Here is my response to the actual charge of “failing to report a consensual relationship”, written in December 2012. I have redacted the student’s name and other potentially identifying information.
Non-reporting of relationship
I will here set out the reasons I had for not reporting the relationship that I had with X to the Chair and thereby severing any evaluative relationship with her.
1. Reporting the relationship would have been against her expressed wishes, because perception of a personal relationship would (she believed and stated) likely devalue my positive academic assessment of her in the eyes of other people, being assigned to purely personal feelings.
2. Removing myself from any evaluative relationship with her could have had unfortunate consequences for her future academic career, since I would no longer be able to work with her and express my support of her. This would apply to such matters as being her thesis supervisor, being on her dissertation committee, examining her qualifying exams, and writing a recommendation for her for future employment. Given her interests this would have deprived her of the support of the person in the department best suited to support her. (Note: this is a point purely about no longer having me as an academic support—it has nothing whatever to do with “retaliation”, real or imagined.) She greatly valued my academic assistance and support and to lose it would have been a blow.
3. Not being in an evaluative relationship with her would raise questions in the minds of potential academic employers, since I was the natural person in the department for her to work closely with, given my interests. Her main interest is philosophy of Y and she was extremely interested in the topics covered in a seminar I gave on Y that she attended. Employers would naturally wonder why there was no letter of recommendation from me, and may suppose that I did not have a good opinion of her.
4. She believed and I agreed that it would not be easy to find another member of the department to replace me in these various roles, because of the closeness of her interests to mine and the smallness of the department. Indeed, her future work would likely be partly about my work (especially on Y).
5. Reporting the relationship would inevitably give rise to the impression that the relationship involved more than it actually did, because it would be assumed that it was sexual in nature. It was not. This would have been detrimental to both her and me, and would be very difficult to combat. Nor would it be possible to keep the severance of the evaluative relationship confidential, as it would be evident to all in the natural course of events. It would certainly lead to harmful prurient speculation about our relationship, both within the department and the wider philosophical community (which is the position in which we now find ourselves).
6. It would be difficult for me to keep all positive opinion of her academic abilities quiet, since I arrived at a very strong assessment of her abilities and people would inevitably consult me about her, even if only informally. Given this, it would be difficult to avoid giving a positive evaluation, because the lack of any evaluation might be misinterpreted. I might then be deemed to have broken the rules about non-evaluation (as well as lost an opportunity to support her).
7. My previous support of her would have been retrospectively questioned (though groundlessly).
8. I did not feel that my objectivity as to her academic abilities had been compromised; nor did I think that any perception of this existed in the department. I have been a tenured professor for 36 years and am well accustomed to maintaining my objectivity and putting aside personal feelings about students (either pro or con). If I did feel that I could not maintain objectivity, I would have removed myself.
9. The collaborative relationship that existed between us (we were working on two jointly authored papers and possibly more to come) would have been jeopardized, since it is difficult to see how this could continue if I was barred from making any positive statements about her—this would look very odd. Or would we have been required by the university to cease collaboration? Since this collaboration was beneficial to her academically, this would again have affected her future negatively. She valued the collaboration on papers-to-be-published very highly (and with good reason).
10. The following point is extremely important and lies behind all the previous points: I did not believe that our close collaborative and personal relationship rose to the level specified in the Faculty Manual as calling for evaluative severance (“romantic, amorous or sexual relationships”), and so did not see that the bad consequences of reporting the relationship should be entertained. Clearly, it is inadvisable to “over-report” personal relationships, given the deleterious consequences for the student that can easily ensue. In my judgment this was just such a case and did not (according to the official rules) require to be reported. Had the relationship been of the nature described in the rules, as I understand them, reporting would have been advisable; but it was not of such a nature, and therefore the bad consequences did not need to be accepted. The language used in the rules is, admittedly, rather hazy, but I took it that sexual relations were the kind of relationship that required reporting; and there was no such relationship. I think this would be the standard and natural interpretation of the rules; otherwise the question becomes extremely vague and open to intelligent disagreement. Specifically, dictionary definitions of the word “amorous” fail to apply to the relationship that existed (note that the word is not defined in the Manual).
In sum, reporting the relationship could have had seriously detrimental consequences for X’s academic success and future career, both materially and in terms of other people’s perceptions—and should have been undertaken only if clearly warranted. Neither she nor I felt at the time that we had a relationship that required to be reported (the existence of a sexual element being the critical factor in such cases). For these reasons (and others) I did not deem it appropriate to report the relationship, thereby removing myself from any position of collaboration, teaching and evaluation with respect to X. In my judgment (and in hers) this would simply not have been in her best academic interests, given the facts, as well as not required by university rules, as conventionally understood. I acted in good faith and with X’s interests at the forefront of my mind.
13 December, 2012