Oxford University considers plans to ban romantic and sexual contact between academic staff and students.
Any don discovered to be having inappropriate relations with a student could face sanctions spanning from a formal warning to dismissal. Similar policies are already in place at Ivy league universities in America such as Princeton, Harvard and Yale.
The move to bring in a formal ban at Oxford comes after the governing body of one of its colleges, St Hugh’s, voted to bar intimate relationships between college staff and the students they teach, warning that breaches would prompt disciplinary action “which may result in dismissal.”
Oxford’s education committee then backed a review of existing rules in favour of a consistent, strict university-wide policy. The overhaul of the present policy, which advises academics against liaisons and says they must be declared but does not impose sanctions, will take place in the new year.
There were dons who were famous through the grapevine for allegedly trying to have sexual relationships with female students [while I was at Oxford]. Students tried to keep doors open when they met with these men
–Former Rhodes scholar at Oxford, Naomi Wolf
The changes follow pressure from student groups, including It Happens Here and Speak Out Oxford. Three years ago, Oxford was found to have the highest number of allegations of staff-on-student sexual harassment out of 120 UK universities, according to a freedom of information request.
Other universities have also experienced problems with staff sexual misconduct, with a report from Durham University showing dozens of reported cases of sexual violence involving University staff in the past 5 years.
At many universities, students have long complained about what they say is a sexist culture sparking action such as the recent Shame On You Warwick protest at the University of Warwick.
The feminist campaigner Naomi Wolf, a former Rhodes scholar at Oxford, who reported a sexual assault against her said, “There were dons who were famous through the grapevine for allegedly trying to have sexual relationships with female students [while I was at Oxford]. Students tried to keep doors open when they met with these men.”
But some have been happy to have relationships with professors. Last year Cameron Platt, an Oxford graduate announced on Facebook that she was engaged to her former professor and mentor Lee Clark Mitchell. She was 25, he was 71.
Oxford would be only the second of the Russell Group of 24 top universities to ban such relationships. University College London was the first earlier this year.