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  1. #1

    Default university ethics

    A friend of mine is in a large class at a university. There is one professor and two TAs. One of the TAs is in a consensual sexual relationship with a student. This has been document, not hearsay or rumor, and several of the students in the class know about the relationship. The student is in the TA's reading section. She had to personally sign up for this. (There were other options.) There's a 20-year age difference if it matters. Not sure it does, but it's not a young grad and an older undergrad, both in their 20s. There's definitely been some subterfuge. It's a complicated and uncomfortable situation for my friend. My questions are: 1. What kind of trouble can the TA get in with the university and 2. Should my friend report it and to whom and how. Or just leave it alone? Any help? Thanks.



  2. #2
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    What kind of trouble the TA could get in depends on a few things.

    First, what does the university's code of conduct say about staff/student relationships? Are TAs considered staff and held to those relationship standards?

    Second, what sort of subterfuge do you mean? Why does it matter that she's in the TA's reading section? Does she benefit in some way from being in her sex partner's section? Does the TA play favorites? Has the TA done anything sketchy--extra help, better grades, etc for the student?

    I'd need more info before I reported it.


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  3. #3

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    I was a TA, resident assistant, and research assistant (ETA: at a very large university). Here is the policy:

    Statement on Sexual Relationships and Professional Conduct

    While sexual relationships between instructors and the students in their classes are not prohibited in the sense that penalties are attached to such conduct, all members of the campus community are urged to consider the ethical concerns that may arise as a result of such relationships.

    All members of the campus community should understand that sexual relationships that occur in the context of educational evaluation are generally deemed very unwise because they present serious ethical concerns. Many professional codes of conduct prohibit sexual relationships that occur within the context of one's profession. Accordingly, faculty, supervisors, and Teaching Assistants are warned about the possible costs of even an apparently consenting relationship. The element of power implicit in sexual relationships occurring in the academic-evaluation context can diminish a student's actual freedom of choice. There is doubt whether any such relationship can truly be consensual. In addition, sexual relationships between a faculty member or Teaching Assistant and a student create an environment charged with potential conflicts of interest. Questions of favoritism frequently arise. As a result, such conduct may subvert the normal structure of incentives that spur work and learning and interjects attitudes and pressures that are not consonant with the education policies and principles to which the campus is committed.

    I didn't do it.

    But you need to look up the policies at your university and see what it states. If there is a question of impropriety then bring it up if you feel it appropriate.
    LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...



  4. #4
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    If your friend is at university, she should me mature enough to deal with it herself.
    EDDIE WOULD GO


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  5. #5
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    Why would knowing about this relationship be complicated and uncomfortable for your friend?

    The age of the two participants would make no difference unless the student was underage.
    According to the Mayan calendar, the world will not end this week. Please plan your life accordingly.


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  6. #6
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    The university's code of ethics are very general and state that the faculty/teacher should remove themselves from any position of authority. It's about a paragraph and very general. TAs are held to the same standards as faculty. The TA grades the essays and student work. It's only the first week of the semester. Extra help only means at this point extra help discussing the material. (Student got all As in a previous class that the TA taught and where the relationship started.) It remains to be seen how much the relationship will influence class dynamics. The TA has not mentioned the relationship to the professor (on his diss committee) and they have hid the extent of their relationship.



  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by loshad View Post
    Why would knowing about this relationship be complicated and uncomfortable for your friend?
    My friend is actually professionally involved, not a student.



  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by anonimouse View Post
    My friend is actually professionally involved, not a student.
    If they are professionally involved and this is the second time the fellow staff member has not removed themselves from authority (as dictated by the code of conduct) and this is a documented relationship, I'd report it.


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  9. #9
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    Yep, I would say that the relationship is none of your friend's business and she doesn't need to do anything about it. If the student were underage, that would be different. Does the TA grade papers? Even then, it shouldn't be a big deal to your friend unless HER grades were somehow harmed by the relationship. I haven't found tattling on people, unless they are doing something illegal or hurting someone to be a good use of my time and energy.

    Oh, edited to add that your friend is apparently not a fellow student, but a faculty member or TA herself? In that case, yes, if she feels it is creating problems in the class she should report the issue to the appropriate person.


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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by anonimouse View Post
    The university's code of ethics are very general and state that the faculty/teacher should remove themselves from any position of authority.
    That pretty much means the TA shouldn't be evaluating their own sex partner, at least not on their out-of-bedroom activities. They may be able to teach them, but if the TA grades any assignments from their "reading section", to me that would be a very clear contravention of your school's policy.

    And yes, if the friend is another staff member or something like that, and the TA does grading, I'd report it. TA can bump uglies with students in other reading groups.
    Proud Member Of The Lady Mafia


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  11. #11
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    Is this a new thing aka this semester or last semester. If it occurred last semester a university will likely not make any grade changes or such. If it is current semester they may make the student switch sections.

    Or the TA made mention to it and proper channels are being followed, and the TA is not grading the student which they are in a relationship with.



  12. #12
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    How is your friend professionally involved? If she is an advisor and students have been coming to her to complain, then she should probably speak to the professor and have him/her address the issue -- likely this would involve removing the student from that reading section or having the prof grade that student's assignments, which removes the "authority" aspect. She'd better do it soon, though, because it is a lot easier to shuffle reading sections early on.

    If she is another TA and is privy to what is going on through the TA network, then she should probably go to the professor and let him know.

    However, your friend should make sure she has all her ducks in a row, because otherwise it will not end well for her if she makes a false accusation.
    According to the Mayan calendar, the world will not end this week. Please plan your life accordingly.


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  13. #13
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    The relationship began after (or during) a previous class. The new class began last week. TA has no intention of mentioning the relationship to the professor or making any changes regarding teaching and grading the student/girlfriend. That's sort of the problem. Multiple other students in the class are aware of the relationship.



  14. #14

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    from Vanderbilt:

    Consensual relations
    Consensual sexual relationships are prohibited between a student and any TA who teaches that student. Since a TA is in a position of power over a student, any relationship would either be a conflict of interest or give the impression of a conflict of interest. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, TAs are advised to keep their office doors open when consulting with students.

    Look what I found - 9 years old, but still.

    http://oregonstate.edu/senate/agen/r.../2005/06b.html

    Another thing to consider. If your friend is the one doing the deed, he/she is running the risk of being accused of something later should the relationship go south.
    LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...


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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by anonimouse View Post
    Multiple other students in the class are aware of the relationship.
    Yeah...that's not gonna stay a secret long, I'll bet.
    Proud Member Of The Lady Mafia


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  16. #16
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    it doesn't matter what you think about the relationship. The university will in all likelihood consider it a legal landmine and want something done about it.


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  17. #17
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    I've read the specific policy from the university. It's not OSU or Vanderbilt, but it's similar and I'd rather not post it. How much trouble could the ta get in if it's reported or the professor finds out, say, near the end of the quarter? Slap or the wrist or lost funding? Bad rep in the department?



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    I would suspect that the sooner it's reported, the better. TA might plead dumb, or passion-induced stupidity, or whatever. The longer this is actively concealed, the worse it seems - it'll be clear TA was concealing it on purpose.

    And if TA is grading the student, the student's grades could be affected (regrading, maybe unintentionally harsh in order to remove the suspicion of favoritism).
    Proud Member Of The Lady Mafia


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  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by anonimouse View Post
    The university's code of ethics are very general and state that the faculty/teacher should remove themselves from any position of authority.The TA has not mentioned the relationship to the professor (on his diss committee) and they have hid the extent of their relationship.
    Quote Originally Posted by anonimouse View Post
    My friend is actually professionally involved, not a student.
    Quote Originally Posted by anonimouse View Post
    The relationship began after (or during) a previous class. The new class began last week. TA has no intention of mentioning the relationship to the professor or making any changes regarding teaching and grading the student/girlfriend. That's sort of the problem. Multiple other students in the class are aware of the relationship.
    Quote Originally Posted by anonimouse View Post
    I've read the specific policy from the university. It's not OSU or Vanderbilt, but it's similar and I'd rather not post it. How much trouble could the ta get in if it's reported or the professor finds out, say, near the end of the quarter? Slap or the wrist or lost funding? Bad rep in the department?
    Not sure who your friend is...BUT the TA in question could lose his or her funding, job, ability to get another one, etc. Seriously.

    I would go IMMEDIATELY to the professor and say that he or she just read the policy and is in a situation that he or she needs help with. I would not grade a single paper or assign a single grade.

    Especially as this professor is on the dissertation committee. This TA has probably put enough time and energy and effort into his or her career that it isn't worth going through hell in order to allow his or her relationship partner to be in his or her section because it's fun. Really. No way no how.

    I'd get out immediately.

    And, as a former TA, there is also a code of conduct that I think comes into play. Whereas I normally fall on the side of don't tell if it's not your business, there are policies in place here and knowing of policy breaking can be just as detrimental as doing it.

    So if your friend is the TA, tell ASAP. And if you friend is another TA or professor, tell the TA right away to tell OR your friend will. And if he or she doesn't, within a day or two, then your friend should.

    Sorry, but it's not worth a career to have some fun in your section.
    LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...


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  20. #20
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    Ethics lacking here on both the part of the TA *and* the student.
    Student should not have signed up for the TA's section, or TA should have requested student be moved to another section.

    They both deserve to be slapped, but I'm not sure how your friend fits into the equation. If not directly involved, perhaps a word to the course director is in order.
    "It's like a Russian nesting doll of train wrecks."--CaitlinandTheBay

    ...just settin' on the Group W bench.


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