Thursday, March 11, 2010

yale leads the nation (again)

Yale University has banned faculty from sexual relationships with undergraduate students. The previous policy was to ban such relationships only for students under direct supervision of the faculty member. Parents don't send their children to Yale to sleep with faculty, one official helpfully explained, adding that the change had been coming (no pun intended) for some time.

Having attended Cornell in the 1970s, where dating students was something of a varsity sport--two of my five first professors got in trouble for it and even some women faculty were rumored to participate--I cannot say the proposal is unmerited. Still, like all legislation, the change leaves several important questions unanswered.

One question is the matter of negative implication. By banning relationships with undergraduates, Yale presumably does not mean to say that relationships with law or other graduate students are advisable or even acceptable. And yet it's hard to avoid this inference. (This is not a hypothetical either: one professor dated at least three students during the time I was at Yale Law, and several of my current colleagues were or are married to former students.)

A further question relates to effective dates: what if someone was in a relationship with a student at the time the bill (so to speak) became law? Are they expected immediately to end it? What of other relationships, even marriages, that initiated with such illicit contacts? Are they free from scrutiny, or--under the "fruit of the poison tree" doctrine--are they also suspect?

The only answer, I think, is to hold a conference on the legislation, where the leading lights of statutory interpretation can hold forth on these and other key issues. To be held in New Haven, of course. With separate seating for students and faculty.


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