Change the Consensual Relationship Policy Now! 

The university’s current policy does not protect students.

In light of the recent events at Pacific University—namely, a professor’s physical relationship with a student—it is high-time to review and to modify the consensual relationship policy. 

   The current policy reads vaguely, and seems to contain loopholes that a staff or faculty member having an intimate relationship with a student would be able to wiggle through, or certainly enough leeway to make a feasible case for why the university could not fire them.

   For example, the policy states: “Pacific University prohibits employees from exercising authority or professional influence or acting in a supervisory capacity over another employee or student with whom one has a consensual intimate, romantic, or sexual relationship.”

   One reading of this policy statement would seem to disallow any professor or coach from having an intimate, romantic, or sexual connection with a student because they are inherently in authority. But that is not what the policy prohibits; in fact, by its own logic and wording, the policy allows “consensual intimate, romantic, or sexual relationship.”

   Pacific’s policy does set out that a professor cannot have a relationship with a student in his class. Otherwise, however, if consensual, it is apparently okay as long as it is reported. 

   Yet even the reporting requirement is vague, as it does not mandate any specific time frame, and does not even define what qualifies as an intimate, romantic, or sexual relationship. Loophole within a loophole.

   For contrast, consider the policy at Northwest Conference rival Lewis & Clark College. It is plain and direct: “It is a violation of this policy,” reads the policy, “for a faculty or staff member to undertake a consensual relationship or permit one to develop with a student or supervisee who is enrolled in the person’s class or is subject to that person’s supervision or evaluation, even when both parties appear to have consented to the relationship.”

   To learn more about the current policy, and whether recent events would push changes, we visited Dean Sarah Phillips. She was frank with her assessment. 

   “I don’t love this policy,” said Phillips. “And I think it’s time for this policy to update. So, I am not going to be able to defend every sentence in it. I think policies like this try to balance how to not infantilize students, especially on a campus where you have a lot of graduate and professional students. How do you not totally patronize and not infantilize those students while recognizing they will always be at a power disadvantage while in school?”

   The concern is particularly keen for off-campus programs, whether that is a trip abroad or traveling with a sports team. Since they don’t occur in a traditional classroom, travel can provide a more relaxed environment where boundaries can more easily blur. There isn’t currently any explicit guidance on how a professor should communicate with students when they are traveling. We pointed these concerns out to Dean Phillips. 

   She responded: “We will revise this policy and provide different training before people take a travel course.” 

   Yes, attending a small liberal arts college—and the option for travel programs—has its benefits because of the small class numbers and the opportunity for students to get to know their professors. Nevertheless, those close relationships also create vulnerabilities for students—and, as the consensual relationship policy currently stands, there are not sufficient protections for students if they are misled, mistreated or manipulated.  

   Dean Phillips verified that Pacific’s Title IX attorney will review and revise the outdated policy, which was last updated in 2010. In our viewpoint, as the policy is written now, it favors and protects professors who misuse their authority. We certainly hope that the revisions better consider and protect students.


Major: Journalism

Hometown: Mesa, Arizona

Hobbies: soccer, track, being outside, hiking, writing

Editor-in-Chief & Writer

Major: Sports Communications

Hometown: Stayton, OR

Hobbies: Watching baseball, thrifting, skincare, hanging out with my pets, snowboarding, and going on walks.

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