University publishes relationship guidelines for faculty

UMSU will continue push for prohibitive policies

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Within a week of each other, the U of M has published two new guidelines for university employees on how to conduct themselves appropriately toward students and each other, and UMSU released a statement on the union’s contribution to sexual violence policy reform on campus.

These measures come after a turbulent period for the university, with several allegations of sexual misconduct from faculty toward students coming to light in the last two years.

UMSU released a statement Monday highlighting the recommendations it made toward the U of M’s respectful work and learning environment (RWLE) and sexual violence policies, including expanding on confidentiality policies and broadening the scope of the policies to focus on “sexual violence” more than specifically focusing on sexual assault.

The statement, written by UMSU vice-president advocacy Sarah Bonner-Proulx, said that after having viewed drafts of the new policies, the union can “say that the university deserves credit for the steps it has taken so far to correct its flawed policies. But that is only the beginning.”

The two guides published this week by the U of M, titled “Relationships Between University Employees Involving Power Differentials” and “Relationships Between University Employees and Students,” look to define how relationships between university employees and students and relationships between university employees with one in a position of power over the other should be approached.

Some suggestions for maintaining professional relationships with students as a university employee include “Don’t attempt to be one of them” and “Do not physically touch a student.” The guideline for interacting with fellow university employees suggests avoiding “romantic or sexual relationships with co-workers where there is a power differential.”

Both guidelines emphasize that disclosure to the university is mandatory. Neither provide any kind of disciplinary measures should these guidelines be broken, and neither ban any kind of consensual intimate relationship outright.

The U of M’s conflict of interest policy already has rules set in place for disclosure — it states “As soon as a person is aware that a conflict of interest exists, the person must disclose the conflict of interest to the initial reviewer in writing” — which were first instated in 2009 and will next be reviewed in June 2019.

UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said it is important to note that these are just guidelines, and there are no new policies in place on teacher-student relationships.

“The conflict of interest policy is currently not under review,” he said.

As the RWLE policy and the sexual violence policy are currently under review, Sanderson said UMSU is in the process of providing suggested amendments to both — including a recommendation that the U of M formally ban relationships between faculty and students where one member is in a position of power over the other.

“Our hope would be, that because the RWLE policy and the sexual violence policies are the ones currently under review, that there is a prohibition on instructors and administrators being able to date students or have any sexual relationships with students where there is a direct power imbalance, put specifically into the policies that are under review,” he said.

U of M spokesperson John Danakas said the guides “provide clarification” on the pre-existing policies, said there was a possibility that prohibitive policies on student-faculty relationships could be implemented.

“The university is alert to that conversation,” he said.

Sanderson said amendments to both policies would likely be presented to the board of governors and the senate in May or June of this year.

“We’ll have to wait until June to see whether or not the university actually plans to put this prohibition in place, or any further restrictions in place, into the RWLE [and] sexual violence policies,” he said.

“And ultimately if they were to go the route of revising the current outlines in the conflict of interest policy, that could be a matter of a couple of years.”