differ, though, on exactly where to draw the lines of those boundaries and how to punish those who trespass. What are your school's rules, and what can happen if you choose to ignore them? You'll have to discover that for yourself, but we can offer some general guidance.
Drawing the Lines
The goal of university policies on faculty-student relationships is simple: Make sure those in power can't prey on those subject to that power. (Actually, it's simpler than that even: Protect ourselves from liability at all costs).
The question is, how to define who has the power and who doesn't. Schools disagree. Generally, though, policies fall into a few basic categories.
- No Bans: This is becoming increasingly rare, but a handful of schools, such as the University of Baltimore, have no bans on consensual faculty-student relationships.
- Disclosure: Some schools frown on faculty-student relationships but allow for exceptions as long as you disclose the relationship as soon as it begins.
- Supervisory Roles: A number of colleges and universities have adopted these limited policies that prohibit dating between anyone in a supervisory role and a person they are supervising.
- Potential for a Supervisory Role: A more restrictive version of policies on supervisory roles prohibits dating between anyone who could “potentially” be in a supervisory role and anyone they might supervise.
- Total Ban: A few schools, such as Northwestern University, have outlawed faculty-student relationships altogether.
What penalties can you get for violating these policies? Again, it depends on the school and the facts of the situation. Most schools, though, dismiss faculty for relationship policy violations.
Finally, it's also worth noting that schools differ in how they define a “relationship.” Most mean “romantic relationships,” but whether that definition requires a “sexual relationship” or not isn't always clear. Can you take a student out for dinner or drinks, for instance? Obviously, it's always better to err on the side of caution. If you're forbidden to have a “relationship” with a student, you're better off avoiding any one-on-one contact with them under any circumstances.
What to Do if You're Accused
Maybe you have one of those loves that simply doesn't know any bounds. Maybe you work at a school where the rules just aren't clear. Allegations happen for all sorts of reasons. If you find yourself accused, make sure you find a qualified attorney to advocate on your behalf.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney who built his career defending rights in the field of education across the United States. To find out how he can help you, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.