Light & Verity

University bans faculty-student sex

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

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After more than a quarter century of debate, Yale faculty members are now barred from sexual relationships with undergraduates—not just their own students, but any Yale undergrads.

The new policy, announced to faculty in November and incorporated into the updated faculty handbook in January, is “an idea whose time has come,” says Deputy Provost Charles Long, who has advocated the ban since 1983.

In his decades at Yale, Long has seen many faculty-student romances. Most turn out fine, he says, but others are destructive to students. “I think we have a responsibility to protect students from behavior that is damaging to them and to the objectives for their being here.”

Previously, the university had prohibited such relationships only when the faculty member had “direct pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities” over the student. That remains the rule for affairs between faculty and graduate or professional students, and between grad students and undergrads.

The faculty-undergrad policy came under review last fall as Long undertook a periodic update of the faculty handbook. “We discussed it with a large number of faculty people” before approval by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ steering committee and executive committee.

“I remember a reliable member of the faculty,” Long recalls, “who said, ‘It really is kind of simple. Parents don’t send their kids to Yale to sleep with their professors. Why don’t we say that?’”

An imbalance of power forms the rationale for treating Yale College students differently from their older counterparts. Undergrads, the revised handbook says, “are particularly vulnerable to the unequal institutional power inherent in the teacher-student relationship and the potential for coercion, because of their age and relative lack of maturity.”

Long says his recommendation for an outright ban met resistance over the years, in part because administrators wanted a uniform policy for all of Yale’s schools, and in part because women students saw a ban as paternalistic.

But when Long circulated the policy change among faculty last fall, feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with only two objections, he reports. “A lot of people said, ‘Gee, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t prohibited.’”  

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