Academic Council votes to prohibit undergraduate-faculty romantic relationships

Duke's faculty have chosen to prohibit all undergraduate-faculty romantic relationships. 

At their last meeting of the academic year, the Academic Council voted to revise Appendix Z, the part of the faculty handbook regarding relationships between faculty members and students.

“It doesn’t fix everything, but I think it’s a positive step in that way,” said Don Taylor, chair of the Academic Council.

The change to Appendix Z was first discussed at the council’s April meeting and was formally approved at their May 10 meeting. The policy developed from discussions in the fall among the Executive Committee of the Academic Council in response to the #MeToo movement—not due to some catastrophic event on campus, explained Taylor. 

The previous policy, adopted March 2002, applies to consensual romantic and sexual relationships—not to non-consensual relationships or marriage. 

It prohibits relationships between students and faculty who are in direct positions of authority over them, such as teaching a course they are in or supervising their thesis. Per the previous policy, the position of authority should be terminated if they are in a consensual relationship, such as through the student withdrawing from the course or finding a new research supervisor. It doesn’t distinguish between undergraduate and graduate students.

The new policy does distinguish between graduate and undergraduate students. Under it, no faculty-undergraduate romantic or sexual relationships are allowed. This will apply to all such relationships that currently exist when the policy is enacted but notes that the faculty member can apply to the provost for an exception to the policy. 

The new policy also prescribes a range of possible sanctions for faculty members found to have relationships with undergraduate students, as it will be considered misconduct. The relevant dean will be charged with levying the sanctions, which can include reprimand, mandatory counseling or training, suspension, demotion or termination.

Under the new policy, graduate students are prohibited from entering into relationships with faculty unless the faculty member is not expected to have any role in their work and they are in separate schools. If they are in the same school, it is permissible if the faculty member reports the relationship to the dean.

“But big picture, it is a pretty big change because the current Appendix Z pretty much says there can’t be romantic or sexual relationships between students if they teach or supervise, any kind of authority role, and the existing Appendix Z does not make a distinction between undergraduate versus graduate and professional,” Taylor said.

The change sets stricter terms about what will be considered acceptable between faculty and students.

“Now we’re saying for undergraduates that sexual relationships are going to be forbidden from the faculty perspective, and that for graduate and professional students, they might be allowable,” Taylor explained. 

The new policy will go into effect July 1, but the wording of the appeals process for faculty under the new policy has yet to be officially added.

The Faculty Hearing Committee, which serves to "facilitate prompt and equitable resolution of allegations by faculty members and instructional staff," would not have jurisdiction about factual matters in cases under Appendix Z. An example would be if a faculty member contested on a factual level whether there had been a romantic or sexual relationship, explained Tom Metzloff, faculty ombudsman and former chair of the Faculty Hearing Committee.

“It seemed that we were a bit behind the times,” Taylor said. “Obviously us passing Appendix Z doesn’t suddenly do away with sexual violence or sexual misconduct on campus—it’s not a panacea—but we felt like it was an important statement about ourselves as faculty, that we’re going to limit our prerogatives in this domain of life and maybe that can help in building a culture of respect on campus.”

In other business

The council also approved three new degree programs that went on to be approved by the Board of Trustees at their May meeting. The programs include a new Master’s and Ph.D. in Population Health Sciences and a Master’s of Engineering Program in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke Kunshan University. 

They also formally approved the earned degrees to be given at Commencement 2018, and discussed the recent Joe Van Gogh incident.

Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham



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