The University Senate unanimously passed a new policy governing consensual sexual relationships between students and faculty members at its Friday plenary. The senate also began its formal discussion of course evaluations, after students presented the draft of a resolution that would make evaluations public.
The consensual relationship policy states, “It is the policy of Columbia University that no faculty member shall have a consensual romantic or sexual relationship with a student over whom he or she exercises academic or professional authority.” But it also says that, should a faculty member enter into a relationship with one of his or her students, “he or she shall promptly act to recuse himself or herself from all academic and professional decisions and activities affecting the student.”
“If a faculty member fails to disclose a consensual romantic or sexual relationship, the University will, on discovering it, take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with this policy, including, where appropriate, disciplinary action,” the policy states. It defines faculty as “officers of instruction, research and the libraries, including students with appointments as student officers of instruction and research and graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants.”
At Friday’s plenary, the senate also began discussing the Student Affairs Committee’s proposal to make parts of students’ end-of-semester course evaluations public. SAC presented a draft resolution proposing that student answers to the quantitative questions on the evaluations, as well as at least one qualitative question, be made public.
“This is a student-led initiative, that’s no secret, but this is really an initiative that we feel strongly benefits the entire University community,” graduate student senator Ryan Turner, SEAS, said at the plenary. “This is not an issue of student versus faculty at all. We really feel this is of great benefit to everyone, not least because the release of the evaluations to students sends a clear message that students’ opinions are valued in a way that is not currently done.”
SAC’s proposed policy would encourage individual schools at Columbia to give students access to their course evaluations. The policy includes a rollout period, during which only reviews of tenured professors would be released; an opt-in system for graduate student instructors; and a two-semester grace period for new faculty members.
But many faculty members raised concerns regarding the policy, including senator Graciela Chichilnisky, an economics professor. Chichilnisky said that she supports the idea of public course evaluations but that she would like to see regulation of students’ comments and students held accountable for their reviews of professors.
“In some sense, you may be encouraging a lot of aggressive junk,” Chichilnisky said. “The people who write anonymous comments on the Internet have a bias, and I don’t know why, but they tend to write junk.”
Senator and School of the Arts professor Bette Gordon argued that faculty members already take their course evaluations seriously and use them to improve their teaching, even though the evaluations aren’t published.
“I feel like there are two different needs going on here,” Gordon said. “On the one hand, I respect the idea that students need to know and find out how to choose professors and class, and that’s really important. But I’m not sure that by publishing evaluations we get that.”
Other senators, though, noted that some Columbia schools— including the School of International and Public Affairs, the Law School, and the Business School—already publish course evaluations, and that until the 1990s, the University published a book with all of the course evaluations for Columbia College and Barnard classes.
Columbia College Interim Dean James Valentini, a member of the University Senate, told Spectator that he would like to see the senate pass an open course evaluations proposal.
“I do support open course evaluations, although there have to be, obviously, some constraints,” he said.
Also during the plenary, senator Ron Mazor, CC ’09, Law ’12, introduced a resolution that would allow senators to email their constituencies directly. Additionally, University President Lee Bollinger updated the senate on the University’s response to the New York Police Department’s reported surveillance of the Muslim Students Association, in response to a question from senator Anjelica Kelly, a Business School student.
“We’ve been doing things quietly and behind the scenes,” Bollinger said, adding that the administration is discussing the issue with government officials.
“It is my understanding that there was no undercover activity at all on the campus,” he said.