AMHERST — #Hampshire too.
Hampshire College last week rescinded an endowed fund and a room on campus named in memory of the late Lester J. Mazor, a professor for 37 years, after determining allegations from an alumna of inappropriate behavior dating back to the 1970s were credible. Mazor, who died in 2011, was a founding professor at the college.
A panel charged with investigating the matter has recommended that Hampshire “strengthen” its policies relating to consensual relationships between faculty or staff and students. College policy “strongly discourages” romantic relationships between faculty/staff and students, but does not prohibit them unless there is a supervisory element.
The committee also issued recommendations for what to do when allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior are made involving parties who are no longer at the college. Although Hampshire has clear policies to deal with current sexual harassment or assault allegations, there were no similar policies regarding past incidents until May. At that time, the trustees approved the committee’s recommendation to have a multi-step evaluation process in cases of complaints regarding past allegations of inappropriate behavior. In those cases, recommendations are referred to the president.
“Particularly in light of the heightened awareness of both individual and institutional failures to recognize and respond to incidents of sexual harassment brought about by the #MeToo movement, it seemed important for Hampshire College to review its own conduct and develop appropriate policies,” the Sept. 21 report states.
In a letter to the Hampshire community e-mailed to students and posted on the college’s home page, Hampshire president Miriam Nelson wrote: “We recognize how difficult it is to revisit painful occurrences, and we respect our alumna’s courage in coming forward.” The letter was also signed by Eva Rueschmann, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.
The trustees’ executive committee reviewed the committee’s findings and issued a formal apology to the alumna who made the allegations, the letter explains. The committee also voted to remove Mazor’s name from the room and the endowed fund as of Nov. 28.
“Some may call into question the college’s actions since Professor Mazor cannot defend himself and because these actions date from decades ago. This era has brought long-needed attention to issues of sexual harassment and we want there to be no confusion at Hampshire over what behaviors were and are inappropriate,” Nelson and Rueschmann stated. “We take our roles as educators, mentors, and role models very seriously and apologize that a member of our faculty apparently did not do so, regardless of the era.”
Mazor became the Henry R. Luce Professor of Law in 1970 and taught courses related to law, history, philosophy, and social justice until he retired in 2007. In his obituary, Mazor was credited with establishing Hampshire’s program in Berlin, where he moved after his retirement.
After the allegation about Mazor surfaced this spring, former Hampshire president Jonathan Lash convened and chaired a committee of trustees, faculty, and staff. Lash charged them with coming up with recommendations for what steps to take when allegations related to people no longer at the college are disclosed.
The five-page report explains that the woman lodged allegations against a faculty member (though it does not name Mazor specifically) several times after both she and Mazor had left the college, but states her complaints were never followed up.
“The issues the Committee has sought to address are not simple. The conduct complained of may have taken place decades ago. It may be impossible to gather all of the facts because memories have faded, or because some of those involved are no longer living,” the report states.
The report also strongly suggests the college reconsider the way it handles consensual relationships between faculty and students because of the inherent power imbalance they contain.
“Although it is outside of our original charge we urge that the school initiate a full discussion of modifying its standards either to prohibit such relationships, or to make the risks and responsibilities more explicit. While we have not proposed a prohibition against consensual relationships between adults if there is no supervisory, instructional or advising relationship, we think that the college would benefit from a full discussion of the issues.”
Hampshire student Michele Farry said she was impressed by last week’s letter and credited Nelson, who replaced Lash in July, for handling a difficult issue. “She’s taken a proactive, decisive stance. I think this is acknowledging an awareness about historical concerns,” Farry said.
Farry said she was surprised the college didn’t have a policy prohibiting relationships between faculty and students.
“I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be beneficial to all parties involved to have boundaries and to know about those boundaries,” Farry said. “That would protect faculty and students and that way it directs the focus to the academic experience.”
There is wide variation in how colleges approach consensual relationships between faculty or staff and students. Many institutions have policies prohibiting such relationships when the faculty or staff have a supervisory or adviser relationship with the students.
But some don’t have blanket bans on faculty/staff consensual relationships with students. And while a number of colleges and universities took steps to ban such relationships after a 2011 Education Department memo about sexual harassment liability, many did not, according to a May 24 article in Inside Higher Ed.
“Now, in the era of Me Too, another wave of institutions has moved to restrict consensual relationships between students and their professors. And while many involved in or affected by these decisions support them as preventing potential abuse, others remain critical of policing connections between consenting adults,” the article states.
The Hampshire administration is looking at the recommendations made by the committee including a ban on staff-student relationships, according to a college spokesman.
In recent months, the article points out, institutions including MIT, Cornell, and Columbia universities and Berklee College of Music have adopted outright bans against relationships between students and faculty and staff. Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges, neighbors to Hampshire, also have such a ban. Both the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Amherst College have policies that strongly discourage relationships between faculty and students, but only prohibit such relationships when a supervisory relationship exists.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect a change in Hampshire College’s policy regarding the investigation of past sexual harassment or assault allegations, which was approved in May.