I remember years ago, here at Wisconsin, they put us faculty through an elaborate training session about how to follow the new rule about faculty-student sexual relations. It was elaborate because it was not simply a rule against it. (Click "read more," below, to see the text of the rule.) It was a reporting requirement. When, exactly, did you need to file a report about the relative location of your genitalia and how?
I remember asking a 2-part question: Doesn't this really function as a rule against student-teacher sexual relations and why don't we just have a straightforward rule against student-teacher sexual relations? I can't remember the answer, other than that it was roundabout and evasive. I had 2 ideas about what the answer really was:
1. Perhaps they thought that there is an important individual freedom — even a constitutional right — to choose your intimate associates. You know: At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.... And maybe that includes defining for yourself what is right and wrong in the complexities of power between 2 (adult) partners.
2. A good number of current faculty members have marriages that began as student-teacher coupling, and it wouldn't be very nice to impugn these relationships retrospectively. If it's a reporting requirement, we can indulge in the fantasy that these people would have reported if there had been a reporting requirement, so they are just fine, even as any new couples will be either: a. deterred or b. in violation of the rule.
Here's the text of the UW-Madison rule:
II-307 STATEMENT ON CONSENSUAL RELATIONSHIPS
It is in the interest of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to provide clear direction and educational opportunities to the university community about the professional risks associated with consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships between members of the university community where a conflict of interest and/or a power differential between the parties exists. Individuals entering such relationships must recognize that:
Conflicts of Interest may arise when such relationships occur between and among faculty, staff, students and prospective employees. University policies and ethical principles already preclude individuals from evaluating the work or academic performance of others with whom they have intimate familial relationships, or from making hiring, salary or similar financial decisions concerning such persons. The same principles apply to consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships and require, at a minimum, that appropriate arrangements be made for objective decision-making.
Power Differentials between the parties in a consensual romantic and/or sexual relationship may cause serious consequences even when conflicts of interest are resolved. Individuals entering into such relationships must recognize that:
the reasons for entering, maintaining, or terminating such a relationship may be a function of the power differential;
where power differentials exist, even in a seemingly consensual relationship, there are limited after-the-fact defenses against charges of sexual harassment. Furthermore, under certain situations consensual relationships may be outside the scope of employment for university employees and, if so, an individual would not be covered by the state's liability protection in subsequent litigation; and
it is almost always the case that the individual with the power or status advantage in the relationship will bear the burden of accountability.
Where a conflict of interest exists, or may exist, in the context of a consensual romantic and/or sexual relationship, the individual with the power or status advantage shall notify his or her immediate supervisor. The supervisor shall have the responsibility for making arrangements to eliminate or mitigate a conflict whose consequences might prove detrimental to the university or to either party in the relationship.
[UW-Madison Faculty Document 940, 6 April 1992]