Pitt revises faculty, student relationship policy


Pitt’s faculty Assembly voted to make the relationship policy at Pitt stricter. Jeff Ahearn | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt’s Faculty Assembly approved a revision to its consensual relationship policy Tuesday that now bans students from engaging in relationships with faculty or staff who are or could be in a position of supervision over them.

The assembly voted to include staff members in the policy — which includes anyone in an administrative or support position at the University, including deans, registrars and secretaries. Faculty members, including professors and graduate teaching assistants, were already included in the policy. Supervisors also may not initiate relationships with their employees, in the revised policy.

The policy, which has been in effect since July 1996, prohibits faculty and staff members from entering into relationships with students whose work, teaching or research they are evaluating. In instances where faculty and staff are not directly supervising a student, the University “discourages” relationships, but does not prohibit them, according to the policy —”due to the potential for significant disruption to the academic and/or professional environment.”

If a student engages in a relationship with a faculty or staff member who is in a supervisory position, the superior must disclose this to their own supervisors, who are then required to create a plan ensuring the student is no longer under that faculty or staff member’s authority.

Under the new policy, it is now necessary to establish an “educational and work environment [that] is based on professional relationships in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.” The University said the policy is in place to avoid conflicts of interest, favoritism and exploitation.

An ad hoc committee has been working to change the policy since 2015 after it drafted a new sexual misconduct policy. Now that the Faculty Assembly has approved the revision, the Senate Council will discuss it at the next meeting on Feb. 22.

According to a release from the University, the Assembly voted 30-1 with two abstentions to approve the policy.

The change was also proposed in the October 2016 and December 2016 meetings, but the Assembly did not vote in favor because of concerns that the policy would leave faculty susceptible to accusations or administrative abuse.  

Chris Bonneau, an associate professor of political science, led the efforts to vote down previous revisions to the policy because he felt they did not properly outline procedures or allegations.

“It was way too vague and opened up faculty to being disciplined for unfounded rumors,” Bonneau said. “Moreover, it also allowed for arbitrary punishment from administrators, and I worried this could be a way to undermine academic freedom and have petty supervisors discipline faculty they did not like.”

Bonneau said he thought the original policy was enough to protect students and faculty, but he voted for the revision anyway.

“I think the policy is unnecessary since the status quo was fine,” he said. “But I voted for it because this version of the policy protected the rights of the faculty.”