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Less successfully, she said, institutions change their polices in response to incidents on their campuses or elsewhere, “out of fear of liability.” Richards co-wrote a 2014 study of 55 institutions’ student-faculty dating policies saying that consensual relationships were viewed in previous generations as "private matters” and ignored by administrators, except where harassment was alleged.
Fear of legal liability and increasing acknowledgement of academic power structures changed that, leading institutions to adopt a mix of policies regarding these relationships.
Somewhere in the middle of the policy mix, the University of Wisconsin System in 2016 banned faculty-student dating (graduate or undergraduate) where an advisory or supervisory relationship, or the potential for one, exists. The University of California System’s policy against professors dating the students they supervise academically has been in place since 2003.
In terms of trends however, there was movement toward restricting student-faculty relationships in what might be called the Title IX era, and there’s new movement now.
Northwestern previously banned relationships between graduate students and faculty supervisors.
But the new policy said that relationships between a faculty member and a graduate or professional student in the same department or program must be disclosed to the department chair, to manage the potential conflict of interest. Richards’s institution, Baltimore -- a traditionally non-traditional student-serving institution -- has no policy against student-faculty dating, for instance.
New Wave of Restrictions In the spring semester alone, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia and Duke Universities adopted prohibitory policies against dating undergraduates across the board, not only where a supervisory relationship exists.