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Harvard Bans Profs From Having Sex With Students

Harvard undergrads hoping to launch a steamy romance with a hot professor are now out of luck: On Thursday, the school adopted a new policy which totally bans all romantic and sexual relationships between professors and students.

Previous Harvard policy had described liaisons between professors and students they teach as inappropriate, but there was no such ban on professors copulating with students they did not teach. The school’s statement said the old rule “did not explicitly reflect the faculty’s expectations of what constituted an appropriate relationship between undergraduate students and faculty members.”

Such a policy is actually fairly rare in the world of higher education, and many schools have no restrictions on professor/student relationships at all. Despite this, the American Association of University Professors has warned that such relationships are “fraught with the potential for exploitation” thanks to the strong power differential between the two people involved.

A quick Internet search reveals that there are plenty of young students who can feel romantically drawn to great minds, and no lack of lecherous professors ready to take advantage of that attraction. For instance, an anonymous writer at Thought Catalog last year recounted her turbulent affair with a philosophy professor who went through a series of student mistresses. At Northwestern University, a failed romance between a philosophy professor and a grad student spiraled into accusations of rape and a bitter lawsuit. At the University of Colorado-Boulder, the entire philosophy department is at risk of being shut down over allegations that faculty created an environment of sexual misconduct and exploitation towards grad students (for some reason, a large proportion of controversial student/faculty relationships involve philosophers).

Also driving change are court rulings which have found that universities can be held liable for sexual harassment committed by faculty against students. As a result, a growing number of schools have been implementing policies to explicitly codify bans on relationships, rather than merely discourage them. Schools that have preceded Harvard with bans include Yale and the University of California.

The policy shift could also be motivated by the Obama administration’s ongoing investigation of Harvard for possible Title IX violations over its handling of sexual assault. The administration has ramped up its efforts to prevent sexual assault on campus, and nearly 100 schools are under investigation. Many schools are scrambling to show they are taking the issue seriously in order to avoid what could be severe federal penalties.

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