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April Faculty Meeting Materials: No More Sex with Students!

From: Faculty Steering Committee
Date: Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 1:26 PM
Subject: April 11 Faculty Meeting Agenda
To: WILLIAMS-FACULTY@listserv.williams.edu

Dear Colleagues:

We look forward to seeing you at the next faculty meeting on April 11 at 4:00 p.m. in Griffin 3. The agenda and related materials are attached to this email.

Best,

Tiku Majumder, Interim President of the College
The Faculty Steering Committee
Safa Zaki (Chair), Division II
Colin Adams, Division III
Matt Carter, Division III
Annelle Curulla, Division I
Edan Dekel, Division I
Gregory Mitchell, Division II

Materials here.

Biggest change (I think) is from the current faculty handbook which says: “All faculty are in a position of power with regard to students; hence, sexual relationships between faculty and students are almost always inappropriate.” Proposal is to replace this with:

All faculty are in a position of power with regard to undergraduate students; hence, sexual relationships between faculty and undergraduate students are prohibited. Sexual relationships between faculty and undergraduate students put claims of consent in question. It is difficult for a student to be certain of the motives of a member of the faculty. A person in a position of authority cannot be certain that the student’s consent is genuine, rather than motivated by an unspoken fear of the consequences of not consenting. In addition, a sexual relationship with a student may raise questions of unfair academic advantage or of unwarranted negative evaluation. These questions may adversely affect the educational environment of other students, as well as the student directly involved. Should any of these questions arise, sexual discrimination is at issue.

I expect the change to pass and would vote Yes. I hope that the Record follows up on this:

The Dean of the Faculty may grant exemptions to this policy in reasonable cases of pre-existing relationships. Any faculty member who wishes to request such an exemption should submit a written statement to the Dean of the Faculty explaining the reasons for the request. The Dean of the Faculty shall provide a response in writing to the faculty member and the Assistant Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity/Title IX coordinator.

Does Professor Jim Shephard’s relationship with his wife (and former student) Karen Shepard ’87 require retro-active permission from the Dean of the Faculty? Just curious!

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#1 Comment By anonymous On April 7, 2018 @ 11:29 am

Does this go far enough to protect students? If restricting the freedom of faculty is needed, why not restrict the freedom of students? There are dynamics of power in every relationship which could compromise students ability to give consent. It is irresponsible for the College to ignore this and its continued failure to act endangers students.

Suggestion: All sexual relationships between students should be vetted by the Dean of the College and a new Assistant Dean for Power and Consent. Since power dynamics can change over time, authorizations for sexual activity will have an appropriate time limit (eg 48 hours). Failure to seek authorization should be a Title IX violation and subject to sanctions (eg a semester ban on sexual relationships for the first offense, a semester suspension for the second offense, etc.). There should also be a network of students who will monitor for such unauthorized activity (eg as their work study), and supervised by the Office of Power and Consent (eg the PC patrol).

This may seem extreme, but Williams is an educational institution not a brothel. Students should have no expectation of sexual relationship privileges. The current extension of these privileges without College oversight conflicts with its obligations under Title IX. Making these changes allows for more effective policies to prevent sexual assault and progress on the College’s priorities (eg student safety and unlimited administrative expansion).

#2 Comment By Doug On April 7, 2018 @ 12:12 pm

What about: students are adults who can make informed decisions about the nature of their relationship with a professor. They can make the decision to have sex with a professor just like any other pair of consenting adults. Anything else would qualify as rape/sexual assault and that’s obviously already banned.

I don’t agree with the doctrine that it’s impossible to have a consentful relationship if there’s disparate power between the two individuals. Such issues certainly do arise, but they can be handled on a case-by-case basis. It’s condescending to both students and professors to assume that students will always be preyed upon if there’s ever any sexual contact. Rules like this only serve to make Williams a more constricting place to work/live, where everyone is hyperconscious of whether or not their actions will be perceived as controversial (rather than concern for whether or not they’re doing the right thing). Students aren’t children, and professors are, on the whole, responsible people who can make judgement calls in scenarios like this.

Perhaps a view like this is dated; I’m curious what others think.

#3 Comment By anonymous On April 7, 2018 @ 12:25 pm

The modern dogma treats all people as potential victims of power and oppression. Those who disagree typically have power and privilege and are potential oppressors. Treating people as individuals ignores the interlocking systems of oppression. If Williams supports this dogma (and it does, in the DPE), shouldn’t it act consistent with that dogma?

#4 Comment By Doug On April 7, 2018 @ 1:53 pm

First, I’m not an oppressor — I’m a student, so in this discussion I guess you’d have to consider me a “potential victim of power and oppression”, as you say.

But anyways, do we need yet another “zero tolerance” policy? There’s virtually zero professor-student affairs anymore. This is essentially a symbollic gesture that would really just send another message that students/professors should have even less autonomy, in this case with regards to whom they choose to have sex with. I’ve already dealt with this in terms of being told I can’t drink the whisky my father gave me for my birthday, play beer pong with my friends, or smoke weed occassionally, even though all of the above are perfectly legal and positive social activities for a normal 22 year old to engage in.

I take issue with these policies that assume everyone has to be coddled and treated as “potential victims”. It’s no way to prepare young adults for eventual full-blown adulthood.

#5 Comment By anonymous On April 7, 2018 @ 3:50 pm

“It’s no way to prepare young adults for eventual full-blown adulthood.”

Oh, don’t worry, HR authoritarians are likely working on that too. I’m sure “no dating” policies will be coming to responsible workplace environments, to prevent any potential cases of misconduct. Like “free speech”, all normal adult behavior will soon be subject to strict supervision by employers.

#6 Comment By Doug On April 7, 2018 @ 5:26 pm

Woops, failed to identify sarcasm. Man, I’ve been at this place too long… losing all sense of humor

#7 Comment By ZSD On April 7, 2018 @ 5:27 pm

“How very different from the home life of our own dear Queen….”

… and Williams as some of us knew it.

#8 Comment By anonymous On April 7, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

Workplace conduct and dating policies are very real (though perhaps not so draconian, at least, not yet):

https://gizmodo.com/honestly-facebooks-coworker-dating-rule-seems-extremel-1822766642

#9 Comment By frank uible On April 7, 2018 @ 10:52 pm

All’s fair in love and war!

#10 Comment By PTC On April 15, 2018 @ 11:40 pm

You guys are a joke. Just saying.