Guidelines For Staff- Student Affairs

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The Independent Online
BOTH OF the lecturers' unions have guidelines that cover in some detail the subject of relationships with students. The Association of University Teachers, for example, has a code of conduct which points out that sexual or romantic relationships between students and staff raise serious questions of conflict of interest, trust, confidence and dependency, as well as threatening the equal treatment of students in teaching, learning, selection, assessment and research.

For an academic to embark on a relationship with a student will involve serious risks, the code adds, and may involve serious difficulties rooted in the unequal power of the parties concerned. Such relationships can also disrupt teaching and learning for other students and colleagues.

For such reasons, the AUT recommends that staff involved with students should declare their relationships to their superiors in confidence. The university authorities should then move the member of staff, so that they don't teach that student any longer.

The other lecturers' union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe), takes a similar stand. In a policy agreed at its 1995 annual conference, it pronounced improper relationships between staff and students to be ill-advised and unprofessional. In a background note, it added: "It is unacceptable for any member of staff to abuse their power for sexual gratification."

Lecturers are in a position of authority over students and their relationship is not an equal one, it went on. Such power imbalance rests on the fact that staff award grades, mark examination papers and write references. The power gap is increased by the lecturer's greater academic knowledge of the institution, and his or her status within it. "It is professionally inappropriate for staff to regard their students as potential sexual partners."

Most affairs involve male staff and younger female students. The issue becomes entangled with the power relationships between men and women. Natfhe draws attention to the "predatory behaviour of some male lecturers who engage in multiple, concurrent, or consecutive affairs with students".

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