November 1, 2011 in Region

UI could get tough on student/teacher relationships

By Holly Bowen Moscow-Pullman Daily News

MOSCOW — Faculty senators at the University of Idaho will consider approving a formal consensual relations policy during their regular weekly meeting today on campus in Moscow.

The proposed policy addition comes in the wake of the university release of the employee records of former assistant psychology professor Ernesto Bustamante, who killed graduate student Katy Benoit outside her Moscow home on Aug. 22 before taking his own life hours later in a nearby hotel room.

The personnel documents released last week revealed that Bustamante did not feel he had violated university policy when he engaged in sexual relationships with Benoit and other students, as it was not ”explicitly forbidden” under UI policy.

The proposed policy to be presented to the Faculty Senate at 3:30 p.m. today in Brink Hall could potentially eliminate that ambiguity.

”In order to foster healthy professional relationships at all levels of the institution, it is the policy of the (UI) that no employee shall enter into or continue a romantic or sexual relationship with a student or employee over whom she or he exercises academic, administrative, supervisory, evaluative, counseling or other authority or influence,” the proposed policy states.

The proposal calls on employees to disclose potentially conflicting relationships to their supervisors, ”who must take prompt and appropriate action to avoid or end the relationship of authority between the parties.”

In the case of faculty-student relationships, it states, remedies include appointing another faculty member or teaching assistant to the authority position, transferring the student to another course taught by another faculty member or T.A. or assigning the student to another academic adviser.

The proposed policy states that failure to comply with the rules ”may constitute adequate cause for discipline, up to and including dismissal.”

Carmen Suarez, the university’s director of human rights, access and inclusion, and Hoey Graham, UI senior associate general counsel, sent a memo to faculty senators Thursday that prefaces today’s proposal. The memo acknowledges the university’s Faculty-Staff Handbook currently does not have a formal consensual relations policy.

”An informal policy is distributed at the start of each semester in the ’As the Semester Begins’ publication produced and disseminated by the Office of the Faculty Secretary,” the memo states. ”The informal policy states that a consensual romantic or sexual relationship between a faculty member and student, or between a supervisor and subordinate, is considered to be ’unwise.’ ”

The memo states that administrators had already been working on a formal policy when the Aug. 22 incident caused it to ”take on greater significance and urgency.”

The memo also states that the proposed policy reflects an ”extensive review” of similar policies at other institutions, ranging from ”permissive but discouraging” to ”those that flatly prohibit” consensual relationships. It also reflects comments and suggestions from the UI’s Staff Affairs and Faculty Affairs committees and has been approved by the Associated Students of the UI.

If approved by the Faculty Senate today, the policy will be forwarded to UI President Duane Nellis. The policy will take effect upon Nellis’ final approval.

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