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University of Illinois reviews relationship policy

January 19, 2019

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The University of Illinois is reviewing its policy on consensual relationships between students and faculty members after a law professor’s study found the current policy to be lacking.

Jamelle Sharpe characterized UI’s policies as anti-nepotism rules rather than specifically addressing faculty-student relationships, The News-Gazette reported . He examined policies at 64 schools in the Big Ten and the Association of American Universities.

Like many other schools, UI’s policy focuses on conflicts of interest, Sharpe said. More than 50 universities ban relationships between students and faculty members who supervise them, but Illinois’ policy is unclear.

“It’s kind of a middle ground, with the school saying: ’We’re not going to completely ban these relationships, nor are we going to let them run their course totally unregulated,” Sharpe said.

However, UI’s justifications and consequences for such relationships are “comparatively narrow or entirely absent,” the report said.

UI’s Student Code policy on faculty-student relationships focuses on sexual relationships and has ambiguous language that could cause enforcement inconsistencies, Sharpe said. The university’s Campus Administrative Manual also addresses faculty-student relationships, but only applies to students who are employees, the report said.

Sharpe said the university needs a specific policy for consensual student-faculty relationships. He’s now leading a committee to review the university’s policy.

Officials said the goal of the committee is to ensure the policy is clear regarding who it covers, what conduct it covers and what consequences there are. Officials said one issue the committee will consider addressing is the inherent imbalance of such relationships. The committee will also consider whether or not certain relationships are protected by the right to privacy.

Only a few private schools have completely banned relationships between students and faculty members, even if they have no academic ties, the report said.

Public and private universities follow different legal guidelines, Sharpe said.

“A public university’s conduct is subject to constitutional restrictions in a way that a private university’s would not be,” he said.

A total ban could be challenged by the First Amendment’s right to free association, Sharpe said.

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

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