UMSU calls for student-faculty relationship policy

Policy would be restricted to faculty in positions of power over students

After another member of U of M faculty was placed on leave following harassment allegations in December, UMSU has released a statement calling on the university to implement a policy prohibiting certain relationships between faculty and students.

On Dec. 8, U of M professor and director of the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals Peter Jones was placed on leave when it was revealed he had been accused of misconduct, including inappropriate student relationships.

UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said the decision to release the statement is something the board discussed for some time.

“Sadly, this was not the first time we’ve heard about that issue this year, and it’s not the first time we’ve heard about it in the last few years,” he said.

The U of M currently has no set policy on student-faculty romantic relationships but considers a “close personal relationship between an evaluator and a student or applicant” as a conflict of interest that must be disclosed.

The University of Winnipeg’s sexual violence prevention policy includes a definition of consent, wherein it is stated “there is no consent where one person abuses a position of trust, power, or authority over another person.”

It is also mentioned in the university’s conflict of interest policy that “by virtue of the nature of their role in the university, faculty members will almost always inevitably be in a conflict of interest if they have a sexual or romantic relationship with a student.” It does not, however, outright ban these relationships.

Sanderson said the proposed ban would not prohibit all relationships between student and faculty and called it a “middle-ground approach.”

“The reality is there are a lot of students who are consenting adults at this university, and there are faculty members that are consenting adults, and occasionally there are students that are even older than the faculty members — but the issue is where there’s a direct power imbalance,” he said.

“So you’re looking at professors and students in the class, department heads and students in the department, research supervisors, deans and people in the faculty and so on.”

While the U of M’s conflict of interest policy requires any “close personal relationship” between students and faculty that could be a conflict of interest to be disclosed, Sanderson said this procedure is not enough.

“What Peter Jones was alleged of doing, [people] were correct in saying that’s already outside of the policy that exists,” he said.

“If you are in a relationship with a student you have a direct power imbalance with, that has to be reported and you have to take yourself out of that situation. But to just get from that spot to a spot where it’s not allowed in the first place, I think will create a lot less loopholes and will create a safer campus.”

According to U of M spokesperson John Danakas, “updated intimate relationship guidelines” are under development.

Sanderson said it is important for the university to take these demands into consideration.

“I think that this university needs to think seriously about the position that it’s in,” he said.

“About where its reputation is at, and how students are seeing this university. And they need to listen to the student leaders quite seriously when we bring these types of issues forward.”