Harvard Bans Educators from Having Sex With Undergrads

General discouragement wasn't cutting it.

Photo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

Bloomberg reported on Thursday morning that Harvard banned its educators from having sexual or romantic relationships with undergraduates. The school, according to Bloomberg, is joining a list of schools that made similar moves, including Yale and UConn.

It’s curious because, well, wasn’t this an instilled rule before? “I thought this was already codified,” a Harvard senior said to Bloomberg. But actually, it wasn’t. Like most campuses, faculty-student relationships were frowned upon, but not strictly forbidden. This new ban applies to Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a department with the most undergraduate teachers. Punishments for disregarding the policy is not specified.

“Undergraduates come to college to learn from us,” said Alison Johnson, a Harvard professor who “chaired” the panel on the new policy. “We’re not here to have sexual or romantic relationships with them.”

Johnson discussed sexual misconducts with the Harvard Gazette last August. She said, as a mother who lives with five children, “I want [students] to be safe, and secure, and able to look back on their years in college as a time of privileged devotion to the life of the mind.”

An earlier version of Harvard’s policy specified that engaging in a relationship with “one’s students” is inappropriate, making clear that the relationship is only forbidden if the student is enrolled in the faculty’s class. To draw comparisons, we observed the current policies on “consensual relationships” at other schools around the city—and our findings are quite predictable.

Boston University states that student-teacher relationships “undermine the integrity of the educational process,” but ultimately, “no affiliate shall supervise a student with whom the affiliate has a consensual romantic or sexual relationship.” The policy at Boston College is quite similar. The school prohibits a faculty member engaging with “a student over whom he or she exercises academic or professional authority.”

Emerson College, however, forbids all consensual student-faculty relations. Stated in its policy, “dating, romantic, or sexual relationships between students and faculty members, including relationships that occur when College is not in session or students are on leave, are prohibited.” If this policy is violated, the faculty is “subject to disciplinary action.”

Regardless of whether a clear line in place or not, counterarguments against a prohibition of student-faculty relationships faces problems with rights as legal adults—ones old enough to vote or join the army. Though these policies stand in place to protect the consenting people and the integrity of institutions, the debate still stands.