In case it wasn’t clear: It’s not okay for professors to sleep with undergrads. Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (the university’s largest division, comprising the undergraduate Harvard College and many graduate departments) has now made that explicit in a revised policy.
The old policy on inappropriate relationships warned against “amorous relationships” between faculty and students or junior colleagues, but stopped short of banning them. The new policy (pdf), announced Monday, is very clear:
No FAS Faculty member shall request or accept sexual favors from, or initiate or engage in a romantic or sexual relationship with, any undergraduate student at Harvard College.
Interestingly, Harvard does not prohibit relationships between professors and all graduate students in this division, just the ones whom a professor is supervising or teaching in some way. In those cases, professors and graduate students may enter a romantic relationship as long as “the supervision has concluded and, if applicable, a final grade on the student’s supervised academic performance has been submitted to the Registrar.” The same guidelines apply to relationships between graduate students teaching undergraduates.
Alison Johnson, the professor heading the committee that determined the changes, summarized it to the Boston Globe:
“If you and I are sitting next to each other on a ski lift, and the sparks are flying, and it turns out I’m a professor in the history department, and you’re a senior at the computer science department at Harvard, now we are done,” she said. “No more sparks. I ski off to the left, and you ski off to the right.”
The US Department of Education is currently investigating many prestigious colleges, including Harvard, to examine whether they have mishandled sexual violence complaints. That would violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibiting gender discrimination (which applies to sexual harassment cases). The government agency recently found in a separate investigation that Harvard Law School had violated these federal policies. The probes are part of a larger movement to address campus sexual assault. The university has been conducting a review of its harassment policies and making changes, some of them controversial, to how it investigates sexual assault allegations.
As part of a formal process to review Harvard University’s Title IX policy, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Committee on Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures, led by Professor Alison Johnson, determined that the existing language on relationships of unequal status did not explicitly reflect the faculty’s expectations of what constituted an appropriate relationship between undergraduate students and faculty members. Therefore, the Committee revised the policy to include a clear prohibition to better accord with these expectations.