The University Senate adopted a resolution on Friday proposing a ban on all relationships between faculty and undergraduates. Any relationship between “officers of instruction, research, administration, and the libraries,” “graduate students with appointments as student officers of instruction and research,” and “graduate teaching assistants, postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants, and tutors, during any period of time they are teaching, advising or supervising an undergraduate student” must be reported to the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office (EOAA). Before the resolution becomes University policy, however, it must be reviewed by the General Affairs Committee and the EEOA.
This action comes after William Harris, a professor of Greco-Roman history, retired as part of a sexual harassment lawsuit settlement. The case raised questions about what Columbia does to prevent students from being exploited by professors and the process in which the University punishes professors who exploit students romantically and/or sexually.
The resolution addresses the power imbalance, noting that: “because of the power differential, romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students are highly susceptible to being experienced as non-consensual or coercive.” If university workers do not comply with this policy, repercussions could include “disciplinary action up to and including termination and may adversely affect decisions on promotion and tenure.”
However, as the resolution is currently written, its language would forbid undergraduate TAs from having any relationships at Columbia. They themselves are undergraduates and therefore cannot date faculty, but the resolution also bans them from dating any other undergraduates because of their status as TAs.
The resolution does provide for “certain unusual circumstances,” although it does not define what those might be. In such a case, “explicit written authorization” must be obtained from either the Provost or Vice President of Human Resources.
SEAS undergraduate Senator Izzet Kebudi said, “SAC [Student Affairs Caucus] worked on this effort in order to change the policy concerning faculty, but we understand students’ concern with the current wording. As SAC leadership, we are reviewing possibilities of refining the policy recommendation. This policy is yet to go through reviews of different offices and is not adopted for now. Current policy bans TAs from having a relationship with an undergraduate under their direct supervision.” He emphasized that this is not the final version of the policy and that there is “room for change.”
Bwog has reached out to the other undergraduate Senators for comment.