The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has decided to amend the university's bylaws to forbid even consensual sexual relations between a teacher and a student who is academically dependent on him.
The amendment has already been approved by an advisory committee, and will be brought to the university senate for final approval when the new academic year opens next month.
The unprecedented regulation was prompted by the arrest of Prof. Eyal Ben-Ari, a senior lecturer in the sociology department, in late July on suspicion of forcing female doctoral students to have sex with him if they wanted to obtain stipends or good recommendations. That arrest in turn sparked a wave of other sexual harassment complaints by university students.
"The university is not a puritanical institution, and it is not forbidding relationships between teachers and students," said university spokeswoman Orit Soliciano, explaining the new regulation. "But the minute such relationships exist, they cannot exist simultaneously with a superior-subordinate relationship."
According to Soliciano, "superior-subordinate relationships" include relationships between faculty members and students taking their courses, relationships between student and their thesis advisers, and relationships between a lecturer and any student dependent on him for a stipend.
The draft regulation approved by the advisory committee states that sexual relations between a teacher and a student subordinate to him constitute a conflict of interest. Moreover, they "create an inappropriate educational and community atmosphere, and are liable to lead to exploitation of the superior's status. Therefore, a teacher must refrain from all intimate relations with a student as long as there is a relationship of academic dependence between them."
If an intimate relationship already exists, the regulation continues, the teacher must immediately sever his academic relationship with the student, or else inform his academic superior so that the latter can arrange for the academic relationship to be severed.
Violating any part of the new regulation will constitute a disciplinary infraction, it concludes.
Vice Rector Prof. Miri Gur-Arye stressed that the new regulation will be in addition to rather than in place of existing regulations on sexual harassment. This means that a professor who violates the rule against intimate relations with an academic subordinate could be subject to disciplinary or criminal charges for sexual harassment in addition to disciplinary charges for violating the new regulation.
Other universities are considering similar amendments to their bylaws. The president of Tel Aviv University, Prof. Zvi Galil, for instance, recently appointed a committee to examine and propose changes to his university's regulations on student-faculty relationships, with the goal of clarifying which types of relationships are permissible and which are forbidden.
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