What is the appropriate discipline for professors who sexually harass, or have undisclosed dual relationships with, students ?
In the late nineties, a tenured professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland was fired after an internal investigation determined that he had sexually harassed a female student. In 1997, an arbitrator overturned the decision and dictated a more appropriate penalty. He found that the professor had not sexually harassed the student. The arbitrator underscored, however, that although the relationship was consensual, it was nevertheless unethical. The arbitrator ordered that the University reinstate the professor, issue a letter of reprimand in his file, oblige him to attend counselling at his own expense, and prevent him from engaging in inappropriate relationships with students. (Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association v Memorial University of Newfoundland Grievance Arbitration. Martin Teplitsky, Sole Arbitration, August 25, 1997)
- Was this sexual harassment ?
- Was this a dual relationship ?
- Was dismissal an appropriate response ?
Ontario Board of Inquiry Ruling
Ontario Board of Inquiry Reasoning
- The student entered willingly into the friendship and gave no indication that she did not welcome a sexual relationship.
- "The grievor was in a fiduciary relationship with his student. He ought not to have pursued a friendship with her which was personal and social in nature and which was not reasonably part of his professional relationship with her and within which he was seeking physical and sexual intimacies. In addition to the conflict of interest [...], the power imbalance which resulted from his position as her professor both hampered her disengaging from the "friendship" and her emphatically saying "no". She was not at fault. He was completely at fault and must take full responsibility. Needless to say, I am not suggesting that either professors and students should not be friendly with each other, or that traditional after-semester professor-sponsored social occasions are not appropriate. The relationship which developed in this case was of an entirely different kind." (Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association [...] p.11)
- "I have no doubt that discharge is not the appropriate disciplinary response for a first offence of this kind. In the absence of an express policy prohibiting such relationships and/or requiring their immediate disclosure so that the inherent conflicts of interest may wherever possible be addressed, it would be unfair, unreasonable and unnecessary to end the grievor's academic career. The legitimate interests of the employer, the university community and the complainant can be met by a lesser disciplinary response which is also designed to prevent any reoccurrence of this kind of conduct." (Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association [...] p. 12)