Faculty votes to enact a ban on profs dating graduate students

Faculty members are prohibited from initiating or engaging in romantic and sexual relationships with graduate students following a vote at the April 1 faculty meeting. The new policy mirrors Princeton’s rules — enacted in 2016 — governing relationships between faculty and undergraduates. Previously, the policy banned relationships between faculty and grad students only in cases where the faculty member had advising, instructional, or supervisory responsibilities over the student. 

Relationships that predate the new policy will not be prohibited but must be disclosed to the dean of the faculty and the parties’ respective department chairs, said Sanjeev Kulkarni, the dean of the faculty. Faculty who violate the policy will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Graduate students will not face disciplinary action for violations.

“Students should be treated by faculty as scholars, not as potential sexual partners.” — Abby Novick GS, a member of the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct
Nikki and Chip Photography

“We see a number of problems in this area, and when problems arise, they are devastating,” Kulkarni said. “And not just to graduate students — they often have a significant impact on the faculty member. But more broadly than that, they often result in significant collateral damage not just within a department, but wider than that.”

The faculty also approved a policy that prohibits faculty members, researchers, graduate students, visiting students, and undergraduate course assistants from engaging in romantic or sexual behavior with any person subject to that individual’s academic supervision or evaluation.

Both of the new policies were overwhelmingly approved by the faculty, although each received a small number of “no” votes. 

Faculty members who spoke during the meeting expressed support for the new prohibition, with some emphasizing how the broad scope of the new policy will better respond to the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of academia, with professors working with grad students in other departments.

Abby Novick, a fourth-year psychology Ph.D. student, said she thinks the new policy will promote collaboration between students and faculty.

“Students should be treated by faculty as scholars, not as potential sexual partners,” said Novick, who is a member of the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct. “If a professor invites a student to a restaurant to talk about a project, there is now a clear expectation that this invitation is a professional one, not romantic. Previously, such situations could be quite ambiguous, causing some students to miss out on networking and career opportunities.”

“Graduate students are, above all, students,” said Mai Nguyen, a fifth-year psychology Ph.D. student. “And we are ... vulnerable students — our work, education, careers, and even personal well-being are unusually predicated on our faculty advisers, which makes romantic and sexual entanglements with faculty that much more fraught.”

Most of Princeton’s peer schools prohibit sexual and romantic relationships between faculty and graduate students whom they oversee. Kulkarni said the University believes it is the first among the Ivies to enact a blanket ban on romantic relationships between faculty and graduate students.

“We are proud that Princeton is taking the lead on this important issue,” he said.