Harvard bans professor-undergrad romances; California schools, not so much

Harvard's ban on relationships between professors, students is stricter than many California schools' policies

Harvard University banned professors from having “sexual or romantic relationships” with undergraduates -- a much more stringent policy than what some of California's largest and most prominent universities have on the books.

The Harvard rule change, announced Thursday, replaced a previous policy -- which frowned on such relationships but did not ban them.  That policy, according to Harvard, "did not explicitly reflect the faculty’s expectations of what constituted an appropriate relationship between undergraduate students and faculty members."

Harvard professor Alison Johnson led the committee that changed the policy.

"We are certainly not the first university to institute such a ban, and I think most universities expect their faculty to refrain from such relationships, whether or not they formally ban them,” Johnson told the Los Angeles Times.

How many U.S. colleges and universities that have instituted such a rule is unclear, but according to Bloomberg BusinessYale University and the University of Connecticut have also banned relationships between professors and undergraduates.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Professor makes a case for faculty-student romance

The University of Southern California addresses the issue with a narrower policy.

The university "strongly discourages" physical relations between faculty and students, but there is no ban, according to its 2014 faculty handbook.

“These relationships may put either party at risk," the USC handbook says. “They can create a perceived lack of freedom to give meaningful consent about the relationships."

USC officials on Thursday shared the handbook with The Times but did not expand on the subject. 

FROM THE ARCHIVES: UC Bans Dating of Faculty, Students

"Faculty and supervisors should seriously consider the risks to their own professional and private lives, as well as those created for the student or supervisee before entering into such a relationship," according to the handbook. 

Stanford Universityprohibits sexual or romantic relationships," university spokesman Brad Hayward said in an email.

Hayward added in in a follow-up email that "employees who violate the policy are subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal."

The University of California sees entering into a romantic or sexual relationship with any student “for whom a faculty member has, or should reasonably expect to have in the future” as unacceptable, according to the institution’s faculty code of conduct. Officials did not elaborate beyond sharing the code of conduct. 

California State University does not have a "system-wide policy" concerning relationships between professors and undergraduates, said spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. 

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times


Feb. 6, 12:01 p.m.: This article updates with additional comment from Hayward.

This article was originally published at 4:23 p.m. on Feb. 5.

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