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Dual Realtionships in Higher Education
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Dual Realtionships in Higher Education


This paper details faculty-student interaction and sometimes how these interactions get out of control resulting in private relationships including sexual relationships. An outline of such issues …

This paper details faculty-student interaction and sometimes how these interactions get out of control resulting in private relationships including sexual relationships. An outline of such issues along with court recommendations is examined. The influence of the resulting precedents to the educational institution is then discussed in the paper.

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  • 1. Dual Relationships 1 Running Head: Dual Relationship in Higher Education Dual Relationship in Higher Education Sejal Mehta The Pennsylvania State University
  • 2. Dual Relationships 2 Abstract Faculty performs multiple roles in their relationship with students including those of supervisor, instructor, advisor, and so on. These roles often result in informal interactions sometimes resulting in private relationships including sexual relationships. An outline of such issues along with court recommendations is examined. The influence of the resulting precedents to the educational institution is then discussed.
  • 3. Dual Relationships 3 University and college faculty face complex professional and ethical issues in their interactions and involvement with the students. On the one hand there is an appreciation of the positive impact of increased faculty and student interaction outside the classroom. On the other hand, there is growing sensitivity over the potential for exploitation of students and caution faculty against personal relationships with their students. It is a challenge for faculty to realize that the “faculty role” in relation to students is not a single role, rather they have to perform complex multiple roles in their relationships which include those of research supervisor, instructor, academic advisor and so on. This multiple role has encouraged faculty to extend their professional roles into more personal realms and to socialize and interact with students in more informal settings. As faculty become more and more involved in the private lives of their students, they find themselves in relationships with them that extend beyond the traditional boundaries of academia. This could financial or business relationships, hiring students as baby sitters, loaning money to students, and involving students in a private business venture. These informal interactions or personal relationships also sometimes evolve into sexual relationships which is the extreme negative end of the continuum (Rupert & Holmes, 1997). Due to the inherent power difference between faculty and students, students are usually at greater risk for exploitation as they enter into relationships with faculty extending outside the classroom. The risk to the faculty lies in losing their ability to maintain fairness in acting in the best interest of the students in terms of instructional evaluative roles. The scope of this paper is limited to the legal consequences that may arise due to a sexual relationship between faculty and students. The research that is
  • 4. Dual Relationships 4 available on this topic indicates that such relationships do occur with some frequency (Rupert & Holmes, 1997). Issues and Court Recommendations Franklin v. Gwinnet County Public Schools case “Several types of legal decisions affect the ways in which policy makers can and must address incidents of inappropriate sexual behavior: federal regulations, state and federal laws, and court cases” (Penney, 1996 p.47). One of the landmark cases till date is the Franklin v. Gwinnet County Public Schools and has implications for addressing issues of sexual harassment. The case arose from the sexual harassment of a female high school student from her teacher. Although school authorities were aware of the harassment, no action was taken, in fact when the student complained, the school authorities tried to persuade her not to pursue her claims. The school, ultimately, permitted the teacher to resign and promised that no action would be taken against him (Vargyas, 1993). It was after this case that sexual harassment became a major issue nationwide. In October 1992, it was confirmed that the professor had harassed the student in the early 1980’s. “The Supreme Court then ruled that student victims of sexual harassment may collect damage payments under Title IX of the 1972 Federal Education Act” (Wishnietsky & Felder, 1994 p. 37). The Supreme Court rules that educational institutions through supervisors of classrooms, can be liable for monetary damages under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, if they were aware of faculty sexual harassment of students and did not take any action to deter it. (Guthrie-Morse, 1996). Prior to this case the issue of monetary damages had not been addresses and few sexual harassment cases had been prosecuted under title IX. It is after this case that the Supreme
  • 5. Dual Relationships 5 Court held that a monetary damage remedy is available to an individual claiming sexual harassment under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The case’s influence “Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity receiving Federal Financial Assistance” (Guthrie-Morse, 1996 p.50). Before the Franklin case the only remedy under the law was a court order to stop harassment, but now educational institutions can be ordered to pay the victims compensatory damages. With the risk of having to pay monetary damages, it is expected that these educational institutions will implement policies, procedures and regulations designed to protect students from sexual harassment. All states should require their units to develop policies that will create an environment free from discrimination and conduct that is in any way harassing, coercive or disruptive. Each educational institution, school district, county office of education, and community colleges should establish a policy on sexual harassment. The policy must be easily accessible, be a part of any orientation program for new students, be distributed to all faculty and staff, be a part of any publication on standards of conduct, and also include the rules and procedures for reporting charges of sexual harassment (Wishnietsky & Felder, 1994). Quid pro quo and Hostile Environment The Courts have recognized two types of sexual harassment: “quid pro quo” and “hostile environment” Quid pro quo cases have typically involved a trade off in which sexual favors are exchanged for some benefit. This was seen in the Alexander v. Yale University case, where a student alleged that a poor grade was the result of her rejection of a professor offering her a grad A in return for sexual favors (Cole, 1986). In the above
  • 6. Dual Relationships 6 mentioned case five students sued the university for not investigating or taking action for complaints of sexual harassment by female students. The court found only one of the case, with the student receiving a poor grade came under the quid pro quo claim (Keller, 1998). The court considered the other claims of the students insufficient for judicial action. The court stated that such behavior constitutes sex discrimination in education just as it does in employment (Cole, 1986). Hostile environment harassment cases do not require the loss of any benefit but the sexual harassment is severe enough to actually change the conditions of the environment and create an abusive atmosphere, also to be actionable the harassment should be unwelcome by the student (Guthrie-Morse, 1996). Hostile environment cases would rarely involve a single incident; it would be characterized by repeated instances. This was seen in Korf v. Ball State University case where current and former students accused an associate professor of making unwelcome homosexual advances and offering good grades for sexual favors. The professor denied the allegation and admitted a sexual relationship with one student. He characterized the relationship with the student as consensual. A hearing committee of the University ultimately dismissed the professor. The professor claimed the dismissal violated his rights of due process because he had inadequate warning. The courts claimed that just common sense, reason and good judgement warned him of such results. The hearing committee found enough evidence supporting the charge that Korf was guilty of unethical conduct because he used his position and influence as a teacher to exploit students for his private advantage. The courts indicated their dislike for sexual harassment when a faculty member challenges disciplinary action on the ground that the student consented to sexual encounter. The
  • 7. Dual Relationships 7 courts reasoning is that a student may consent to a relationship with a teacher, but this might put other students to a disadvantage if the professor favors the consenting students in academic activities and evaluations (Keller, 1988). The courts focus on whether a sexual advance by a person in authority is unwelcome rather than whether the participation in the sexual act was consensual, The courts recognize it as a dilemma for the subordinates who fear the lack of compliance with serious consequences. There is a power difference between faculty and students and the students are the ones who are in the vulnerable position. Regardless of the faculty’s intention, the student may consent to unwanted sexual liaisons because of uncertainty regarding the academic consequences of non-compliance (Keller, 1988). Title VII as applicable to Educational Environment In deciding the Gwinnet case the Supreme Court relied on the Merriter Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson case, which comes under Title VII. It has then been considered reasonable to assume “Title VII employment law will be applied in deciding student versus faculty harassment cases” (Guthrie-Morse, 1996 p. 51). There are five Title VII standards that will be applied to educational environments. A professor’s request for or acceptance of sexual favors in return for grades or other educational benefits is comparable to quid pro quo sexual harassment. It is not very clear as to the extent to which hostile environment claims and institutional liability may arise when no trade off is involved. Based on the second standard of Title VII, a student can allege hostile environme nt harassment if confronted with sexual jokes, remarks or uses obscene pictures of women. One court ahs suggested the regulation of seemingly consensual faculty student relationship. The determining question may not be consent but whether the student welcomed the activity.
  • 8. Dual Relationships 8 The important thing to understand here is the behaviors that a student may define as welcome may change over time. In applying the third standard of Title VII to educational settings, it is stated that in the absence of any judicial precedent for institutions claiming risks of sexual harassment, the faculty member will come under the same standards that apply for supervisory personnel. The fourth standard suggests that universities can reduce liabilities for sexual harassment by implementing explicit policies prohibiting such harassment and procedures for resolving such claims. Institutions must develop such procedures and both students and faculty should be informed of them. Lastly the fifth standard mandates the duty to prevent sexual harassment. If appropriate policies and procedures are in place, the courts may be lenient in first time incidents of sexual harassment. But in all probabilities, the institution will be accountable for professors engaging in sexual harassment for the second time ( Guthrie-Morse, 1996). Non-Instructional Relationship case There is a difference if the case involves a consensual sexual relationship with no allegations of harassment or outrageous public misconduct. Unlike the Korf v. Ball State University case, in Naragon v. Wharton case, Naragon, a music instructor had a lesbian relationship with a freshman student who was over eighteen years of age. The instructor was not on in a position to evaluate, recommend or otherwise affect the student’s academic progress. The student was not enrolled nor likely to enroll in any classes taught by the instructor. The student never lodged a complaint against the instructor, though the student’s parents expressed their concern to university officials. Upon investigation, the instructor told the university it is a private matter and not the university’s business. The university administrators decided in the “best interest of the university” to relieve the
  • 9. Dual Relationships 9 instructor of teaching assignments and re-assign her to research activities. The court examined the court examined the university’s interest which was asserted by the university that it based its decision on the belief that relationship between teachers and students are unprofessional and likely to be detrimental to the students and to the university. The court stated that the university was concerned that: such a relationship can give the impression of abuse of authority, it can create in the mind of other students a perception of unfairness and in most cases does affect other students opinion of the teacher. This inherent power difference between faculty and students is applicable in instructional context which includes coursework, evaluations, recommendations and so on, and in such cases even a student’s consent cannot be assured. There is compelling interest by the university to protect students from such exploitation and also other students resulting in academic disadvantage. But in Naragon’s case, the relationship with the student was outside the instructional context and when outside of instructional context, an intimate faculty-student relationship resulting form coercion cannot be justified. The teacher cannot threaten or reward the student academically for a sexual favor. A bright line test can be formulated where “Intimate consensual relationship falling outside the instructional context ate constitutionally protected from university interference” (Keller, 1988 p. 41). So in the Naragon case, the relationship rose outside the instructional context, there were no allegations of harassment, and unlikely the instructor would ever academically supervise the student, the university had no right to intervene (Keller, 1988). Conclusion
  • 10. Dual Relationships 10 Educators do have a legal and ethical responsibility to prevent sexual harassment within educational institutions. Even without legal precedents it is the noble ideals of democracy within the academic community that indicates an ethical responsibility to provide a harassment free environment. As noted earlier, faculty interact with students in varied professional roles, and the line between an appropriate professional relationship that helps in the student’s development and potential exploitation is not always drawn easily. Two recommendations within this area are: 1) More research on faculty student relationship in higher education is needed. Unfortunately, in contrast to the available literature regarding dual relationships in other professions, the ethics of dual relationship in higher education has not received much attention and 2) Greater to educate and sensitize faculty about faculty student relationships are needed. The efforts could involve more discussion on such relationship issues in the professional literature as well as educational programs aimed at current and future faculty (Rupert & Holmes, 1997).
  • 11. Dual Relationships 11 References Cole, E. K., (1986). Recent legal developments in sexual harassment. Journal of College and University Law, 13, 267-284. Guthrie-Morse, B., (1996). Handling the confidential student complaint of faculty sexual harassment: and administrative course of action. Initiatives, 57, 49-54. Keller, E. A., (1988). Consensual amorous relationships between faculty and students: the constitutional right to privacy. Journal of College and University Law, 15, 21-42. Penney, S. W., (1996). Changing legal aspects of sexual assault and harassment: implications for practice. Initiatives, 57, 47-52 Rupert, P. A. & Holmes, D. L., (1997). Dual relationships in higher education: professional and institutional guidelines. Journal of Higher Educ ation, 68, 660–678. Vargyas, E. J., (1993). Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools and its implications on Title IX enforcement. Journal of College and University Law, 19, 373– 384 Wishnietsky, D. H. & Felder, D., (1994). The effect of “Franklin v. Gwinnett County” on sexual harassment policy in secondary education. Initiatives, 56, 37-46
  • 12. Dual Relationships 12