By Rachel Schwartz
Members of the Faculty Senate voted to approve a new policy last week that could potentially restrict relationships between students and university employees.
The Consensual Dating Policy would prohibit relationships between students and university employees, a broad category that includes faculty, staff and some students. The measure passed 99-69.
“The spirit of the policy is to try and set up a policy that will protect both students, faculty and the university from situations and circumstances that are not going to be healthy,” said Dr. Steve Chiesa, chair of the university committee for faculty affairs.
However, the wording of the policy leads to questions about which students will be affected.
As written, the policy applies to “faculty, staff, and student employees” who have “any instructional, supervisory, advising, or evaluative responsibility” over students.
The policy does not define what a student employee is or which positions play a supervisory role. Chiesa said this vagueness is because the Faculty Affairs Committee did not believe defining a “student employee” was their responsibility.
Santa Clara law professor Tyler Ochoa had spearheaded the opposition to the policy with an e-mail sent to faculty that outlined what he saw as key issues with the policy. Ochoa is married to a woman he met while teaching at another college and said there are several other law professors also married to former students.
While Ochoa declined to comment, citing the passage of the policy, he gave The Santa Clara a copy of his argument.
“I believe this policy should be rejected as an unwarranted intrusion into the personal privacy and autonomy of our students and employees,” he wrote in a statement sent to all faculty.
In the statement, Ochoa argued for the unfairness of the policy. He said that it would not address sexual harassment, since there is an existing university policy.
“We are talking about prohibiting consensual romantic relationships between consenting adults,” he stated.
Ochoa also questioned if the policy is based off an outmoded stereotype of predatory older men and innocent co-eds, assuming all relationships have a power imbalance.
“I would question whether the characterization of such relationships as ‘a violation of trust, an abuse of power, and a breach of professional ethics’ is accurate even for such a stereotype, but certainly it is not an accurate description of all student-employee relationships,” he stated.
The Faculty Affairs Committee opened discussion of the policy to the entire Faculty Senate during two meetings in April to allow opponents of the policy to voice their feelings on the issue, but both meetings were poorly attended.
The current definition of a student employee is also under review.
Vice Provost for Student Life Jeanne Rosenberger said, at this time, orientation leaders and desk receptionists are likely to be declared student employees and be affected by the new policy.
“I think there is a potential for discomfort in a learning environment and in an employment scenario,” Rosenberger said.
The Faculty Affairs Committee developed the policy after Don Dodson, vice provost for academic affairs, brought the issue to their attention.
Other universities, including Stanford and University of California, Berkeley, have similar policies in place that the Faculty Senate looked over when developing the policy.
“Policies express and remind us of what we probably already do,” said Dr. Philip Riley, vice-chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee. “A lot of it is common sense.”
This policy is not expected to drastically change the behavior of most university employees, Riley said.
The university, through the Student Employment Office, pays about 1,300 students, whether through a stipend for extra-curricular activities or an hourly wage for work as a desk receptionist.
The Student Employment Handbook that defines a student employee is currently being revised, and an informal Stipend Review Committee has been reviewing all student positions to determine which constitute an employment relationship versus an extracurricular or leadership position.
The type of position will be based on the payment method; some jobs will become stipend-based while others are paid with an hourly wage.
“Our current definition of ‘anyone that gets paid by the university’ is not the right one,” said Rosenberger, who is chairing the Stipend Review Committee.
Among students, the need to be included in the policy is not universally recognized.
“I think, among students, there shouldn’t be any restrictions on dating,” sophomore Ashley Brothers said while on duty as a desk receptionist in Swig Hall. “It seems like a lot of trouble to make sure that people aren’t dating.”
Faculty Affairs received input from the Staff Affairs and Student Affairs committees after the expanse of the proposal was determined; however, only Faculty Affairs voted on the policy.
The proposal will now go before the Board of Trustees for consideration at a yet unspecified time. The trustees have the option of making changes before adopting the policy.
Sophomore Brian Anderson served as an orientation leader last year and is currently a Casa desk receptionist.
Anderson recognizes that, as role models, orientation leaders should probably refrain from dating incoming freshman; however, college life is not easily controlled by policy.
“They should be worried about stuff other than who’s dating who,” Anderson said.
Contact Rachel Schwartz at (408) 554-4546 or firstname.lastname@example.org