Concordia Releases Guidelines on Student-Instructor Relationships

Instructors Asked to Disclose Relationships Under New Rules

Concordia shared its new guidelines regarding student-instructor relationships Friday afternoon. File Photo Brian Lapuz

Concordia shared its new guidelines regarding student-instructor relationships Friday afternoon.

The new rules state that any instructor, which includes professors, administrators, librarians, coaches, teaching assistants, and research assistants, must disclose their relationship with a student to their supervisor. Doing so would cease all professional relationships, such as teaching and marking, between the two.

“If you divulge it, you have to stop having the professional relationship that you have,” explained Concordia President Alan Shepard.

He continued that students won’t be penalized in anyway, but if the relationship is not disclosed and is later discovered, “then there’s trouble” for the instructor involved.

The consequences could range from a letter of reprimand to being fired, Shepard continued, explaining that throughout his six years at the university, they’ve “done all of those,” albeit for “a small number of cases.”

Shepard also explained that the guidelines had been in the works since the fall, but the university was waiting for the details of Bill 151, the province’s new law on the prevention of sexual violence on campus, before releasing them as the law mandates the creation of rules that fall along these lines.

“If you know that a law is coming and think it’s coming in the next month or two, you’re not going to put out guidelines which might then have to be rewritten and reversed a month later,” Shepard said. “So you wait.”

In an email sent to students about the guidelines, a statement signed by Shepard praised Concordia for being “one of the first universities in Quebec to issue guidelines that meet these new legislative requirements of Bill 151.”

While some university groups, like the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, are calling for an outright ban of relationships between students and professors, Shepard—and Canadian law—maintain that would not be possible.

“No Canadian institutions have done that because [I’ve been advised that] it wouldn’t withstand a charter challenge and you want to make policies and rules that you can defend and will be upheld,” he explained.

CSU Student Life Coordinator Leyla Sutherland also said that banning these relationships could do more harm than good.

“I think it’s possible for a consensual and non-harmful relationship to exist between two consenting adults, one of whom could be a student and one could be a professor,” she said.

Her concerns lie in the event that something transpires within that relationship that is not consensual. “I think banning it can often create a dynamic in which students could be concerned about reporting it because they’re afraid of the fact that they’re engaged in a relationship that is banned,” she explained.

In so far as the guidelines addressing the alleged “toxic culture” and “open secret” of sexual misconduct within Concordia’s English Department, Sutherland has little faith.

“There’s no relationship between these guidelines and the allegations because allegations are about non-consensual acts,” she said.

“The fact that the onus is placed on the professor to disclose [the relationship] and not the student, I think is an important distinction, but ultimately I don’t think it’s something to congratulate the university on given that it is legally necessary and unrelated to the allegations themselves.”