UMass officials to evaluate student-professor relationship policy following Alex Morse report

Morse did not violate University policy

UMass+officials+to+evaluate+student-professor+relationship+policy+following+Alex+Morse+report

Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

By Matt Berg, Managing Editor

University of Massachusetts officials will evaluate whether pursuing dating or sexual relationships with students as a faculty member conflicts with the school’s policies, according to a University spokesperson.

Questions over such policies have arisen since Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, a former adjunct professor at the school, was barred by UMass Democrats, Amherst College Democrats and College Democrats of Massachusetts from attending future events in the midst of his campaign for Massachusetts’ First Congressional District. 

In a letter sent to Morse in early August, the groups alleged that the mayor had “sexual contact with college students, including at UMass Amherst, where he teaches, and the greater Five College Consortium.”

Morse admitted to having consensual relationships with students and apologized to those he made feel uncomfortable in a statement to the Daily Collegian in August.

A four-month investigation conducted by law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, requested by the University, was released Wednesday afternoon.

“UMass Amherst officials are studying the report and will evaluate whether pursuit of dating or sexual relationships with students by a faculty member is in conflict with the Consensual Relationship Policy or the university’s Principles of Employee Conduct,” said Ed Blaguszewski, a University spokesperson. “The university also plans to re-examine its Consensual Relationships Policy, working with our union partners, to determine if revisions are appropriate.”

The investigation found that Morse did not violate University policy on consensual relationships because he did not have grading, supervisory, advisory, or employment responsibility for the students.

However, investigators said Morse’s “pursuit” of dating or sexual relationships with students “may be inconsistent” with the school’s principles of employee conduct.

In a statement to The Republican, Morse said the report “confirms what I’ve said since this began: that I have never violated Title IX or any UMass employment policy. Any other speculation, rumors, or innuendo characterizing my interactions with students is an extraneous distraction, and outside the scope of the investigation.”

One of the main allegations against Morse by the student groups was that he had sexual relationships with University students, which falls under the school’s Policy on Consensual Relationships Between Faculty and Students. The policy prohibits sexual relationships between faculty and students who the faculty member has grading, supervisory, advisory, employment responsibility or other instructional or supervisory activity over. 

In the policy, such relationships are described as being “inherently problematic” in nature and “inconsistent with the educational mission of the University,” investigators said.

“By its terms, however, the policy does not appear to prohibit faculty members from pursuing sexual relationships with students over whom the faculty member has the aforementioned responsibilities,” the report said.

Investigators said the “evidence supports a finding” that Morse intended to engage in such relationships but did not.

“The Investigators cannot conclude that his conduct violated the policy and leave to the University leadership to determine whether the policy should be amended or whether the conduct alleged here is violative of some other generalized employee conduct policy,” the report said.

The report also found insufficient evidence that Morse had grading, supervisory, advisory or employment responsibility over any members of UMass Democrats or others whom he engaged with on social media. 

“The lone exception, Student B, who reportedly told Witness Two (and others) that he matched with Morse on Tinder, was a student in Morse’s class prior to implementation of the Consensual Relationships policy.”

Also in question is whether Morse’s pursuit of dating or sexual relationships with students he met at student-organized events violates the University’s Principles of Employee Conduct which outline the school’s expectations for employee values, standards and expectations. 

Investigators deferred to University officials for the determination.

 Matt Berg can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.