HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii professors are prohibited from having romantic relationships with students, under a new policy finalized Tuesday.
For many, the policy felt like a no-brainer. Several students said they assumed a ban was already in place.
But Bob Cooney, chairman of the Manoa Faculty Senate, says the rule is about making boundaries crystal clear.
"I've known of cases long ago where graduate students did have inappropriate relationships with undergrads, so I think there's nothing wrong with having a policy that says it's wrong, because it is wrong," Cooney said.
Previously, UH had a policy that discouraged sexual relationships between faculty and students but did not prohibit them.
"I'm shocked," said UH student Gigi Banales. "I really thought it was prohibited before. I don't see why it wouldn't be."
Faculty and UH students agreed the ban was long overdue.
"I think it does a good job in really focusing on the student affairs aspect and making sure students are protected in the academic environment," Kelly Zakim said, president of the UH student union.
The proposed policy grew out of a 2014 U.S. Department of Education investigation into how the University of Hawaii, and dozens of other schools, handled sex assault allegations.
In recent years, schools like Harvard, Yale and Arizona State University have implemented similar policies to ban professors from dating their students.
While students were generally supportive of the new policy, some did wonder how it would be enforced..
"If there's a certain law against something, then people will always try to find a way to bend it," said UH student David Enriquez. "But I think ultimately, for now, this is a solution we have to have."
The policy says anyone who is caught breaking the rule could face suspension or termination.
"For those that are taking advantage of their position, I hope it sends a message and puts an end to it," Cooney said.
UH said consensual relationships that existed before the passage of the new policy can continue; but those involved in such a relationship must disclose the information to schools officials.