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Ohio Wesleyan University has strict policies banning plagiarism, sexual harassment, hazing and alcohol abuse. Last month, the Delaware, Ohio, school banned something new: sexual affairs between professors and their students. The new policy, approved by the faculty, was prompted by news last year that a teacher had engaged in a sexual relationship with one of his students. Ohio Wesleyan is hardly alone in making such a stand. Responding to court decisions over the past two decades, dozens of universities — including several this year — have banned fraternization between students and the people entrusted with teaching them. Such relationships long have been taboo, although rules against them were unwritten. Now, as they operate in a more lawsuit-prone society, schools have decided that written policies are needed to prevent students from being harmed, preserve academic integrity and protect schools and professors from potential claims. “Officials are recognizing that such relationships create conflicts of interest,” said Bernice Sandler, a senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute in Washington, D.C. “How do you evaluate someone you’re sleeping with? It’s very easy for power to be abused in those situations,” she said. In some cases, including at Ohio Wesleyan, policies were the products of embarrassing incidents. In others, such as at Duke University, schools wanted to prevent problems by making it clear where they stood. “We read the papers. We knew that there was the potential for this to happen here,” said Sally Dickson, vice president for the Office of Institutional Equity at Duke. The school in Durham, N.C., now officially discourages faculty members from dating students they teach. Teachers who can’t resist are to report the relationship so they can be removed from a position of authority over the students. Ohio Wesleyan, a 1,850-student campus about 25 miles north of Columbus, acted after evidence surfaced of a past affair between Conrad Kent, 59, a humanities professor, and one of his students, Erum Ahmed, from Pakistan. Kent admitted they had a nine-month affair starting in 1998. Last year, Ahmed, then 25, was charged with stalking Kent. Prosecutors dropped the charges when she agreed to return to her homeland and cancel her visa. Professors now could be reprimanded or fired if they date students they supervise, advise or evaluate. Ohio Wesleyan, like other schools, does not hold the students responsible. “It would have made the policy a lot more difficult to write and pass,” said Keith Dailey, 21, the Ohio Wesleyan Council on Student Affairs’ president. “As it was, it was not an easy issue by far.” The catalyst at the College of William and Mary was a former writing instructor’s article in GQ magazine detailing his relationship with a married student. The school in Williamsburg, Va., had “strongly discouraged” such relationships, but last November banned affairs between professors and all undergraduates, and graduate students whom professors supervise. “With a 12-to-1 student-faculty ratio, we put a great emphasis on student-faculty academic relationships and wanted to clarify what was outside the bounds of appropriate behavior,” Bill Walker, a spokesman, said. The faculty at Ball State, in Muncie, Ind., has been discussing just how strong of a statement it should make when it votes on a policy next month. “We’re trying to find an appropriate way to acknowledge this kind of relationship without being overly intrusive,” said John W. Emert, chairman of the University Senate. Virginia Lee Stamler, an Iowa City, Iowa, psychologist who co-wrote the book “Faculty-Student Sexual Involvement,” said colleges began adopting the policies to protect schools from lawsuits and students from bias and exploitation. “These relationships destroy the educational environment,” Stamler said. “They are detrimental to students.” Not in all cases, said Jane Gallop, an English and comparative literature professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Gallop had affairs with professors while a graduate student in 1974. As a 27-year-old professor, she had a yearlong romance with a 29-year-old student. She argues that it is illogical to ban all romances simply because some could become exploitive. “The policies don’t distinguish between relations that students want and relations that students don’t want,” said Gallop, 49. Barry Dank, an emeritus professor of sociology at California State University-Long Beach, said such policies violate privacy and don’t work. “When it comes to matters of the heart, bureaucracy is not going to help matters,” said Dank, 60, who met his wife, Henrietta, 62, four years ago when she was one of his students. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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