MSU faculty calling for ban on teacher-student relationships

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Several faculty members at Michigan State University want to ban sexual relationships between teachers and students.

Associate Professor Mark Waddell is among those asking the University Council to recommend policy changes to prohibit romantic and sexual relationships between faculty or academic staff and undergraduate students. Waddell told the Lansing State Journal that the existing policy lacks clarity to protect students from predatory relationships.

“As a community, I think, we have a much clearer sense of the possibilities of coercive relationships, what consent means,” said Waddell, who chairs the University Committee on Faculty Affairs.

The policy changes would also limit graduate teaching assistants from dating undergraduate students, as well as teachers from dating graduate students, lifelong students or research assistants.

The proposal comes as the former dean of the osteopathic medical school, William Strampel, faces a new charge of sexually harassing female students. Strampel had oversight over the now-imprisoned Larry Nassar , a former university doctor who was convicted of child pornography crimes and sexual assault last year. More than 150 young women and girls accused him of molestation.

The changes stem from an examination of policies at other Big Ten schools and peer universities across the country, said Terry Curry, the university’s associate provost and associate vice president for academic human resources.

The university’s current policy states that instructors should not start a sexual or romantic relationship with a student if they have “educational responsibility” for them. But the policy doesn’t clearly define educational responsibility.

The proposed changes would define it as “power or authority to evaluate, influence, provide or control aspects related to a student’s education or professional development.” The definition could cover teaching, mentoring, evaluating research and recommending for employment, among other things.

The proposal will allow an exception if an instructor doesn’t have educational responsibility for a student, but it’s rare, according to Curry.

Waddell hopes the council will recommend the changes to the Board of Trustees later this month. The board would then need to approve the changes, which Curry said could happen this June.

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