Florida Gulf Coast University’s new staff-student dating policy sends a strong message about values and ethics, and President Barack Obama can adjust to critics to better address U.S. school children next year.
So says FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw, who also touches on college football and campus growth as this week’s guest on "One on One with Jeff Lytle.’’
Highlights are available at naplesnews.com/oneonone and the entire 30-minute interview airs on Comcast’s CN 14 at noon today.
Lytle is editorial page editor of the Daily News.
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Lytle: You have a new consensual relationship policy on campus for faculty, students and staff and all combinations thereof.
The first time you read this very serious document, I need to tell you, it sort of makes your eyes glaze over, and it looked like it was just stirring things around, and it didn’t really accomplish anything. It looked like more of "anything goes." But then you look at it again, and you begin to say, wait a minute. This really does say something, followed up by your opinion piece in the Daily News on this.
This is serious business, and it’s very clear. It seems to say to the people on campus that if you have a possible conflict of interest in a consensual relationship, you had better come forward and disclose it to us because if you don’t, and we find out about it, that could be serious.
Bradshaw: It’s important, that distinction that you made. The relationship in and of itself is not a violation of policy. The lack of disclosure is a potential violation of our policy. The purpose of my editorial piece was to try to clarify that.
I think when we look at our policies at the university, they’re there to let the faculty, staff and students know what our expectations are of their behavior. But they’re also there to articulate our values as a university and the work environment we want to create for our students and faculty.
Lytle: It’s actually a very positive thing.
Bradshaw: I believe so.
Lytle: Do these rules apply to homosexual as well as heterosexual relationships?
Bradshaw: There’s no difference on sexual orientation. It’s neutral on that. It applies to all potential conflict of interest as it relates to consensual relationships.
Lytle: Being university president, you know better, but to most people, from the outside looking in, whenever you think of relationships on campus and ones that might need some regulation, that would be faculty/students. And our traditional definition of that might be a full-grown, adult professor with a student in the 18 to 20 age range. And that kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
The rules are already in place for unwanted advances such as that, right?
Bradshaw: Yes, they are. It’s called conflict of interest. But what we found with that set of rules, it was not clear enough across all areas of the university faculty staff and students. So again, the relationship in and of itself is not a violation of policy. And even with disclosure, there could be no conflict, but we have now a mechanism and guidelines that would inform how we investigate that and come to a determination.
Lytle: But just to bring clarity to that, your policy says there is to be no relationship between a teacher and a student in his or her classes.
Lytle: There will be none of that.
Bradshaw: There will be none of that. The way you described that, that is a conflict of interest. And it’s in the responsibility of the university to resolve that conflict.
Lytle: And then further clarity: if a teacher makes an unwanted advance on a student, that is harassment.
Bradshaw: That is harassment, and we have policies and procedures that cover that.
Lytle: But if there’s a teacher who has a relationship with a student who is not in his or her class — and this student, by the way, might be another adult of the same age as the teacher — that is allowed. But the teacher has to disclose that.
Bradshaw: The professor has to disclose that and we’ll have to make a determination if that is a conflict.
Lytle: OK. And if it is, the policy says, as I read it, you will make every effort to try to either transfer the professor and transfer one of the parties out of the conflicted relationship.
Bradshaw: If we determine that there is a conflict, then we will take whatever steps we need to take to resolve that.
Lytle: But if you can’t make a transfer, then there’s a chance that someone has to go.
Bradshaw: Well, we can transfer the student to another class or the professor can — I think in this hypothetical situation, transferring the student would be the most expedient thing to do to resolve that.
Lytle: The bigger picture of this — tell me if I’m wrong — is this is another step in your administration really getting its hand around the university, putting its mark or stamp on the university, or really taking charge.
You now appear to have your senior leadership team in place.
Lytle: And now, from now on, it would seem to me that you are more accountable than ever, and it’s the Bradshaw era now.
Bradshaw: Well, yes, I’d like to think so. It’s a Bradshaw administration era.
What we’re doing now is looking at our policies and procedures and regulations to see where we may have gaps. This was one place that we determined that there was a gap.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve developed new regulations across other areas as well. And we’ll continue to do that.
You know we’re 12 years old. We’re a growing university, and now it’s time for us to bolster a strong infrastructure of policies and procedures for one that is not perfect. And we’re going to be looking at our policies and procedures — the ones that exist — and we’re going to be looking for voids and areas where we need to develop new ones.
Lytle: Just to go back and not to belabor this, one final question on the consensual relationship policy.
We are reminded of the circumstance of the departure of your predecessor, Bill Merwin. Under this policy, there’s nothing in this new policy that would have sort of made what he did OK. In other words, an affair with a faculty member under this policy would not have been OK, because he is the ultimate superior.
Bradshaw: Let me, if you will permit me, to not look back but forward on this. I think going forward, what we’re saying to the university community is disclose these relationships and let us do an investigation or an inquiry to determine if there is a conflict.
Lytle: But the policy seems to say that as long as you’re in charge, you cannot have a relationship with somebody who is subordinate to you.
Bradshaw: That’s exactly right.
Lytle: In the case of the president, everybody is subordinate to him.
Bradshaw: Would you tell that to my wife? (laughter)
In all seriousness, I understand what you’re saying. But again, I’d rather be more forward looking on the hypotheticals rather than looking back.
Lytle: But do I have that right?
Bradshaw: I think you do.
Lytle: Let’s move on to sports. We’re always going to ask you about football.
In the Lee County government’s choice in the site for the new Boston Red Sox spring training site, there were provisions for FGCU football in one of the options that’s closest to the university campus. That’s not the option that was chosen.
Did FGCU lobby for that closest option? Did that decision set back football at all?
Bradshaw: I don’t think it set football back in any way. You know, we were speaking with all of the people who had proposals of various entities, and we’ll continue to talk with others now that the decision has been made on the Red Sox stadium.
Football is something that there’s keen interest throughout this region, and we’re going to explore how we go down that path and we have a new athletic director who’s going to be our eyes and ears and that.
I’m excited about the potential for football. But it’s out there a bit. I mean, it’s not going to be in three or four years. I’ve said this on your show before, for those going back to the file. It’s a matter of when not if.
Lytle: Could there be something for FGCU in the Red Sox site that was eventually chosen up on Daniels Parkway.
Bradshaw: We haven’t looked at that site more closely now. Certainly they did not anticipate — at least at the time they did their proposal — that there would be a football stadium on that site.
But we’re always looking at potential sites for expansion of the university. As you know, we have a very small amount of land that we can build on our current site. So we’re always open to talking and looking. Talking with land owners and others about how we expand our footprint appropriately.
Lytle: Anything imminent you could tell us about?
Bradshaw: Nothing imminent I can tell you about, no.
Lytle: Anything imminent?
Bradshaw: Well, we’ve had some discussions with some potential folks who are interested in collaborating with us.
Lytle: Around your main campus?
Bradshaw: Near our main campus. So there are always discussions going on about land acquisition and expansion of our footprint. We’re always involved with that.
This year is an exciting time for us because we are revising our facility’s master plan, and in that revision, we’re going to anticipate possibly some additional land for us.
Lytle: What can you tell us about progress at the Naples campus at the corner of U.S. 41 East and Goodlette-Frank Road?
Last time we talked, you said, well, it’s great, but show us the money.
Bradshaw: And we’re kind of there now. That’s a beautiful piece of property and its location is excellent, and we are going to continue to seek funding, both private and public funding, mostly private, to have a Naples center.
Lytle: So your commitment to that site ... ?
Bradshaw: It’s still there.
Lytle: Different topic: Before President Barack Obama made his now famous speech to the nation’s school children, you came out in advance saying this is a terrific idea. Can you comment on the fallout that came from that speech, either procedurally or politically?
Bradshaw: I think if you look at the reaction to the speech after it was made, I don’t think there was much negative.
My point is that, Mr. Obama, notwithstanding the president of the United States speaking to children about committing themselves to education, that’s not a bad message. And oftentimes the messenger is important, someone who is going to inspire students, especially students who may historically have been under-served by education — populations that are growing in this country. I think to hear an inspiring message about personal responsibility, about really committing yourself to education and not making your current situation an excuse not to — not only pursue, but to succeed in education — that’s a good message coming from anybody.
Lytle: The program wasn’t available live to school children in Lee or Collier counties, and it wasn’t available at all to school children in Collier County, and you heard former President Jimmy Carter come out and say that some of the reaction and some of the nationwide protests and incredible debate was based in part on racism.
Bradshaw: I’ve heard President Carter’s comments on that. I’ve also heard President Obama’s response to that.
The superintendents of Collier and Lee counties, they are good colleagues of mine. I know them both. We serve on the Alliance of Education Leaders. I won’t second-guess their decisions. In fact, each of them have gone on record publicly saying why they made their decisions.
Lytle: If the president is inclined to do this again next year, do you think there’d be a different way he could do it, that would be more successful and better received?
Bradshaw: Well, I think, yes. I think that if it makes the superintendents and the leadership of the various school districts more comfortable in seeing an advanced copy of that, I think that decision to do that was maybe made late.
As far as I am concerned, and I can understand from a curricular perspective how superintendents and teachers would like to know, what is this about? In fact, giving them an opportunity to structure some curriculum around that speech.
I think sending out an advance copy of the speech and letting teachers design around that speech some curriculum would make sense. I think that would be a good thing.
Lytle: It’s a learning process.
Bradshaw: It is. And I would encourage President Obama to contact me next year, and I will consult with him on how to do this (laughter).