As Knox takes heed of nationwide changes regarding sexual assault and relationships on college campuses, President Teresa Amott brought up Knox’s current statement on amorous relations at last week’s faculty meeting, inviting faculty to comment on the policy.
The policy states that amorous relationships in which one person exercises academic power over another are “inherently problematic and therefore strongly discouraged,” according to the statement available online.
It also recognizes that appropriate boundaries may be difficult to maintain in a community like Knox’s, in which “supportive relations between faculty and students outside the classroom are not only permitted but encouraged as part of the special opportunities for teaching/learning which Knox College provides as a small liberal arts college.”
The policy “allows wiggle room that would not be considered appropriate today,” Professor and Chair of Biology Stuart Allison said.
“There’s always been kind of acknowledgment that those kinds of relationships are at the least problematic and can lead to serious difficulties for the student and whoever the faculty member is,” he said.
Though a “minority of faculty” spoke at Monday’s meeting, Amott said, there’s a spectrum of beliefs surrounding the topic.
According to Associate Professor and Chair of Art Mark Holmes, the current policy is not concrete enough.
“It is an excellent philosophical statement that reflects some of our values and aspirations as a community, but lacks some clarity about what is and what isn’t permissible behavior. The thing that’s really changed here is Title IX. We need to comply – there’s a whole new level of scrutiny being paid to these things,” he said. Holmes is Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, which reviewed the policy prior to Fall Term. “I think most people would agree that our policy needs to be clear in prohibiting relationships where there is a direct supervisory or evaluatory role,” he said. He realizes that there are notable exceptions to consider – non-traditional students or faculty spouses who decide to take a class on campus are some – but the issue is more of a legal matter than a moral dilemma.
On the other end of the spectrum, faculty members argued that as legal adults, students should be able to make their own personal decisions.
“There’s definitely disagreement. There are people who interpret the recommendations from the Office of Civil Rights in different ways and view this kind of regulation as more or less intrusive into people’s personal lives,” Allison said. “I think in the end that the recommendations that come out of the Office of Civil Rights are going to kind of carry the day, although they might not make everyone happy.”
The Office of Civil Rights does not prescribe one particular policy; instead, the college will consider its own particular culture and climate and review other college policies. Faculty members may have an opportunity to voice their opinions in a written survey, likely headed by Dean of the College Laura Behling, that will comply with Title IX policies.
“In a heightened environment that exists in where all sorts of sexual or romantic relationships are coming under examination and scrutiny and perhaps being talked about either in more or in different ways than before, I think that if you look in our handbook and in any other college’s handbook there’s a policy about what are appropriate relationships, sexual and romantic relationships, between faculty and students is very much in the same vein as what we’re trying to do to make sure that we have a safe and respectable campus,” Behling said.
At the very least, the policy will be reworded for a more contemporary climate.
“What we want to do is look at it again in a contemporary context both in terms of the language and in terms of the college’s position on romantic and sexual relationships,” Amott said.
Despite discussion between faculty, Holmes said that he believes a full prohibition of relationships between students and faculty is inevitable from a legal standpoint.
“I think it is probably the simplest and most obvious solution out there,” he said.