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Harvard Bans Sexual Relationships Between Professors And Students

For the first time, Harvard University is banning sexual relationships between faculty and undergraduates, strengthening language in its policies on sexual misconduct. The change comes as the school examines its rules and undergoes a federal review.

Last year, Harvard was among dozens of schools the Department of Education said it's investigating for how they handle sexual abuse allegations.

A Harvard representative says that the new policy was created after a review by a Faculty of Arts and Sciences committee found that "the existing language on relationships of unequal status did not explicitly reflect the faculty's expectations of what constituted an appropriate relationship between undergraduate students and faculty members."

In the past, many U.S. colleges have lacked a formal policy on professors dating students. That has begun to change in recent years, with schools either barring professors from having sex with students they oversee or requiring them to recuse themselves from such situations.

Last month, Arizona State University joined schools that have expanded the dating prohibition to include any student whom the professors have a chance of overseeing.

Harvard's ban goes further than that approach, putting the university in line with Yale and others that have adopted similarly wide bans.

From Bloomberg News:

"'Undergraduates come to college to learn from us,' said Alison Johnson, a Harvard history professor who chaired the panel that wrote the policy. 'We're not here to have sexual or romantic relationships with them.'"

The shift at Harvard comes at a complicated time for it and other colleges that are being urged to do more to prevent sexual abuse and to help victims of harassment and rape.

Back in October, a group of 28 law professors accused the school of overreacting in its new approach to handling sexual misconduct claims. Discussing that change, Harvard Law professor Janet Halley told NPR's Tovia Smith that it give more rights and protections to victims than to the accused, and places pressure on the Title IX office to show results.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.