Concordia University

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Guidelines address consensual relationships between instructors and students

An important message from Concordia's provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs
January 26, 2018
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By Graham Carr

Concordia University


Concordia is committed to creating a learning environment where students can flourish intellectually and feel supported both in their studies and personal development. Essential to the quality of the learning environment is the integrity and professional manner in which instructors carry out their roles and responsibilities as teachers, supervisors and mentors.

For this reason, it is imperative to set boundaries that eliminate any confusion of professional and personal relationships between instructors and students. This is glaringly the case with respect to romantic or sexual relationships.

The university began a review of these relationships several months ago following the recommendation of the Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group. A committee was established to develop guidelines for consensual instructor-and-student relationships that are being issued today. Co-chaired by Lisa Ostiguy, deputy provost, and Melodie Sullivan, senior legal counsel, the committee included student and faculty representatives.

In the meantime, on December 8, 2017, the Government of Quebec adopted new legislation, Bill 151, which aims to prevent and combat sexual violence at universities and colleges in the province. The government is also requiring post-secondary institutions to develop codes of conduct for instructors to follow if they are involved in a consensual intimate relationship with a student.

Today, Concordia is among the first universities in Quebec to issue such guidelines. These can be read here as an annex to Concordia’s Code of Ethics and Safe Disclosure Policy Applicable to Employees of Concordia University (BD-4).

Because of the power imbalance that exists in the academy, the university discourages, in the strongest possible terms, any consensual romantic or sexual relationships between instructors and their students. At the very least, such relationships constitute a real or perceived conflict of interest and should be avoided.

In circumstances where such relationships already exist or may occur, it is in the best interests of all concerned that there be a strict obligation for the instructor to disclose the relationship in writing and to withdraw completely from all professional duties related to the student.

Although the obligation to disclose rests solely with the instructor rather than the student, if at any time, a student feels vulnerable because of an existing relationship, or is concerned about being drawn into such a relationship that they do not want, the student should seek advice and support from the Office of Rights and Responsibilities or the Sexual Assault Resource Centre.

Once a disclosure is made by the instructor, the administrator receiving the declaration will be responsible for determining, documenting and communicating in writing whether and how the conflict of interest will be managed as per the Code of Ethics.

Failure for 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.

Some have asked why the university does not prohibit these kinds of relationships altogether. We understand why people would suggest an outright ban; indeed the topic was discussed at length by the committee.

For legal reasons, it is not possible to ban such relationships between consenting adults. Indeed, our understanding is that the Government of Quebec came to the same conclusion when drafting Bill 151.

Next steps

In the coming weeks, we will begin a number of training and information sessions throughout the university for faculty, staff and students. At the same time, the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence, announced by President Alan Shepard, will provide the community with further opportunities to reflect and comment on the various policies, guidelines and procedures that have been designed and implemented to address this important topic. A call for task force members was issued yesterday.

While Concordia is among the first universities in Quebec to issue guidelines of this nature, we recognize that there is more work to be done as part of our ongoing commitment to create the best possible teaching, learning, research and work environment for all members of our community.

In closing, I’d like to thank the members of the committee on whose recommendations these guidelines are based: Lisa Ostiguy, Melodie Sullivan, Theresa Bianco (full-time faculty), Mikaela Clark-Gardner (undergraduate student), Lesley Lambo (graduate student) and Lorraine Oades (part-time faculty).

Graham Carr
Provost and Vice-President, Academic Affairs


Definitions of instructors and students

The term "instructor" refers to any Concordia employee who is teaching, assessing, advising, supervising, mentoring, and/or overseeing the allocation of resources to and/or coaching students.

This includes full- and part-time faculty members, faculty administrators, librarians, laboratory or other instructors, principal investigators as well as teaching assistants, research assistants, staff members, coaches and coaching assistants.

The term "students" refers to any person registered in a course or program on a full- or part-time basis and includes undergraduate and graduate students, independent students as well as visiting students, exchange students, interns and continuing education students.
 

Process for disclosure by instructors

Faculty members, teaching assistants, research assistants and staff members working in an academic unit must disclose in writing to their respective dean or University Librarian.

Instructors who work in Continuing Education must disclose in writing to the executive director.

Staff members in an administrative unit must disclose in writing to their respective vice-president.
 

Questions regarding the guidelines

Faculty members, including teaching assistants and research assistants, should contact their respective dean, University Librarian, executive director of Continuing Education, or vice-provost of Faculty Relations.

Staff members working in an academic unit should contact their respective dean, University Librarian or executive director of Continuing Education.

Staff members working in an administrative unit should contact their respective vice-president.

Students should contact the dean of students at 514-848-2424, ext. 3517 (Sir George Williams Campus) or 514-848-2424, ext. 4239 (Loyola Campus) or by email at deanofstudents.office@concordia.ca.
 

Addressing sexual misconduct

The guidelines we are implementing are an additional step in the university’s ongoing efforts to create a climate on campus that is free from misconduct. It is a companion to related policies that address non-consensual behaviours:


If you have concerns, or wish to report sexual misconduct, please call the Office of Rights and Responsibilities at 514-848-2424, ext. 8659 or email rights@concordia.ca.

 



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