Editorial: Clear boundaries to consensual relationships

On Feb. 1, 2013 UT Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds issued a statement confirming Texas’ co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite’s engagement in an “inappropriate, consensual sexual behavior with an adult student.”
The news follows a similar incident involving the resignation of Beverly Kearney, the University of Texas’ former women’s track and field head coach. Kearney resigned in January after she admitted to an “intimate consensual relationship” in 2002. The university placed her on administrative leave before notifying her in January that they were prepared to terminate her.
These events lead many to question the appropriateness of consensual relationships between faculty and students. While both groups may be consenting adults, the line between relationship and harassment is thin and can be easily crossed.
All 15 of the University of Texas institutions have established policies governing such relationships, but many of these policies must be clarified. In order to set clear boundaries for consensual relationships, clear rules and consequences need to be in writing.
The University of Texas at San Antonio Student-Faculty Handbook states:
“It is the policy of The University of Texas at San Antonio that the following romantic or sexual relationships are prohibited between a faculty member and a student who is enrolled in the faculty member’s course or who is otherwise under the supervision of the faculty member, between a supervisor and a person under his or her supervision.”
Some students and faculty would argue that the following policy leaves too much room for debate, as it does not address consensual relationships between faculty and students not currently enrolled in the faculty member’s class.
On Feb. 3, Chairman Powell and Chancellor Cigarroa made a statement on policies regarding inappropriate relationships between UT employees and students. The Board of Regents will review policies relating to consensual relations and include discussions “concerning disciplinary actions and procedures as well as compliance with policies for immediate notification of institution administration and the Board of Regents whenever and wherever policies are violated.”
When considering policy governing consensual relationships the UT System Board of Regents should call for a clear explanation. Rules need to be made stating exactly what is allowed and exactly what repercussions should follow, if the rule were to be broken.
If the UT System Board of Regents wishes to set an example, they must clearly define the parameters of a consensual relationship so that individual institutions can create clear and practical policy.