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April 29, 2004

EPC Takes ‘wait & see’ Approach on Allegations

The University Senate’s educational policies committee (SEPC) is taking a wait-and-see approach toward reports that external reviewers found that senior faculty in Pitt’s communication department routinely engage in consensual sexual relationships with graduate students.
See letter and response on page 2.
Arts and sciences Dean N. John Cooper handled the matter best by referring it to the Pitt general counsel’s office for investigation, said SEPC member Thomas Metzger of the math department.
The University’s policy on faculty-student relationships (Policy 02-04-03, available at forbids faculty members, including teaching assistants, from having intimate relations with students they supervise, evaluate or serve formally as advisers.
Metzger said he’s considering asking Faculty Assembly to publicly reaffirm the 1996 policy. But even that policy can’t account for every possible sex-related abuse of “power relationships” within an academic department, he pointed out. “There are a lot of quasi-areas,” said Metzger at SEPC’S April 27 meeting, noting that a faculty member might plead for additional summer funding for a graduate student with whom he or she is having an affair – but that would not violate Pitt’s policy as long as the student wasn’t being supervised, evaluated or advised by the faculty member.
Metzger also said there is potential for abuse when junior professors have sexual liaisons with older profs who might end up serving on their tenure or promotion committees or on a merit committee that recommends salary raises.
Jack L. Daniel, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies and Dean of Students, told SEPC: “I would just urge everyone to let the fact-finding group do its work, and I would urge everyone to be careful about arriving at any conclusion based on a newspaper article.” The Pitt News broke the story of the communication department review on April 15, reportedly after obtaining a copy of the reviewers’ report.
“Frankly, I’m a full professor in the communication department, and I do not engage in any of that” sexual behavior with grad students, Daniel said. It’s unfair to besmirch the reputations of any group of faculty or students based on second-hand, general statements made in a confidential report, he added.
– Bruce Steele

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