Sophie Elliott was murdered by Clayton Weatherston in 2008. In her mother’s decade, Leslie talks about anniversaries.Video/Otago Daily Times
The father of a student killed by a tutor she once dated says the University of Otago should take action to ban relationships between teachers and students.
Sophie Elliott was murdered in 2008 at the age of 22 when she was stabbed to death by her former economics tutor Clayton Weatherston.
Her father, Gil Elliott, believes the relationship should never be allowed, and he called on the university to follow the lead of Victoria University of Wellington.
Last week it became the first university in New Zealand to ban teacher-student relationships, no longer allowing “isolated, intimate, voluntary encounters”.
The University of Otago is reviewing its policy.
Gil Elliott said he has long supported such a change.
“I’m a firm believer that these relationships shouldn’t exist.”
He and Sophie’s mother, Lesley Elliott, expressed concerns to the university during negotiations before the university’s policy on teacher-student relations was changed in 2010.
However, this “really didn’t get any results” because strongly advising against the relationship is what universities would do, he said.
The university’s current policy on ethical conduct “strongly discourages” staff from having relationships with students, saying they risk exploiting implicit power differences.
Staff must declare any possible conflict of interest so steps can be taken to eliminate or mitigate the conflict, and the situation should be continuously monitored.
Gil Elliott said he didn’t think it was enough because his daughter’s relationship met those requirements.
“Sophie’s so-called boyfriend at the time, Weatherston, at Sophie’s insistence, went along with the head of the economics department and said he had such a relationship with a student.”
Gil Elliott said the economics department made sure that any exams she took were not graded by Weatherston.
“They don’t like it at all, but there’s nothing they can do about the university’s rules.”
The two met off-campus, it happened to be students and staff, but their relationship was entirely off-campus for privacy reasons, which might have been acceptable, but not in his daughter’s relationship.
“It shouldn’t be allowed, it’s inappropriate, and I think Sophie finally sees that.”
University Human Resources director Kevin Seales said a review of the Ethical Conduct Policy was ongoing and had begun before news of Victoria University’s policy changes.
“The University of Otago aims to foster a safe, respectful and dignified environment for staff and students, and has a proven network of ethical conduct and mediators available to any member of the University of Otago community.”
The University of Otago Students’ Union did not comment on whether it supported a ban on teacher-student relationships.
However, student support manager Sage Burke said the association’s focus was on supporting students to develop healthy relationships.
“OUSA Student Support sometimes receives advice from staff and students in this regard, but not frequently.”
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