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Archive for Friday, September 17, 1993

KU FACULTY RAISE ETHICAL ISSUES

September 17, 1993

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Complex ethical issues raised during more than 90 minutes of debate about faculty-student romance Thursday yielded only one result: The formation of a committee and more discussion.

University Council, Kansas University's primary governance group, voted to form a committee to review and amend a policy on consensual relationships, which was unilaterally implemented by the administration this semester.

The policy prohibits romantic or sexual relationships between students and faculty members who have direct power over them.

The council decision was made after members debated the policy's merits, criticized its implementation without governance input and questioned whether KU should even have such a policy.

"It seems to me that the impetuous issuance of this policy was wrong," said Don Marquis, professor of philosophy. "It should be withdrawn."

Marquis questioned whether the policy was enforceable and, invoking the words of British philosopher John Mill, said society should not interfere with consenting relationships between adults.

"It has, to me, all the moral merit of sodomy laws."

Several faculty members said the policy, which addresses both sexual harassment and consensual relations, should focus on conflicts of interest.

They said sexual harassment and consensual relationships, by definition, are not related.

"I would favor a conflict-of-interest policy rather than what we have here," said Sandra Zimdars-Swartz, associate professor of religious studies.

History professor Lynn Nelson said having a policy forced on faculty and students by the administration would make serving on a disciplinary committee difficult.

"When it comes to implementation, this is just another policy," he said, noting that KU grievance procedures remain the same and that a disciplinary committee -- such as one that recently upheld the firing of tenured law professor Emil Tonkovich -- still would face problems of conflict of interests and the threat of lawsuits.

Ellen Sward, professor of law, said a policy prohibiting faculty-student dating is needed.

"Very often we talk about the freedom of faculty, but if a faculty member asks the student out, the students themselves often feel powerless," she said. "We have to think about how the students are feeling about this."

Steven McCabe, associate professor of civil engineering, agreed.

"I think the university has a responsibility to protect the least powerful group," he said. "We're talking about protecting a group who are in the weakest position ... who often don't know what their rights are."

Sward also said faculty-student dating creates a perception that the professor may be favoring students involved in the relationship.

But Nelson and other faculty said an appearance of inappropriate behavior could be construed in many situations.

"I know faculty who have a deep emotional attachment to the Jayhawks," he said. "It could be a perception that athletes could be receiving preferential treatment."

Marquis said that even if faculty and students aren't dating, a perception of conflict of interest can exist between two people attracted to each other.

"Surely we have all the potential here for a conflict of interest as we had for dating," he said.

A 16-member committee, comprised of the eight-member Faculty Privileges, Rights and Responsibilities Committee, plus five students and three staff members, will be formed to amend the administration's policy.

The committee will make changes in the document and present its recommendations to the council in six to eight weeks, according to the council's motion.

As part if its duties, the committee will be encouraged to hold public discussions on the changes.

A similar policy recently was rejected by the faculty council of the University of California, said Robert Friauf, presiding officer of the KU council.

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