Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Part 1- The Ohio State campaign to ban student professor sexual relationships

Prior to Ohio State University (OSU) adopting a policy prohibiting student professor sexual relationships, OSU engaged in a lengthy  process of evaluation of such a policy.  It appears to the dankprofessor that the OSU evaluation of said policy is probably more detailed than any other university to adopt a prohibition policy.  In addition, OSU has made available online key documents relating  to this process.  The dankprofessor is going to engage in a critique of some this material. 

We will begin with the first detailed report from January 11, 2005.  My comments will be in the text of the report and will be in bold.  This post will be the first of 2 posts on this report.  For the sake of accuracy, the text of the report is provided without any editing by the dankprofessor.  If one is really interested in this issue, then it is necessary to plod thru this text.  The text does reveal the banning agenda at the grass roots level.

Report To The President’s Council On Women

From The Work Group Examining The University’s Policy On

Consensual Sexual Relations Between Faculty And Students


This workgroup of the President’s Council on Women’s Issues has been charged by the Council to explore whether the Council should recommend to the President that the university re-examine its policy on consensual sexual relationships between faculty and students. In carrying out this charge, the work group has considered the following: Ohio State’s current policy, the AAUP’s current policy recommendation, the policies of CIC and benchmark universities, the rationale supporting the policies that strongly discourage but do not prohibit consensual sexual relations between faculty and students, policies of other professions, the climate goals enunciated in both the Academic Plan and the Diversity Action Plan, considerations supporting strict policies on consensual sexual relationships between faculty and students, the human costs for students of such relationships, and the costs for the university, particularly in terms of fulfilling the goals as stated in the Academic Plan.

This workgroup concludes that it is time for the university to re-examine its current policy on consensual sexual relations between faculty and students and recommends that a committee be charged to undertake this task.

Ohio State’s Current Policy (Appendix 1)

The Ohio State University’s sexual harassment policy currently strongly discourages consensual and romantic relationships between supervisor and employee or between faculty and student, but does not prohibit such relationships. The policy prohibits anyone involved in such a relationship from having direct responsibility for evaluating the employment or academic performance or for making decisions regarding the promotion, tenure, or compensation of the other party to the relationship. The policy does note that “these relationships may be subject to concerns about the validity of consent, conflicts of interest, and unfair treatment of other students or employees.” The current policy does not explicitly require the reporting of consensual relationships.

AAUP’s Policy Recommendation (Appendix 2)

The American Association of University Professors’ suggested policy is similar to Ohio State’s current policy-it discourages, but does not prohibit consensual sexual relationships between professors and students. Like Ohio State’s policy, the AAUP suggested policy recognizes that consensual relationships between faculty and students “are fraught with the potential for exploitation. The respect and trust accorded a professor by a student, as well as the power exercised by the professor in an academic or evaluative role, make voluntary consent by the student suspect.”

Report to The President’s Council on Women From the Work Group Examining the University’s Policy on Consensual Sexual Relations Between Faculty and Students The Ohio State University, 1/2005 8

Policies Of CIC And Benchmark Institutions (Appendix 3)

The 15 CIC and benchmark institutions take a variety of approaches to the issue of consensual sexual relations between faculty and students:


  1. . Three prohibit such relationships between faculty and students over whom the faculty has some professional responsibility and discourage such relationships with other students (Iowa, Indiana, and Arizona).


  2. . Five have policies similar to the OSU and AAUP policies-they strongly discourage but do not prohibit sexual relationships with students (Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin-Madison, Minnesota, and Texas-Austin). However, all five of these institutions, unlike Ohio State, do require that such relationships be reported.


  3. . Three neither discourage nor prohibit such relationships, but do require that they be reported if the faculty member has evaluative authority over the student so that that authority can be reassigned (Northwestern, Michigan State, and Illinois).


  4. . Two caution in their policies that such relationships can be problematic but neither discourage nor prohibit them (Illinois-Chicago and Purdue).


  5. . Two do not address such relationships in any way in their policies (UCLA and Washington).

Rational Supporting Policies That Discourage But Do Not Prohibit

The issue of regulating consensual sexual relations between faculty and students has been controversial throughout the country. Most colleges and universities have policies similar to that suggested by the AAUP and Ohio State’s policy-such relationships are strongly discouraged but are not prohibited.

The arguments against stricter prohibitions center on (1) the right of the student as an autonomous adult to engage in a relationship that is not prohibited by law; (2) preserving freedom of association for both sides of the relationship; and (3) implementation problems-how does an institution enforce such a policy? A number of articles summarize the arguments against strict prohibitions on such relationships. For more information see Appendix 4.

Climate Goals Enunciated In The Academic Plan And The Diversity Action Plan Support A Re-Examination Of OSU’s Consensual Relations Policy

The last revision of Ohio State’s sexual harassment policy occurred prior to the adoption of the Academic Plan and the Diversity Action Plan. Thus, the policy has not been considered within the context of the goals outlined in those plans. Such consideration is now appropriate.

The overarching premise of the Academic Plan is that “The Ohio State University aspires to become one of the world’s great public research and teaching universities.” The Academic Plan acknowledges that the environment in which we teach, learn, and research is critical to achieving our goal:

Report to The President’s Council on Women From the Work Group Examining the University’s Policy on Consensual Sexual Relations Between Faculty and Students The Ohio State University, 1/2005 9

Academic excellence will be enriched by an environment that mirrors the diverse world in which we live. Within this environment, we will come to value the differences in one another along with the similarities, and to appreciate that the human condition is best served through understanding, acceptance, and mutual respect.

The Diversity Action Plan (June 2000) also acknowledged the importance of the university environment when it listed as one of its six objectives creating “a supportive environment that is welcoming for all individuals” both in and outside of the classroom.

In considering how to achieve the climate goals specified in these plans, one must be mindful that inequalities of power exist among the individuals who comprise our university community. Unequal power creates vulnerability to abuse of power that can interfere with creating a climate characterized by understanding, acceptance, and mutual respect which is supportive and welcoming for all individuals. This inequality of power inherent with “consensual” sexual relations between faculty, staff, and students jeopardizes the development of our ideal environment.

Of course, power inequalities are intrinsic to university life.  One of the greatest power inequalities is between tenured and non-tenured faculty.  Such a power differentiation is supported by an array of universities from the elite research universities to the lower status teaching undergraduate colleges and universities.  Although there have been attempts to abolish or limit the numbers of tenured positions in any university, these attempts have been almost uniformly opposed by tenured faculty.  Unquestionably, abolishing tenure and replacing it with contract lectureships, would radically flatten the faculty playing field in terms of power, but tenured faculty, such as the ones in this Work Group, do not want equality amongst faculty.  And, of course, the Work Group does not propose any form of sexual prohibitions between faculty members, no matter how great the power differentiation is between tenured and non-tenured faculty.  I mention this at this point since it is clear that the Work Group is not really interested in diminishing extreme power inequalities in the university.  It would be hard for them to move on fellow faculty since it is taken for granted that faculty are adults, and one cannot attack the ability of faculty to provide consent.

Considerations supporting strict policies on consensual sexual relationships

One of the key considerations in determining whether The Ohio State University should adopt a stricter policy on consensual sexual relations between faculty and students is the issue of whether such a relationship can truly be consensual. For consent to exist, there must be the ability, the option, to say “no.” If a student feels overwhelmed by the rank, prestige, or powerful position of the faculty member, then true consent may not exist.

Of course, in many sexual relationships outside and inside the university, many people feel swept away when they first engage in amour.  So being overwhelmed for many is an intrinsic part of romance, love and sex.  In fact, this feeling of being overwhelmed may be sought out by the romantically inclined.  Are these persons not capable of providing consent?  Should the feelings of surrender and ovewhelmingness be prohibited and sanctioned by any institution?

True consent also may not exist in situations where the student is so influenced by the power, status, or prestige of the faculty or staff member that the student consents to the relationship only because of the power, status or prestige, and absent those would not consent.

If absent the power, the person would not consent.  An interesting idea, but totally a non-verifiable supposition.  In any case, cross-cultural research has demonstrated over and over again that women in general terms are more attracted to men with more resources. Proposing the idea that women should not be attracted to the more powerful would call for a radical overhaul of heterosexuality.  The writers appear to be blinded as to the the dynamics of heterosexual attraction.  Of course, it may be that the consent may be given by some only if the other has power, prestige and status.

For example, Professor David Archard (2001) examines the notion of “exploited consent”. Archard (2001) defines exploited consent as that which is “given because of the unequal nature of the relationship between two people”. The less powerful person consents to the relationship willingly and voluntarily, but only because of the position the more powerful person holds. If the more powerful person did not hold that position, the less powerful would not likely have consented. Archard (2001) describes the concept within the context of professional relationships:

I would suggest three characteristics of professional relationships that are relevant. The first is an ethos of intimacy, closeness, trust, openness, and confidence. The second is the relative dependence and vulnerability of the client. The third is the esteem, respect, and admiration that the client has for the professional. All of these dispose the client to be more open and receptive to the proposals of the professional.

If, Archard (2001)asks, the less powerful person would not have consented to the relationship absent the position held by the more powerful person, can this be true consent?

Again, the answer to the question is unknowable for any particular person in said situation.  However, given the nature of heterosexual attraction, unquestionably the vast preponderance of persons would consent, some quite enthusiatically.  And I can’t help but wonder how many would equally give up their right to consent.  I do not think that Archard speaks to that situation.

Professors and students, particularly graduate and professional students, share the same three characteristics that Archard (2001) attributes to professional relationships. Thus, one can question whether students truly can consent to a sexual relationship with a faculty or staff member.

One can question in numerous contexts.  Questioning is not the issue; prohibition is the issue.  I can question the viability of marriage as representing the best interests of men and women; prohibiting marriage is another matter.

And let us not forget the framework that Archard and the writers of this report employ, it is the professional, and in this case the professor, who is proposing, always proposing.  The student never proposes.  None of the above can entertain this notion.  Unquestionably, such appears to be a default assumption for the aforementioned.  And interestingly enough, as a professor, I seldom proposed, proposals were almost always initiated by the female student who the aformentioned in essence hold incapable of proposing.  In fact, I would go a step further, and state that consensual relationships would not flourish if there were not a significant number of females students who were at one time or the other attracted to one of their professors.  The writers could easily get what they want if they were able to reprogram their female students in their own image.   They may very well want to do this, but they are unable to do so.  So they end up running a power trip on female students.

An imbalance of power is inherent in the teacher-student relationship, as well as the relationship between a student and a staff member. The student may defer to the teacher or staff person as an expert, a respected figure whose authority is unassailable. This power imbalance can be further exacerbated by the existence of other factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, international student/scholar status, command of the English language, and previous sexual victimization.

It’s the same old rant; differential power precludes consent.  And the ones engaging in the rant want to take away power from others so some university administrators (police) can control students and professors.

The age difference that might be encountered in a faculty/staff and student relationship might also indicate a vast imbalance of power based on the cognitive and psychosocial development level of the student. A number of models of development of students during the college years raise questions about developmental issues that might interface with a traditional undergraduate student’s decision to engage in, and the experience of, a consensual relationship with a faculty member (Chickering & Reisser ; Sanford; Perry).

As they say, it is an age difference that might be encountered; of course, they know it might not be encountered.  There are older students and younger profs at Ohio State.  And they know that there are many older grad students, and they also know that the age difference between TAs and undergrads is minimal.  No recognition given to the might nots, and there are many, many might nots.

In Perry’s model, for example, most first- and second-year college students are found to be in the Dualism stage. The hallmark of this stage is a deferral to “authorities,” who are assumed to know the answers to all questions. It is the role of the authority to teach the student the answers and the role of the student to soak up all the information held by these authorities. The “classic” authority at the university is the professor, who is seen as older, wiser, and the possessor of all knowledge in the field (at least all knowledge that is currently known).

If these students are in this “Dualism” stage, this shows the failure of higher education to facilitate critical thinking and independent thinking.  Such should lead to educational reform, not to a sexual prohibition.  After all, no matter how widespread education as a form of indoctrination, there are still some who remain or become independent thinkers and automonous adults.  And there is simply no justification for taking away their autonomy because others are not autonomous.

 For a student who is a Dualist, and who is invited into a consensual relationship with a faculty member, a normal and natural conclusion might be to assume that the faculty member knows best and, thus, that the relationship is desirable and good for the student. Additionally, the Dualistic thinker might believe that such an informed and esteemed professor must see something “special” in the student such that the professor would even initiate such a relationship. A normal and natural Dualistic response would be to defer to the greater wisdom and knowledge of the authority figure. This view of the position of the professor and the role of the student necessarily compromises the student’s ability to analyze the situation at the same level as the professor. At this stage, the student is cognitively unable to process information at a higher level, which would allow for the questioning of the authority’s position and the testing of various perspectives (Hornsby, 2004).

Again it is authority proposing; this default assumption persists.  The student as a person cognitively unable to process information at a higher level could be applied to children but becomes a dangerous stereotype when applied to adult students or adults in general.  Such has been in essence the rationale for book banning and censorship since the vulnerable reader cannot deal with this these writings; too vulnerable while the censors suffer, of course, from no such vulnerability.

 In addition to relative cognitive development, we must not lose sight of other aspects of the “uneven playing field.” We would be naïve to think that characteristics of race/ethnicity, class, gender and sexual orientation do not affect the relative power that individuals bring to any interaction. Many authors and educators have extensively examined how these characteristics affect an individual’s ability to influence and be influenced, to exploit and to be exploited (Kivel, 1996; McIntosh, 1988; hooks, 1994).

I am not sure why gender and race is invoked here.  Are they concerned with racial solidarity or female faculty and students united in a sisterhood which eradicates the student professor boundaries?

Power, and hence the ability to give uncoerced consent, is also affected by the international status of the parties involved. It seems obvious that a student, coming to the United States from another country, with family and friends perhaps thousands of miles away, might feel less powerful than a United States citizen. Furthermore, student visas are often dependent on academic status and enrollment in specific programs of higher education, creating a strong motivation on the part of the student to try to please those who have the power to permit or deny such academic status. In addition, the ability to communicate clearly and to understand the English language, as well as American cultural customs, can also impact a student’s ability to recognize manipulative behavior and respond effectively. Wow!  This is stereotyping run amok.   And in these nativist times, such could be used as a rationale for banning foreign students who are not proficient in English and lacking in the ability to fend for themselves. Finally, if the student has a history of previous sexual victimization, this can influence the student’s ability to recognize and react effectively against sexual exploitation. Lowered self-esteem, feelings of disempowerment and the adoption of faulty coping skills are some of the negative psychological and behavioral outcomes associated with sexual victimization. These outcomes, paired with increases in high risk behaviors are often seen in college students who have survived sexual abuse, and can negatively impact the student’s ability to deal with the manipulative behavior of an authority figure (Miller, Moeller, Kaufman, DiVasto, Pathak, Christy, 1978; Finkelhor, 1984).

However, such is not unique for students.  Professors can also be in the same category.  As well as candidates for higher office. As well as for everyone.  Let’s bring in the sexual police to solve this problem!  But if we bring the police or the sexual police who will protect us from them?  Will the writers of the report step in to protect us from the protectors?  Throughout the writers never see themselves as being on a power trip, and having a naïve faith in the good university administrators (authority figures) to use their power judiciously.  I wonder if they now have faith in our president, President Bush, to use his authority judiciously granted him under the Military Commissions Act to detain whomever he deems an enemy of the state.

Personal Cost to Students and Impact on Educational Experience

In addition to the issue of exploited consent, a strong argument supporting a stricter policy is the cost to students who are involved in such relationships. Archard notes in his article that “what studies there have been suggest that the vast majority of students who enter into affairs with their lecturers suffer as a consequence. They do not subsequently report that they were glad to have had the experience. Quite the contrary” (Archard, 2001).

I will check out Archard’s article.  And in my next post I will present some citations that don’t come up with the same result that Archard came up with. In any case, no one denies that in student professor relationships that there are happy as well as unhappy endings.  What the banning advocates never produce are findings that students in these relationships end up unhappier than if they were in other types of relationships, such as in a relationships with fraternity members, or football players.  In a weird way, I think by their omissions the writers end up implying that these suffering students would be OK in other sorts of relationships.  For some, it may be the case, for others unhappiness may accompany them in all their relationships.

While many faculty and staff know of cases where a faculty/staff/student sexual relationship ended amicably, many of us also know of cases where the relationship ended in disaster with long-lasting negative consequences for the student, department, or institution.

Note that they view all these relationships as ending.  I guess it depends on what one means by “ending”.  The writers must know that student faculty marriages are commonplace but such marriages become unmentionable in this report.  And I find it interesting that the writers hold that students suffer from long-lasting negative consequences, no mention of professors suffering from such consequences.  Apparently the writers simply cannot imagine a male professor being hurt.  No empathy here. For them, professors involved in these relationships are robotic manipulators; they can never be hurt, disappointed in love. The writers consistently dehumanize male professors who are involved in these relationships.

In addition, the offices to which students turn for support are aware of some instances where particular faculty have engaged in a pattern of short-term sexual relationships over the years with a number of students, many of which have ended in disaster for the students. In some of these cases, the relationship did not appear to be the result of spontaneous attraction, but rather the outcome of the premeditated targeting, seduction and exploitation of a vulnerable student. At the end of such relationships, these students often experience severe emotional and psychological consequences, depression, and even suicidal behavior. Students may come to question their own academic accomplishments, wondering if their grades are the result of hard work and talent, or merely the “reward” for their sexual relationship with their professor. They may change majors or drop out of school altogether, sacrificing years of investment in their education and career.

Unquestionably, some instances of this do occur just as they occur in “civilian” life.  Such is the nature of freedom.  I would love a world where there is no manipulation, no rape, but such is not a rationale for taking away freedom, the freedom to decide who to date, who to marry. 

Moreover, it is not just the student in the relationship who is affected. Other students frequently feel negatively impacted by “consensual” sexual relationships between faculty and students: Whether or not there is favoritism in awarding of grades, financial assistance, or special opportunities, there may be the perception or suspicion of favoritism when a consensual relationship is present. This perception or suspicion can impact the extent to which other students in a class or program choose to apply for such opportunities or the level at which they engage in their program or the class (Hornsby, 2004).

Thus, for both the student in the relationship and for other students in the class or program, the quality of the educational experience is negatively impacted by such relationships.

Note how they start out by stating that “other students frequently feel negatively impacted”, then they end up with “other students” without any qualification, end up negatively impacted.  In any case, even if there were not any student prof romantic relationships, student complaints would continue to be rife in the university re favoritism.  I heard from students throughout my professorial career that  so and so prof gave me a poor grade because he or she does not like me, he favored the X student and I am a Y.  And one of the more frequent charges I heard was that so and so grade was received because my prof was a feminist or the student did not tow the feminist line.

In addition, in cases where the relationship ends badly, the faculty and staff, and even the reputation of entire programs and departments, can be negatively impacted. This can affect the ability of the institution to recruit and retain both students and faculty, as well as the ability of the institution to raise funding, both public and private, that is essential for continuing success.

Give concrete examples.  Give specific examples from the history of OSU.  If the reputation was effected, such means that this was known by a wider public, but the writers can provide no examples.

Finally, existing research on the prevalence and consequences of consensual sexual relationships supports the assessment, discussed above, of the damage students can suffer as a result. Existing research primarily investigates relationships involving a graduate student and a faculty member, including instructors, advisors, clinical supervisors, and research advisors. There does not appear to be any empirical research regarding consensual relationships between undergraduate students and university faculty or staff, excluding relationships between collegiate athletes and coaches. Almost all existing research focuses on consensual sexual relationships between female students and male faculty or staff members.

Studies by Pope, Levenson, and Schover (1979) and Glaser and Thorpe (1986) had similar findings, indicating that 17% of females with graduate psychology degrees had sexual contact with at least one faculty member during their graduate training. In the study conducted by Pope et al. (1979), one in four women who received a Ph.D. within six years prior to the study had sexual contact with an educator. Glaser and Thorpe found that two-thirds of these sexual contacts occurred before or during an ongoing working relationship between the faculty member and student. In a survey sampling female graduate students across academic disciplines, male faculty members asked 22% of graduate women on dates, and 60% of these women dated the faculty member. In this sample, 13% of the entire sample dated a faculty member at least once during graduate school (Schneider, 1987). Fitzgerald, Weitzman, Gold & Ormerod (1988) found that 26% of male faculty members across academic departments reported sexual involvement with female students.

OSU staff that counsel students who have been involved in such relationships report many disastrous outcomes for the students.

Of course, they find negative outcomes.  Counselors do not counsel persons who feel great about their relationships.  And here is a major problem with this report and that is that they never attempt to find anyone who feels OK about their relationships.  They solicit counselors and others who try to help the grief stricken, but they never bring forward any persons for whom the relationship has made a major positive difference in their lives.  Anyone can make a fallacious case by citing only examples in support of their position.  The writers see the world through negative tinged lenses.  Any positive relationships would simply be an aberration for them

 This assessment is supported by research that indicates numerous negative consequences for students who have consensual relationships with university faculty or staff members. Negative consequences include feeling coerced or exploited (Irvine, 1997; Plaut, 1993; Schneider, 1987), feeling that there was a “conflict of interest” or ethical problem with the relationship (Glaser & Thorpe, 1986; Jacobs, 1991; Tabachnick, Keith-Spiegel, & Pope, 1991), emotional and psychological consequences (Plaut, 1993), a compromised ability to get the most out of the learning experience (Conroe & Schank, 1989; Plaut, 1993), negative repercussions for one’s academic career after the relationship ended (Irvine, 1997) and in some cases, dropping out of the graduate program or transferring to another program or university, due to the negative impact of the relationship (Schneider, 1987). Other negative impacts on students were dealing with perceptions of favoritism from classmates, having difficulty establishing professional independence, and having disrupted the “ability to acquire those skills that are necessary to become an autonomous professional” (Conroe & Schank, 1989). Women who said “no” to social invitations from professors experienced negative consequences as well, such as receiving fewer opportunities for academic advancement (Conroe & Schank, 1989; Glaser & Thorpe, 1986; Irvine, 1997). Schneider (1987) found that 46% of women who were asked or pressured to date a faculty member “were fearful of jeopardizing their academic futures.” Glaser and Thorpe (1986) asked women to evaluate their feelings about the relationship at the time that it happened, and at the time that they were surveyed. While only 28% felt coerced at the time of contact, 51% agreed with this statement later. Likewise, 36% saw an ethical conflict with the relationship at the time, but 55% agreed with this statement later. Ultimately, 30% of women who had intimate relationships with professors felt somewhat or very coerced, and 33% believed that the sexual relationship “greatly hindered” the working relationship.

It is important to note that several important gaps exist in the research. Existing studies sample women with graduate degrees, or women currently enrolled in graduate programs. It is impossible to determine how many women discontinue graduate studies after such a relationship ends. A few articles and chapters give anecdotal or case examples, but few use quantitative research, and those that do rarely look at impact. For example, no study asked women who were in consensual relationships if they received a lower grade, had slower academic progress on thesis or dissertation activities, or had other specific consequences.

In spite of the gaps in the research, however, both the experiences of our Ohio State professionals who counsel students as well as scholarly research that does exist show the costs to students of being involved in sexual relationships with faculty members.

It does not show “the costs to students”; it shows the costs of some students, and systematically avoids dealing with the positives of such relationships.  The writers ignore empirical studies that are at odds with their stereotypes.  Two studies will be cited in my next post.

And in their report they do not allude to any issue regarding civil liberties, the right to be free from governmental regulation of  ones intimate life.





If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration to the same email address.
Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2007



December 18, 2007 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, Ohio State University, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, student professor dating

1 Comment »

  1. […] Consensual Relationships to Rape; the Ohio State Uinversity Work Group Report In my last post on the OSU Work Group examination of the OSU Policy on Consensual Sexual Relations Between Faculty […]

    Pingback by From Consensual Relationships to Rape; the Ohio State Uinversity Work Group Report « Dankprofessor’s Weblog | December 22, 2007 | Reply

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