Harvard Doesn’t Blame the Student

Elimelech Meisels

Elimelech Meisels

Secular society tolerates most forms of consensual sex between competent adults. But it draws the line on sexual interactions between a boss and employee or teacher and student. Yet I have a number of commenters trying to mitigate the guilt of Elimelech Meisels by claiming the students have no complaint since they consented. I would reject that argument even if Meisels was not an extremely manipulative man. I would reject that argument even if Meisels didn’t have the responsibilities and religious aura of a rabbi and a principal of a seminary. I reject that argument even for those indifferent to the halachic violations he committed.

According to the  the Faculty Handbook of the Harvard University School of Public Health (HSPH) “inappropriate relationships” are strictly forbidden. The Handbook states:

Amorous relationships that might be appropriate in other circumstances have inherent dangers when they occur between any HSPH faculty or non-faculty academic appointee and any person over whom he/she has a professional responsibility, e.g. as a teacher, advisor, or supervisor. Such relationships are fundamentally asymmetric, unprofessional, and an abuse of authority.

harvard public healthHSPH faculty and non-faculty academic appointees should be aware that any romantic involvement with students, junior colleagues, or staff members over whom they have supervisory or instructional responsibility makes them liable to complaint and formal action under the school’s grievance procedures. Even when both parties have initially consented to such a relationship, it is the senior individual, who by virtue of his/her special responsibility may be held accountable for the unprofessional relationship or abuse of authority. If an amorous relationship develops between a senior and junior member of the HSPH community, the reporting relationship should be dissolved promptly by the more senior person.

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15 thoughts on “Harvard Doesn’t Blame the Student

  1. ACPA (American College Personnel Association) Ethics: http://www.acpa.nche.edu/sites/default/files/Ethical_Principles_Standards.pdf

    As ACPA members, student affairs professionals will:

    2.2 Avoid dual relationships with students where one individual serves in multiple roles that create conflicting responsibilities, role confusion, and unclear expectations (e.g., counselor/employer, supervisor/best friend, or faculty/sexual partner) that may involve incompatible roles and conflicting responsibilities.

    2.4 Abstain from sexual intimacy with clients or with students for whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or instructional responsibility.

    • Yes. Certain relationships where there’s a power imbalance, such as doctor/patient, or employer/employee and teacher/student are deemed to be abusive because of the asymmetric nature, EVEN if both parties are above the age of consent. The same applies to young, impressionable seminary girls.

      • Anyone who has been sexually abused by an authority figure, such as myself, knows that this is more than just a legal technicality. It reflects a documented psychological phenomenon that exists and therefore has legal ramifications. When someone is in a position of authority over you, you can be as vulnerable as a child, even if you may be 30 years old. This is a FACT.

  2. there are always exceptions. Let’s admit that there are at least some cases where the blame is equal. Fair and Honest.

    • Yes– like Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. Equal blame. Actually, she probably ensnared him. What could he do? Her fault, come to think of it.

    • For arguments sake, let’s say it is possible for both parties to collude equally in an improper relationship. I do not believe it was true at Pninim because Meisels’ charismatically dominated Pninim and fostered competition for his approval among students. But even if that were not true, the person in the leadership role should be held to higher standard. None of the girls are saying they should run a seminary. The question is whether Meisels abused his position.

    • Harvard’s record on many things is mixed. What matters is that their policy, with slight variations in language, is the policy at most US schools. Even if you were to find instances where Harvard or another school didn’t uphold the policy, the logic still stands because it is based on a real understanding of how to allocate responsibility in relationship between an authority figure and a subordinate. The Chronicle of Higher Education regularly reports on faculty dismissed for violating these rules, including some of the most distinguished professors in the country. Even 29 years ago, the student newspaper of MIT, the premiere Engineering school in the US, reported that Harvard dismissed, MIT alumnus Professor Douglas Hibbs, an extremely accomplished political scientist.

    • How many perverted people need to ask what he did? suffice it to say that if he was in yeshivah and even said hello to a girl he would be thrown out how much more so as a Rabbi once he made one inappropriate remark he should be banned from teaching!!!

    • Yes, to say that a girl consented because she was of legal age is BS. A person in a position of authority can seriously abuse their position.

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