Is dating a professor illegal
The recent decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal in the case of Fariba Mahmoodi, a student who accused her professor of sexual harassment, has once again focussed attention on a controversial issue. Mahmoodi complained to the tribunal that Donald Dutton, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, and UBC as his employer, had sexually harassed her.The tribunal agreed, awarding her a total of ,000 including ,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect, and ,200 for counseling expenses.Because the professor’s powers affect the student’s life in a significant way, say these observers, the student cannot say no to the relationship, so her consent is actually coerced compliance.A female student may enter willingly into a sexual relationship with a male professor, “willingly” in the sense that there is no promise of reward or threat of punishment.In the end, it will be the student, and not they, who will prevail. Professors should realize that if a student complains of sexual harassment once the relationship is over, the fact that she entered into the relationship willingly will not be a determining factor in a legal judgment.As case law has made clear, the question to be decided will not be whether the complainant participated willingly in the claimed sexual activity but rather, whether the sexual advances were unwelcome and unwanted.Whether or not the student is taking any courses from the professor, if the relationship turns sour and the student makes a complaint of sexual harassment, then faculty members should know that they will bear most of the risks. To minimize its own liability, the university needs to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment and discrimination from occurring in the first place, and if harassment does occur, to deal with it promptly and effectively to bring it to an end. Typically, the student first makes a complaint under the university’s sexual harassment policy.If the student isn’t satisfied with the outcome or wants to take other avenues, she can make a complaint under the Human Rights Code. Human Rights Council, and two were dealt with by arbitrators when the faculty member grieved against disciplinary action taken by the institution.
Whatever powers the student may have, they are not of the same sort.As fiduciaries, they have a duty to avoid conflict of interest and to exercise their powers over students only in the students’ interests, and not in their own interests.Many Canadian universities now have conflict-of-interest policies that expressly prohibit close relationships – including friendships and familial relations, as well as sexual ones – between faculty and those whose work they supervise.At York University, for example, the policy doesn’t say that you must end the relationship, but you must end the supervisory part of your role with that person.