Any kind of romantic relationship between members of the University where one has supervisory status or direct power over the other is forbidden under the revised University policy on faculty-student relationships, even if the relationship is consensual, according to Dean of the Faculty Deborah Prentice.
Revisions to "Rules and Procedures of the Faculty" and the corresponding section of "Rights, Rules, Responsibilities" were approved at the faculty meeting in December.
According to Prentice, the Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy drafted the changes at the recommendation of a committee of faculty formed in the fall of 2014 to address sexual misconduct policies at the University.
She also noted that peer institutions such as Harvard put out new policies in the last academic year and that the decision to make changes to the University’s policy on consensual relationships was not a response to any incidents or violations at the University but rather in response to peer institutions changing their policies.
Dean of the College Jill Dolan, who also served on the FACP that drafted the policy changes, deferred comment to Dean Prentice.
Dean of the Graduate School Sanjeev Kulkarni, who was also involved on the committee that drafted the changes, declined to comment.
Prentice noted that the policy’s former language was vague and ambiguous.
"We thought that it needed greater clarity than it had about what kinds of activities were and were not okay," she said.
The former language in "Rules and Procedures of the Faculty" stated that consensual sexual relationships between students and faculty members are a serious violation of the faculty member’s professional responsibility to the student. The policy also stated that romantic or sexual relationships involving teachers and students are a serious violation of University and professional standards as well as possible state and federal anti-discrimination statutes.
The previous policy stated: "When a sexual or romantic relationship involves individuals in a teacher-student relationship (e.g. being directly or indirectly taught, supervised, or evaluated) or involves any element of coercion, harassment, bargaining for educational favors, or the like, it is a clear and most serious violation of both University and professional standards, as well as a potential violation of state and federal anti-discrimination statutes."
The policy's new language defines faculty members as "tenured, tenure-track faculty, instructors, and lecturers," and undergraduate students as "those matriculating at Princeton as well as those from other institutions who come to Princeton for pre-bac, visiting, summer, and post-bac programs." It says that "no faculty member, researcher, graduate student, visiting student or undergraduate course assistant shall initiate or engage in a romantic or sexual behavior with any student, including a graduate student or DCE student, who is enrolled in a course taught by that individual or otherwise subject to that individual's academic supervision or evaluation." Supervision includes "teaching, advising, supervising research, supervising teaching or grading, and serving as Departmental Representative or DGC of the student's academic program" and evaluation includes "assigning grades, evaluating degree progress, serving as a committee member, and providing letters of reference."
The new language introduces a discussion of power dynamics between members of different University statuses, describing relationships between faculty members and those for whom they have a professional responsibility as inherently problematic. The first paragraph of the policy notes that professional responsibility comes with power and that it is "incumbent on faculty members not to abuse, nor seem to abuse, the power with which they are entrusted."
Prentice noted that the more general language was designed to encourage the community to be sensitive to the power dynamics that exist in the different types of relationships that exist at the University.
"The broader discussion about the power dynamic themselves, more broadly, were really intended to apply — again more broadly — to relationships where there's not necessarily a direct reporting line or anything like that, but nonetheless a power dynamic can influence even relationships where there's not a direct reporting line," she explained.
Colleen O’Gorman ’17, Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education Peer President, noted that power dynamics exist in many forms of relationships at the University, citing extracurricular groups where student leaders interview those applying to join the organization as an example. She said that she believes it is important to consider what factors can impact people's ability to consent in relationships.
"I'm not saying someone can't consent if they're in some kind of differential power dynamic; I just think that there are other factors that people need to think about," she said, noting that there can be coercion when people are on uneven playing fields.
The policy states that relationships require "heightened awareness" to the power asymmetries that exist between, for example, faculty members and graduate students or individuals subject to another individual’s academic evaluation or supervision.
Prentice added that this language is also meant to address those such as staff in the residential colleges or coaches, members of the community who have relationships with students where there is a power dynamic that needs to be taken into account.
O’Gorman added that members of SHARE talk about unhealthy relationships and the role of power dynamics, including how structural power impacts people's relationships and how racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of oppression can make people more vulnerable to abuse.
"Those kinds of power dynamics, if you can imagine them on a more micro-level, you can see how, not that abuse is bound to happen in those kinds of power differentials, but people are more vulnerable if they're not as empowered as the other person in the relationship," she added.
In terms of enforcing the policy, Prentice noted that the policy is designed both to guide people toward appropriate behavior and to specify what constitutes a violation. She said that the clearer, broader language will allow people to ask the right questions ahead of time as to what constitutes appropriate behavior.
"In the case of violation, this obviously gives guidance to the review board that consider questions of a violation when a charge is made," She added.
Last week, Jason Lieb, a former University professor, resigned from his post at the University of Chicago after allegations of sexual misconduct with a graduate student.