Comment on Strengthening our Policy against Sexual Violence: A University-wide initiative by David Wees

February 5, 2019  —  Uncategorized


I’m glad to see that progress has been made in developing these policies. And I agree with the need to protect all parties as some people may be in a vulnerable situation. However, I have some questions, mainly about how these policies will be put into practice.

– How will the need to provide protection to individuals be balanced with individuals’ right to privacy? Wasn’t it Pierre Trudeau who said “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”? Will the University need some sort of “relationship police” to check up on suspected banned relationships? This sounds Orwellian.
– “In addition, romantic and sexual relationships between teaching staff and students within the same Faculty must be disclosed immediately by the teaching staff member”. In practice, how will this work? For example, let’s say Professor X and student Y have a relationship, when do they declare this: after the first date, the first kiss, the first time they have a coffee together, etc.? What if, for one party, that first coffee was… just a coffee but for the other party it was a major step: will this now count as a romantic relationship? And what does “disclosed immediately” mean? After a first kiss, the staff member must run to the department chair and declare his/her love for the other party? I may be nit-picking here but I could see rather complicated situations arising here.
– The policy specifically discusses relationships between students and teaching staff. But what about non-teaching staff? Could situations arise where relationships between students and non-teaching staff could lead to conflicts of interest, for example, or where a student works under the supervision of said non-teaching staff?
– “The revised Policy would ban sexual and romantic relationships between teaching staff and students under their academic influence or authority”. At first glance, this makes perfect sense because of the risk of conflict of interest and/or abuse of power in such a relationship. However, there may be some complications when actually applying this policy. For example, if Prof. X and student Y have a “banned” relationship (according to the definition above), what are their choices? They could break off their relationship (which could prove emotionally painful and could leave a lot of awkward feelings, particularly if student Y continues to be under the authority, supervision or influence of Prof X or even just studying in the same academic unit). They could hide their relationship but that defeats the purpose of the policy. They could openly admit their relationship but then what happens next? Does the department chair or Dean of the Faculty force one of the parties to leave that unit? If that’s the case, who is more likely to leave, the student or the professor? I think the student would likely feel compelled to leave in which case the policy that is supposed to protect the student actually ends up hurting him/her the most.
– What happens if student Y is under the supervision of Prof. X but is having a relationship with Prof. Z who happens to be a friend or research colleague of Prof. X. but belongs to a different Faculty? According to the policy, this is not a “banned relationship” but one could see how it could end up being quite awkward for all parties, especially if the relationship went sour.

As they say, the devil is in the details. This certainly seems the case with a policy as complex as this one.

Article courtesy of The McGill Reporter

Article courtesy of The McGill Reporter