Despite an average of about five sexual harassment complaints filed annually by students against professors at CSUN, the university has no official policy limiting these intimate relationships.
The CSU system also has no policy concerning student-professor relationships, although Long Beach State does discourage it.
Other area colleges have policies addressing such relationships.
“There is no policy on faculty/student relations as far as I know,” Jo Ann Fielder, CSUN’s director of Equity and Diversity, said.
“(Students) are young adults,” she said, which means they are free to make their own decisions and date whomever they wish.
The sexual harassment policy at CSUN comes from the CSU Chancellor’s office, and when it comes to professors and students getting together, there is no policy for that in the Chancellor’s office.
Teresa Ruiz, a communications specialist at the Chancellor’s office, said she asked around the office and, “nobody knows of any policy.” She said she was under the impression that kind of policy is supposed to be done on the campus level.
Fielder said the Chancellor’s office might be working on a policy, but Ruiz said she didn’t hear anything about it.
“There is no formal policy, and relationships aren’t prohibited,” said Jan Reyes, manager of Equity and Diversity at Cal State Long Beach, “but they are discouraged.”
“Faculty are considered role models,” Reyes said. “Their standings are not equal (to students).”
Fielder said she used to work at Santa Monica College, which has a policy.
UCLA and USC officials also confirmed that they have policies concerning relationships between students and professors.
“I think there are serious concerns,” said Richard Macdonald, a psychology professor who has been in the psychology business for about 30 years. Macdonald teaches a human sexuality class at CSUN.
“At 18, 19 and 20, at least a junior in college, you’re still vulnerable,” he said. “Adolescence doesn’t end at 18 now.” Adolescence ends when students are in their mid-20s, he said.
“It’s not illegal, but it can cause damage,” he said.
If a young man or woman has a relationship with a significantly older person who is in a position of authority over that man or woman, mental problems can arise.
“They can isolate themselves,” Macdonald said. He said there are also problems with a lack of trust and suspicion in a young person after the relationship is over.
Macdonald said students have approached him for intimate relationships in the past, and he told them to leave and not come back, since they didn’t have any academic business.
“We are held to a higher standard,” he said. “If it appears bad, you shouldn’t do it.”
“As long as it doesn’t get into the classroom, I think it’s OK,” said Narine Avetisyan, a 21-year-old junior in English. As long as the relationship doesn’t affect the classroom setting, then it is their private business, she said.
“I’m sure if they’re dating, they’ll get an A,” said Ani Mkrtchyan, a 22-year-old English major.
“I wouldn’t date a teacher,” Mkrtchyan said, “I would feel uncomfortable if a teacher hit on me.”
Once a professor tries to pursue a student too much and is turned down repeatedly, it becomes harassment.
“Harassment has to be continuous,” Fielder said. Usually the behavior has to be done three times in order to be considered harassment, she said.
Fielder said the office can’t move on with “he said, she said” instances; there has to be some sort of evidence.
“You don’t go on witch hunts,” she said.
When sexual harassment complaints are filed at CSUN, the culprits are not usually suspended or fired; instead there are attempts by administration to make those professors improve their behavior.
“We try a behavioral change,” she said. The idea is to get those professors to realize that what they are doing is wrong, and to get them to change that behavior.
When it is determined that a professor has done something wrong the administration talks to them about the specific problems and, “professors are willing to listen to this,” Fielder said.
Those professors might also be required to complete a harassment online training course that takes around two hours. Administrators are required to take the course every two years, but regular professors don’t go through any kind of sexual harassment training, Fielder said.
“Faculty are not agents of the university,” she said, only administrators are. This puts professors and students in the same category when it comes to harassment prevention responsibility.
There are about five official sexual harassment complaints from students about professors each year, Fielder said.
These are the complaints that undergo investigations to determined if someone was at fault. There are dozens of other complaints that don’t reach that level, she said.
The names of professors who are found at fault are confidential, and those professors are rarely suspended or removed from office, Fielder said.
In addition to the five complaints from students, there are also about five complaints from faculty members having to do with other faculty members, and about another five complaints having to do with administrator and faculty relationships, she said.
Fielder added that race, religion and transgender harassment “are the things (people at CSUN) need to be talking about,” because people don’t come forward with these kinds of harassment as much.
“(The people who complain) don’t like to get people in trouble,” Fielder said. Some of the people who go in to the Office of Equity and Diversity to complain are afraid of getting the culprit in trouble, she said.
Complaints can be filed with the Office of Equity and Diversity on campus, or with the Office of Civil Rights. You can file a complaint online with the OCR at www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html.