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The University of Michigan faculty will be barred from romantic relationships with undergrads at all three of its campuses starting in 2019, the university announced Monday. 

Faculty will also be prohibited from sexual relationships with graduate students in the same academic field as the professor. And graduate student instructors will be barred from sexual relationships with the undergraduate students in their courses, or whom they hold any supervisory authority.

"The current policy requires faculty members to disclose certain romantic relationships with students, but does not categorically prohibit them," explains a piece published Monday in the University Record, UM's newsletter for students, faculty and staff.

The new policies were recommended by a working group comprised of faculty from all three campuses — Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint. That working group was formed in October and made its recommendations in November. 

More: Final recommendations on UM student-faculty relationships

“At its best, the faculty-student relationship nurtures the advancement and pursuit of knowledge and can lead to life-long professional mentorships and connections," reads the group's full report. "At its worst, the inherent imbalances in the power dynamic between faculty and students can lead to real or perceived exploitation of the power differential.”

Faculty members, the report says, have a "collective responsibility" and a "duty of care to each and every student." As another section of the report reads, "an overarching goal of the context of the faculty-student relationships is to create a safe and equitable environment for independent learning and academic growth."

As one section of the report explains, "bright-line standards for prohibited relationships meet the need for clarity in expectation and consequence, reduce the need for situational judgment (and) align with the norms of institutional peers." What the bright line replaces is a policy that "accepts faculty-student relationships as long as there is disclosure and a plan in place to manage the conflict."

But the current policy was believed by the group to be "too narrow, as it focuses exclusively on those students over whom direct supervisory authority is exercised," and that exceptions allowing such relationships should be granted "only in very narrow, limited circumstances." 

The ban on faculty-undergrad relationships owes to the expansive nature of undergraduate study, which can go down any number of paths. The ban on faculty-grad student relationships is more narrow, its prohibition only on relationships between people in the same field of study, whether or not the faculty member is in a supervisory role.

UM provost Martin Philbert and UM’s executive team have accepted the group’s recommendations, The Record reports. The policy is expected to be finalized in February, along with a “companion policy” that applies to non-faculty staff. 

UM is expected to include a “narrow exception...for relationships that pre-date a student’s enrollment,” but even then that relationship would have to be disclosed, approval given in writing, and “an appropriate management plan” carved out.

A hypothetical example the report cites is when a non-traditional undergrad enrolls in a course at one campus while dating a faculty member in an unrelated field on a different campus. But the group said it "did not view it as useful to develop an exhaustive list."

As The Record explains: “the recommendations recognize the structural asymmetry of the faculty-student relationship and meet the goal of creating a safe and equitable environment for independent learning and academic growth.”

Violations could result in discipline including “separation from the university.”
 

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