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The UT Board of Regents has been working to create a uniform policy that addresses consensual sexual relationships between teachers and students.

From April to August 2013, the University of Texas System’s Task Force for Employee and Student Relationships met periodically to review and recommend updates to its current regulations.

One main reason for this update was to ensure that policies regarding student and employee relationships would be consistent throughout the UT System. A strong focal point of the update regarded consensual relationships between faculty members and students.

UTSA Athletic Director Lynn Hickey served on the task force.

“It was time for it (policy) to be reviewed. We were called to look at the recommendations and to review the policy that was currently in place,” Hickey said of her appointment to the committee. “It’s about establishing rules or appropriate ways to communicate if a situation like this were to arise.”

Although the task force deals with the system as an entire unit, Hickey provided insight into the importance of student and faculty relationships within the athletics department.

“The amount of time that you spend together and everything, there’s going to be some situations that can possibly arise,” Hickey said. “It’s really important that, as a member of the faculty and staff at the university, you understand what appropriate actions and relationships are.”

A suggested update to the policy noted that campus athletic programs create stricter policies regarding consensual relationships. The difficulties with these relationships come when student-athletes and their coaches become involved.

“The key is to protect students so that there is not undue harassment or abuse in any way,” Hickey said. “At the same time, there are some situations where the faculty needs to be protected. There can be some really over-zealous students, especially if you have young faculty and staff.”

After the committee reviewed the entirety of the current policies, they made many recommendations. These recommendations were then divided into two categories: Policy Change and Culture Change.

An important change relating to the policy was that, as stated in the UT System Employee Student Relationships Report, “the central elements of the consensual relationships at each UT institution, including the definition of what is prohibited, should be the same for all institutions.”

Previously, the system never had a policy in place that examined the nature of consensual relationships. Problems with these relationships arise when a student and faculty member are willingly involved with each other, but then a student later presses sexual harassment charges.

A recommendation pertaining to a change in culture was to “develop a clear message and reinforce it,” according to the report. This suggestion includes creating an honor code that students, faculty, and staff would abide by, as well as a website with policy information and restrictions readily available.

The key is to bring awareness to the issues, the consequences involved with these issues and how the updated policy reflects them. The goal of these implementations is to maintain a safe learning environment for students and faculty alike by having a system-wide code.

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