No extra credit for a class romance

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Nathan* was 18 years old when he began a sexual relationship with his former high-school French teacher, a man in his late 30s.

Nathan, now 24, said there was an “unspoken attraction” when he was still a student. But his teacher didn’t pursue him until several months after he graduated.

Unlike high schools, Ryerson has no policy banning consensual personal relationships between professors and students.

Instead, the school’s conflict of interest policy requires faculty members to disclose “close personal relationships” with students and prevents them from evaluating the student’s work.

“We don’t have an absolute policy [banning relationships between faculty and students],” said Michael Dewson, vice provost faculty affairs.

“Each case depends on a whole set of circumstances,” he said.

If a faculty member is dating a student, it can become a problem if the student enrolls in the faculty member’s course. This would fall under the conflict of interest policy.

Doreen Fumia, assistant professor of sociology, was surprised to learn this. “I would agree with a ban on a relationship while a student is in any professor’s class.”

But in Nathan’s case, he says the very allure was that “you’re not supposed to when you’re a student, especially in high school.”

He was also flattered by the attention. “Someone who saw me grow up, taught me… feels comfortable talking to me on an equal basis.”

Fumia agrees that the attraction of student/professor romance is partly that “intellectual stimulation is a precursor to sexual intimacies.”

But she warns that “in any relationship where there’s an imbalance of power, there’s room for it to lead to sexual harassment.”

Ryerson keeps records of complaints of discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex complaints (23 in 2007-08) and general complaints against instructors (42 in 2007-08). But it is impossible to say if any of these relate to intimate relationships between students and professors.

Ann Whiteside, Ryerson’s discrimination and harassment prevention officer, believes these types of relationships are uncommon.

People avoid these relationships because they are hard, Whiteside said, and it may be difficult to prove consent because of the power imbalance.

The lack of information may be due to fear.

For Nathan, the idea of people finding out was a concern for his former teacher. “I kept it quiet because he asked me to.” *Name changed to protect identity.

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