After Investigation, UConn Alters Policy on Student-Prof Relationships

In response to an investigation into how the school handles reports of sexual misconduct by faculty members, the University of Connecticut is adopting a new policy governing professor/student relationships. As recommended in the report, one of the primary goals of the new policy is to act on troubling reports quickly after the investigation showed that at least some employees were aware that music professor Robert Miller had been abusing students as early as 2006.

The report also found accounts of Miller being inside freshman dorms, abusing drugs and having sex with one of the residents. According to Kathleen Megan of The Hartford Courant, there have also been accusations of Miller having inappropriate contact with minor children that were never reported to the university administration.

The university has a new policy, enacted in early 2012 soon after the Penn State child abuse scandal erupted, that broadens the number of employees who must report sexual assaults. University officials say they have already seen an increase in the number of reports received in the past year.

"It's expected and required of our employees that they come forward with any information immediately," said Stephanie Reitz, the university's spokeswoman. "The safety of all members of the university community is of the utmost importance to all of us."

In addition, the university is drafting a policy that will prohibit relationships between faculty or university staff and undergraduates.

Reitz said that the number of reports of sexual assault and harassment has gone up substantially since the tougher reporting policy went into effect in January 2012. However, as Reitz pointed out, that doesn't mean that the university campus is inherently less safe; it simply means that more people feel safer coming forward.

"But an increase in reporting allows the appropriate university administrators and offices to respond swiftly to situations that are brought to their attention," Reitz said in an email. "Having that data also allows for more informed work on effective prevention measures."

In addition, she said, university officials have been working for about a year on a policy that will prohibit relationships between faculty or university staff and undergraduates, as well as banning relationships between graduate students and the faculty with authority over them. It would also bar supervisors from having relationships with their subordinates.

At the moment, sexual relationships between faculty and students are allowed when it is consensual and doesn't involve either party being under the influence. In addition to a total prohibition on such relationships, the new policy will also make background checks on all new employees mandatory starting this fall.

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