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  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

A4.7 CRP Committee Results

CRP-A = 12.3,  CRP-B = 5.7

CRP-A CRP-B Neither Optional Comments
Co-Chairs 1 vote each
Charles Van Loan A Read
Anna Waymack  A
 Faculty 1 vote each
 Rhonda Gilmore A
 Kim O’Brien B
 Charles Seyler B   Read
 Gillian Turgeon B
 Makda Weatherspoon A
Post Docs   Sharing   1 Vote
Tisha Bohr  A Read
Emily Davenport  B  Read
Grads & Professional Sharing  3 Votes
Jenna Chong A Read
Aubrey James  A
Steven Kim  A
Katherine Quinn  B
Nate Stetson  A   Read
 Undergraduates Sharing   3 Votes
Ella Ackerman  A
Joe Anderson  A
Renee Cornell  B
Grace Park  A
Jesse Pollard A  Read
 Employees     Sharing 1 vote
Gina Giambattista  B   Read
Pilar Thompson  B
 Key Offices 1 vote each
Sandy Dhimitri  A
Janna Lamey  A
Laura Weiss  A

Comments by Those Who Support CRP-A

Tisha Bohr (Post-Doc, Molecular Medicine)

I vote in support of CRP-A with a total ban on faculty-undergrad romantic relationships and a ban on in field faculty-grad/professional student romantic relationships. This decision has been hard reached after nearly 9 months of serving on the Consensual Relationship Committee (CRPC), deliberating over ideas, thinking hard about a just Consensual Relationship Policy (CRP), and evaluating concerns from the Cornell community and individuals voting rationales from the Senate and Assembly Committees.

As a recent graduate student and now a postdoctoral researcher I have a somewhat unique perspective as I’m not too far removed from the experiences of a full graduate career, I can relate to undergraduate experiences and, as a planned near future academic, I am beginning to construct my view of faculty responsibilities towards trainees and students and what rights I think individuals in each of these positions holds.

From this viewpoint, I believe college should be a place where faculty, teachers and mentors serve as educators for students and trainees, viewing them as beneficiaries of their expertise and knowledge. This is comparable to that of other sorts of professionals involving obligations of trust to their clients (e.g. doctors, therapists, attorneys). Part of this obligation is an understanding that the professional will not look at the client as a potential source of sexual gratification. Similarly, in order to foster a genuinely supportive and equitable educational environment, faculty should not view students and mentees as potential sources of sexual gratification. While, some would argue that this view is paternalistic or infantilizing of students that robs them if their individual sexual freedoms, it actually grants students the agency to pursue their academic endeavors (regardless of age or gender), for which they came to Cornell, without fear of or actual unwanted advances or biases from faculty who have the potential to affect their academic and professional careers.

Undergraduates at Cornell have the freedom to move about fields. As part of Cornell’s mission is “any person, any study” entering a romantic relationship with any faculty could limit an undergraduate’s academic freedom to take a specific courses or volunteer in a certain researcher group. Therefore, I support the ban on undergraduate-faculty relationships. Most other voting committees also support this ban.

However, a ban on relationships between graduate and professional students and faculty within the student’s field or degree program that would be imposed under CRP-A has been more controversial. After considering all sides and rationales put forth by both students and faculty for either supporting or opposing this ban, I have come to support it for the following reasons: All faculty within a grad or professional student’s field or degree program, whether or not they are the student’s teacher, advisor or committee member, are authority figures and thus an imbalance of power exists. Recusal, as required by CRP-B may not always be practical or effective. For example, graduate/professional education is sometimes narrow with few specialists in an area within a given campus. If a certain specialist is recused the student’s access to that specialist’s expertise and mentoring is then limited. Further, allocation of grades, awards, fellowships, recommendations, future collaborations and/or professional and educational opportunities are likely to be influenced by such personal relationships, thus compromising learning environment not only for the student involved in the relationship but, for their peers as well. While undoubtedly there have been instances where student faculty relationships have “turned out well” this view seems to only take into consideration the experiences of the faculty and the student involved in the relationship and not the student’s peers.

The rights and protections of LGBTQ individuals need to be highly considered when creating this policy as disclosure could lead to unwanted or harmful outing of these individuals. Under CRP-A or –B this would never be an issue for undergrads as relationships with faculty would be outright banned. However, under CRP-B disclosure requirements of in field relationships between grad/professional students and faculty does put this issue at risk. In my opinion, banning in field grad/professional student-faculty relationships under CRP-A would actually mitigate this risk by limiting the number of relationships that would need disclosure (since most that would require disclosing under B would be banned under A), thus reducing the likely-hood that disclosure would lead to unwanted or harmful outing of LGBTQ individuals. In the few instances where CRP-A would require disclosure we on the CRPC have suggested ways of mitigating unwanted outing by creating a place to confidentially disclose (the 6.x Office).

While, I appreciate that implementing this policy comes at the cost of limiting people’s freedom of association, the educational mission of Cornell requires a fair learning environment that is free of unwanted pressures or concerns about educational objectivity from authority figures. This policy is one more step in ensuring that Cornell’s educational mission is upheld.

Jenna Chong and Jesse Pollard (MEng, Undergraduate)

The undergraduate student population questions the credibility of consensual ‘relationships’ where a power dynamic is present. Such power dynamics, as exhibited by a so called ‘relationship’ between a member of the faculty and one or more undergraduate students (subordinates) may place the student(s)’s reputation and professional career at risk. Furthermore, in the instances where such ‘relationships’ become coercive, the undergraduate student is placed in an inequitable position of having to ‘get out,’ when in reality, the University should be implementing proactive systems that protect such subordinates; and place the onus  of responsibility on those members with more power and social capital.

Thus, on behalf of the undergraduate students, we propose a complete ban on faculty/undergraduate ‘relationships’ to provide adequate protection for undergraduate students in this academic and professional environment. As the undergraduate population is aware of the evolving expectations and characteristics of modern day ‘relationships,’ we also support a prohibition which is inclusive of non-romantic relationships—relationships that are not exclusively romantic, but interactions which evidently still exhibit power differentials. The current university definition is not inclusive of consensual non-romantic experiences community members of all ages, genders, and sexualities may participate in during their time here.

 

Nate Stetson (JD Law 2018)

Policies mandating disclosure and recusal in workplace relationships are ubiquitous in companies and industries that take employee protection and institutional legitimacy seriously. Furthermore, the professions have all voluntarily adopted stringent codes of professional ethics that prohibit relationships that even hint at implicating the professional role. These policies reflect obvious risks associated with power dynamics: they aim to minimize the risk that a currently happy relationship that sours later will be used against the party with the least power and the risk that favoritism or bias could infect the workplace. They also create transparency and accountability when people evaluate, promote, recommend, discipline, advise, or fire those with whom they are formally involved.

Academia is not immune from these power dynamics. In many ways, it is more susceptible to both these dynamics and the abuse of them than are other institutions. While the academy often strives nobly to distinguish itself from business and other institutions, that distinction favors more stringent codes of conduct rather than less. If the true mission of the academy is education, then it should not flinch from encouraging honesty and accountability regarding the risk of interfering with that mission that undisclosed relationships implicating university power imbalances pose.

Accordingly, I am in favor of the field ban, and of a robust Policy 6.X Office that enforces the policy while destigmatizing disclosure. Affiliation with Cornell requires accountability and professionalism, and the trained staff of the Policy 6.X Office should make disclosure discreet and painless. Those with authority must hold up their end of the deal by disclosing promptly and honoring the recusal plans designed to safeguard the academic environment for everyone.

 

Charles Van Loan (Professor Emeritus,Computer Science, Dean of Faculty)

I support CRP-A.and it is easiest to explain why by considering the three prohibitions in turn.

P1 says that faculty cannot exercise academic authority over a student with whom they have (or have had) a sexual or romantic relationship. No one disagrees with this. The current policy is basically P1 and quite a few colleagues think that it is “good enough” if we simply pay more attention to enforcement and make an effort to educate the community. Others among the “neithers” favor a P1-alone policy  because they have trepidations about the 6.X office and/or they have ethical concerns about the university telling the faculty that undergraduate students and certain graduate students are off-limits.

To my way of thinking even a rigorously enforced P1 is not “good enough” because it fails to look beyond the partners. It fails to acknowledge that workplace romance can have a negative impact on the surrounding academic environment—a kind of climate change denial.

On the 6.X office, it is essential to have an outside entity that oversees disclosure and enforcement. Should we be nervous about overreach, loss of privacy, etc?  Absolutely and on that I agree with many who voiced such concerns. However, it is important to distinguish between mapping out the principles behind the 6.X office in broad strokes, which is what the proposal does, and the follow-up exercise of working out the make-or-break implementation details. Opposing CRP-A and CRP-B because the workings of the 6.X office are not fully detailed is a mistake. The final official Policy 6.X, if it is to be effective, must be a joint effort that involves the University Counsel Office, the Office of Human Resources, and the faculty. A cynical view of this three-way collaboration by any of the three parties guarantees no forward motion.

Regarding the ethics of having certain relationships bans, I need a good reason before I would ever agree to such a thing. Such is the case for P2, the faculty-undergraduate prohibition. I fully support P2 for all the reasons cited in our report and am very pleased that the Senate and the Assemblies concur with such large majorities.

Just about everyone, including me, hesitates when it comes to P3, the same-field faculty-grad prohibition. However, I decided to support P3 and hence CRP-A for two reasons (1) Clarity. Having a bright line sends an unambiguous signal that there is a zone where the academic interests for the group have unequivocal  priority over the romantic interests of the individual. The bright line will promote a positive awareness of the policy beyond what it just says about intra-field relationships.  (2) Skepticism about gaming the disclosure system. There is the chance that CPR-A may drive more relationships underground. But there is also the chance that bad actors will game the CRP-B disclosure system by exploiting the vagaries of what constitutes authority within a graduate field or degree program. I am far more worried about the latter than the former.  Under CRP-B it  is relatively easy to say “I probably will  not have academic authority over this same-field student in the future so what’s the problem?”

It has been said by a colleague that CRP-A and CRP-B treat all consensual relationships as inherently coercive. This is a negative spin on the goal of these policies which is (among other things) to educate the community so that coercive situations do not arise. Our academic integrity policy does not treat students as “inherent cheaters”. Our financial disclosure policy does not treat professors with outside income as “inherent double-dippers.” No, these policies like CRP-A and CRP-B are intended to manage difficult situations with  integrity, fairness, and respect for what the university is all about.

Comments by Those Who Support CRP-B

Emily Davenport (Post-Doc, Molecular Biology and Genetics)

I fully support a ban on undergraduate – faculty relationships, as outlined in both CRP-A and CRP-B. This full ban ensures every undergraduate student is able to pursue their academic interests at Cornell free from conflicts of interest with a current or potential authority figure in their educational path.

Consensual relationships can also result in conflicts of interest between faculty members (or other authority figure) and graduate students. CRP-A addresses this issue with a graduate field ban. In my opinion, this does not go far enough.

In my particular discipline, graduate students regularly take classes outside of their declared field and seek advice from professors from a wide variety of departments. A field ban is an arbitrary line to draw, especially in the case of interdisciplinary subjects. Additionally, field size and scope varies between different parts of the university, which creates an imbalance depending on field. Finally, I worry that because policy CRP-A singles out relationships within field, relationships outside the field where conflicts of interest could potentially be stronger may not be as easily recognized by those who are in them.

Rather, I feel the process of going through the formal disclosure mechanism with the Policy 6.x Office for non-direct authority relationships between graduate students and faculty would result in greater protection of the academic environment, both within and between graduate fields.

Gina Giambattista (University Relations, Office of the Assemblies)

I personally support CRP-A. The difference between the two proposals is the “field ban” component which the committee discussed at length. While there was no outright unanimity in those discussions, I strongly believe that Cornell has a foremost obligation to its academic mission. Both the undergraduates and the graduate and professional students at Cornell should enjoy freedom from pressures of bias and favoritism in their academic progression. This policy goes far toward creating that environment.

Charles Seyler (Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering)

I would like to justify my vote for CRP-B. In principle I support CRP-A, but I believe that relationships between academic staff and Grad/Professional students in the same field will occur regardless of a ban. Therefore I feel that in order to prevent such relationships from becoming secretive and likely more problematic than if allowed with disclosure and management, it would be better to allow them under the restrictions stated in the CRP-B policy.

Last Updated: May 1, 2018 at 6:11 am