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May 23, 1996


What about safety of Pitt students?

To the editor:

The last few weeks have not been good ones for those who care about the safety and security of students at the University of Pittsburgh. First, six students were arrested for the sale and possession of heroin and other drugs at the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity, capping a semester in which Pitt fraternities did not just seem out-of-control, but actually were out-of-control. Then Student Affairs assistant vice chancellor Dennis Donham proclaimed in a New York Times article that "You could be a serial rapist here [at Pitt], but it wouldn't show up on your transcript." Donham's statement suggests that the University is either failing to take disciplinary action against students who commit sexual assault or that Pitt chooses not to disclose what disciplinary action it takes, a clear violation of the Buckley Amendment Clarification Act of 1992.

As an alumnus of the University and as a parent of a student currently enrolled here, I would like to know whether Donham merely mispoke or whether his comment bespeaks a policy of institutional noncompliance with the Buckley Amendment Clarification Act, the Student Right-to-Know Act of 1990, and Pennsylvania's Open Campus Police Logs Act.

I would also like to know where the Faculty Assembly was coming from when it chose to delete language stating that transgressions of the proposed policy restricting sexual relationships between faculty and students "violate professional ethics." ["Assembly approves policy on faculty-student relationships, but with two amendments," University Times, May 9.] University Senate past president James Holland objected to this language as "judgmental and harsh-sounding." He's right. It is. But transgressing faculty members should be judged harshly by their peers when they use positions that confer power for their own sexual advantage. It is a mistake to assume that relationships between faculty members and students whom they teach or supervise can be as consensual as those between individuals who occupy equal positions. To the contrary, sexual relationships between faculty and students are inherently predatory. This is why Harvard, Penn, and a number of other top-ranked schools prohibit faculty-student sexual relationships altogether.

Unfortunately, the Faculty Assembly prefers the language of the policy adopted by Amherst College, where English Professor William Kerrigan once crowed about his sexual conquests of students, justifying the affairs on pedagogical grounds as relationships that "touched [his] students in positive ways." This was self-serving malarkey then. And Pitt faculty are being as disingenuous as Kerrigan was now when they pretend that sexual relationships with students comport with professional ethics.

Michael W. Zimecki

CAS '72

Editor's note: James G. Holland and Dennis E. Donham both submitted replies to this letter.


James G. Holland replies:

The Faculty Assembly voted to prohibit a faculty member from supervising or evaluating a student if they are in a romantic relationship. This prohibition is without exception or equivocation. For example, a married professional couple in the same field of study and in the same University department may find one evaluating the other at annual evaluation time. Under our policy the wife, a faculty member, must absent herself from the discussion when her husband, a graduate student, is being evaluated. To fail to do so is a violation of the policy as passed. To fail to do so may also be a violation of professional ethics but that would be an issue subject to debate and equivocation. Removal of the "violation of professional ethics" phrase make the policy a clear statement of a taboo and not subject to moral or ethical judgements about which people may differ.

Dennis E. Donham, assistant vice chancellor for Student Affairs, replies:

I am writing to respond to Mr. Zimecki's letter insofar as it concerned a quote attributed to me in a recent article in The New York Times.

While I do not recall making such a statement, I did confirm that the University of Pittsburgh, as a matter of academic policy, does not record disciplinary information on transcripts. Significantly, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) in the publication "The Academic Record and Transcript Guide," recommends that "Disciplinary action should not be a part of the academic record or transcript." There is no law, state or federal, requiring universities to include disciplinary information on transcripts. The University is in full compliance with the Buckley Amendment and all other laws related to campus security and crime reporting, including those cited by Mr. Zimecki.

I assure you that the University of Pittsburgh maintains disciplinary records on all students found guilty of violating student conduct regulations. In fact, the University is a leader in maintaining thorough disciplinary records; in protecting due process for all parties in disciplinary proceedings; in addressing serious conduct violations even when occurring off campus; and in providing full disclosure to the University community through crime bulletins, crime alerts with composite drawings, crime log entries in The Pitt News (with names of persons arrested by the Pitt police) and media releases on fraternities that violate University policy.

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