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In My Own Write
11-06-2014, 12:42 PM
Hi. I hope this question is in the appropriate forum.

In the story I'm writing, I need to make a particular set of things happen, but I don't know what the legal or procedural considerations are.

The setting is a large university.

I need to get a female graduate TA in trouble for an inappropriate relationship with a female undergrad for whom she is also a supervisor, and have it result in both the TA and the student being forced to leave the university -- ideally in a way that could reasonably be construed as voluntary. The relationship was consensual and non-sexual, and developed into a genuine friendship. The student is first year, 18 years old. The TA is 3 to at most 5 years older.

Importantly, the real drama is not supposed to be in the process of getting kicked out, but in what happens once they are out. So while I need to get them out in a dramatic fashion (while keeping it all hush-hush), it must also be done expeditiously, and with some minimal respect for what would be the realworld process.

The TA has enemies in her department who would not stop at railroading her, even if it meant hurting the student. The TA accepts that she acted unwisely, and acknowledges (to herself, to the student, and to the administration) her failure to disclose the relationship and recuse herself re: the student's grades, etc.

The student does not want to rat on the TA, and would testify for the TA were the TA to sue. But the student's parents must not find out about any of this. TA is sensitive to that, and (for several good reasons) would rather not sue anyway -- and was well ready to leave the graduate program anyway (hence her getting herself into this situation... etc.)

What are the legal maneuvers that a nasty university administration could take towards getting rid of a graduate TA who rubs certain people the wrong way, and also taking down the feisty undergrad student with whom the TA has had an innocent but still "improper" relationship, but who, if truth be told, wouldn't mind getting kicked out anyway.

davidjgalloway
11-06-2014, 03:20 PM
On your first point, though university policies on interactions where there is a power differential are continuously evolving, I'm not even sure what an "inappropriate but non-sexual" relationship is. What is the nature of the interaction? All I see here is that they are "friends," which is not violating any policy and is impossible to enforce.

Separate from that, there are many different ways to influence someone who is in a graduate program, and who has, therefore, no power. If it is a program where the grads are competing for funding each year, she can just not receive a fellowship or TA-ship. If her committee is against her, all of a sudden she is unable to get approval for her work; if she is not far enough along in the program, such as before her qualifying exams, she could fail those.

I do think, though, that is unlikely to be "hush-hush." Only on an official level would that be the case. But on a personal level, either someone would talk or the rumor mill would go into overdrive. These scandals are too enticing to just pass unnoticed.

You should be able to google policies at universities, since these are now usually publicly available, to get an idea of the pseudo-legal framework. Also could try searching for "faculty" or "graduate student" handbooks to see what language exists regarding relationships. But again, I'm not sure what an "innocent but improper" relationship is, exactly, so you may want to consider if that is going to be transgression enough to warrant this kind of response.

King Neptune
11-06-2014, 06:38 PM
If you have a particular university in mind, then looking at the policy manuals should help. In many universities in the U.S. there are regulations that are surprising. Look at alcohol policies. If the TA split a bottle of wine with the student, then they both probably were violating policy. If that isn't enough then try a joint.

veinglory
11-06-2014, 08:42 PM
Unless everyone incorrectly thought the relationship was sexual, I see no way it could be non-permitted to just have a friendship. TAs and students can be friends in any university I know of. Only improper conduct would be an issue, like telling her exam answers etc.

cornflake
11-06-2014, 08:54 PM
Hi. I hope this question is in the appropriate forum.

In the story I'm writing, I need to make a particular set of things happen, but I don't know what the legal or procedural considerations are.

The setting is a large university.

I need to get a female graduate TA in trouble for an inappropriate relationship with a female undergrad for whom she is also a supervisor, and have it result in both the TA and the student being forced to leave the university -- ideally in a way that could reasonably be construed as voluntary. The relationship was consensual and non-sexual, and developed into a genuine friendship. The student is first year, 18 years old. The TA is 3 to at most 5 years older.

Importantly, the real drama is not supposed to be in the process of getting kicked out, but in what happens once they are out. So while I need to get them out in a dramatic fashion (while keeping it all hush-hush), it must also be done expeditiously, and with some minimal respect for what would be the realworld process.

The TA has enemies in her department who would not stop at railroading her, even if it meant hurting the student. The TA accepts that she acted unwisely, and acknowledges (to herself, to the student, and to the administration) her failure to disclose the relationship and recuse herself re: the student's grades, etc.

The student does not want to rat on the TA, and would testify for the TA were the TA to sue. But the student's parents must not find out about any of this. TA is sensitive to that, and (for several good reasons) would rather not sue anyway -- and was well ready to leave the graduate program anyway (hence her getting herself into this situation... etc.)

What are the legal maneuvers that a nasty university administration could take towards getting rid of a graduate TA who rubs certain people the wrong way, and also taking down the feisty undergrad student with whom the TA has had an innocent but still "improper" relationship, but who, if truth be told, wouldn't mind getting kicked out anyway.




I'm confused - it's a graduate student and a TA, so they're both graduate students. I don't know what way their relationship could be improper besides cheating, but that doesn't sound innocent.

You also mention the student's parents can't find out, but I don't know why they would unless she tells them?

ULTRAGOTHA
11-06-2014, 09:01 PM
Do you need the TA to actually be in trouble for an inappropriate non-sexual relationship? (Which I agree would be very odd.) Or do you just need them both to leave under a cloud that has to do with their relationship with each other?

What about something like--the student is sexually assaulted (could be rape, could be a lesser assault) by faculty/administration/staff or another well connected student. Perhaps with her drinking alcohol beforehand. She tells her friend the TA and the TA tries to go to bat for her. Neither of them are believed or are dismissed even if they are believed (this is not uncommon even today in universities—even when following all the published policies to a T). The political ramifications for the TA, and the inaction by the administration against the assailant or even the *lauding* of the assailant by the powers that be, result in both of them leaving.

It would all be kept fairly sub rosa. You’d have an excellent reason for the student to not want to tell her parents and the TA to support that. The TA would be completely innocent of any wrong-doing (and the student too, bar perhaps some underage drinking) and yet they’d still both be, if not kicked out, under no encouragement to stay.

You can google around for sadly far too many examples of students being assaulted on campus, and the apathy of administrators to their plight, to find some examples that would best fit your needs.

Hoplite
11-06-2014, 09:07 PM
If the relationship of the TA and undergrad violates a consented "Honor Code", maybe the university can kick them out? I think I remember hearing one or two cases at Brigham Young University where this happened: students violated honor code by having premarital sex.

I'm adding in my own assumptions here:
-The relationship between the characters (both noted as being female) is romantic, or at least other people see perceive it as romantic
-The university has codes of conduct in this area: romantic relationships between TAs and undergrads they're TAing, romantic relationships in general (see BYU example), or more specifically same-sex relationships.

nealraisman
11-06-2014, 09:21 PM
The university would not have a role to play in a non-sexual relationship in any case. The time when there would be trouble would be if the TA had the grad student in a class and held grade power over her. But the two are not in a class. Moreover, the TA would not supervise another grad student. They are equals. You need to change the TA into a faculty member who has power over her keeping a job or getting a grade or there is no conflict.

ULTRAGOTHA
11-06-2014, 09:39 PM
Come to think, it doesn't have to be assault. It could be any kind of harrassment. Academia is not good at supporting the powerless against their own. (Academia is not alone in this. SF/F Fandom, Gaming, the skeptical community, churches, the armed forces--society in general is pretty awful about it.)

AW Admin
11-06-2014, 10:11 PM
I need to get a female graduate TA in trouble for an inappropriate relationship with a female undergrad for whom she is also a supervisor, and have it result in both the TA and the student being forced to leave the university -- ideally in a way that could reasonably be construed as voluntary. The relationship was consensual and non-sexual, and developed into a genuine friendship. The student is first year, 18 years old. The TA is 3 to at most 5 years older. [

This wouldn't happen. For one thing, T.A.s don't supervise undergraduates, or even, other T.A.s, in the formal definition of supervise (i.e. they don't sign timesheets). The hierarchy doesn't work this way, in part as a way to prevent problems with what are classified as apprentice personnel.

Moreover, it is exceedingly rare for even a sexual consensual relationship between an undergraduate of age and a T.A. to be prohibited or penalized; a professor may take the two aside and say "you need to keep this off campus," or "wait until you're not in the T.A.'s class," but that's about it.

ETA: Now, if your setting is a private religious institution, all bets are off. I could see the administration assuming that a casual, friendly non-sexual relationship between two women, of any sort, was "teh queer menace," and call in all sorts of interventions and punitive restrictions, up to and including removing the older student from the community entirely, and segregating her.

RJ_Beam
11-06-2014, 10:23 PM
If the student is only 18 and the TA is older a good non-sexual relationship could be the TA buying alcohol for the student. Maybe an after class study group that turns into a drinking thing. This way as others have pointed out the relationship is not the problem... it is a violation of law.

Maybe the student gets caught by campus police drunk and she turns in the TA for getting her drunk.

cornflake
11-06-2014, 10:40 PM
I think an 18-year-old, dorm-living grad student is a whole other set of disbelief issues. Not saying it's impossible, but it seems so unlikely as to require a bunch of explanation.

Ketzel
11-06-2014, 10:55 PM
Me, I don't get the "non-sexual but consensual" description. What is the 18-year-old consenting to? If she's just agreeing that she and the 21-year-old TA are friends, what's the nature of the scandal? I recently attended the wedding of one of my former students and her matron of honor had been my TA at the time the bride was in my class. Maybe if the TA had grading authority, I would have warned her against appearing to favor her friend in any way (or actually favoring her) and possibly I would have assigned an obvious good buddy of one of the TAs to another. However, since the TAs didn't have grading authority, I never had any issue with the students and the TAs becoming friends.

Hoplite
11-06-2014, 11:36 PM
I need to get a female graduate TA in trouble for an inappropriate relationship with a female undergrad for whom she is also a supervisor, and have it result in both the TA and the student being forced to leave the university -- ideally in a way that could reasonably be construed as voluntary. The relationship was consensual and non-sexual, and developed into a genuine friendship. The student is first year, 18 years old. The TA is 3 to at most 5 years older.



I think an 18-year-old, dorm-living grad student is a whole other set of disbelief issues. Not saying it's impossible, but it seems so unlikely as to require a bunch of explanation.

Unless I'm missing something the 18 year old is the undergrad. The TA is the grad student age 21-23 (granted a 21 year old grad student is uncommon but not impossible; I'd push more for the 5 years older).

cornflake
11-06-2014, 11:45 PM
Unless I'm missing something the 18 year old is the undergrad. The TA is the grad student age 21-23 (granted a 21 year old grad student is uncommon but not impossible; I'd push more for the 5 years older).

No, you're correct. I read it wrong and thought the student was a grad student as well.

AW Admin
11-06-2014, 11:51 PM
I think an 18-year-old, dorm-living grad student is a whole other set of disbelief issues. Not saying it's impossible, but it seems so unlikely as to require a bunch of explanation.

Not really; I not only lived in a grad dorm for part of my grad experience, I later was an R.A. in the dorm.

Graduate dorms are different, btw; back in the dark ages of the 1980s, the grad dorm I lived in had co-ed floors and bathrooms. All the rooms were single. Alcohol was permitted as long as everyone drinking, handling, or in the vicinity of it was of age.

There are specific options for grad students living on campus, including married student housing options.

Trebor1415
11-07-2014, 05:25 AM
If an inappropriate sexual relationship is off the table, the only other thing that occurs to me is something related to (supposed) academic dishonesty.

For it to involve both there would have to be allegations of cheating that involved both, or theft or research, or falsifications of research, etc.

That's all I got.

reddirtwriter
11-08-2014, 05:16 AM
In most state universities i think your scenario would be highly unlikely. The TA might be thrown out if they had power over the undergrad, but if it's non-sexual then there's really nothing to be used in the power play. I've know of grad students going out to the bar with thier (of age) students. It's frowned upon, but not forbidden.
like someone else said, if its a private and especially religiously affiliated school then it could be something like drinking. I've heard of private schools who will dismiss tenured faculty who are seen in public having a beer.

Roxxsmom
11-08-2014, 10:48 AM
As someone who has been associated with a number of public universities and colleges (as undergrad, grad student and faculty), I've never heard of anyone, let alone an undergrad, being kicked out for an inappropriate friendship with another student. And if it were a sexual relationship, the punishment would likely fall on the person in a position of responsibility, not the student (who might be seen as the victim).

TAs are students, generally grad students. There's no rule at any college or university I've ever heard of against their being friends, even romantically involved, with other students, including undergrads. There might be a conflict of interest issue if there were a close personal friendship or romance between a TA and a student who was in her class (TAs usually teach labs and discussion sections under the direction of a faculty member, not lectures), especially if it led to allegations of unfair grading practices or differential treatment of said student.

I don't think the undergrad would be kicked out in such a situation, unless it could be shown that she was cheating (even then, they rarely kick undergrad students out for a first cheating offense anymore). The grad student might lose their TA ship or possibly be kicked out, but it would really depend on how egregious the situation was. Someone claiming, without proof, that there was favoritism going on, probably not. Definite evidence that said TA was giving good grades to substandard work, or passing upcoming test questions to her friend, then punishment would be likely.

If you want to make your characters be kicked out because of their relationship, and you want them to remain sympathetic (as in not actually being cheaters), then maybe having someone frame them in some way?

In My Own Write
11-09-2014, 04:52 AM
Thank you all for your replies. Hearing my scenario played back through so many variations has been most helpful.

Yeah, "consensual but non-sexual" is an odd construction, I can see. By consensual I'm also pointing to the power differential (and thus potential/theoretical coercion) as an issue, even in the absence of sexuality within the relationship.

Another thing I could have made more clear: the student is my MC and 1st person narrator. Also, that my TA conducts scheduled discussion sections my MC is required to attend, giving the TA a supervisory status which would seem to trip the issue of impropriety.

Some additional clarification and context:

The TA is a renegade within the department (a status that in this case does not translate into her being a student fave), and there are some who would love to get rid of her. So when the opportunity presents itself to move against her, the department decided to followup on a complaint made about the TA and a student by someone who observed them under questionable circumstances.

I would like to turn that configuration into getting the TA as well as the student out of the university in a less than fully voluntarily way.

If I can do this with TA and MC forced to leave outright (basically, kicked out), so much the better. But I can always have the MC (who doesn't want to be there anyway) leave in "solidarity" with the renegade TA (who by definition and temperament already has several toes out the door.)

What I'd like is extra oomph for, ideally, a double ejection, which is why I'm trying to get a sense of the apparatus and procedures the TA and my MC would each face, so that what happens is reasonably realistic and not excessively implausible.


Do you need the TA to actually be in trouble for an inappropriate non-sexual relationship? (Which I agree would be very odd.) Or do you just need them both to leave under a cloud that has to do with their relationship with each other?

Essentially, the latter, with them being squeezed out, if not outright kicked out, being preferable to them just leaving. But "under a cloud" -- yes. def.

Prior to posting, I had read the published guidelines for such relationships from Stanford (https://adminguide.stanford.edu/chapter-1/subchapter-7/policy-1-7-2), Case Western (http://www.case.edu/finadmin/humres/policies/standards/cr.html), UC Santa Cruz (http://www2.ucsc.edu/title9-sh/graduate/ta.htm), and various others.

What stands out most -- that is, what I find most useful for my purposes -- are guidelines where, even when such relationships are not strictly prohibited, the faculty member (TAs included ) must disclose the relationship, and recuse herself from any supervisory etc role re: the student.

Failure to disclose and recuse seems like just the kind of technicality my TA's department or university can use to "get" her, should they so desire, almost independent of how sexual or non-sexual the relationship actually was.

So, I'm thinking that her failure to disclose and recuse, in combination with (emphasis added)....



Separate from that, there are many different ways to influence someone who is in a graduate program, and who has, therefore, no power. If it is a program where the grads are competing for funding each year, she can just not receive a fellowship or TA-ship. If her committee is against her, all of a sudden she is unable to get approval for her work; if she is not far enough along in the program, such as before her qualifying exams, she could fail those.

....gives me a way of getting my TA out, if not by direct action, then indirectly by making her life unpleasant enough that she leaves. Especially if I'm willing to make the department sufficiently evil, and the TA sufficiently proud and principled -- which are all more than doable, and indeed desirable.

Or not? ;)

Thanks again! These replies have been great!