Alabama State University prohibits its president, Gwendolyn Boyd, from having romantic partners cohabitate with her for the duration of her presidency, according to the Huffington Post. Though it makes sense that the Board of Trustees does not want an endless parade of suitors visiting Boyd at the Presidential House, this stipulation is an affront to Boyd’s personal liberty and an invasion of her privacy.
Just as the separation of church and state is an accepted practice in U.S. society, the distinction between personal and professional life should be respected. The nation’s preoccupation with public officials’ lives is detrimental and unnecessary. Instead of worrying about the official’s social life, the emphasis should be on his or her record of service and accomplishments. Romantic relationships should not be used to evaluate qualifications because they do not reflect professional decision-making capabilities.
Not only does the contract restrict Boyd’s personal life, it also promotes old-fashioned ideas about relationships and marriage. The contract, made publicly available by the Birmingham News, states, “For so long as Dr. Boyd is president and a single person, she shall not be allowed to cohabitate in the president’s residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation.” The subtext of the contract hints that having a cohabiting partner is less meaningful than having a spouse.
The assumption that marriage guarantees a stable, healthy relationship is clearly ungrounded. According to The New York Times, roughly two-thirds of couples saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage. For others — most commonly gay couples who are prohibited from legal marriage in certain states — cohabitation is a long-term commitment and not a temporary fling. The university should not scrutinize Boyd’s romantic decisions nor hinge the value of a relationship on legal marriage.
Yet, one of the most disquieting aspects of Boyd’s contract is that the “love clause” is not too far out of the ordinary. Scott Miller, president of Bethany College in West Virginia and chairman of the board at Academic Search, told Inside Higher Ed that other university contracts contain provisions about the president’s values and behavior. Though the regulations in the Alabama State University’s contract are not the norm, “they reflect the increasing scrutiny that campus CEOs face as the chief image-makers — indeed, the living ‘brand’ — of the institutions that employ them.”
The “love clause” in the Alabama State University contract is more than an affront to Boyd’s autonomy — it exposes the unrealistic expectations placed on employees of large institutions. According to Alabama State University Spokesman Kenneth Mullinax, “this clause in our university’s contract has nothing to do with Dr. Boyd and everything to do with the increasing scrutiny that university presidents face.”
His statement is an acknowledgement that high-ranking public officials are often thought of as a “brand” and forced to promote the institution’s image. In order to improve its reputation, Alabama State University should focus on measurable results instead of emphasizing Boyd’s personal life.
Employers must respect the space between professional and personal and take care not to overstep this boundary by dictating how employees conduct their personal lives. Raymond Cotton, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, expressed his doubts about Boyd’s contract to Inside Higher Ed.
“I don’t know of any state that has the right to invade someone’s residence even if the state owns that residence,” Cotton said, citing Supreme Court cases that prevent government from interfering with employees’ personal lives.
On a more tangible level, it is unrealistic for the university to prohibit Boyd from having romantic guests stay overnight. As Cotton noted, continuous monitoring of Boyd’s private life is wasteful and uncalled for.
“How would you enforce it? Would you go marching into a president’s home and say, ‘Stop that, get your hands off him or her,’” Boyd told Inside Higher Ed. This statement further highlights the idea that the contract oversteps professional boundaries and infringes on Boyd’s personal liberty.
Even though employees should be in general agreement with the values of their workplace, they cannot be expected to fully embody the institution that they serve. In the same way that it is possible to appreciate a professor as a person while disagreeing with his teaching method, an individual is more than his or her career and it is unreasonable to expect anyone to be wholly devoted to promoting an institution’s image.
Veronica An is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies.
This post has been updated to show that Gwendolyn Boyd is the president of Alabama State University, not the University of Alabama as previously reported.