Relationships between students and faculty were taboo, but not technically against the rules at some public universities across New York state until recently. On Sept. 5, a new consensual relationship policy was established by the State University of New York (SUNY) system.
The new policy aims to reassure all SUNY students, faculty and staff that their work environment should remain free of nepotism and harassment. It prohibits any nonprofessional relationships between students and professional staff or other college personnel.
The first policy of this kind was implemented as University policy at Binghamton University in August 1993. According to Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations, the policy was changed this year to ensure that all campuses share one consistent policy across the SUNY system.
“Binghamton has always taken a very strong and public stance prohibiting sexual harassment,” Yarosh wrote in an email. “It is imperative for SUNY to leverage its power as the most comprehensive system of higher education in the country to speak with one voice in combating all forms of sexual harassment. The measures outlined in this resolution address critical issues that affect learning and employee environments and must be addressed through clear and transparent policy and policy statements.”
The policy also forbids relationships in which one partner is in a supervisory position over the other.
“Where one person is in the direct line of supervision over the other, the supervisor must notify college administration so that alternative arrangements for supervision can be made,” Yarosh wrote. “Co-employee relationships without a direct line of supervision are permissible, but if there is a situation where one individual could impact an employment related decision, they must recuse themselves from the decision-making process.”
The Office of Human Resources is responsible for supervising the policy, according to Yarosh, and will work with individuals in preexisting relationships to ensure that there is no power imbalance.
“There is no prohibition on maintaining the relationship,” Yarosh wrote. “Individuals with hiring or admission authority may not be directly responsible for hiring or admitting an employee or student of any level, with whom they are currently engaged or have in the past been engaged in a romantic, intimate or sexual relationship.”
When searching for guidance on this policy, Bathabile Mthombeni, the University ombudsman, said it is her job to help students, faculty and staff comprehend the policy and how it pertains to their situations.
“My role is to help individuals who have concerns about how the policy impacts them individually, to clarify their concerns and make informed choices regarding how to resolve them,” Mthombeni wrote in an email. “I help individuals who seek my services to understand how the University interprets and applies the policy.”
By having the SUNY system create a comprehensive plan against nepotism and sexual harassment, Binghamton and all of the other SUNY schools now have a much more united approach to handling these issues, Yarosh wrote.
“The measures outlined in this resolution address critical issues that affect learning and employee environments,” Yarosh wrote. “They must be addressed through clear and transparent policy and policy statements.”