While navigating workplace romances presents challenges for employers, there is one textbook example the University of New Mexico should follow: banning sex between instructors and their undergraduate students.
Harvard has done it; so has Yale. Central New Mexico Community College prohibits relationships between those with authority and their subordinates, including teachers with students and coaches with players.
These institutions of higher learning understand there is a balance to be struck between fostering an atmosphere where people are free to explore new ideas and experiences and setting up a situation for someone to a.) take advantage of someone younger and less experienced with the promise/threat of a grade change and/or b.) entice a mentor with the goal of an improved grade.
The risk outweighs any reward. A university that has weathered its own sex scandals (from an associate professor who posed on a sadomasochism website with at least one graduate student, to a now former president who was accused of running an online prostitution ring and found with an office full of sex toys and porn, to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into response to allegations of sexual assault and harassment) should understand that.
There are good reasons that romantic/sexual relationships are off limits between lawyers and their clients; doctors and their patients; counselors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists and those they treat; law enforcement or corrections officers and those they have in custody: All involve a one-sided power equation that clouds the definition of consensual.
So the argument by longtime professor Richard Holder, that “most of our students are consenting adults, and it’s not unusual for adults to have relationships with people they work with” really misses the point when it comes to undergraduate students and their professors.
Holder was president of the Faculty Senate last year when the school created its policy warning against, but not banning, consensual relationships. He says, “Most faculty would agree that, when there is a romantic liaison that crosses the boundaries of academic power, then that’s a real problem.”
It is, and one easily avoided by not allowing teachers and the undergrads in their classes to be friends with benefits. UNM needs to be the responsible adult in this situation and align its 2014 policy with the aforementioned other respected institutions of higher learning.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.