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Student suspended for propositioning her lecturer

AN Auckland University student who propositioned her lecturer has been suspended after being found guilty of sexual harassment.

But the 30-year-old physics student at the centre of the row says the reaction to her behaviour is over the top and now her second degree is under threat.

The woman told the Herald on Sunday she simply sent her lecturer an email asking: "Would you like to have sex in Bali?"

Her advances were not welcome, and she was suspended until the end of the year for not complying with the disciplinary process triggered by the teacher's sexual harassment complaint.

On March 6, two weeks into her physics course, the woman sent her lecturer a risque email saying: "It's rather forward of me but I wondered if you and your wife are the open experimental type?

"I met an interesting person I respected of this lifestyle she had several honest concurrent relationships of varying degrees of intimacy and a couple who are my close friends have shared with me they invite a third person in for a short time when it feels right.

"Bali Indonesia rendevous [sic] in July if you are interested I've made a booking for a week here before I go diving in the komodo islands :) I'd like to spend the week getting to know you intimately."

The email added: "I've had such an instant sexual interesting response for someone I don't know well. I hope it's mutual, but I'll be fine if it's just my overactive imagination too, distracting me pleasurably from math, so please continue relaxed and happy!"

She told her lecturer that if her attention was unwanted he should ignore her message. "No need to compute a rejection letter! And I would never expect you to be unfair, I'm happy to wait until after the exam."

Soon after receiving the email, the lecturer forwarded it to his boss. An investigation was launched and the student was found guilty of sexual harassment by the university proctor. An email seen by the Herald on Sunday confirmed the decision and outlined the student's right to review.

The Herald on Sunday has chosen not to name the student or the lecturer.

A university spokeswoman confirmed "a university student has been investigated in relation to an allegation of sexual harassment this year". She would not discuss the outcome.

Guidelines on the university's website state sexual harassment may include "requests for sexual favours, or sexual advances". Processes for resolving complaints depend "on the severity of the situation and the wishes of the complainant".

Formal complaints allow for mediation and for students to approach the Student Advocacy Network for advice.

The student said she didn't take part in the process as she felt the accusation of sexual harassment was over the top.

"I didn't go to disciplinary council meetings, meet the proctor, I didn't go through their hoops because I felt the complaint was completely wrong and I shouldn't have to put up with that rubbish," she said.

The student said she considered her offer to be direct, but did not expect it to trigger a sexual harassment complaint.

"Basically I sent that very forward - but still polite - email: Would you like to have sex in Bali?" she said.

"I thought that I tidied it up at the end and said if you don't want to, no pressure, no coercion, nothing. Just be happy and go on your way. The next thing I know I was inundated with sexual harassment policy and basically I was suspended."

The university would not say if this had happened previously.

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations president, Linsey Higgins, said teacher-pupil relationships did happen and sexual harassment policies needed to be clearer. Higgins said an individual's reading of a situation can play a part in what a complainant may consider sexual harassment.

"There is the interpretation of the academic, who may have thought it was something along the lines of sex-for-grades. That assumption could have been leapt to.

'That's why policies need to be clearer.

"We don't know how prevalent these things are because of a lack of clarity around reporting and compulsion to report.

"What we do know is not all policies are clear and it's a very varied landscape."

The student says she intends to appeal her suspension.

Topics:  editors picks sexual harassment



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