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U of M decides not to ban relationships between employees and students

The University of Manitoba

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The University of Manitoba

Two new University of Manitoba policies make it crystal clear how employees should approach and disclose intimate relationships between themselves and students.

The policy changes come in the wake of multiple investigations, both internally and by police, that looked into allegations of inappropriate behaviour by faculty members.

The policies don’t define repercussions for those who breach them.

U of M president David Barnard said in an interview Thursday anyone who breaches policies would be subject to different disciplinary measures depending on their roles at the school and their respective collective agreements.

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Two new University of Manitoba policies make it crystal clear how employees should approach and disclose intimate relationships between themselves and students.

The policy changes come in the wake of multiple investigations, both internally and by police, that looked into allegations of inappropriate behaviour by faculty members.

The policies don’t define repercussions for those who breach them.

U of M president David Barnard said in an interview Thursday anyone who breaches policies would be subject to different disciplinary measures depending on their roles at the school and their respective collective agreements.

"What happens in particular circumstances would depend on circumstances," Barnard said.

The university doesn’t ban relationships, as other universities, such as Harvard, have done.

The policy states that intimate relationships between employees and students, or employees with power differentials, are "strongly discouraged and should be avoided."

Barnard said this model is in keeping with standards at other Canadian universities.

"We have some concerns that an outright ban could infringe on the legal rights of adults to enter into consensual relationships," he said.

"Our conversations are continuing and this will certainly be an ongoing area of focus as we address important questions with respect to these matters."

He said policies that guide intimate relationships between students and staff were always in place, but not written down.

"We received community feedback that there was need for more clarity. Not that the policies were new, just that we needed clarity regarding the rules around intimate relationships involving power differentials, particularly between employees and students," Barnard said.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Dr. David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Dr. David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba.

"So these guides were developed to provide practical information about boundaries and to eliminate confusion around intimate relationships."

Peter Eck, an associate professor in the department of food and human nutritional sciences, had complained about faculty members having romantic relationships with students while continuing to evaluate those students. He said his complaints, which started around 2011, fell on deaf ears.

Eck was pleased to see the new policies, titled "Relationships Between University Employees Involving Power Differentials" and "Relationships Between University Employees and Students," released this week. He called the documents have been "overdue for many, many years."

"When I sort of complained about the issue… they were much more confused. So they could probably get away with doing nothing," Eck said of the U of M administration, who previously relied on conflict-of-interest policy to govern issues involving relationships.

"It was really written in a way where everything was open for interpretation. Now, nothing is open for interpretation."

Eck said he was fine with the policies not including entrenched penalties for employees who are found culpable of wrongdoing. He believes those incidents should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, not with blanket punishments.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association said it was not able to comment on the new policies Thursday, because it had not reviewed them.

The U of M also launched an online course this week about sexual violence awareness. Barnard encouraged staff and students to complete the course, though it isn’t mandatory. He finished the unit himself recently, and said it gave him valuable perspective.

"I came away from it thinking one needs to be careful of old stereotypes and paradigms, and ways that we might have thought in the past. And to treat people carefully and with respect in all circumstances," Barnard said.

The new course and school policies come on the heels of high-profile departures from the university, including that of the director of the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals.

In December, Peter Jones was placed on leave pending an internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and financial impropriety that date back a decade. So far, he has not returned.

Last year, Steve Kirby, a former U of M music professor, was charged with sexual assault, stemming from an alleged incident involving a former student.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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History

Updated on Friday, March 15, 2019 at 12:33 PM CDT: edits final paragraphs

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