CUNY Mulls Ban on Professor-Student Relationships

Tim Goral's picture
Monday, March 12, 2012

Sex is not in the syllabus.

CUNY, the city’s largest university, has proposed banning professor-student hanky-panky with a stricter sexual-harassment policy, a memo from Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said last week.

But some students say that it will do little to stop after-school rendezvous.

“We’re in a post-secondary facility — we don’t need to be baby-sat or monitored,” said Atossa Ghaemi, 26, an English major at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “We’re adults, and we’re going to live as we please.”

The new policy would forbid profs to have intimate relationships with “students for whom they have professional responsibility.” The current policy “strongly discourages” them.

John Jay’s faculty senate requested the policy change in November after meeting with the college’s legal counsel and discussing possible scenarios of sexual misconduct.

The 480,000-student CUNY system has been late in joining a long line of universities that insist there’s no such thing as a “consensual relationship” between profs and pupils.

The zero-tolerance trend began in the mid-1990s, when the US Supreme Court ruled that schools are financially liable for sexual harassment, prompting the University of California to adopt a ban in 2003, with Iowa State University, Syracuse University and Yale following suit.

“Early on, there was a precipitating event on each campus that triggered the change,” said Melora Sundt, a higher-education expert at the University of Southern California. “Others saw the increasing number of allegations involving faculty and students and took pre-emptive strikes.”

John Jay Faculty Senate President Karen Kaplowitz said stricter rules will protect vulnerable co-eds and prevent them from trading steamy extra-curriculars for easy A’s.

Goldstein said that he welcomed feedback from faculty and staff on the proposed sex code. The university’s eggheads, however, have their own ideas on the decree.

“They’re trying to ban love!” one male professor said. “It’s not realistic, because grown women fall in love and have affairs with older men, and nobody can legislate against this.”

David Gordon, a history professor at Bronx Community College and the Graduate Center, frowns on faculty-student sex, but he wonders how the policy — which would also require staff to disclose relationships with employees they supervise — can be enforced.

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