Sexual Misconduct at Arizona State’s Honors College

In light of recent discussions of professor-student sexual relations (here, for example), readers might be interested in learning of about what has been happening at Barrett, the Honors College of Arizona State University.

In the past few years, Barrett has terminated the contracts of at least three professors who engaged in sexual relationships with students. Joel Hunter and Dr. Eric Susser were told their contracts were not being renewed after they admitted to violating ASU’s student-professor relationship policies, and Dr. David Conz committed suicide after his contract was dropped when a student reported he’d given alcohol to the Barrett freshman he was dating. Police records, documents given to New Times by involved students, and reports by other media outlets confirm the terminations. But some say the number of Barrett faculty members skirting the rules — and whose contracts may have been dropped — actually is far higher….

Last fall, ASU’s faculty senate debated whether to replace its own policy with an outright ban on professor-undergraduate relationships. At a  senate meeting in November, Cynthia Tompkins, chair of the committee drafting the proposed policy changes, referenced the scope of ASU’s problem. She said at least 20 faculty members across ASU have been dismissed for having inappropriate sexual relationships with students in recent years…

The Human Event [a Barrett course on the history of ideas] is “a wonderful course to get students into the idea of working closely with a professor,” says a former staff member who asked to not be identified. But she says she also believes the class has contributed to the problem of too-close professor-student relations.“Because it was so friendly,” she says, “if you had any faculty members who were not terribly ethical in how they related to youngsters, it was a situation in which they could take advantage.”

With these professors, sources tell New Times, office hours turn into intimate meetings. Examination of the ancient Greeks may have an odd focus on the sexual relationships between mentors and mentees. Trips abroad are fueled more by alcohol than by learning.

To many, Barrett’s very structure, intended to create a close learning community for students and professors alike, has instead become something sinister: a way for predatory teachers to grow close to — sometimes, even sexually — the young and ambitious students in their tutelage.

The story at the Phoenix New Times begins with the relationship between Joel Hunter, a philosophy instructor at Barrett and one of the professors who taught “The Human Event” course, and one of his then-students, “Jane.” The article describes elements of their “covert” romantic and sexual relationship, including how he wrote her letters of recommendation during the relationship and granted her extensions on schoolwork because of it. Further details about the relationship are presented in a blog post written by Jane, along with Jasmine Lester. The latter is a former Barrett student who herself had had a relationship with a professor that “took on a dynamic that extended beyond professional boundaries,” and who founded “Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault,” an advocacy group.

The article in the New Times also includes a discussion of ASU’s policy about amorous relations, a policy known as ACD 402:

As written today, ACD 402 bans ASU employees from making key decisions — grading, hiring, disciplining, or offering recommendations — over anyone with whom they are in a sexual relationship. The policy bans faculty members from engaging in relationships with any students currently enrolled in their classes, and it says violations can result in disciplinary action up to termination.

A recent attempt to revise ACD 402 to include a ban on all faculty-student amorous relations did not succeed, out of concerns that it was “very invasive” and “intrusive.”

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