“To put it bluntly, ASU students are not part of your dating pool.”
Helene Ossipov, ASU Faculty Senate President
The Arizona State University Senate is voting Nov. 3 to overhaul the school’s policy on intimate relationships between professors and students (ACD 402). The proposed strike-all acknowledges that the imbalance of power between educators and students inherently compromises a student’s ability to consent to such relationship, regardless of a student’s willingness.
The current policy applies only to students over whom professors have direct authority. The new policy would recognize that a professor has the capacity to influence the academic careers of all* ASU students, not just those currently enrolled in the professor’s class.
“To put it bluntly,” said the Senate president to a professor complaining that the sheer number of ASU students living in the Tempe/Phoenix-Metro area would make it difficult for professors not to date them, “ASU students are not part of your dating pool.”
The history of ACD 402 reveals ASU’s reluctance and indifference towards enforcing the policy. ACD 402 was diluted following a meeting in 2011 where former ASU Title IX Coordinator Kamala Green challenged SDASA’s assertion that flirtatious/sexual advances by professors towards students inherently constitute sexual harassment. Crucial language was removed from the older policy (which was called “Sexual Harassment,” not “Amorous Relationships”) that expressed the need for the policy to prevent the abuse and exploitation of students by authority figures.
Even an apparently consensual amorous relationship, however, may lead to sexual harassment or other breaches of professional obligations, particularly if one of the individuals in the relationship has a professional responsibility toward or is in a position of authority with respect to the other, such as in the context of instruction, advisement, or supervision. Due to the power difference, it may be difficult to avoid the appearance of favoritism or to assure a truly consensual relationship. Amorous relationships may result in conduct that amounts to sexual harassment or that violates the professional duties of even-handed treatment and maintenance of an atmosphere conducive to learning or working. In light of these serious risks, every individual in a position of authority should take great care not to abuse that power in personal relationships. Specifically, if involved in an amorous relationship with someone over whom he or she has supervisory authority, the individual must remove himself or herself from any participation in recommendations or decisions affecting evaluation, employment conditions, instruction, or the academic status of the other person in the relationship, and must inform his or her immediate supervisor of the action taken.
The 2011 policy does not mention or reference sexual harassment, making it difficult for students to express and for the university to validate the way professors sexually harass, coerce, and sexually abuse students. The Senate’s proposed overhaul is much-needed and long overdue.
1998: ACD 402 is called “Sexual Harassment” and contains important language on the risk of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in amorous relationships between professors and students.
2005-2012: Students from Barrett Honors College Study Abroad trips report multiple Barrett professors–male and female–for sexual harassment, stalking, and sexual abuse.
2010-2011: Students meet with Barrett Honors College Deans and ASU Title IX Coordinator Kamala Green to discuss Barrett professors’ sexual harassment. Language describing sexual harassment and risk for abuse is removed from ACD 402.
2012: ASU alum files a sexual harassment complaint against Barrett professor Jacquie Scott for sexual harassment on a Study Abroad trip, and mentions several other Barrett professors who engage in similar inappropriate behavior with students. Title IX Coordinator Green’s investigation finds insufficient evidence of her professor’s sexual harassment and allows Dr. Scott to continue teaching and leading Study Abroad. Dr. Eric Susser is fired from Barrett for violating ACD 402.
2013: ASU alum Jasmine Lester joins Know Your IX‘s protest outside the Department of Education, demanding for the Department of Education to enforce Title IX. Lester goes public about Barrett rape culture in the State Press. Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault is founded. A year-long review of ASU’s amorous relationship policy begins. Barrett professor Dr. Dave Conz is fired from Barrett for providing alcohol to an underage former student he was dating.
2014: As a result of Know Your IX’s protest, the White House announces a Task Force to protect students from sexual assault. SDASA helps anonymous Barrett student “Jane” file a sexual abuse complaint against Dr. Joel Hunter. SDASA publishes a blog and petition calling for the removal of Barrett faculty predators. Fox 10 News runs its first story on Barrett rape culture. Dr. Hunter is removed from campus, and a high-powered law firm is hired by ASU to conduct an “independent investigation” of relationships between Barrett professors and students. SDASA files a Title IX complaint against Barrett that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights incorporates into its broader investigation of ASU’s Title IX violations.
2014: The ASU Senate Task Force on Amorous Relationship Policies is convened and the overhaul of ACD 402 is proposed. The professor who sexually harassed and stalked SDASA founder Jasmine Lester, receives a promotion to “Dean’s Fellow.” Barrett professors Dr. Kevin Dalton and Dr. David Pickus no longer teach classes. Fox 10 News runs its second story on Barrett rape culture. The senate will meet for the second reading of the proposed ACD 402 rewrite on November 3, 2014 from 3-5pm in EDC 117 on ASU’s Tempe campus.
11/3/14: The ASU University Senate just voted down the proposed rewrite of ASU’s Prof/student relationship policy that would have better protected students. Professors were preoccupied with hypothetical exemptions from the policy, and ASU’s College of Law strongly objected to the proposed policy change. It is disheartening and scary to see so many ASU faculty members display such outright disdain for the safety of their students.
1/25/15: The new policy broadens the ban on professor/student relationships to include any students whom an instructor can “reasonably be expected” to have academic or employment authority over. This could apply to entire departments or schools within the university.
3/2015: ASU hires new staff to Office of Equity & Inclusion in charge of handling complaints against faculty.
*The proposed revision of ACD 402 applies to undergraduate students because the University Senate believes relationships between graduate students and professors to be “different.” SDASA disagrees: the power dynamic is the same if not more severe for graduate students, whose careers rely heavily on faculty in authority positions. The Univeristy Senate proposes that relationships between professors and graduate students be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis in accordance with ACD 402.