President endorses consensual relationship policy

President Martha E. Pollack issued the following statement May 21:

Earlier this month, the Consensual Relationship Policy Committee submitted an extremely thorough report outlining its recommendations for a consensual relations policy governing student-faculty and student-staff relationships. The committee came to these recommendations after months of work, during which they reviewed the policies of many peer universities and engaged in extensive outreach to stakeholders across campus, including meetings with the Faculty Senate and the other assemblies. The input they received and so thoughtfully considered from faculty, staff and students was tremendously helpful, and I considered that input carefully in my deliberations on the recommendations.

The initial report recommended the adoption of three constraints on faculty-student relationships. While two of these were widely supported by the community, there was significantly more disagreement about the third, which would ban relationships between faculty members and graduate or professional students in the same graduate field or degree program. The committee and I continued to engage after the receipt of the initial report, and today I am endorsing a compromise position that is broadly supported by the committee. In full, the proposal, which I am directing the university’s Policy Office to formulate as official policy prior to the start of the fall semester, reads as follows:

  1. Any member of the Cornell community who has, or has had, a sexual or romantic relationship with a current student or current postgraduate is prohibited from exercising academic or professional authority over that student or postgraduate.
  2. Sexual or romantic relationships between faculty members and undergraduate students are prohibited regardless of department, school or college affiliation.
  3. Sexual or romantic relationships between faculty members and graduate or professional students are prohibited whenever the faculty member exercises direct academic authority over the student or is likely to in the foreseeable future.

I believe that these prohibitions adequately protect the interests of students and faculty while minimizing risk to the university and its mission. Because the third prohibition allows for certain intra-field and intra-degree program relationships so long as no position of authority exists or is foreseeable, it will be necessary for the Policy Office to produce clear guidelines for disclosure and enforcement of this prohibition. In addition, as this new policy is implemented, education for new students, staff, faculty, degree program directors and department chairs must be a priority. The committee made a strong and compelling case for having disclosure and enforcement of this policy centered in an office that sits outside of the colleges and schools, and I am directing that that be implemented as well.

The effectiveness of this new policy will be assessed in three years, at which time changes will be implemented as needed.

I would once again like to thank the committee, led by co-chairs Dean of the Faculty Charles Van Loan and doctoral candidate Anna Waymack, for their leadership on this sensitive and complex matter. The campus discussion of this issue during the past few months has been a model of civility, transparency and shared governance, and I extend my thanks to all who participated.

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John Carberry