Dons vote to tone down sexual code: Disclosing relationships to be voluntary despite claims of blighted student lives

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HUNDREDS of female students have had their lives 'devastated' by sexual relationships with their lecturers, members of the Association of University Teachers were told yesterday.

But the association's council voted to tone down a proposed code of conduct which would have compelled lecturers to disclose sexual or emotional relationships with students or face disciplinary action. Several speakers feared that this would put homosexual staff at risk.

Irene Moxon, of Bradford University, said that she had received more than 400 letters and telephone calls since academic staff at the university adopted a code covering relationships between lecturers and students last year. The code, which they are negotiating with the university authorities, would make it a potential disciplinary offence not to disclose a relationship.

Speaking at the association's council meeting in Weston-Super-Mare, Avon, Ms Moxon said that all but three of the letters had been from women whose careers had been blighted by relationships at university. 'Many of the men involved are in very powerful positions and have had relationships with academic staff as well as having several with students,' she said.

She had dealt with a number of extremely difficult cases, in which students were 'having serious mental health problems, having abortions and having their lives devastated'.

But Eddie Thornley, a computer officer at Warwick University, said: 'I do not expect trade unionists to be moral policemen. I don't think that if I was to disclose a relationship with an 18- year-old man, the university would take it no further.'

Afterwards he said that he had had a relationship with a young man who became a student. 'A well-intentioned idea has been hijacked by a moral minority. Our university has a policy on sexual harassment that would cover the worries that there are about power relationships.'

The code proposed by the association's executive would have made it a duty for a member of staff to disclose a relationship to a supervisor or colleague. The university would then be obliged to reorganise the teacher's duties to avoid contact with the student concerned. It added: 'Failure to disclose a potentially incompatible association may be regarded as misconduct and may leave them (staff) open to disciplinary action.'

But the council voted to remove this part of the code after Alistair Hunter, of Glasgow University, said: 'It is no business of a union already heavily involved in personal and discipline cases to do management's job in finding more reasons for disciplinary action.'

The amended code, which the AUT will seek to have adopted in universities, urges members to disclose relationships, but does not make it a duty.