UT athletics faculty-student relationship policy under review

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While two relationships between UT coaches and students have come to light this semester, a recent report alleges that coach-athlete relationships are so ingrained in sport cultures that many people “don’t think anything of it” and the relationships have become a “serious problem.” 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s policy guide, Staying in Bounds, encourages colleges to make boundaries for athletics staff members that work closely with and in authority positions over student athletes.

The report cites a study that found 20 percent of female student-athletes reported behaviors from a coach that took the relationship in a “non-instructional and potentially intimate direction,” but only 8 percent of the student athletes reacted negatively to them.

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for administration and legal affairs, said UT’s current policy only advises against and discourages but does not prohibit relationships between authority figures and their subordinates.

“In the presumably unlikely event that a consensual relationship [has] begun, it not only must be reported immediately, but steps must be taken to remove the conflict that has been created,” Ohlendorf said.

UT has not adopted the NCAA policy — which was released last year — or any policy specific to coach-student athlete relationships. Jennifer Hammat, institutional Title IX coordinator and assistant vice president for student affairs, said the University currently makes no distinction between consensual relationships of staff and faculty, with those of students.

“The NCAA guidelines are very specific and there is not a lot of room for interpretation in their policy,” Hammat said. “That’s a far cry from our current language in our consensual relationship policy in terms of strongly discouraging. Our policy currently doesn’t prohibit any consensual relationships.”

Paul Foster, vice chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, is creating a task force comprised of national experts who will examine the System universities’ current policies to make improvements.

System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the group will begin meeting in the coming weeks and will report its findings to the Board of Regents in May and issue recommendations in August.

“The task force will review and study all policies in place concerning relationships between UT employees and students at all 15 UT institutions, including policies concerning disciplinary actions and procedures and compliance with policies for immediate notification of institution administration and the Board of Regents when polices are violated,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

Hammat said the University is also working to clarify any new polices and better define boundaries.

“We have been working for the last 10 weeks on how we define consent,” Hammat said. “We talked with a number of different student groups to define that. If we have policies students don’t understand then we haven’t really helped any.”

Published on March 6, 2013 as "Task force to clarify sports relationship boundaries".