Montreal

Concordia University releases guidelines on faculty-student relationships

As promised, Concordia University has released its revised guidelines concerning faculty-student relationships, in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by some professors in the English department.

Instructors must avoid romantic or sexual relationships with students, or declare them to university

Concordia University says faculty-student relationships are considered a conflict of interest and should be avoided. If they aren't, instructors must declare them to the university. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

As promised, Concordia University has released its revised guidelines concerning faculty-student relationships, in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by some professors in the English department.

Earlier this month, two creative writing professors were stripped of their teaching duties as a result of those allegations. 

At least one other professor in the department, who does not have any classes this semester, has also been the subject of harassment allegations, some dating back to the 1990s

The school said earlier this week it would be releasing the new guidelines, which it says were drafted in response to a recommendation made months ago by its Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group.

The guidelines have been released earlier than planned as a result of the allegations. 

"It is imperative to set boundaries that eliminate any confusion of professional and personal relationships between instructors and students,"  the university said in an email to students and staff announcing the guidelines.

"This is glaringly the case with respect to romantic or sexual relationships."

The guidelines state professors should avoid any romantic or sexual relationship with a student and must declare it, if not, because any relationship would be considered a conflict of interest. 

"Failure [of] an instructor to disclose an actual or perceived conflict of interest is a violation of the university's Code of Ethics and could result in a disciplinary offence," the email said. 

Though more explicit, the guidelines are not a departure from rules laid out in the school's code of ethics for employees.  

University spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr told CBC Montreal Daybreak host Mike Finnerty earlier this month that the school can not outright forbid intimate relationships between instructors and students — only strongly discourage them.

"We explored the option of banning such relationships, but concluded, for legal reasons, we cannot prohibit such relationships between consenting adult," Barr said in an emailed statement Friday.​

Concordia University President Alan Shepard says the university has created a task force on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, and is reviewing the climate of the English Department, allegations of harassment. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Quebec's Bill 151 requires the province's post-secondary institutions to adopt, by September 2019, policies preventing sexual violence, including a complaint procedure and a code of conduct for intimate relationships between students and those with influence over their studies.

Concordia University President Alan Shepard also sent an internal email, detailing the school's initiatives in response to the allegations of sexual impropriety and the new law.

"We are one of the first universities in Quebec to issue guidelines that meet these new legislative requirements of Bill 151," Shepard wrote. 

"While we have streamlined the process for reporting sexual violence, it's clear we can still do better so that people feel safe when they want to bring an allegation to our attention."

Shepard noted the university will assemble a task force on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, and is developing a review of the climate in its English Department.

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